Citation Nr: 18154159
Decision Date: 11/29/18	Archive Date: 11/29/18

DOCKET NO. 15-06 047
DATE:	November 29, 2018
ORDER
Entitlement to a disability rating in excess of 30 percent, between October 21, 2011 and April 8, 2014, for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD is denied.
Entitlement to a disability rating in excess of 50 percent after April 8, 2014 for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD is denied.
Entitlement to an effective date earlier than October 21, 2011 for the 30 percent rating assigned to service connected posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is denied.
FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Between October 21, 2011 and April 8, 2014, the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD was manifested by occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks.  During this appeal period, the Veteran did not demonstrate occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity.
2. On and after April 8, 2014, the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD manifested as occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity. During this appeal period, the Veteran did not demonstrate occupational and social impairment with deficiencies in most areas, nor did his service-connected PTSD result in total occupational and social impairment.
3. VA received the Veteran’s entitlement claim for a rating in excess of 10 percent for his service-connected posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) on October 21, 2011. 
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. Between October 21, 2011 and April 8, 2014, the criteria for a disability rating in excess of 30 percent for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD are not met.  38 U.S.C. §§ 1155, 5103, 5103A, 5107 (2012); 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.102, 3.159, 4.1-4.14, 4.21, 4.126, 4.130, Diagnostic Code 9411 (2017). 
2. On and after April 8, 2014, the criteria for a disability rating in excess of 50 percent for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD are not met.  38 U.S.C. §§ 1155, 5103, 5103A, 5107 (2012); 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.102, 3.159, 4.1-4.14, 4.21, 4.126, 4.130, Diagnostic Code 9411 (2017).
3. The requirements are not met for an effective date prior to October 21, 2011 for a 30% valuation for the Veteran’s service-connected posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  38 U.S.C. §§ 5101, 5110, 7104; 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.1 (p), 3.400.
REASONS AND BASES FOR FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS
The Veteran served in the United States Army from October 1967 to January 1970.  The Veteran’s certificate of release from active duty (DD214) indicates that he was the recipient of the Vietnam Service Medal and a Vietnam Campaign Medal.
The Board has thoroughly reviewed all the evidence in the Veteran’s claims file.  Although the Board has an obligation to provide reasons and bases supporting this decision, there is no need to discuss, in detail, all of the evidence submitted by the Veteran or on his behalf.  See Gonzalez v. West, 218 F.3d 1378, 1380-81 (Fed. Cir. 2000) (the Board must review the entire record, but does not have to discuss each piece of evidence).  The analysis below focuses on the most salient and relevant evidence and on what this evidence shows, or fails to show, on the claims.  The Veteran must not assume that the Board has overlooked pieces of evidence that are not explicitly discussed herein.  See Timberlake v. Gober, 14 Vet. App. 122, 128-30 (2000) (the law requires only that the Board address its reasons for rejecting evidence favorable to the Veteran).
Increased Ratings
Disability ratings are determined by applying the criteria set forth in VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (Rating Schedule), which is based on the average impairment of earning capacity.  Individual disabilities are assigned separate diagnostic codes.  38 U.S.C. § 1155 (2012); 38 C.F.R. § 4.1 (2017).  The basis of disability evaluations is the ability of the body as a whole, or of the psyche, or of a system or organ of the body to function under the ordinary conditions of daily life including employment.  38 C.F.R. § 4.10.
If there is a question as to which evaluation to apply to the Veteran’s disability, the higher evaluation will be assigned if the disability picture more nearly approximates the criteria for that rating.  Otherwise, the lower rating will be assigned. 38 C.F.R. § 4.7.  When reasonable doubt arises as to the degree of disability, such doubt will be resolved in the Veteran’s favor.  38 C.F.R. § 4.3.
