Veteranclaims’s Blog

February 25, 2015

Single Judge Application; Cline v. Shinseki, 26 Vet.App. 18, 28 (2012); GAF Scores; Dispositive

Excerpt from decision below:

“To the extent Mr. Londrigan’s argument implicitly suggests a contention that the Board erred in not providing him another medical examination, he fails to demonstrate that differences in GAF scores warrant yet another medical examination, particularly when such scores are only one factor in determining a disability compensation rating. See Cline v. Shinseki, 26 Vet.App. 18, 28 (2012) (GAF scores are probative, but “not dispositive of the proper level of disability”); Hilkert, supra.

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Designated for electronic publication only
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR VETERANS CLAIMS
No. 14-1942
JOSEPH LONDRIGAN, APPELLANT,
V.
ROBERT A. MCDONALD,
SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, APPELLEE.
Before KASOLD, Chief Judge.
MEMORANDUM DECISION
Note: Pursuant to U.S. Vet. App. R. 30(a),
this action may not be cited as precedent.
KASOLD, Chief Judge: Veteran Joseph Londrigan appeals through counsel a
May14, 2014,
decision of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) that denied a
disability rating in excess of 50%
for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mr. Londrigan argues that the
Board (1) erred in finding
his inabilityto workirrelevantto his disabilityratingforPTSD, (2)
providedaninadequatestatement
in support of its decision, and (3) improperlydiscounted favorable
evidence. The Secretarydisputes
Mr. Londrigan’s arguments. Single-judge disposition is appropriate.
Frankel v. Derwinski,
1 Vet.App. 23, 25-26 (1990). For the reasons stated below, the Board
decision on appeal will be
affirmed.
Inability To Work Deemed Irrelevant
Mr. Londrigan notes the Board’s statement that a 2007 VA social worker’s
statement that Mr.
Londrigan is unable to work “would be addressed within the context of the [
total disability rating for
individual unemployability (TDIU)] claim which the Board remanded to the [
VA regional office
(RO)].” Record (R.) at 13. He reasons that this statement of the Board
means that it did not consider
his inability to work when assessing entitlement to a higher PTSD rating.
To the contrary, however,
this statement on its face only reflects that the specific issue of
unemployability and TDIU would

