The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit says that a veteran must demonstrate the particular symptoms, or symptoms similar to, the symptoms listed in the rating schedule and with similar severity, frequency, and duration, in order to obtain a rating for a disability. It is not enough to simply present evidence that the veteran suffers from any requisite occupational and social impairment which might be included in the pertinent rating schedule.
A Vietnam veteran suffering from service-connected PTSD filed a claim, seeking a 70% disability rating. The VA denied his claim for a 70% rating and assigned him a rating of 50% instead. In giving the veteran this lower rating, the VA cited the fact that the veteran did not present the particular symptoms, or even similar symptoms, listed for the 70% rating. The applicable rating schedule lists the following criteria for 70%:
Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.
The applicable rating schedule lists the follow criteria for 50%:
Occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.
An Appeal to the Court
The veteran appealed this rating, citing that the VA erred when it denied his claim for 70% just because he did not present the particular set of symptoms, or any symptoms similar to those, associated with the 70% rating. The veteran argued that he should be entitled to the 70% rating if any of his symptoms, whether listed or not, caused the requisite level of occupational and social impairment. His argument was that the crucial element of rating the disability should be on the net impairment to the veteran and not upon the individual symptoms associated with his disability. Both the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims and the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit affirmed the VA’s determination that the symptoms cannot be discarded.
The Federal Circuit held that although the level of occupational and social impairment is very important in determining the severity of disability, the Federal Regulations which make up the rating schedule are symptom-driven. A veteran must show the particular symptoms, or other symptoms of similar severity, frequency, and duration associated with the disability rating. Allowing the VA to rate a disability without the veteran demonstrating these or similar symptoms would negate the entire rating structure. Vazquez-Claudio v. Shinseki, 713 F.3d 112 (Fed. Cir. 2013)