In considering the severity of a disability, it is essential to trace the medical history of the veteran.  38 C.F.R. §§ 4.1, 4.2, 4.41.  Consideration of the whole-recorded history is necessary so that a rating may accurately reflect the elements of any disability present.  38 C.F.R. § 4.2; Peyton v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 282 (1991).  Although the regulations do not give past medical reports precedence over current findings, the Board is to consider the veteran’s medical history in determining the applicability of a higher rating for the entire period in which the appeal has been pending.  Powell v. West, 13 Vet. App. 31, 34 (1999).
The Board must also assess the competence and credibility of lay statements and testimony.  Barr v. Nicholson, 21 Vet. App. 303, 308 (2007).  In increased rating claims, a Veteran’s lay statements alone, absent a negative credibility determination, may constitute competent evidence of worsening, at least with respect to observable symptoms.  See Vazquez-Flores v. Shinseki, 24 Vet. App. 94, 102 (2010), rev’d on other grounds by Vazquez-Flores v. Shinseki, 580 F.3d 1270, 1277 (Fed. Cir. 2009).  The Veteran is uniquely suited to describe the severity, frequency, and the duration of the symptoms that accompany his service-connected PTSD.  See Falzone v. Brown, 8 Vet. App. 398 (1995); Heuer v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 379 (1995).
Staged ratings are appropriate when the factual findings show distinct time periods in which a disability exhibits symptoms that warrant different ratings.  Hart v. Mansfield, 21 Vet. App. 505, 509-10 (2007); Fenderson v. West, 12 Vet. App. 119, 126 (1999).
The Veteran filed an increased rating claim for his service-connected PTSD on appeal on October 21, 2011.  As noted above, the Veteran’s entire history is reviewed when assigning a disability evaluation.  38 C.F.R. § 4.1. However, where service connection has already been established and an increase in the disability rating is at issue, it is the present level of disability that is of primary concern.  Francisco v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 55, 58 (1994).  In determining the present level of a disability for any increased evaluation claim, the Board must consider the application of staged ratings.  See Hart v. Mansfield, 21 Vet. App. 505, 509-510 (2007); Fenderson v. West, 12 Vet. App. 119, 126 (1999).  The Board must consider whether there have been times when his disabilities on appeal have been more severe than at others, and rate them accordingly.  “The relevant temporal focus for adjudicating an increased-rating claim is on the evidence concerning the state of the disability from the time period one year before the claim was filed until VA makes a final decision on the claim.”  Hart, 21 Vet. App. at 509.  Therefore, in the present case, the Board will place a specific focus on evidence of record back to October 21, 2010.
 
1. Entitlement to a disability rating in excess of 30 percent, between October 21, 2011 and April 8, 2014, for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD is denied.
On October 21, 2011, VA received correspondence from the Veteran.  Therein, the Veteran requested that VA reconsider the 10 percent valuation the AOJ assigned for his service-connected PTSD disability.  
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is rated under 38 C.F.R. § 4.130, DC 9411.  The relevant criteria authorize a 30 percent rating for occupational and social impairment with occasional decrease in work efficiency and intermittent periods of inability to perform occupational tasks (although generally functioning satisfactorily, with routine behavior, self-care, and conversation normal) due to such symptoms as: depressed mood; anxiety; suspiciousness; panic attacks (weekly or less often); chronic sleep impairment; mild memory loss (such as forgetting names, directions, recent events).  Id.
A 50 percent rating is warranted for occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g. retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing effective work and social relationships.  Id.
A 70 percent rating is warranted for occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.  Id.
A 100 percent rating is warranted for total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.  Id.
When evaluating a mental disorder, the rating agency shall consider the frequency, severity, and duration of psychiatric symptoms, the length of remissions, and the veteran's capacity for adjustment during periods of remission.  The rating agency shall assign an evaluation based on all the evidence of record that bears on occupational and social impairment, rather than solely on the examiner’s assessment of the level of disability at the moment of the examination.  When evaluating the level of disability from a mental disorder, the rating agency will consider the extent of social impairment, but shall not assign an evaluation solely on the basis of social impairment.  38 C.F.R. § 4.126.
