Citation Nr: 18132374
Decision Date: 09/06/18	Archive Date: 09/06/18

DOCKET NO. 15-39 485
DATE:	September 6, 2018
REMANDED
Entitlement to service connection for heart disease, secondary to herbicide exposure is remanded.
Entitlement to service connection for diabetes mellitus type II, secondary to herbicide exposure is remanded. 
Entitlement to service connection for chronic bronchitis, secondary to herbicide exposure is remanded.
Entitlement to service connection for a vision disability is remanded.
Entitlement to service connection for left lower extremity peripheral neuropathy is remanded.
Entitlement to service connection for right lower extremity peripheral neuropathy is remanded.
REASONS FOR REMAND
The Veteran served on active duty from June 1966 to April 1970.
This matter comes before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) on appeal from a September 2013 rating decision issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Regional Office (RO) in Waco, Texas.  Jurisdiction has since been transferred to the RO in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Entitlement to service connection for a heart condition, diabetes mellitus type II, chronic bronchitis, a vision disability, and bilateral lower extremity peripheral neuropathy are remanded.
The Veteran is seeking service connection for a heart condition, diabetes mellitus type II, chronic bronchitis, a vision disability, and bilateral lower extremity peripheral neuropathy.  Specifically, the Veteran contends that his disabilities are due to Agent Orange exposure during active duty service or are secondary to disabilities caused by the exposure.
In an October 2012 statement, the Veteran claimed his exposure to Agent Orange likely occurred during flights into Vietnam as a crew member.  He also stated that exposure may have occurred as a result of operations in support of cargo containing Agent Orange, or during the ground handling of aircraft returning from Vietnam.  The Veteran noted that from 1966 to 1970, he was assigned to the 437 Military Airlift Wing (MAW) as a crew member conducting general inspections and ground handling of a C-141A aircraft.  He worked as a crew member on 650220, crew chief on 650222, and then as a flight engineer on various aircraft that made routine trips to Southeast Asia.
In September 2013, the Veteran submitted another statement describing his claimed exposure to Agent Orange.  The Veteran believed he came into contact with Agent Orange at least once or twice a month while on active duty.  He worked on the Charleston Air Force Base as a C-141A series aircraft flight mechanic and his duties included refueling, cleaning, inspecting, monitoring, and routine maintenance of aircraft that was routinely in and out of Vietnam.  The Veteran became crew chief his second year on base and routinely helped the load master with cargo, which included containers marked as “dangerous,” or “poison.”  The Veteran stated he was told the containers aboard the aircraft contained Agent Orange and had seen it occasionally listed on the cargo manifests.  He also noted that every time he received an aircraft returning from Vietnam, there was a high probability of chemical residue on the plane. 
The Board notes that the Veteran’s military personnel records do not reflect service in Vietnam, or qualifying service in Thailand or Korea, and he is therefore not presumed to have been exposed to herbicides such as Agent Orange.  See 
38 U.S.C. § 1116; 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.307, 3.309.  However, this does not preclude a Veteran from establishing service connection with proof of direct causation.  See Combee v. Brown, 34 F.3d 1039 (Fed. Cir. 1994).  There are specific procedures in effect for the development and adjudication of claims related to exposure to herbicides in areas other than the Republic of Vietnam, the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ), or Thailand.  
The Veteran’s Benefits Administration Manual (M21-1) provides a procedure for verifying exposure to herbicides in locations other that the Republic of Vietnam or along the DMZ in Korea.  See M21-1 MR, Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 1, Section H, Subsection 7.  This procedure requires: (1) asking the veteran for the approximate dates, location, and nature of the alleged exposure; (2) furnishing the detailed description of exposure to Compensation Service for confirmation; and (3) requesting a review of the Department of Defense (DOD) inventory of herbicide operations to determine whether herbicides were used as alleged.  If Compensation Service’s review confirms that herbicides were used as alleged, then a determination must be made as to whether service connection is in order.  If Compensation Service’s review does not confirm that herbicides were used as alleged, then a request must be sent to the Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) for verification of exposure to herbicides.
In this case, the Agency of Original Jurisdiction (AOJ) issued an August 2013 formal finding on a lack of information required to verify exposure to Agent Orange during military service.  The AOJ determined that there was insufficient information to send to the JSRRC or the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
On the contrary, the Board finds that the Veteran provided sufficiently detailed information in both the October 2012 and September 2013 statements to send to the JSRRC and NARA to verify whether herbicides were present at the Charleston Air Force Base, as alleged.  Thus, in order to comply with the directives set forth in the M21-1, remand is warranted for additional development, specifically, contacting Compensation Service, the JSRRC, and any other appropriate sources for verification of the Veteran’s claim of exposure to herbicides while stationed at the Charleston Air Force Base.
The Board notes that there is an indication that the Veteran’s vision and bilateral lower extremity peripheral neuropathy disabilities are secondary to his diabetes mellitus type II.  As such, these issues are inextricably intertwined with the Veteran’s claims based on Agent Orange exposure and must also be remanded.  See Harris v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 180, 183 (1990) (issues are inextricably intertwined when they are so closely tied together that a final Board decision cannot be rendered unless all are adjudicated).  
The matter is REMANDED for the following action:
1. The AOJ must complete the procedures provided in the Veteran’s Benefits Administration Manual Part IV, Subpart ii, Chapter 1, Section H, Subsection 7, for verification of any herbicide exposure, to include the Veteran’s contention that he was exposed to Agent Orange while stationed at Charleston Air Force Base from 1966 to 1970.  In particular, the AOJ must send a request to Compensation Service, the JSRRC, and any other appropriate sources for verification as to whether the Veteran was exposed to herbicide agents during his period of service, as the Veteran has alleged, in accordance with the instructions set forth in M21-1 IV.ii.1.H.7. 
All documentation sent and received by the AOJ must be associated with the claims file.
2. The AOJ should make a determination as to whether the Veteran was exposed to herbicide agents, to include Agent Orange during military service, and then undertake any additional development, to include the scheduling of VA examinations, if deemed necessary.
3. After completing the above, and any other development as may be indicated by any response received as a consequence of the actions taken in the preceding paragraphs, the Veteran’s claims should be readjudicated based on the entirety of the evidence.  If any benefit sought remains denied, furnish the Veteran a supplemental statement of the case (SSOC) and return the case to the Board.
 
KRISTI L. GUNN
Veterans Law Judge
Board of Veterans’ Appeals
ATTORNEY FOR THE BOARD	L. Silverblatt, Associate Counsel

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