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May 30, 2014

VA’s Shinseki wins one in court

Departing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki won one in court on his unceremonious way out the door Friday.

Departing VA Secretary Eric Shinseki won one in court on his unceremonious way out the door Friday.

It’s far from a consolation prize, but still a victory nonetheless for the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs. Ironically, though, it’s the kind of victory that can alienate the department’s veterans constituency.

In a seven-page decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision of the VA’s Board of Veterans Appeals. The board had rejected a claim from Navy veteran Stephen R. Spicer.

Spicer, who has since passed away, served on active duty from 1984 to 1987. In 1986, he fractured his left little finger aboard ship, when a door slammed on him. In 2007, he was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis.

The appeals board concluded Spicer’s condition did not merit compensation, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims agreed. Shinseki -- or, rather, his department -- argued that arthritis must result in limited motion in two or more minor joints to qualify. The federal circuit agreed.

In at least one courtroom, in fact, Shinseki’s department seems to fare pretty well. Of 12 veterans-related opinions issued by the federal circuit over the past two months, the VA won 11.

It’s a slightly different story at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Of the court’s last 10 decisions, five clearly overturned decisions of the department.

At the Board of Veterans Appeals itself, 44,300 decisions were rendered in 2012. Of these, 28 percent of the appeals were allowed, 22 percent were denied, and 46 percent were remanded.

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