The use of the term “such as” in 38 C.F.R. § 4.130 demonstrates that the symptoms after that phrase are not intended to constitute an exhaustive list, but rather are to serve as examples of the type and degree of the symptoms, or their effects, that would justify a particular rating.  Mauerhan v. Principi, 16 Vet. App. 436 (2002).
In Vazquez-Claudio v. Shinseki, 713 F.3d 112, 118 (Fed. Cir. 2013), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit stated that “a veteran may only qualify for a given disability rating under § 4.130 by demonstrating the particular symptoms associated with that percentage, or others of similar severity, frequency, and duration.”  “Although the veteran's symptomatology is the primary consideration, the regulation also requires an ultimate factual conclusion as to the veteran’s level of (occupational and social) impairment.”  Id.
Prior to August 4, 2014, one factor in evaluating psychiatric disorders was the global assessment of functioning scale (GAF).  The scale was meant to represent psychological, social, and occupational functioning on a hypothetical continuum of mental health illness.  See Richard v. Brown, 9 Vet. App. 266, 267 (1996) (citing the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM - IV)).
VA regulations were amended to remove references to the DSM-IV, and to replace them with references to the Fifth Edition of the same treatise (DSM-5). 79 Fed. Reg. 45,093-02, 45,094 (August 4, 2014).  DSM-5 abandoned the global assessment of functioning score as a tool for evaluating the severity of psychiatric disorders.  
In January 2011, the Veteran underwent a VA examination that addressed his now service-connected PTSD.  In the resultant report, Dr. CP noted that, “crowds bother him.  He said when he was in college the last semester that he had to withdraw from classes because it was difficult to be around other students.  He had multiple absences due to this.”  During the examination, the Veteran reported moderate to severe symptoms, which occurred daily since 1970.  Within the social and social functioning section, Dr. CP reported that, “the Veteran is socially isolated.  He avoids groups of people and has few friends.  He had difficulty in his marriage and relationships with his children because of psychiatric symptoms including his irritability.  He had been attending school, but has had difficulties with absences and anxiety in the classroom due to his psychiatric symptoms.”  At that time, Dr. CP reported diagnoses for PTSD, alcohol dependence (in remission), and cocaine dependence (in remission).  Within her discussion, Dr. CP noted that, “he is not at this time giving a history that consistent with some of his prior psychiatric diagnoses such as schizophrenia or depression.  The is not to say that he did not have these disorders in the past.”
In July 2011, Dr. CP supplied an c to her January 2011 VA examination report.  Therein, Dr. CP noted that symptom reports at both examinations were symptoms consistent with posttraumatic stress disorder, to include nightmares disturbed sleep, avoidance behaviors, difficulty with relationships, decreased interest in activities, irritability, hypervigilance, and exaggerated startle response.  Additionally, Dr. CP opined that, “(i)t would be mere speculation for me to comment as to why the Veteran reported different symptoms at the time of the examination with Dr. Sandu and different symptoms at the time of my examination.  The only thing I can state with certainty is to give a diagnosis based on the clinical history which I obtained in January 2011.  The clinical history is consistent with a diagnosis of (PTSD).”
On October 21, 2011, VA received correspondence from the Veteran.  Therein, the Veteran requested that VA reconsider the 10 percent evaluation rendered for his PTSD in a September 2011 rating decision.  However, the Veteran expressly indicated that he was not filing a notice of disagreement with the September 2011 rating decision. 
In February 2012, the Veteran underwent a VA examination to determine the current severity of his service-connected PTSD.  In the resultant examination report, Dr. PG identified diagnoses for PTSD and alcohol dependency (in sustained remission).  During the examination, the Veteran reported that he lives alone and attends school at a community college where he is studying sociology and psychology.  At that time, Dr. PG reported that the Veteran demonstrated occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or: symptoms controlled by medication.  Among the symptoms noted by Dr. PG were depressed mood, anxiety, chronic sleep impairment, difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships, and difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances. 
