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Young v. McDonald

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

September 8, 2014

ROBERT G. YOUNG, Claimant-Appellant,
v.
ROBERT A. MCDONALD, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Respondent-Appellee

Page 1349

Appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in No. 11-2661, Judge William A. Moorman.

KENNETH M. CARPENTER, Law Offices of Carpenter Chartered, of Topeka, Kansas, argued for claimant-appellant. On the brief was SANDRA E. BOOTH, of Columbus, Ohio, for claimant-appellant.

ERIC P. BRUSKIN, Attorney, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, of Washington, DC, argued for respondent-appellee. On the brief were STUART F. DELERY, Assistant Attorney General, BRYANT SNEE, Acting Director, MARTIN F. HOCKEY, Assistant Director and L. MISHA PREHEIM, Senior Trial Counsel. Of counsel on the brief were Y. KEN LEE, Deputy Assistant General Counsel, and CHRISTINA L. GREGG, Attorney, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, of Washington, DC. Of counsel were MICHAEL J. TIMINSKI, Deputy General Counsel and BRIAN D. GRIFFIN, Attorney, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, of Washington, DC.

Before NEWMAN, LOURIE, and DYK, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1350

Dyk, Circuit Judge.

Robert G. Young (" Young" ) appeals the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (" Veterans Court" ), holding that the effective date for Young's award of service connection due to post-traumatic stress disorder (" PTSD" ) was March 10, 1989. We affirm.

Background

This case primarily involves the question of whether lay evidence alone can establish the effective date for an award of service connection due to PTSD or whether a medical diagnosis attesting to the existence of PTSD on the claimed effective date is necessary because of 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f).

Young served as a combat engineer with the United States Army from October 1965 until August 1967, performing a tour of duty in Vietnam during that time. In September 1984, Young filed an application for benefits with the Veterans Affairs (" VA" ) Regional Office (" RO" ). The application described his injuries as " 'anxiety,' 'bad nerves,' and 'unable to adjust to society.'" J.A. 1. The RO interpreted Young's claim as a request for an award of service connection due to PTSD, but denied the request after Young failed to report for a VA medical examination. In 1989, a VA psychiatrist submitted a letter, stating that Young " has been under my care since March 10, 1989" and " is suffering from PTSD." J.A. 101. Nonetheless, the RO denied Young's claim in rating decisions dated December 1989, February 1990, and April 1991 because the evidence of record did not establish his exposure to an in-service stressor. Young appealed the decisions to the Board, which denied his claim in July 1991. Young did not appeal to the Veterans Court, and the Board's decision became final.

In August 1992, Young filed a request to have his claim reopened. The RO denied the request in October 1992, June 1993, February 1995, and March 1997. In May 1998, the RO received service department records documenting Young's exposure to an in-service stressor for PTSD that had not been previously associated with his file. 38 C.F.R. § 3.156(c)(1) provides that " if VA receives or associates with the claims file relevant official service department records that existed and had not been associated with the claims file when VA first decided the claim, VA will reconsider the claim." Under such circumstances, the claim is not treated as a new and material evidence claim, see id. § 3.156(a), or a clear and unmistakable error (" CUE" ) claim, see id. § 3.105(a), but rather, is governed by § 3.156(c).

Pursuant to § 3.156(c), the RO reopened Young's claim in 1998, after it received the service department records related to his in-service stressor, and granted him service connection with a 100% disability rating. The RO assigned the award an effective date of August 11, 1992--the date when the VA received Young's request to reopen the previously denied claim.

In March 2007, Young sought revision of the RO's May 1998 Rating Decision on the grounds of CUE. Young argued that the RO ...


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