Veteranclaims’s Blog

June 20, 2019

Shea v. Wilkie, No. 2018-1735(Decided: June 20, 2019); informal claim history; § 3.155(2007); legal standard for reading informal claims; where a claimant’s filings refer to specific medical records, and those records contain a reasonably ascertainable diagnosis of a disability, the claimant has raised an informal claim for that disability under § 3.155(a);

Excerpt from decision below:

“Specifically, VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals concluded that, under the regulation then governing informal claims, Ms. Shea’s 2007 application did not adequately convey that she was seeking benefits for a psychiatric disability. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) affirmed. In this appeal by Ms. Shea, we conclude that the Veterans Court applied too restrictive a legal standard in reading her 2007 application. We vacate the Veterans Court’s decision and remand for further proceedings.”

=========================

” The Veterans Court’s rejection of that theory rested on too restrictive an interpretation of § 3.155(a). The Veterans Court seemingly required that, to “identify the benefit sought” as required by the regulation, Ms. Shea’s application itself had to contain words that themselves refer to a
psychiatric disability or to mental-health symptoms, as opposed to language that points to records mentioning such a condition in a way that, sympathetically read, is properly understood as seeking benefits for such a condition. The Veterans Court’s apparent requirement is contrary to the
more flexible standard we draw from our precedents
, as discussed above.
Although the Veterans Court stated that “medical records alone are not sufficient to raise an initial claim for benefits,” J.A. 10, Ms. Shea has been explicit that she is not arguing otherwise. She relies on the claim-stating documents’ concrete references to specified records. We thus do not have before us a question whether the § 3.155(a) standard can be met by the existence of a diagnosis in a claimant’s medical records, without more, or in conjunction with
5 Given the medical-records references in her claim
filings, we do not address the seemingly hypothetical contention
that a claim for psychiatric-disability benefits
would properly be found in those filings even if they did no
more than state that her disabilities began on January 23,
2007 (which was the day of the truck accident, though the
October and December 2007 filings do not say that).
14 SHEA v. WILKIE


a generalized request for all benefits that are supported in all medical records that VA would gather in the ordinary course. We hold only that, where a claimant’s filings refer to specific medical records, and those records contain a reasonably ascertainable diagnosis of a disability, the claimant has raised an informal claim for that disability under
§ 3.155(a).

=========================

United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit


KERRY E. SHEA, Claimant-Appellant v. ROBERT WILKIE, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS, Respondent-Appellee


2018-1735


Appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims in No. 16-3479, Judge Amanda L. Mere-dith.


Decided: June 20, 2019


ISAAC CHAIM BELFER, Covington & Burling LLP, Wash-ington, DC, argued for claimant-appellant. Also repre-sented by JEFFREY HOWARD LERNER; RICHARD VALENTINE SPATARO, National Veterans Legal Services Program, Washington, DC. MOLLIE LENORE FINNAN, Commercial Litigation Branch, Civil Division, United States Department of Jus-tice, Washington, DC, argued for respondent-appellee. Also represented by JOSEPH H. HUNT, TARA K. HOGAN, ROBERT EDWARD KIRSCHMAN, JR.; MARTIE ADELMAN, BRIAN
2 SHEA v. WILKIE
D. GRIFFIN, DEREK SCADDEN, Office of General Counsel,
United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington,
DC.


Before DYK, REYNA, and TARANTO, Circuit Judges.
TARANTO, Circuit Judge.
Kerry Shea served in the United States Air Force. In
2007, she filed an application with the Department of Veterans
Affairs (VA) for disability benefits, expressly reciting
physical injuries she sustained from an in-service truck accident.
In 2008, she expressly sought disability benefits for
a psychiatric condition connected to her military service.
VA granted benefits for both physical and psychiatric conditions,
but when Ms. Shea argued for a 2007 effective date
for the psychiatric-disability benefits on the ground that
her 2007 application presented an informal claim for psychiatric-
disability benefits, VA disagreed. Specifically, VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals concluded that, under the regulation then governing informal claims, Ms. Shea’s 2007 application did not adequately convey that she was seeking benefits for a psychiatric disability. The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court) affirmed. In this appeal by Ms. Shea, we conclude that the Veterans Court applied too restrictive a legal standard in reading her 2007 application. We vacate the Veterans Court’s decision and remand for further proceedings.
I
A
Ms. Shea began serving in the Air Force in October