In July 2012, the Veteran submitted his notice of disagreement (NOD) with the AOJ’s 30 percent valuation for his service-connected PTSD.  Therein, the Veteran posited that, “I feel that I should be evaluated as being (50%) fifty percent service connected for my PTSD condition.”
In January 2013, a mental health note was generated by provider KB at the Jackson VA medical center (VAMC).  During the medical appointment, the Veteran denied any suicidal ideation.  At that time, based on standardized testing, KB reported severe depressive symptoms, severe anxiety, clinical insomnia, and a panic disorder.  
After consideration of the totality of the evidence for the applicable claim period October 21, 2010 to April 8, 2014, the Board concludes that a rating in excess of 30 percent is not warranted for the Veteran’s PTSD disability.  As the evidence of record is not roughly in equipoise with regard to the assignment of higher evaluation, there is no doubt to resolve.  38 U.S.C. § 5107 (West 2014); Gilbert, supra.
While the January 2013 mental health treatment record noted that the Veteran had severe symptoms of depression, anxiety, clinical insomnia, and a panic disorder, the record does not show that symptomatology consistent with occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity.  On the contrary, the Feburary 2012 VA examination opined that the Veteran’s symptoms were more consistent with occupational and social impairment due to mild or transient symptoms which decrease work efficiency and ability to perform occupational tasks only during periods of significant stress, or symptoms controlled by medication.  In reaching this conclusion, Dr. PG considered the Veteran’s depressed mood, anxiety, chronic sleep impairment, difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships, and difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances.  The Board agrees that the Veteran did not demonstrate symptoms consistent with occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity.  The record does not show that the Veteran had symptoms such as flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short and long term memory (e.g., retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; or difficulty in establishing and maintaining effective work and social relationships.  Accordingly, the Board finds that the criteria for a rating in excess of the currently assigned 30 percent prior to April 8, 2014 is not warranted.



The Board has also considered whether the case should be referred to the Director of the VA Compensation Service for extra-schedular consideration under 38 C.F.R. § 3.321 (a) (2014).  In determining whether a case should be referred for extra-schedular consideration, the Board must compare the level of severity and the symptomatology of the claimant’s disability with the established criteria provided in the rating schedule for disability.  If the criteria reasonably describe the claimant’s disability level and symptomatology, then the disability picture is contemplated by the rating schedule, the assigned evaluation is therefore adequate, and no referral for extra-schedular consideration is required.  See Thun v. Peake, 22 Vet. App. 111, 115 (2008).  In this case, the manifestations of the Veteran’s PTSD disability are contemplated by the schedular criteria.  Therefore, referral for extra-schedular consideration is not warranted.
2. Entitlement to a disability rating in excess of 50 percent after April 8, 2014 for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD is denied.
In March 2015, VA received  correspondence from the Veteran.  Therein, the Veteran posited that, “I am again filing a notice of disagreement with the board awarding me a (50) fifty percent evaluation for my PTSD condition.  In my opinion, I feel that my PTSD condition should now be evaluated as being (100) one hundred percent disabling.  My PTSD condition is now compounded with my service connected prostate cancer condition.”  
As the Board noted above, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is rated under 38 C.F.R. § 4.130, DC 9411.  The relevant criteria authorize a 50 percent rating is warranted for occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity due to such symptoms as: flattened affect; circumstantial, circumlocutory, or stereotyped speech; panic attacks more than once a week; difficulty in understanding complex commands; impairment of short- and long-term memory (e.g. retention of only highly learned material, forgetting to complete tasks); impaired judgment; impaired abstract thinking; disturbances of motivation and mood; difficulty in establishing effective work and social relationships.  Id.
A 70 percent rating is warranted for occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships.  Id.
A 100 percent rating is warranted for total occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name.  Id.
