The Importance of Following the Court's Instructions

The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court) has jurisdiction over the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board). As such, the Board is required to follow instructions the Court provides when the Court remands a case for further development. It is important for the Board to continue following the Court’s instructions or the case may be remanded again.

A good example of this is what happened in Stegall v. West, 11 Vet. App. 268 (1998). Appellant had been suffering with headaches after completing service in Vietnam. In July 1972, VA granted 10 percent for headaches. In 1993, appellant sought an increased evaluation and was denied. He appealed the decision to the Court. The Court remanded the case and provided specific instructions as to what should be done to provide proper attention to appellant’s case.

In its remand, the Court ordered VA to provide a special neurology exam with any other exams deemed necessary by the VA examiner. The Court also instructed VA to provide appellant with a psychiatric exam to assist in determining the etiology of his headaches.

VA scheduled neurology and psychiatric examinations at the Dallas VAMC. But appellant was admitted to the Waco VAMC before he could attend his scheduled examinations. He was hospitalized for three months for evaluation of his mental status. Once appellant was discharged from Waco VAMC, he attended a neurology exam in June 1996. He was diagnosed with headaches and neck aches, and the examiner indicated the cause of his headaches was difficult to ascertain.

VA again denied appellant’s appeal for an increased evaluation for his headaches and indicated he was only put on bed rest for headaches once during his three-month stay at Waco VAMC, but he had before complained that he was having headaches four to five times a week. The Board denied appellant’s claim for increase, essentially stating that his headaches were not as bad as he initially reported. Appellant then appealed to the Court for the second time.

The Court held the case should be remanded because VA’s examination was inadequate, and the Board failed to follow the remand instructions previously given. Stegall v. West, 11 Vet. App. 268, 270 (1998). The Court explained, while VA completed a neurology exam, it did not complete a psychiatric exam independent of appellant’s hospital stay in Waco. Id.

The Court further noted the Board relied heavily on the hospital notes at Waco where appellant was receiving medication and treatment for PTSD, and Waco did not even have access to appellant’s claims file. Id at 270-71. Because the Board failed to follow the remand instructions properly, the Court remanded the case for further development, again.