  1. Her pre-enlistment examination indicated a normal
    psychiatric condition. On January 19, 2007, while stationed
    at the Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls,
    Texas, Ms. Shea underwent an Air Force medical examination.
    The record of the examination states a diagnosis of
    SHEA v. WILKIE 3
    an adjustment disorder with anxiety and depressed mood,
    and it notes, among other things, that she found the Air
    Force harder than anticipated, was having difficulty in her
    classes, and had obtained professional help for anxiety and
    depression. Four days later, on January 23, 2007, Ms. Shea
    was struck by a large truck while on base. She was brought
    to the emergency room at the United Regional Health Care
    System, where several examinations showed that she had
    sustained various physical injuries, including a right pulmonary
    contusion, a transverse process fracture of L3, a
    left iliac wing fracture, and a right L3 acetabular fracture.
    After being released from the emergency room, Ms.
    Shea was treated at several different facilities. On January
    31, 2007, she entered HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital
    in Wichita Falls, Texas. Her medical records from
    that facility report anxiety, depression, and impaired
    memory, which were “currently exacerbated,” and for
    which she was prescribed antidepressants. J.A. 171. She
    was discharged from rehabilitation on March 21, 2007.
    On March 28, 2007, an Air Force medical evaluation
    board recommended that Ms. Shea be discharged from the
    military. The board reasoned that Ms. Shea’s continued
    service was “not compatible with anxiety and depression
    and sleep disturbance[,] which puts her at risk for inattention
    and evident self harm,” and that she might not recover
    from her physical injuries quickly enough to return to active
    duty. J.A. 186.
    Near the beginning of April 2007, Ms. Shea was transferred
    to Dover Air Force Base, where her then-husband
    was stationed, to continue her treatment. Her medical records
    from her time at Dover, though primarily focused on
    her physical injuries, also list diagnoses of anxiety and depression
    and note that Ms. Shea was having some memory
    problems.
    An Air Force physical evaluation board determined in
    May 2007 that Ms. Shea’s pelvic fractures and transverse
    4 SHEA v. WILKIE
    process fracture were unfitting conditions that were compensable
    and ratable but that her adjustment disorder
    with depression and anxiety was not separately unfitting
    and was not compensable or ratable. On July 2, 2007, Ms.
    Shea was discharged from the Air Force because of her
    physical disabilities.
    B
    On October 19, 2007, Ms. Shea submitted a claim for
    disability benefits to VA. Her statement in support of the
    claim states, “Veteran is App[l]ying For se[r]vice connected
    disabilit[i]es,” and adds, “Please see Attached VA Form 21-
    526.” J.A. 254. The referred-to form, under the heading
    “What disability are you claiming?,” lists four physical disabilities:
    “Pelvic Fractures and transverse process fracture
    of L3,” “Shortness of breath,” “Right and Left Pulmonary
    contu[s]ions,” and “Pain chest.” J.A. 245. Under the heading
    “When did your disability begin?,” the form specifies
    “1/23/2007,” the date of the truck accident, for each disability.
    Id. And for the address of the medical facility or doctor
    that treated Ms. Shea for each disability, the form lists the
    United Regional hospital for the first disability, the Wichita
    Falls rehabilitation hospital for the second, and the Dover
    facility for the last two. Id.1
    After receiving the claim, VA sent Ms. Shea a letter regarding
    the agency’s duty to assist veterans in obtaining
    evidence needed to substantiate their claims. In response
    to that letter, in December 2007, Ms. Shea submitted an
    additional statement in support of her claim, explaining
    that she had been treated by “United Regional Medical Ctr,
    Texas, Health South, Texas,” another “VA Hospital,” and
    1 Ms. Shea appointed the American Legion as her
    representative. The parties accept that Ms. Shea should
    be treated as having filed her initial claim pro se.
    SHEA v. WILKIE 5
    two doctors in Dover. J.A. 290. She requested that VA
    “please obtain these records + grant benefits.” Id.
    In February 2008, the relevant VA regional office (RO)
    found that Ms. Shea’s transverse process fracture, pelvic
    fracture, and rib fractures were connected to her service
    within the meaning of, e.g., 38 U.S.C. § 1110 and 38 C.F.R.
