from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
in No. 14-4329, Judge Bruce E. Kasold.
Zachary Stolz, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick,
Providence, RI, argued for claimant-appellant. Also
represented by Jenna Zellmer, Robert Vincent Chisholm, Megan
Marie Ellis; Barbara J. Cook, Barbara J. Cook, Attorney at
Law, Cincinnati, OH.
William James Grimaldi, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil
Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington,
DC, argued for respondent-appellee. Also represented by
Benjamin C. Mizer, Robert E. Kirschman, Jr., Martin F.
Hockey, Jr.; Christopher O. Adeloye, Brian D. Griffin, Office
of General Counsel, United States Department of Veterans
Affairs, Washington, DC.
Wallach, Chen, and Stoll, Circuit Judges.
Wallach, Circuit Judge.
Prezell Goodman appeals from a judgment of the U.S. Court of
Appeals for Veterans Claims ("Veterans Court") that
affirmed the Board of Veterans' Appeals'
("Board") denial of service-connected benefits for
rheumatoid arthritis to include as due to a medically
unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness ("MUCMI")
under 38 C.F.R. § 3.317 (2015). Goodman v.
McDonald, No. 14-4329, 2016 WL 852866, at *1 (Vet.App.
Mar. 4, 2016). We affirm.
Goodman served in the U.S. Army from 1972 to 1992, which
included service in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf
War. J.A. 14-19, 107. During his service and at his discharge
from the Army, Mr. Goodman underwent medical examinations
that returned negative for rheumatoid arthritis. J.A. 161,
164-65. In fact, during a service separation examination, he
denied having any pain in his joints or arthritis. J.A. 162.
2007, Mr. Goodman sought treatment at a Department of
Veterans Affairs ("VA") medical center for hand
stiffness and bilateral knee pain; the latter he said had
begun during service "since [the age of] 21 [years
old]." J.A. 22. Mr. Goodman filed a claim for VA
benefits for rheumatoid arthritis four months after this
medical examination. J.A. 30-31. The regional office and the
Board denied Mr. Goodman's claim that this injury was
caused or further aggravated by his service in Southwest
Asia. J.A. 37-40, 64-70.
Goodman appealed the Board's decision to the Veterans
Court. J.A. 74. Following this appeal, both parties entered a
joint motion for remand, in which they agreed that "[the
Board's] statement of reasons or bases [was]
inadequate" because it failed "to apply the
provisions of 38 C.F.R. § 3.317 to [Mr. Goodman's]
claim for entitlement to VA benefits based on service
connection for rheumatoid arthritis." J.A. 76.
Specifically, the parties agreed that the Board failed to
consider whether Mr. Goodman's rheumatoid arthritis may
be entitled to a presumptive service connection as a MUCMI
under § 3.317. J.A. 77-79. The parties also agreed that
"it is solely a medical determination as to whether [Mr.
Goodman's] illness qualifies . . . as a
'[MUCMI].'" J.A. 78 (citation omitted).
remand, the Board sought an independent medical advisory
opinion from the Veterans Health Administration, see
J.A. 107, which was conducted by a VA medical center Director
of Rheumatology in 2014 ("2014 Medical Opinion"),
J.A. 90-95. The 2014 Medical Opinion first stated that
"it is less likely than not" that Mr. Goodman's
rheumatoid arthritis can be characterized as a MUCMI within
the meaning of § 3.317. J.A. 90 ("[R]heumatoid
arthritis has at least partially explained and widely
accepted concepts in regards to etiology and pathogenesis
that are well documented and established in the
literature."). Second, the 2014 Medical Opinion stated
that it "is less likely than not that [Mr.
Goodman's] rheumatoid arthritis is related to a specific
exposure event experi- enced by [Mr. Goodman] during service,
including in Southwest Asia." J.A. 91. As support for
this second finding, the 2014 Medical Opinion noted Mr.
Goodman's medical records, including his prior negative
tests for rheumatoid arthritis and denial of arthritis and
joint pain upon retirement. J.A. 91. The 2014 Medical Opinion
further noted that the onset of Mr. Goodman's arthritis
"manifested historically and objectively long
after" his service and his "rheumatoid arthritis
was diagnosed [fifteen] years following discharge from active
service." J.A. 91.
on the 2014 Medical Opinion, the Board again denied Mr.
Goodman's claim for failure to satisfy the requirements
of § 3.317. J.A. 126. The Board found the 2014 Medical
Opinion to be "highly probative and persuasive, "
prepared by "a medical expert in the field of
rheumatology, " and the "only competent medical
evidence [on record] as to the question [at hand]." J.A.
116. The Board relied upon the 2014 Medical Opinion in
finding that "rheumatoid arthritis[, as] a chronic
multi-symptom illness . . . of partially understood etiology
and patho-physiology[, ] will not be considered medically
unexplained, " such that Mr. Goodman was not entitled to
a presumptive service connection for a MUCMI. J.A. 116
Goodman appealed the Board's decision to the Veterans
Court, alleging in part that the Board erred in not granting
him presumptive service-connection under §
3.317(a)(2)(ii) because the 2014 Medical Opinion "could
not pinpoint a specific etiology or pathophysiology for Mr.
Goodman's [illness]." J.A. 2. The Veterans Court
found that the Board had not erred in its interpretation of
§ 3.317. Goodman, 2016 WL 852866, at *2. The
Veterans Court further held that the Board "assigned
[the 2014 Medical Opinion] significant weight and . . . its
assignment of weight is plausible and not clearly
erroneous." Id. The court went on to clarify
that "[b]y using the phrase 'such as' when
citing diabetes and multiple sclerosis as diseases that are