On April 16, 2014, the Veteran underwent a VA examination that addressed the current severity of his service-connected PTSD.  In the resultant report, Dr. MSR noted a diagnosis for PTSD.  At that time, Dr. MSR noted that the Veteran’s PTSD symptoms were demonstrative of occupational and social impairment with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgement, thinking and/or mood.  The Veteran’s self-reported symptoms included depression, anger, anxiety, suicidal and homicidal ideation, nightmares, startle response, hypervigilance and a history of auditory hallucinations.  Within his remarks, Dr. MSR noted that, “(h)is very valid MMPI shows Depression and Schizophrenia 80-95 T-scores and PTSD PK 95 T-scores.  Severe PTSD worse than previous C&P and current rating of 30%.”
On April 22, 2014, a mental health note was generated by DDB at the Jackson VA medical clinic (VAMC).  Therein, DDB noted the Veteran’s diagnoses for PTSD and a psychotic disorder.  The Veteran demonstrated appropriate mood, normal speech, coherent thought processes, no suicidal or homicidal ideation, and no delusions.  
In April 2015, the Veteran underwent a VA examination to determine the current severity of his service-connected PTSD.  In the resultant report, Dr. Young noted diagnoses for PTSD, unspecified depressive disorder, and tobacco use disorder.  At that time, Dr. Young concluded that the Veteran’s symptoms resulted in occupational and social impairment with reduced reliability and productivity.  Within the history portion, Dr. Young observed that, “(o)verall, this Veteran is experiencing significant PTSD symptoms with depression.  Veteran's depression is severe enough to warrant a separate diagnosis.  Veteran presents with a positive, pleasant mood, however, he reported that most days feels numb [likely related to PTSD and depression].” Among the noted symptoms, Dr. Young observed depressed mood, anxiety, chronic leep impairment mild memory loss, disturbance of motivation and mood, difficulty in establishing and maintaining relationships, and difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances.  Ultimately, Dr. Young observed cognitive functioning within normal limits, 2/3 short term memory, orientation (x4), euthymic mood with congruent affect, alertness, cooperative concrete thought processes, good eye contact, normal rate and volume of speech, normal motoric movements, and steady gait.  During the interview, the Veteran denied suicidal and homicidal ideations.  
In December 2015, another mental health note was generated by provider DDB at the Jackson VA medical clinic (VAMC).  Therein, DDB noted diagnoses for PTSD and a psychotic disorder, and she assigned a GAF value of 56.  At that time, the Veteran was casually dressed and fairly groomed.  The Veteran was alert and orientated with depressed mood, constricted affect, normal speech, coherent thought, and he expressed no suicidal or homicidal ideation. 
Based on the forgoing, the Board finds that a 50 percent evaluation for the Veteran’s PTSD is warranted on and after April 8, 2014. 
During the applicable appeal period, at least three different VA providers generated multiple competent medical notations for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD.  The Board notes that, in April 2014, Dr. MSR reported occupational and social impairment with deficiencies in most areas.  
When evaluating the evidence of record, the Board must assess the credibility and probative value of the evidence, and, provided that it offers an adequate statement of reasons or bases, the Board may favor one medical opinion over another.  See Owens v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 429, 433 (1995).
Important to this Board analysis, the report provided by Dr. MSR was the only competent medical insight during the applicable claim period that characterized the Veteran’s disability picture in a manner that suggested an evaluation in excess of 50 percent for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD.  Within multiple notations, VA provider DDB observed and documented moderate (or mild) symptoms for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD.  Similarly, Dr. Young depicted the Veteran’s PTSD symptoms in manner that clearly warrants the currently assigned 50 percent disability rating. 
The Board has found the descriptions of symptomatology and limitations provided by the Veteran to be credible and consistent with the evidentiary record and relied upon, in part, by the VA providers to determine the impairment caused by his PTSD.  To the extent that the Veteran perceives a greater level of disability than awarded by the Board, the Board places greater probative weight on the findings and opinions of the VA examiners who have greater expertise and training than the Veteran in evaluating the impairment caused by PTSD.  There is no further doubt of material fact to be resolved in the Veteran’s favor. 38 U.S.C. § 5107 (b).  Entitlement to a disability rating in excess of 50 percent after April 8, 2014 for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD is denied.
