Simmons v. Wilkie, No. 19-1519 (Fed. Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
While serving in the Navy 1968-1970, Simmons experienced feelings of depression and homesickness. A VA physician diagnosed Simmons with situational depression but no permanent disability. Another VA physician diagnosed him with immature personality disorder and recommended he be discharged. In 1972, the VA awarded Simmons a non-service-connected pension on his polyarthritis claim. In 1974, Simmons sought additional compensation, asserting that his arthritis was service-connected and that he also had a nervous condition that justified compensation. The VA denied the claim. In 2005, after receiving a total disability rating for an unrelated asbestosis-based claim, Simmons claimed that there was clear and unmistakable error (CUE) in the 1974 decision, with respect to the denial of service connection, citing the presumptions of soundness and service connection in 38 U.S.C. 105(a) and 1111.
The Board found that Simmons’s current psychiatric disorder was due to his non-service-connected arthritis and that the presumptions did not apply. The Veterans Court affirmed, finding that although the Board erred in analyzing the presumptions, that error was harmless because Simmons’s current disability was not causally related to his in-service condition. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that a failure to apply an evidentiary presumption is per se prejudicial. A per se rule of prejudice for failure to apply the presumptions would undo any proper VA finding that the claimant had failed to establish a causal nexus.