What does “Equipoise” mean?
Veterans often ask me what the term “equipoise” means. You will often see the term in decisions from the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (the CAVC, or Veteran’s Court). “Equipoise” is actually a word that is defined in the one of the federal statutes governing VA claims, 38 U.S.C. § 5107(b). It describes a presumption that the VA must give to the Veteran when the evidence on a given fact is evenly balanced (i.e., a 50/50 split proving one side or the other of a given fact).
The law states, “When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter, the Secretary shall give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant.” So, when the information in a veterans claim file is equal enough to either prove or disprove a particular fact, the Secretary is required by law to reach the conclusion which is more favorable to the Veteran. This does not mean that any evidence will put an issue into equipoise. On the contrary, equipoise only exists when there is equal evidence on either side of a particular issue.
For example, all things being equal, if two doctors each give differing opinions on medical nexus (connection of a disability to an in service event or injury), then the VA must conclude that the nexus exists in favor of service connection. Of course, the VA will often distinguish the doctors’ opinions, and try to show that the doctor who stated that there was no connection should be followed. This may be error, because the doctors may be equally credentialed, have both examined the Veteran and reviewed her or his entire claim file, therefore putting them more on equal footing than the VA claims.
The concept of equipoise can be a very powerful tool for Veterans to use in their claims for service connected compensation and pension with the Department of Veterans Affairs.