The Board notes that, in his March 2015 NOD, the Veteran posits that, “I feel that the (PTSD) should be evaluated as being (100) one hundred percent disabling.  My PTSD condition is now compounded with my service connected prostate cancer.”  In May 2015, the AOJ awarded a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU), effective May 22, 2014.  The AOJ base its award on the following disability evaluations: 60 percent for prostate cancer, 50 percent for PTSD, 30 percent for bowel and sphincter control, and non-compensable erectile dysfunction.  As a result of the AOJ’s grant of TDIU, the Board concludes the benefit sought on appeal has been granted in full for this issue.  
3. Entitlement to an earlier effective date for a 30 percent disability valuation for service-connect posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is denied.
In July 2012, the Veteran submitted a notice of disagreement (NOD) with a June 27, 2012 rating decision, which increased his PTSD evaluation from 10 to 30 percent, effective October 21, 2011. Therein, the Veteran posited that, “(t)he effective date of the (30%) thirty percent should be January 8, 2009.”
Generally, the effective date of an evaluation and award of pension, compensation, or dependency and indemnity compensation based on an original claim, a claim for increase, or a claim reopened after final disallowance, will be the date of receipt of the claim or the date entitlement arose, whichever is the later.  38 U.S.C. 5110 (a) (2012); 38 C.F.R. 3.400 (2017) (emphasis added).  Unless otherwise provided, the effective date of compensation will be fixed in accordance with the facts found, but will not be earlier than the date of receipt of the claimant’s application.  38 U.S.C. 5110 (a).
The applicable statutory and regulatory provisions require that VA look to all communications from a veteran which may be interpreted as applications or claims—formal and informal—for benefits.  In particular, VA is required to identify and act on informal claims for benefits.  See 38 U.S.C. 5110 (b)(3); 38 C.F.R. 3.1 (p), 3.155(a).  The Federal Circuit has emphasized that VA has a duty to fully and sympathetically develop a veteran’s claim to its optimum, which includes determining all potential claims raised by the evidence and applying all relevant laws and regulations.  See Harris v. Shinseki, 704 F.3d 946, 948-49 (Fed. Cir. 2013); Szemraj v. Principi, 357 F.3d 1370, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Moody v. Principi, 360 F.3d 1306, 1310 (Fed. Cir. 2004); Roberson v. Principi, 251 F.3d 1378 (Fed. Cir. 2001).  The Board is required to adjudicate all issues reasonably raised by a liberal reading of the appeal, including all documents and oral testimony in the record prior to the Board’s decision.  See Brannon v. West, 12 Vet. App. 32 (1998); Solomon v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 396 (1994).  However, in determining whether an informal claim has been made, VA is not required to read the minds of the veteran or his representative.  Cintron v. West, 13 Vet. App. 251, 259 (1999).
A specific claim in the form prescribed by the Secretary must be filed in order for benefits to be paid or furnished to any individual under the laws administered by the Secretary.  See 38 U.S.C. 5101 (a); 38 C.F.R. 3.151 (a).  A claim is a formal or informal communication in writing requesting a determination of entitlement or evidencing a belief in entitlement to a benefit.  38 C.F.R. 3.1 (p).  Any communication or action indicating an intent to apply for VA benefits from a claimant or representative may be considered an informal claim.  Such an informal claim must identify the benefit sought.  38 C.F.R. 3.155 (a).  Again, VA is required to identify and act on informal claims for benefits.  38 U.S.C. 5110 (b)(3); 38 C.F.R. 3.1 (p), 3.155(a).  However, VA is not required to anticipate any potential claim for a particular benefit where no intention to raise it was expressed.  See Brannon v. West, 12 Vet. App. 32, 35 (1998) (holding that before VA can adjudicate a claim for benefits, “the claimant must submit a written document identifying the benefit and expressing some intent to seek it”).  See also Talbert v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 352, 356-57 (1995).
