Published by Stars and Stripes

Lawyers at the nonprofit National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) had been screening Board of Veterans’ Appeals decisions for years, looking for just the right case involving denial of disability compensation to a veteran suffering from chronic service-related pain but due to a condition that doctors couldn’t diagnose.

The NVLSP needed such a case to challenge a 1999 precedent-setting ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims that found the Department of Veterans Affairs was not required to compensate a veteran for pain if physicians aren’t able to identify the cause.

In May 2016 the NVLSP found the promising case it sought. Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit decided it favorably for Army veteran Melba Saunders. The April 3 ruling in Saunders v. Wilkie, if it stands, could benefit thousands of veterans who have had VA compensation claims for pain denied for lack of a medical diagnosis.

“It’s often true that veterans have pain and physicians can’t diagnosis exactly what’s causing it,” said Bart Stichman, executive director of NVLSP and one of Saunders’ attorneys. However, he said, “lack of a medical diagnosis shouldn’t prevent the VA from granting disability benefits for the pain if it’s related to an event or injury or disease in service.”