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Cochran v. West

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit


October 8, 1999

ROBERT M. COCHRAN, CLAIMANT-APPELLANT,
v.
TOGO D. WEST, JR., SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.

Before Lourie, Clevenger and Gajarsa, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam.

NOTE: Pursuant to Fed. Cir., R. 47.6, this Disposition is not citable as precedent. It is a public record. The Disposition will appear in tables published periodically.

Robert M. Cochran (Cochran) seeks review of the February 3, 1999, decision of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which affirmed the September 12, 1996, decision of the Board of Veterans Appeals (Board) denying him service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and declining to adjudicate his claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity." Cochran v. West, No. 96-1688, slip op. at 2 (Vet. App. Feb. 3, 1999). We affirm.

I.

Cochran served in the military from January 1968 to December 1969. In December 1991, Cochran filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) Regional Office, seeking entitlement to service connection for PTSD. The Regional Office denied this claim in July 1992. Subsequently, in August 1992, Cochran filed another claim with the Regional Office for "lifetime loss of earning capacity," in which he sought monetary damages for, inter alia, wrongful commitment to a mental hospital, medical malpractice, and religious discrimination. This claim was apparently never reviewed by the Regional Office.

Cochran appealed to the Board in 1993, reasserting his claim for service connection for PTSD and his claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity." The Board denied Cochran's claim for service connection, ruling that he had not submitted sufficient evidence to establish that his claim was well-grounded. In particular, the Board found that Cochran had failed to submit any medical evidence of PTSD. The Board did not address Cochran's claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity."

Cochran appealed to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, which affirmed the Board's ruling that Cochran had not met his burden of coming forward with sufficient evidence to support a well-grounded claim. The court rejected Cochran's argument that the DVA breached its statutory duty to assist claimants. The court held that the DVA's duty to assist claimants does not arise until after a claimant presents a well-grounded claim. With respect to Cochran's claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity," the court ruled that, because the Board was without jurisdiction to adjudicate such a claim, any failure on its part to address the issue was, at most, harmless error.

We have jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 7292(a) (1994).

II.

The scope of our review of a decision of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is limited. We must affirm the decision unless we find it to be "(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law; (B) contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity; (C) in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority, or limitations, or in violation of a statutory right; or (D) without observance of procedure required by law." 38 U.S.C. § 7292(d)(1) (1999). In addition, we may not review "(A) a challenge to a factual determination, or (B) a challenge to a law or regulation as applied to the facts of a particular case." 38 U.S.C. § 7292(d)(2) (1999). Finally, our jurisdiction extends only to those legal issues that were raised by the appellant before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. 38 U.S.C. § 7292(a) (1999); see Linville v. West, 165 F.3d 1382, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 1999).

In his brief, Cochran recites numerous issues for which he apparently seeks review from this court. These issues include alleged constitutional violations, various judicial errors, medical malpractice by the DVA, and a claim for "double damages" of 50 million dollars. However, in his appeal to the Board, and again to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, Cochran raised only two issues: (1) a claim for service connection for PTSD; and (2) a claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity." Because we have no jurisdiction to review issues that have not been administratively adjudicated, our focus in this appeal must be limited to these two issues.

A. Service Connection for PTSD

This court lacks jurisdiction to review Cochran's claim for service connection for PTSD. The relevant statute, 38 U.S.C. § 5107(a) (1994), states that "a person who submits a claim for benefits . . . shall have the burden of submitting evidence sufficient to justify a belief by a fair and impartial individual that the claim is well grounded." The Board concluded, and the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims affirmed, that Cochran failed to satisfy this burden because he produced no medical evidence of PTSD. Because this Conclusion was reached by applying law, as set forth in section 5107(a), to the particular facts of Cochran's case, we lack jurisdiction to review it on appeal. See 38 U.S.C. § 7292(d)(2)(B) (1999). We will therefore not disturb the ruling of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims on this issue.

B. Lifetime Loss of Earning Capacity

Cochran's claim of "lifetime loss of earning capacity" is styled as a tort claim, for which he seeks monetary damages of 50 million dollars. Cochran alleges that the government rendered him unemployable by drafting him into the military and subsequently denying him sufficient benefits to finish school. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims held that the Board lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate such a claim. Cochran argues that the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims erred by not remanding his damages claim to the Board for consideration on the merits.

Whether the Board properly had jurisdiction over Cochran's claim for "loss of lifetime earning capacity" presents a question of statutory interpretation, which this court undertakes de novo. See Collaro v. West, 136 F.3d 1304, 1307 (Fed. Cir. 1998).

The jurisdiction of the Board is defined in 38 U.S.C. § 7104(a) (1999), which states that, "[a]ll questions in a matter which under section 511(a) of this title is subject to decision by the Secretary shall be subject to one review on appeal to the Secretary." Section 511(a) states that, "[t]he Secretary shall decide all questions of law and fact necessary to a decision by the Secretary under a law that affects the provision of benefits by the Secretary to veterans or the dependents or survivors of veterans." 38 U.S.C. § 511(a) (1994) (emphasis added). Thus, the Board's jurisdiction extends only to appeals of claims that arise under a law that affects the provision of benefits to veterans, their dependents or survivors.

When Cochran filed his claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity," he represented to the DVA that his claim arose under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. See Letter from Cochran to DVA Regional Office 1 (Aug. 6, 1992). Because Cochran's claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity" did not assert entitlement to a benefit under any law affecting the provision of benefits to veterans, their dependents or survivors, the Board had no jurisdiction over this claim. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims did not err in affirming the decision of the Board not to address Cochran's claim for "lifetime loss of earning capacity."

For the reasons set forth above, the decision of the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is affirmed.

19991008

© 1999 VersusLaw Inc.



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