    § 3.303. For the resulting benefits, the RO assigned an effective
    date of July 3, 2007, the day after Ms. Shea was discharged
    from service. Under a governing regulation, that
    was the proper effective date because her claim was filed
    within a year of her discharge. See 38 C.F.R.
    § 3.400(b)(2)(i) (2007).
    Ms. Shea submitted a notice of disagreement with the
    RO’s decision on July 7, 2008. She attached to that filing a
    letter asking that VA “please reconsider my disability rating”
    and explaining that, among other symptoms, “I also
    don’t remember a lot of things I do, even the same day,”
    “[m]y job had to print out special instructions for me to
    close out the computer step by step because I am unable to
    remember day to day,” and “I live the accident daily now.”
    J.A. 304. Eventually, VA found that letter (but no earlier
    filing) to be sufficient to present a claim for psychiatric-disability
    benefits.
    The path to that finding was as follows. On September
    9, 2008, Ms. Shea filed a claim in which she requested a
    determination of service connection for post-traumatic
    stress disorder (PTSD), noting that she was “now having
    problems.” J.A. 306. She submitted a statement in support
    of that claim on October 15, 2008, clarifying that her asserted
    PTSD was secondary to her in-service truck accident.
    The RO granted Ms. Shea’s PTSD claim in February
    2009 and assigned a 50% disability rating effective September
    9, 2008, the date of her submission expressly requesting
    benefits for PTSD. On April 7, 2009, Ms. Shea
    submitted a notice of disagreement with the RO’s decision,
    6 SHEA v. WILKIE
    challenging the effective date of her benefits for PTSD. She
    explained that “[t]his case has been in an appea[l]s status
    since origi[]nal application of 7/07” (her discharge month)
    and asked “to have grant go back to that date.” J.A. 351.
    Almost five years later, in March 2014, the Board rejected
    Ms. Shea’s argument for an effective date earlier
    than September 9, 2008, for the PTSD benefits. It found
    that there was no formal or informal claim, or written intent
    to file a claim, for PTSD until September 9, 2008.2 Ms.
    Shea appealed that decision to the Veterans Court.
    In December 2015, Ms. Shea and VA jointly moved for
    a partial remand to the Board. They agreed that, in determining
    whether Ms. Shea had filed a claim for PTSD before
    September 9, 2008, the Board had failed to consider Ms.
    Shea’s July 7, 2008 statement that she was experiencing
    memory difficulties. That statement, the parties agreed,
    was especially relevant “in light of subsequent medical evidence
    of record highlighting the symptom of memory loss
    before diagnosing her with PTSD and with an adjustment
    disorder with mixed anxiety and depressive mood.” J.A.
  2. The Veterans Court granted the motion and remanded
    the case to the Board.
    The Board issued its decision on remand in July 2016.
    It relied on 38 C.F.R. § 3.155, a regulation governing informal
    claims, which, in the version applicable to this matter,
    provided that “[a]ny communication or action, indicating
    an intent to apply for one or more benefits under the laws
    administered by [VA], . . . may be considered an informal
    claim” but that “[s]uch informal claim must identify the
    2 The Board also remanded Ms. Shea’s claims related
    to her lumbar spine, hip, and rib disabilities for a new
    VA examination. Ms. Shea does not raise any issue regarding
    those disabilities in this appeal.
    SHEA v. WILKIE 7
    benefit sought.” 38 C.F.R. § 3.155(a) (2007).3 Under that
    standard, the Board found, Ms. Shea’s July 7, 2008 statement
    describing her memory impairment constituted an
    informal claim for PTSD-disability benefits, since that
    statement could “reasonably be interpreted as an attempt
    to seek service connection for the disability that caused the
    symptoms described.” J.A. 434. For that reason, the Board
    granted an effective date of July 7, 2008, for PTSD disability
    benefits.
    The Board refused to grant an even earlier effective
    date, however, finding that Ms. Shea had not presented an
    informal claim for PTSD-based benefits before July 7,
    3 There is no dispute that the 2007 version of § 3.155
    applies to this appeal. VA amended this and related regulatory
    provisions in 2015 to require that claims be submitted
    on a specific form prescribed by VA, effectively ending
    the practice of “informal claims.” See 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.155(d),
