Ruel v. Wilkie, 031519 FEDFED, 2017-2562

Docket Nº:2017-2562
Opinion Judge:CHEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:TERESA A. RUEL, Claimant-Appellant v. ROBERT WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee
Attorney:Kenneth M. Carpenter, Law Offices of Carpenter Chartered, Topeka, KS, argued for claimant-appellant. Also represented by Francis M. Jackson, Jackson & Mac-Nichol, South Portland, ME. Rebecca Sarah Kruser, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washingto...
Judge Panel:Before Moore, Reyna, and Chen, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:March 15, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
 
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TERESA A. RUEL, Claimant-Appellant

v.

ROBERT WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee

No. 2017-2562

United States Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit

March 15, 2019

Appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in No. 15-4075, Chief Judge Robert N. Davis, Judge Coral Wong Pietsch, Senior Judge William A. Moorman.

Kenneth M. Carpenter, Law Offices of Carpenter Chartered, Topeka, KS, argued for claimant-appellant. Also represented by Francis M. Jackson, Jackson & Mac-Nichol, South Portland, ME.

Rebecca Sarah Kruser, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, DC, argued for respondent-appellee. Also represented by Tara K. Hogan, Robert Edward Kirschman, Jr., Joseph H. Hunt; Y. Ken Lee, Derek Scadden, Office of General Counsel, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC.

Before Moore, Reyna, and Chen, Circuit Judges.

CHEN, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

Teresa A. Ruel, the surviving spouse of a U.S. veteran, appeals from the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) decision affirming a Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board) decision denying her an effective date of 1984, rather than 2009, for her Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) claim. Mrs. Ruel first filed a DIC claim in 1984. The Board found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office (RO) had denied Mrs. Ruel's 1984 DIC claim in a single sentence of a response to a separate burial benefits claim that had found no service connection between Mr. Ruel's service and his death, because service connection is also a requirement for a DIC claim. In affirming the Board's finding, the Veterans Court found that this sentence was sufficient to put Mrs. Ruel on notice, under the VA's notice regulation 38 C.F.R. § 3.103, that her DIC claim had been explicitly denied. Because proper notice of an explicit denial of a claim under 38 C.F.R. § 3.103 requires an actual statement or otherwise clear indication of the claim being denied, we reverse.

Background

Richard W. Ruel served in the U.S. Marine Corps from March 1966 to May 1969, including two tours in Vietnam during which he was exposed to Agent Orange. He died on June 23, 1984. As his surviving spouse, Mrs. Ruel then filed claims for certain benefits.

On July 6, 1984, the VA received from Mrs. Ruel a completed Form 21-534, entitled "Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or Death Pension by Surviving Spouse or Child.". The form is for two different claims:

(1) DIC, which is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, and (2) Death Pension by Surviving Spouse or Child, which is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried children of a deceased veteran with wartime service. The VA...

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