be addressed on remand. Moreover, reading the Board’s statement as a
whole reflects that the Board
considered the occupational impairment resulting from Mr. Londrigan’s
disability when assessing
his claim for a higher disability rating. See Janssen v. Principi, 15 Vet.
App. 370, 379 (2001)
(rendering a decision on the Board’s statement of reasons or bases “as a
whole”). Indeed, the Board
acknowledged that occupational impairment was a component of a PTSD
disability rating, see 38
C.F.R. § 4.130, Diagnostic Code (DC) 9411 (2014), and discussed evidence
that Mr. Londrigan
(1) had not worked since 2004 for various medical reasons, (2) was unable
to maintain effective
work relationships, and (3) had difficulty understanding complex commands
and concentrating.
Mr. Londrigan also notes the Board’s statement that the 2007 social
worker’s opinion in
general “is simplynot providing evidence that thenext highercriteria[i.e.,
the requirement for a 70%
disability rating] is met.” R. at 13. As similarly noted above, Mr.
Londrigan contends that this
statement of the Board reflects its failure to take into account his
occupational difficulties when
assessing his claim for a higher disability rating. Again to the contrary,
this statement on its face
only reflects that the social worker’s opinion did not support the award
of a 70% disability rating.
Moreover, the Board further explained that this social worker’s opinion
addressed Mr. Londrigan’s
symptoms in generalities and therefore the Board gave more weight to other
medical evidence that
discussed Mr. Londrigan’s symptoms more specifically. See Vazquez-Claudio
v. Shinseki, 713 F.3d
112, 117 (Fed. Cir. 2013) (“[A] veteran may only qualify for a given
disability rating under § 4.130
by demonstrating the particular symptoms associated with that percentage,
or others of similar
severity, frequency, and duration.”).
In sum, Mr. Londrigan fails to demonstrate that the Board considered
evidence of his
inability to work as not relevant to its assessment of the appropriate
disability rating for his PTSD.
See Hilkert v. West,12Vet.App.145,151(1999)(enbanc)(appellant bears burden
of demonstrating
error on appeal).
Inadequate Statement
Mr.Londrigancontendsthat theBoardfailedto address statementsin
a2008medicalopinion
that he suffers from isolation, panic, depression, a severelylimiting mood
state, and restricted social
outreach. On the contrary, the Board noted these statements, and found
that these symptoms
supportedthecurrent50%disabilityrating, but not a higher rating,
whenconsideredwiththeentirety
of the record medical evidence. See DC 9411 (50% disability rating
warranted for panic attacks
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more than once a week, flattened affect, disturbances of motivation and
mood, difficulty in
maintaining effective social relationships, etc.; 70% disability rating
warranted for near-continuous
panic, obsessional rituals, impaired impulse control, etc.).
Mr. Londrigan also contends that the Board failed to address his complaint
to a 2010
examiner of having irritability with outbursts of anger. Although the
Board did not address this
specific notation, the Board addressed the 2010 examination report, and
there is no requirement that
the Board address every favorable statement in each relevant document.
Moreover, the Board
addressed Mr. Londrigan’s complaints of irritability and anger in the
context of reviewing a 2007
opinion. See Dela Cruz v. Principi, 15 Vet.App. 143, 149 (2001) (“The
Court has consistentlyfound
that a discussion of all evidence is not required when, as in the present
case, the Board has supported
its decision with thorough reasons or bases regarding the relevant
evidence, and further adjudication
would not benefit the appellant.”).
Mr. Londrigan further contends that the Board ignored his argument that he
should be given
another medical examination because there was a conflict in his Global
Assessment of Functioning
(GAF)scores. AlthoughtheBoarddid not reiterateMr.Londrigan’s argument,it
neverthelessdenied
his request for another medical examination when it found that “remanding
this case for another examination, in light of the number of examinations that have already been
obtained . . . must be considered unwarranted.” R. at 31. To the extent Mr. Londrigan’s argument implicitly suggests a contention that the Board erred in not providing him another medical examination, he fails to demonstrate that differences in GAF scores warrant yet another medical examination, particularly when such scores are only one factor in determining a disability compensation rating. See Cline v. Shinseki, 26 Vet.App. 18, 28 (2012) (GAF scores are probative, but “not dispositive of the proper level of disability”); Hilkert, supra.
Mr. Londrigan also presents a contention, couched in support of his second
argument, that
the Board improperly discounted the 2007 social worker’s opinion for ”
focus[ing] on facts that are
not directly relevant to the rating assigned for his disability.” R. at 13.
The Board predicated this
statement, however, on the portion of the 2007 opinion addressing Mr.
Londrigan’s in-service
experiences, which are less relevant than his current symptoms for a
disability rating determination.
See Francisco v. Brown, 7 Vet.App. 55, 58 (1994) (“Where entitlement to
compensation has already
been established and an increase in the disability rating is at issue, the
present level of disability is
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of primary importance.”). Moreover, the Board explained that the 2007
opinion discussed Mr.
Londrigan’s conditionin generalities (e.g.,”[TheVeteran] presents with
asignificantlevelofchronic
PTSD . . . . He lives an isolated life and has difficulties with all his
inter-personal relationships . . . .
He is unable to work and is impaired in all aspects of his psychosocial
functioning” (R. at 12-13)),
rather than discussing his specific symptoms, as other medical evidence in
the record did.
See Vazquez-Claudio, 713 F.3d at 118 (noting that “the veteran’s
symptomatology is the primary
consideration,” though “the regulation also requires an ultimate factual
conclusion as to the veteran’s
level of impairment in ‘most areas'”). Overall, Mr. Londrigan fails to
demonstrate an improper
discounting of the 2007 opinion. See Hilkert, supra; Owens v. Brown, 7 Vet.
App. 429, 433 (1995)
(Board may favor one medical expert over another as long as the Board
provides an adequate
statement of reasons and bases for doing so).
Improper Weighing of Evidence
Mr. Londrigan asserts that the Board improperly discounted a 2009
treatment note because
the social worker composing the note characterized Mr. Londrigan’s
irrational financial decisions,
including his habit of eating out three times a day, as warranting a 100%
disability rating. It is the
Board’s duty, however, to match a rating to a disability, see Moore v.
Nicholson, 21 Vet.App. 211,
218 (2007) (role of rating specialists is to “interpret[] medical reports
in order to match the rating
with the disability”), rev’d on other grounds sub nom. Moore v. Shinseki,
555 F.3d 1369 (Fed. Cir.
2009), and the Board explained that such symptoms did not approximate the
typical symptoms of
a 100% disability rating, such as grossly inappropriate behavior or
inability to maintain personal
hygiene. Mr. Londrigan fails to demonstrate that the Board clearly erred
in weighing this evidence
or otherwise assessing the type of symptoms that warrant a 100% disability
rating. See Hilkert,
supra; Owens, 7 Vet.App. at 433 (Board assignments of weight are reviewed
under the “clearly
erroneous” standard); Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet.App. 49, 52 (1990) (“‘A
finding is “clearly
erroneous” when . . . the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left
with the definite and firm
conviction that a mistake hasbeencommitted.'”(quotingUnitedStates v.U.S.
GypsumCo.,333 U.S.
364, 395 (1948))).
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Conclusion
Accordingly, the May 14, 2014, Board decision on appeal is AFFIRMED.
DATED: January 16, 2015
Copies to:
Daniel G. Krasnegor, Esq.
VA General Counsel (027)
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