    3.160(a) (2015); Veterans Justice Grp., LLC v. Sec’y of Veterans
    Affairs, 818 F.3d 1336, 1350–52 (Fed. Cir. 2016) (upholding
    new regulations). Under the amended regulation,
    if a claimant “indicates a desire to file for benefits” through
    a “communication or action” that “does not meet the standards
    of a complete claim,” VA will consider that communication
    or action to be a “request for an application form for
    benefits,” and VA will notify the claimant of the information
    necessary to complete the application form. Id.
    § 3.155(a) (2015). We express no view on the meaning of
    the new regulations, including the relationship between
    “identify[ing] the benefit sought” as required to raise an informal
    claim under the pre-2015 version of the regulation,
    id. § 3.155(a) (2007), and “identify[ing] the benefit sought”
    as required for a claim to be considered complete under the
    current version of the regulation, id. § 3.160(a)(3) (2015).
    All further references to § 3.155 in this opinion are to
    the 2007 version, hereafter cited without the date.
    8 SHEA v. WILKIE
  3. It reasoned that Ms. Shea’s October 19, 2007 submission
    “does not identify that benefits are being sought
    for a psychiatric disability” under § 3.155(a) because it does
    not “refer to any psychiatric disability or symptom that can
    be attributed to a psychiatric disability.” J.A. 434. The
    Board also determined that Ms. Shea’s service and postservice
    treatment records, while stating psychiatric diagnoses,
    do not constitute an informal claim, reasoning that
    there was “no indication that [Ms. Shea] intended to file a
    claim for service connection for PTSD through the mere
    submission of medical records in support of her formal
    claims for service connection for non-psychiatric disabilities.”
    Id.
    Ms. Shea appealed the Board’s denial of a July 3, 2007
    (day after discharge) effective date to the Veterans Court,
    which affirmed the Board’s decision in December 2017.
    The Veterans Court noted that Ms. Shea “plainly intended
    to apply for benefits in October 2007.” J.A. 11. Nevertheless,
    it concluded that, in her October 2007 submission, she
    had not “adequately identified a psychiatric disability as
    one of the benefits sought” for purposes of stating an informal
    claim under § 3.155(a), since in that submission she
    “did not refer to any psychiatric conditions or symptoms attributable
    to her psychiatric condition.” J.A. 10–11 (emphasis
    omitted). The court acknowledged Ms. Shea’s
    argument that, “because she listed the date of her in-service
    accident as the date all her expressly claimed physical
    disabilities began, VA should have liberally construed that
    claim as including all residuals of the in-service accident,”
    such as her psychiatric disability. J.A. 11–12. The court
    rejected that contention, stating that Ms. Shea was
    “rel[ying] on the mere existence of medical evidence of a psychiatric
    condition, in existence at the time of the formal
    claim for benefits for physical disabilities,” which “alone
    does not raise an initial claim for benefits.” J.A. 12 (citing
    Criswell v. Nicholson, 20 Vet. App. 501, 504 (2006)).
    SHEA v. WILKIE 9
    Ms. Shea timely appealed to this court. We have jurisdiction
    to consider legal issues raised by the Veterans
    Court’s decision, such as whether the Veterans Court misinterpreted
    § 3.155(a) and related provisions and our previous
    decisions interpreting such provisions. See 38 U.S.C.
    § 7292(d)(1).
    II
    A
    Under the applicable version of § 3.155(a), “any communication
    can qualify as an informal claim if it: (1) is in
    writing; (2) indicates an intent to apply for veterans’ benefits;
    and (3) identifies the particular benefits sought.”
    Reeves v. Shinseki, 682 F.3d 988, 993 (Fed. Cir. 2012); see
    Rodriguez v. West, 189 F.3d 1351, 1353–54 (Fed. Cir. 1999).
    Specifically, under § 3.155(a), “[s]uch informal claim must
    identify the benefit sought.” The issue Ms. Shea presents
    for decision is whether the Veterans Court relied on too restrictive
    a legal standard when reviewing Ms. Shea’s formal
    application for benefits to decide whether it should be
    read as including a claim for psychiatric-disability benefits.
    We limit ourselves to that issue. The parties agree that
    the regulation’s reference to “benefit sought” refers to the
    condition giving rise to the entitlement rather than the ultimate
    recovery, and we proceed on that basis without deciding
    the correctness of that assumption.

