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Law School Case Brief

Spencer v. West - 13 Vet. App. 376 (U.S. 2000)


Where a claimant for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits has not submitted a well-grounded claim and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs is on notice that relevant evidence may exist, or could be obtained, that, if true, would make the claim plausible and that such evidence has not been submitted with the application, then that application is incomplete, and the Secretary has an obligation under 38 U.S.C.S. § 5103(a) to notify claimant of evidence that is necessary to complete application.


The Board of Veterans' Appeals denied Spencer's service connection claim for residuals of a right knee injury on the grounds that Spencer was not engaged in active service when injured. The Board also denied entitlement to an increased disability rating for service-connected residuals of a left hand and wrist injury. 


Did the Board of Veterans' Appeals err in its decision to reject the veteran's claim?




Although the court disagreed that Spencer's knee injury claim was well grounded because no medical evidence linked the condition to the alleged injury, a service department finding that Spencer was engaged in active service when injured was binding upon the Board of Veterans' Appeals. Nevertheless, the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to advise Spencer how to obtain evidence the Department knew might support his position, so remand was necessary to comply with 38 U.S.C.S. § 5103(a). Spencer was not entitled to a higher rating for his wrist claim because 10 percent was the highest rating available and no evidence justified an excess award.

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