COVID 19 Updates

Archive for the ‘VA Benefits’ Category

Coronavirus prompts changes to the VA Disability process

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The coronavirus is affecting how the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Board of Veterans Appeals are handling VA Disability claims exams and hearings.

How this affects your claim will depend on where you are in the process. What has not changed is our commitment to our VA Disability clients.

VA Regional Offices

The VA has temporarily closed its 56 regional offices for in-person visits. 

Initially, this change meant that veterans’ VA claims at this stage of the review were being postponed, but things are evolving.  VA Regional Offices may begin conducting virtual hearings once technology is in place.  At this point, our preference is to have most VA Regional Office appeals via telephone.

Is the VA still doing claims exams or compensation and pension (C&P) exams?

The VA is still doing these exams to rate potential disabilities, diagnose health conditions, and determine service-connected disabilities. But an in-person visit should not be required.

According to the VA, “We’re doing many exams virtually … We’re also doing more records reviews using Acceptable Clinical Evidence (ACE). This means we’ll review your existing medical records instead of requiring an in-person or telehealth exam.”

If you have received a notice from a non-VA healthcare provider advising you to show up for an in-person claims exam, call first to make sure it hasn’t been cancelled. You should also ask why an in-person exam is medically necessary.

If you don’t feel comfortable going to an in-person exam, please contact us. You should not do anything to jeopardize your health. You should also inform the healthcare provider that you will not be keeping the appointment.

The VA has indicated it will not penalize veterans for missing deadlines or appointments because of coronavirus-related hardships.

Board of Veterans Appeals Hearings

The Board of Veterans Appeals has temporarily suspended in-person business. However, they are conducting virtual hearings. These virtual hearings are proceeding on the same timeline as previous in-person hearings.

If you’re not able to participate in a virtual hearing because of technology issues or because you would prefer an in-person session, the BVA will reschedule.

The Board of Veterans Appeals is also being lenient with filing deadlines. Though we are not seeking deadline extensions unless a client specifically asks for it, we are glad to know that veterans will not be penalized for missed or late filings.

The Board says it will consider requests for good cause to submit notices of disagreement and to submit substantive appeals.

What should I do if I have an upcoming VA health appointment?

The VA is recommending veterans use telehealth services for routine appointments. If you have a non-urgent elective procedure, the VA may contact you to cancel or reschedule.

Urgent and emergency procedures will continue as scheduled at VA Medical Centers, although it’s always a good idea to check that your appointment has not been changed.

If you have a community care appointment scheduled with a non-VA provider, you should contact them to see if you need to reschedule or conduct the visit using telehealth instead.

 

 

Veterans Deserve More Than Thanks

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At the Deuterman Law Group, we are very grateful for the men and women who have served their country. But we believe veterans deserve more than thanks for their service.

That belief guides us in the work we do on behalf of our Veterans Disability clients and their families.

Military veterans signed a contract with our government, and by serving our country they fulfilled their end of the bargain. If veterans are injured in service, then the US government must live up to its end of the bargain by providing medical care and financial compensation to veterans who were disabled while serving our country. It’s our goal to ensure that our clients receive the VA disability benefits they deserve.

As we’re pursuing your claim, we never lose sight of our firm philosophy of putting people first. In everything we do, our clients and their families take priority. We never forget that we’re dealing with people’s lives, finances and emotional well-being.

If you have a VA Disability claim, our goal isn’t simply to win your case and collect a fee. Our goal is justice, which means ensuring you receive:

  • Maximum financial compensation for your injuries
  • The best medical care possible
  • The best psychological support
  • Access to other resources that will aid in your recovery

Brooke Moore, one of our paralegals, recently shared an example of this philosophy in action involving one of our VA Disability clients.

When he came to us for help, the client was homeless and living in his car. He had been denied VA Disability benefits and he was suicidal. The entire process left him dejected and ready to give up, not just on his claim but on life.

As Brooke shared with me, the client’s attorney and VA paralegal Britni Holcomb put an incredible amount of work and love into his case and into making sure that he received the support and treatment to deal with his depression.

“I have watched the two of them go so far past their work requirements to make sure this man is alive,” she wrote. “The client’s persistent desire to give up on life has been very stressful to his attorney and paralegal, but they have been that steady rock for him to stand on. He is still here because of them, hands down.”

Thanks to the VA Disability team’s hard work on this case and a recent win that secured him benefits, this veteran now has a future with many opportunities ahead.

Stories like these are why we do what we do here at the Deuterman Law Group. I am proud everyday of this team who make a difference in the lives of injured and disabled people. Knowing that we’re helping people during the most difficult and vulnerable times of their lives is what really matters. These are the “wins” that are most important to us.