    We have explained on several occasions that pro se filings
    must be read liberally to determine whether they satisfy
    § 3.155(a). Thus, in Roberson v. Principi, we held that
    the Veterans Court misinterpreted § 3.155(a) in concluding
    that a claimant had not raised a claim of total disability
    based on individual unemployability (TDIU), see 38 C.F.R.
    § 4.16, because he did not specifically request a finding of
    TDIU in his original claim, though he submitted evidence
    of a medical disability and of unemployability and asked
    for the highest rating possible. 251 F.3d 1378, 1384 (Fed.
    10 SHEA v. WILKIE
    Cir. 2001). “The VA must consider TDIU because, in order
    to develop a claim ‘to its optimum’ as mandated by Hodge,
    the VA must determine all potential claims raised by the
    evidence, applying all relevant laws and regulations, regardless
    of whether the claim is specifically labeled as a
    claim for TDIU.” Id. (quoting Hodge v. West, 155 F.3d 1356,
    1362 (Fed. Cir. 1998)).4
    Several years later, in Szemraj v. Principi, we held that
    “Roberson is not limited to its particular facts.” 357 F.3d
    1370, 1373 (Fed. Cir. 2004). We explained that “Roberson
    requires, with respect to all pro se pleadings, that the VA
    give a sympathetic reading to the veteran’s filings by ‘determin[
    ing] all potential claims raised by the evidence, applying
    all relevant laws and regulations.’” Id. (quoting
    Roberson, 251 F.3d at 1384).
    We reiterated that requirement in Moody v. Principi,
    360 F.3d 1306 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The Board in that case determined
    that a claimant had not made a claim of secondary
    service connection for a psychiatric disorder because,
    among other reasons, his application for benefits “did not
    list a psychiatric disorder claimed to be related to prostatitis
    as a disease for which a claim was being made.” Id. at
  4. We vacated the Veterans Court’s affirmance of the
    Board’s decision. What we identified as error was that the
    Board had “rigorously applied section 3.155(a)” and had not
    “determine[d] all potential claims raised by the evidence,
    applying all relevant laws and regulations.” Id. at 1309–
    10 (quoting Roberson, 251 F.3d at 1384). We further held
    that “ambiguity” in a pro se filing that could be construed
    4 Roberson’s reasoning did not expressly depend on
    the fact that the claimant there was unrepresented when
    he filed his initial claim, but we have subsequently characterized
    Roberson as an example of cases recognizing VA’s
    “special obligation to read pro se filings liberally.” See Robinson
    v. Shinseki, 557 F.3d 1355, 1358–59 (Fed. Cir. 2009).
    SHEA v. WILKIE 11
    as an informal claim “should be resolved in favor of the veteran.”
    Id. at 1310.
    In Harris v. Shinseki, we summarized Roberson and
    subsequent decisions as holding that “VA has a duty to
    fully develop any filing made by a pro se veteran by determining
    all potential claims raised by the evidence.” 704
    F.3d 946, 948 (Fed. Cir. 2013). On that basis we vacated
    the Veterans Court’s decision because there was no “indication
    that the Veterans Court considered Moody, Szemraj,
    or Roberson, or that the court otherwise acknowledged its
    obligation to require that the Board generously construe
    the evidence in this case.” Id.
    The lesson of our cases is that, while a pro se claimant’s
    “claim must identify the benefit sought,” the identification
    need not be explicit in the claim-stating documents, but can
    also be found indirectly through examination of evidence to
    which those documents themselves point when sympathetically
    read. “[T]he Board is not obligated to consider ‘all
    possible’ substantive theories of recovery.” Robinson, 557
    F.3d at 1361; see also Brokowski v. Shinseki, 23 Vet. App.
    79, 89 (2009) (stating that VA need not “conduct an unguided
    safari through the record to identify all conditions
    for which the veteran may possibly be able to assert entitlement
    to a claim for disability compensation”). But in deciding
    what disabilities, conditions, symptoms, or the like
    the claim-stating documents are sympathetically understood
    to be identifying, VA must look beyond the four corners
    of those documents when the documents themselves
    point elsewhere—here, to medical records. See Roberson,
    251 F.3d at 1384 (requiring examination of evidence to interpret
    the claim); Moody, 360 F.3d at 1310 (same);
    Szemraj, 357 F.3d at 1373 (VA must “give a sympathetic
    reading to the veteran’s filings”).
    Additional precedents reinforce the point. In Comer v.
    Peake, we determined that, although the claimant there
    “did not state specifically that he was entitled to an earlier
    12 SHEA v. WILKIE
    effective date for his TDIU award, his claim for an increased
    rating and an earlier effective date for his PTSD
    benefits, coupled with the persuasive and pervasive evidence
    in the record demonstrating his unemployability,
    was sufficient to raise the issue of his entitlement to an
    earlier effective date for his TDIU award as well.” 552 F.3d
    1362, 1368 (Fed. Cir. 2009). In Robinson, we held that,
    where the clamant raised an issue of direct service connection,
    “the evidence in the record must be reviewed to determine
    the scope of that claim,” so that “the Board was
    obligated to consider direct as well as secondary service
    connection if raised by the record.” 557 F.3d at 1362. We
    summarized our cases as follows: “Roberson, Robinson, and
    Comer thus require the Veterans Court to look at all of the
    evidence in the record to determine whether it supports related
    claims for service-connected disability even though
    the specific claim was not raised by the veteran.” Scott v.
    McDonald, 789 F.3d 1375, 1381 (Fed. Cir. 2015). The
    standard, though not a bright-line one, reflects “the
    ‘uniquely pro-claimant’ character of the veterans’ benefits
    system.” Harris, 704 F.3d at 948.
    B
    Ms. Shea contends that the Veterans Court departed
    from the proper legal standard by considering her October
    2007 application for benefits in isolation from, rather than
    in conjunction with, her other submissions and her service
    treatment records. She seeks a remand for application of
    the proper legal standard. We agree that a remand is warranted
    because the Veterans Court did not make clear that
    it was applying a legal standard in accordance with the
    above exposition.
    Ms. Shea’s central rationale for how her October 2007
    application should be sympathetically read to include an
    informal claim for a psychiatric disability is straightforward.
    She observes that her October 2007 application
    (a) lists treatment by specific physicians at specific
    SHEA v. WILKIE 13
    facilities during specific periods, J.A. 245, and (b) refers to
    that itemization when stating that she is “applying for service
    connected disabilities,” J.A. 254. She adds that her
    December 2007 statement in support of her claim reiterates
    that itemization and asks VA to “obtain these records

