Flores-Vazquez v. McDonough, No. 19-1780 (Fed. Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Flores-Vazquez served on active duty in the Navy, 1984-1988. In 1998, he sought service connection for depression for which he received treatment while onboard the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. Flores-Vazquez claimed that he had witnessed several accidental deaths during service, including “a man being sucked inside the nose of an airplane.” Flores-Vazquez did not then submit service department records verifying the incidents. Flores-Vazquez did not appeal the denial of his claim. In 2005, Flores-Vazquez sought to reopen his claim. A medical examiner diagnosed bipolar disorder with depression and determined that the condition was “due to or the result of in[-]service illness.” The regional office denied service connection, reasoning that the medical opinion was “appeared to be based on the veteran’s unsupported report.”
In 2008-2009, while Flores-Vazquez’s appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals was pending, the VA received the 1986-1987 command histories of the Kitty Hawk. In 2010, the Board decided that, while the evidence was not compelling, service connection was warranted. The Board relied primarily on the 2005 medical report, not the command histories, and granted an effective date of January 2005. On remand from the Veterans Court, the Board found that 38 C.F.R. 3.156(c) did not apply because the Board’s 2010 award of benefits “was not based on” the new service department records. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The command histories submitted in 2008 played no role in the grant of service connection; the favorable resolution turned on a 2005 VA opinion that was based on service medical records that were always part of the claims file.