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Gardner v. Shinseki - 22 Vet. App. 415 (U.S. 2009)

Rule:

In order to qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits, a claimant or the party upon whose service the claimant predicates the claim must be a "veteran." A veteran is defined as a person who served in the active military, naval, or air service, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable. 38 U.S.C.S. § 101(2)38 C.F.R. § 3.1(d) (2008). Additionally, the receipt of a discharge from a sentence of a general court-martial usually bars entitlement to Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

Facts:

When Gardner was discharged from military service, he was barred from receiving Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation benefits because of several offenses he committed that resulted in a general court-martial. Despite having been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Gardner was required to stand trial on several offenses which included being absent without leave, involvement in a prison riot, raising a weapon against a superior officer, refusing to obey an order, unlawful assembly, willful disobedience, assault, and communicating a threat. Gardner appealed from the denial of benefits.

Issue:

Should Gardner be barred from receiving VA compensation benefits because of several offenses?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court vacated the Board decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings. The court held that the Board's analysis of whether the claimant understood right from wrong and whether he was able to discern the effects of his behavior was not germane to a determination of whether he was insane during his service. Further, although the Board analyzed four psychiatric evaluations that found no mental defect, disease, or derangement at the time of his offenses and that he understood right from wrong, none of these reports considered the claimant's mental state at the time he committed the offenses stemming from the August 1968 prison riot in Vietnam, for which he was court-martialed and received his dishonorable discharge. The duty to assist duty was not triggered only when the claimant met his burden of demonstrating veteran status. The Board should have considered whether a medical opinion was necessary to determine the claimant's mental state at the time of the offenses.

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