The essential elements for any claim, whether formal or informal, are: (1) an intent to apply for benefits; (2) an identification of the benefits sought; and (3) a communication in writing.  Brokowski v. Shinseki, 23 Vet. App. 79, 84 (2009); see also MacPhee v. Nicholson, 459 F.3d 1323, 1326-27 (Fed. Cir. 2006) (holding that the plain language of the regulations requires a claimant to have intent to file a claim for VA benefits).
When there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination, the benefit of the doubt is afforded the claimant.  38 U.S.C. 5107 (b).
At the outset, the Board is mindful that effective March 24, 2015, VA regulations no longer recognize informal claim for benefits.  See 79 Fed. Reg. 57694 - 57697 (Sept. 25, 2014).  That is, a claim for benefits must be submitted on the application form prescribed by the Secretary.  38 C.F.R. 3.1 (p), 3.155, 3.160 (effective March 24, 2015).  However, the final rulemaking is only applicable with respect to claims and appeals filed on or after March 24, 2015.  Therefore, as the PTSD claim at issue was clearly pending prior to March 24, 2015, these changes are not for consideration in the present case.
Upon deliberate and careful review of the evidence within the Veteran’s claims file, the Board finds that an effective date before October 21, 2011 is not warranted for the 30 percent valuation of the Veteran’s PTSD disability.
On January 8, 2009, VA received the Veteran’s VA Form 21-4138.  Therein, the Veteran requested that his entitlement claim for service connection for a posttraumatic stress disorder by re-opened.  In March 2009, the agency of original jurisdiction (AOJ) found that new and material evidence had not been submitted sufficient to reopen the Veteran’s PTSD claim.  In February 2010, the Veteran submitted his timely notice of disagreement (NOD) with AOJ’s denial of service connection.  
In September 2011, the AOJ granted the Veteran’s entitlement claim for PTSD, assigning a 10 percent evaluation.  On October 21, 2011, VA received correspondence from the Veteran.  Therein, the Veteran requested that VA reconsider the 10 percent valuation that was assigned by the AOJ for his service-connected PTSD disability.  Notably, the Veteran wrote, “this is not a notice of disagreement with the . . . September 13, 2011 rating decision.” (emphasis added).
In June 2012 rating decision, the AOJ increased the disability valuation for the Veteran’s service-connected PTSD from 10 to 30 percent.  As noted above, in July 2012, the Veteran submitted a notice of disagreement (NOD) with the June 27, 2012 AOJ rating decision, which increased his PTSD evaluation from 10 to 30 percent, effective October 21, 2011.
After careful and deliberate review of the claims file, the Board concludes that October 21, 2011 is the earliest date of claim for this effective date analysis.  The Veteran did not file a notice of disagreement with the September 13, 2011 rating decision.  On the contrary, the Veteran expressly indicated in his October 2011 correspondence that he was not filing a notice of disagreement.  Accordingly, the October 2011 communication is not a notice of disagreement of the prior denial.  Accordingly, the September 2011 rating decision is final.  The first communication after the September 2011 rating decision that be considered a claim for an increased rating is the statement received by the Veteran on October 21, 2011 requesting a reconsideration of the disability rating assigned.  Accordingly, October 21, 2011 is the date of receipt of the Veteran’s claim for an increased disability rating following the final September 2011 rating decision.  In other words, the Veteran did not contest the AOJ’s valuation for his service-connected PTSD before October 21, 2011.  
Ultimately, the Board finds that the preponderance of the evidence stands counter to the Veteran’s claim for an earlier effective date for his service-connected PTSD.  Since the preponderance of the evidence is against this claim, the provisions of 38 U.S.C. § 5107(b), regarding reasonable doubt, are not applicable.  The Veteran’s claim of entitlement to an earlier effective date for his service-connected PTSD 
 
must be denied, because the preponderance of the evidence weighs against his claim.
 
DAVID L. WIGHT
Veterans Law Judge
Board of Veterans’ Appeals
ATTORNEY FOR THE BOARD	RLBJ, Associate Counsel 

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