Substantially the Same Claim in Jones v. Shinseki

In the case of Jones v. Shinseki, Mr. Jones filed a claim for psychiatric disorder in September 1973 for “nerves.” See Jones v. Shinseki, 3 Vet. App. 122 (2009), The VA Regional Office (RO) issued a rating decision in February 1974, denying the claim. Mr. Jones filed a notice of disagreement (NOD), but VA failed to provide a statement of the case (SOC).

A decade later, in July 1983, Mr. Jones filed a claim for PTSD. In August, RO issued a final decision, stating PTSD did not provide a new factual basis to establish service connection for a nervous disorder. In November 1986, the Board denied service connection for a nervous condition to include PTSD. That decision became final.

In May 1989, Mr. Jones filed an application to reopen his previously denied claim for PTSD. In October 1995, the Board granted entitlement to service connection for PTSD and an effective date of May 19, 1989. Mr. Jones continuously appealed the effective date to go back to September 1973, the date he first filed a claim for psychiatric disorder.

Mr. Jones argued that a VA procedural error can cause a claim stream to remain open. Myers v. Principi, 16 Vet. App. 228 (2002). Mr. Jones argued that once he filed an NOD with the February 1974 RO decision, that claim remained open and pending until issuance of an SOC or Board decision adjudicating that claim. He argued that no finality attached to the subsequent adjudications because VA failed to issue an SOC following his March 1974 NOD.

If VA fails to act on a claim or fails to provide the veteran with information or material critical to the appeal, that claim remains pending. Cook v. Principi, 318 F.3d 1334, 1340 (2002).

However, does the claim continue pending indefinitely? Generally, a later adjudication of a claim having substantially the same substance as a pending claim resolves the pending claim. See Williams v. Peake, 521 F.3d 1348, 1350 (Fed.Cir.2008).

Mr. Jones attempted to distinguish his 1973 claim from the subject of the 1986 Board decision by arguing that his original 1973 claim for VA compensation for “nerves” was not the same as that adjudicated in the 1986 Board decision that referred to PTSD. The Court, however, found no merit in the argument.

Because the 1986 Board decision was a final adjudication of a claim identical to Mr. Jones’s pending appeal from the 1974 denial of benefits for nerves, the Court found that the 1986 decision provided Mr. Jones the opportunity for appellate review that was not previously furnished after his 1974 NOD.