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Reasoning Structures in Legal Texts (RSLT) is a collaborative project between the Law, Logic and Technology Lab and the Digital Research Center at Hofstra University. The project is dedicated to studying, and making accessible to others, the reasoning structures that we find in legal texts, primarily in judicial and administrative decisions.

The documents listed on this page are drawn from the VetClaim Corpus of the LLT Lab. The documents are illustrative excerpts of reasoning from decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”). The reasoning is fact-finding reasoning, based on evidence from service records, medical records, fact testimony, and other types of evidence.

Individual claims by veterans for compensation for a disability (“disability claims”) usually originate at a VA Regional Office or at another local office across the country. If the claimant is dissatisfied with the decision from the regional or local office, she may file an appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (“BVA”). The BVA is an administrative appellate body that is part of the VA, and it has the statutory authority to decide the facts of each case based on the evidence. The BVA must provide a written statement of the reasons or bases for its findings and conclusions. That statement (decision) must analyze the credibility and probative value of all material evidence submitted by and on behalf of a claimant, and it must provide reasons for its evaluation of such evidence. Such reasoning is called “fact-finding reasoning.”

The Lab has concentrated to date on texts that explain the reasoning of the BVA in support of its findings of fact about whether the veteran has a disability that is “service-connected.” A veteran must have a service-connected disability in order to obtain disability compensation. In order to prove this, the veteran must prove three issues (propositions):

  • Issue 1: The veteran has a present disability.
  • Issue 2: The veteran suffered an “in-service incurrence or aggravation” of a disease or injury, in the line of duty.
  • Issue 3: There is a causal relationship (or “nexus”) between the present disability and the in-service incurrence or aggravation.

If the claim involves the disability of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then Issue 2 is satisfied if the veteran proves that an “in-service stressor” occurred (a traumatic event capable of causing or triggering PTSD), and then proves a causal link (Issue 3) between that in-service stressor and the present PTSD (Issue 1).

The documents currently in this library of RSLT can be categorized and browsed by the issue addressed in the text. (An issue is sometimes called a “prong” of the proof that the veteran must provide.) Documents are identified by the BVA’s citation number, followed by the number of the issue or prong addressed in the excerpt (e.g., “BVA1455333-Pr2”).

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