Recently, a single Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) judge decided a case involving the relevance of Social Security records to veterans’ disability claims. The case does not have precedential value, as a single judge made the ruling. In other words, future judges are not bound to follow it. The case does, however, provide insight into how a judge is likely to rule under a given set of circumstances and explains the law from other cases that are precedential.
Jimmie Masline applied for veterans’ disability claims for a spinal disability, bilateral pes planus, and a left knee/leg injury. His claims were denied by the regional office, and then again by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. He then appealed to the CAVC.
Masline’s sole argument at the CAVC level was that the Board should have obtained and reviewed his Social Security disability records in support of his veterans’ disability application. It is important to note that Masline was not asserting that he had provided the records and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had not reviewed them. Rather, he was asserting that the VA should have independently obtained and reviewed the records based on references to their existence in the documents submitted in support of his request for veterans’ disability benefits.
Those unfamiliar with the law may initially think that Masline’s request is a little unfair to the VA. If he wanted the records reviewed, shouldn't he have included them? However, there is some legal support for his position.
Under federal statute (38 USC 5103A(a)), the VA does have an obligation to “make reasonable efforts to assist a claimant in obtaining evidence necessary to substantiate the claimant’s claim for a benefit.” Courts have interpreted this to mean the VA has the obligation of gathering Social Security records when it is on notice that the veteran is receiving such benefits. However, this obligation has limits and is only imposed where there is a “reasonable possibility” that the records will be relevant.
The CAVC found that the documents submitted by Masline did not raise a “reasonable possibility” that the Social Security records would be relevant, and thus it upheld the Board’s denial of Masline’s claims. The references to Social Security records only indicated that he had received them, and his letters imply that the Social Security claim was based on a workers’ compensation-related injury, which would be irrelevant to a veterans’ disability claim.
There may still be hope for Masline to receive veterans’ disability compensation, as he has claims based on mental disabilities that are still pending. This decision only addressed his alleged physical disabilities.
If you want to ensure that the VA reviews a particular piece of evidence when deciding whether to grant your application for veterans’ disability benefits, it is safest to directly provide that information. To learn more about other best practices when applying for veterans’ disability compensation, contact the experienced attorneys at the Whitcomb, Selinsky PC law firm or our sister law firm, the Rocky Mountain Disability Law Group today. Please call (303) 534-1958 or complete a contact form.