Circuit Revives Widow’s Bid for VA Death Benefits

     (CN) – The Federal Circuit revived the claims of a Vietnam veteran’s widow, who says she’s entitled to death benefits because her husband’s drowning death was linked to a service-related anxiety order.

     Carl Davidson, a Vietnam veteran, drowned in a swimming pool in 1973. His death certificate states that the drowning was accidental, but his widow, Bertha, believes her husband committed suicide as a result of an anxiety disorder stemming from his time in Vietnam.
     She filed a compensation claim with the Department of Veteran Affairs in 1975, but the VA denied her claim as not service-related. She appealed in 1999.
     The Board of Veterans’ Appeals reopened the case in 2005, and again concluded that the death was accidental.
Davidson testified that her husband’s death was linked to a service-related disease, but the board found that, as a layperson, she was “not competent” to establish the required nexus.
     The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims upheld the board’s decision, saying the law requires Davidson to present “a valid medical opinion.” She again appealed.
     The three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., sided with Davidson, saying the lower court had misinterpreted the law. The circuit court has consistently allowed lay evidence to be used in establishing a diagnosis or condition, the ruling states.
     Thus, the lower court’s ruling “is in direct conflict” with precedent, and should be vacated and remanded, the panel concluded.

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