Veterans Court: All Symptoms of Vet’s PTSD Claim Must Be Considered and Discussed by VA
In Sanders v. Snyder, a recent case before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the Veterans Court), veteran James Sanders – a Vietnam era veteran who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star – was appealing the 50% rating VA had assigned to his PTSD claim. The central issue in the case was whether hallucinations he was experiencing were properly considered by the VA. Sanders had appealed to the Veterans Court because the Board of Veterans Appeals claimed that hallucinations were only relevant to a 100% rating. Ultimately, the Veterans Court ruled in his favor, because VA violated the law, because it had failed to explain its explain its consideration of the hallucinations.
The Board of Veterans Appeals is Required to Explain its “Reasons and Bases” in Writing
In Sanders’ claim for PTSD, the Board’s decision was that hallucinations were not part of the ratings schedule until a veteran was rated at 100%, and the Board stated that would only apply if a veteran’s symptoms resulted in total social and occupational impairment. However, Sanders’ attorney argued to the Veterans Court that VA dismissed the significance of his hallucinations and did “not explain why such severe symptoms did not more nearly approximate the severity reflected by a 70% rating.” Even though the Board’s decision acknowledged the hallucinations, the Board effectively ignored them and did not explain why.
Veterans Court Explains that the Board Failed Its “Reasons or Bases” Requirement
In Sanders’ claim, the appeal was before a single Judge of the Veterans Court. Like any other appeal to the Veterans Court, witnesses do not testify. It is an appeals court. It operates based on a paper record – basically all of the documents that VA and the veteran created during the claim stage at the Regional Office and the appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals. One of the VA’s obligations is to properly investigate claims and develop the information necessary to decide a claim. Because of that, the Judge is limited to reviewing the veteran’s Claim File, and if it lacks information, the Veterans Court cannot make a decision.
VA must also write decisions which allow the court to understand what was decided on a veteran’s claims. Relying upon an older decision from the Veterans Court, Thompson v. Gober, 14 Vet.App. 187, 188 (2000), the Judge explained:
Absent a discussion or analysis of [Sanders’] hallucinations and whether he is entitled to a higher disability rating, the Court cannot understand the precise basis for the Board’s denial of a higher rating for [Sanders’] PTSD, and the Court’s review of this matter is frustrated.
When the Board fails to properly explain its decision, a long line of Veterans Court cases require the Veterans Court to remand the case back to the Board to issue a proper decision on Sanders’ PTSD claim.
At the Board of Veterans’ Appeals level, VA must consider all of a veteran’s symptoms AND discuss those symptoms in its decision. Failing to include a discussion of the duration, frequency, and severity of symptoms and whether those symptoms warrant a higher rating in its decision is an error that the Veterans Court will require the Board to correct on remand.
Case: Sanders v. Snyder, No. 15-2926, 2017 WL 393985 (Vet.App. Jan. 30, 2017)
If your VA service-connected compensation claim for PTSD or any other condition was denied by VA, call us to discuss your rights with one of our experienced Veterans Disability Attorneys at (866) 282-5260. The call is toll free nationwide, and there is no charge to discuss your case.