[and]

grant benefits.” J.A. 290. And she cites to express
references to psychiatric problems in medical records
among those itemized, as summarized above.5
The Veterans Court’s rejection of that theory rested on
too restrictive an interpretation of § 3.155(a). The Veterans
Court seemingly required that, to “identify the benefit
sought” as required by the regulation, Ms. Shea’s application
itself had to contain words that themselves refer to a
psychiatric disability or to mental-health symptoms, as opposed
to language that points to records mentioning such a
condition in a way that, sympathetically read, is properly
understood as seeking benefits for such a condition. The
Veterans Court’s apparent requirement is contrary to the
more flexible standard we draw from our precedents, as
discussed above.
Although the Veterans Court stated that “medical records
alone are not sufficient to raise an initial claim for
benefits,” J.A. 10, Ms. Shea has been explicit that she is not
arguing otherwise. She relies on the claim-stating documents’
concrete references to specified records. We thus do
not have before us a question whether the § 3.155(a) standard
can be met by the existence of a diagnosis in a claimant’s
medical records, without more, or in conjunction with
5 Given the medical-records references in her claim
filings, we do not address the seemingly hypothetical contention
that a claim for psychiatric-disability benefits
would properly be found in those filings even if they did no
more than state that her disabilities began on January 23,
2007 (which was the day of the truck accident, though the
October and December 2007 filings do not say that).
14 SHEA v. WILKIE
a generalized request for all benefits that are supported in
all medical records that VA would gather in the ordinary
course. We hold only that, where a claimant’s filings refer
to specific medical records, and those records contain a reasonably
ascertainable diagnosis of a disability, the claimant
has raised an informal claim for that disability under
§ 3.155(a).

Because the Veterans Court did not articulate and apply
the proper legal standard, we must vacate its decision.
Ms. Shea has not asked us to hold that her application sufficiently
invokes psychiatric-disability benefits as a matter
of law. For that reason, we remand for application of this
opinion to the facts. In doing so, we do not suggest that we
see a genuine issue as to the sufficiency of Ms. Shea’s application
in this matter.
III
For the foregoing reasons, we vacate the Veterans
Court’s decision and remand for further proceedings consistent
with this opinion.
Costs awarded to Ms. Shea.
VACATED AND REMANDED

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