|Thun vs. Peake|
|Court||United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims|
|Decided||April 23, 2008|
|Citation(s)||22 Vet. App. 111 (2008)|
|Appealed from||Board of Veterans' Appeals|
|Judge(s) sitting||Greene (Chief Judge), Hagel (Associate Judge), and Schoelen (Associate Judge)|
Thun vs. Peakeis a United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims case that dealt with extra-schedular evaluations and the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities.
The United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is a federal court of record that was established under Article I of the United States Constitution, and is thus referred to as an Article I tribunal (court). The court has exclusive national jurisdiction to provide independent, federal, judicial oversight and review of final decisions of the Board of Veterans' Appeals.
The Veteran appealed his 70 percent evaluation for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), asserting that he was entitled to an extra-schedular evaluation because his PTSD symptoms prevented him from advancing at his job as a senior systems programmer. He stated that his PTSD symptoms strained relationships with his direct managers that prevented his promotion and less-experienced coworkers were promoted before him and received higher salaries. He argued that there was a significant disparity between his current income (including VA benefits) and income he believed he could have received, but for the severity of his service-connected disability, which was sufficient to trigger extra-schedular consideration.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats on a person's life. Symptoms may include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid trauma-related cues, alterations in how a person thinks and feels, and an increase in the fight-or-flight response. These symptoms last for more than a month after the event. Young children are less likely to show distress, but instead may express their memories through play. A person with PTSD is at a higher risk for suicide and intentional self-harm.
The Board, in denying the appeal in June 2005, found that the evidence showed that he veteran did not have marked interference with obtaining or retaining employment and he had maintained steady, full-time, gainful employment since discharge from service and worked at his current job since May 1986.
The Court articulated a three-step process for determining entitlement to an extra-schedular rating and rejected the veteran’s argument that an inadequacy in the rating schedule can be established solely by showing an asserted gap between his income (including VA benefits) and the income of similarly qualified workers in his field. The Court described such argument as flawed because it was based on a faulty proposition that a schedular rating for a service-connected disability is not adequate unless it compensates for the actual individual income that is not realized but for that disability.
The three-step process for determining whether an extra-schedular evaluation is required was outlined by the Court as follows:
The Court also found that the Board erred in its reasoning that the veteran’s PTSD did not warrant extra-schedular consideration because he did not establish an inability to obtain or retain employment. However, the error was not prejudicial because the decision not to refer for extra-schedular consideration was not based solely on that finding as the Board also made the threshold determination that the disability picture was not so unusual or exceptional as to render the 70 percent schedular rating as inadequate.
The Court noted that the very effects of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms that he asserted as having kept him from receiving a promotion, such as impaired judgment and inability to maintain effective working relationship, are criteria described as occupational impairments that are used for evaluating mental disorders under Diagnostic Code 9411, and not earmarks of an exceptional or unusual disability picture with marked interference with employment.
The BVA Decision was afffirmed by the Court.
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