Help for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals on Okinawa

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Deuterman Law Group’s Veterans Disability Team recently helped a Vietnam veteran receive a total disability rating, decades after being exposed to toxic chemicals on Okinawa and later developing prostate cancer.

The former soldier, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, had previously been denied multiple times for disability benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Our team was able to show that the client’s time on Okinawa and his participation in Operation Red Hat was at least as likely as not responsible for the development of the cancer three decades later.

It was an important victory for the client, but also for other service members stationed on Okinawa in the 1960s and 1970s, when the island was used to store defoliants and other toxic chemicals. These chemicals include the key components used to make Agent Orange.

While soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals in Vietnam automatically qualify for certain disabilities like prostate cancer, Okinawa vets face a much tougher battle when trying to prove to the VA that their cancers and other health problems are service connected.

As ProPublica reported:

“Anyone who set foot in Vietnam during the war is eligible for compensation if they become ill with one of 14 cancers or other ailments linked to Agent Orange. But vets with an array of other illnesses where the connection is less well established continue to push for benefits. And those vets who believe they were exposed while serving elsewhere must prove it — often finding themselves stymied.”

That toxic chemicals were stored on Okinawa is not in dispute. In January 1971, the American government embarked on Operation Red Hat, which it deemed “one of the most difficult operations ever accomplished by the United States military forces.” The operation, which was detailed in a military public relations video, involved the moving of 13,000 tons of toxic munitions from Okinawa to Johnston Atoll.

DLG’s client moved barrels of chemicals as part of Operation Red Hat. He even received a certificate commemorating his participation, and this ended up being a key piece of evidence in his VA Disability claim. It provided military documentation that he handled the dangerous chemical barrels – proof many other sick Okinawa veterans don’t have.

Since 2011, The Japan Times has published accounts of “hundreds of veterans [suggesting] Vietnam War defoliants were stored, sprayed and buried throughout the island.” Journalist Jon Mitchell has reported on the issue in Japanese and English, and maintains a website about Agent Orange and military defoliants on Okinawa.

In 2013, Japanese workers doing some redevelopment on a soccer park on the site of former U.S. base uncovered barrels of chemicals that had been buried. Independent testing by Okinawa City officials showed the drums and soil and water surrounding them contained high levels of dioxin, “a toxin known to cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, immune system damage and hormone imbalances,” according to news reports.

To bolster the evidence in this client’s case, our DLG VA Disability team had the original Japanese government documents and lab reports about the buried barrels translated. The translation work was done by a group of  Japanese law students at Duke University School of Law.

The students translated about 20 pages of reports, including diagrams and maps. Our team also included evidence from a 1970s era military operational report that referenced “radiologic material on Okinawa.” This particular document had not previously been considered in any other Okinawa toxic chemical VA Disability claims decision.

In presenting the client’s case to the VA, his DLG attorney also refuted claims by the government’s top expert on herbicides — Alvin Young, nicknamed Dr. Orange. “Over the years, the VA has repeatedly cited Young’s work to deny disability compensation to vets, saving the government millions of dollars,” according to a ProPublica investigation. But as our team pointed out in this client’s case, most of the research Young cites is his own, not that of other researchers and scientists.

It is our hope that the evidence our team cited and their strategy in structuring their client’s appeal will also help other Okinawa vets in their VA Disability claims.

If you’re an Okinawa veteran or you’re an advocate, you should not rely on just one thing to prove exposure and make your case. The combination of military documentation, the Japanese lab reports and the client’s medical evidence contributed to his being awarded a 100 percent disability rating after initially being denied any benefit at all.

This was DLG’s first case involving an Okinawa veteran, but the team is now working on behalf of others who also served there and developed health problems as a result. If you or someone you know suffered an injury or has a condition that was caused or aggravated by your active military service, please contact us. We work with military veterans from all eras and all branches of service.

Vet Your Records: Free Legal Clinic for Veterans

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Attorney Chris Stevens will be volunteering as part of Pro Bono Week at Elon Law.

During a free legal clinic on Oct. 26, the DLG attorneys, along with Elon Law students, will be helping former military service members veterans and their family members request the veterans’ military service records.

The Vet Your Records clinic is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Elon University School of Law, 201 N Greene St, Greensboro.

“Obtaining access to one’s own records from the Armed Services can be more difficult than anticipated,” according to an organizer of the clinic. “Vet Your Records provides quick legal assistance to veterans and their families seeking copies of these records. Law students will work alongside attorneys to help veterans fill out the appropriate forms to request their records.”

Many veterans do not have copies of their service records, yet there are many reasons why someone might need these documents. Service records are crucial evidence in VA Disability and military cases, and they also are helpful in getting federal hiring preference and state benefits based on veteran status.

Veterans, their next of kin or a legal guardian may request these records. If you need help obtaining these documents, please make plans to attend this free legal clinic.

VA Changes Process for Handling Appeals for Disability Benefits

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The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 went into effect in February 2019, changing how the Department of Veterans Affairs handles appeals in VA Disability benefits cases.

The new law was designed to chip away at the 400,000 backlogged cases now waiting for review and provide veterans with quicker decisions on their VA Disability benefits. The VA has hired 600 additional employees as part of the new legislation.

This new law and process for handling appeals doesn’t necessarily mean that disabled veterans will be approved for benefits sooner. But it could streamline the appeals process, which previously took between three to seven years.

Going forward, Veterans who appeal a VA claims decision have three appeals options:

Higher-Level Review: A more experienced adjudicator, essentially a higher-level manager with in the VA, will conduct a new review of the previous decision. Veterans who choose these types of appeals are not allowed to submit additional evidence to support their benefits application. The VA goal is to act on these appeals in 125 days.

Supplemental Claim – Veterans who choose this appeals option may submit new and relevant evidence, and VA officials will weigh that in reviewing the claim. The VA’s goal is to process these appeals within 125 days.

Appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals – Veterans may appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where their claims will be reviewed by a Veteran Law Judge. The new law gives veterans the option of requesting one of three dockets: a direct review, evidence or hearing. The VA’s goal is to process these appeals within a year.

Veterans who choose one of the new, speedy appeals options should be aware of how doing so could affect their claim.

Remember, a quicker appeal process does not mean that you will be automatically be approved for benefits. Your appeal could still be denied.

Under the old appeals process, veterans could introduce new medical evidence and paperwork at almost any point. Those options are limited now in an effort to simplify evaluations and streamline appeals.

Before applying for VA Disability Benefits or before making a decision on your appeal, we recommend contacting an experienced Veterans Disability attorney. We can help you gather the evidence necessary to make the strongest claim or appeal.

Military Vets Who Used Defective Ear Plugs May be Able to Sue 3M for Hearing Loss

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Thousands of military veterans who served between 2003 and 2015 may have suffered hearing loss because they used defective combat earplugs made by 3M.

Affected military veterans may be entitled to bring a lawsuit related to the hearing loss or tinnitus they suffered as a result.

If you or a family member served in the military between 2003 and 2015 and used 3M’s Aearo Technology Combat Arms earplugs, please reach out to one of our VA attorneys to discuss your legal options. Veterans, current soldiers and military contractors may be eligible for compensation from 3M.

Even if you have not been diagnosed with hearing loss, you may have a claim. Symptoms of hearing loss may include difficulty understanding people when they are speaking, trouble hearing on the phone, ringing in the ears, the sense that other people are mumbling. Many people with hearing loss may also avoid social situations because they can’t make out conversation in noisy environments.

The earplugs, manufactured by 3M and sold to the Defense Logistics Agency, were known to be defective. But they were still provided to combat troops.

The earplugs didn’t maintain a tight seal and allowed dangerously loud sounds to slip through without the wearer knowing, according to Military Times newspaper. As a result, thousands of combat troops who used 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs are now suffering from hearing loss, tinnitus, loss of balance and other medical conditions.

3M previously agreed to pay a $9.1 million settlement as part of a False Claims Act case brought by the U.S. Justice Department. In that action, 3M was alleged to have knowingly sold its earplugs to the Defense Logistics Agency without disclosing defects that decreased the hearing protection.

Recently, a first round of civil lawsuits have been filed by military veterans against 3M in Texas. More lawsuits are expected to be filed by other affected military veterans. These cases could eventually turn into a class action against 3M. The company could be found liable and ordered to pay not only for veterans’ medical treatments but also for punitive damages because of its gross negligence in providing defective equipment to U.S. troops.

According to the initial lawsuits, “Since late 2003, 3M touted its Combat Arms earplugs as capable of allowing users to hear commands from friendly soldiers and approaching enemy combatants, unimpaired, in the same way as if they had nothing in their ears.” However, 3M employees knew as early as 2000 that the ear plugs were defective.

3M discontinued the earplugs in 2015, but by that point, it had sold 6.75 million pairs to the U.S. military. A staggering number of U.S. troops may have been injured as a result.

Please contact us if you are a current soldier, military veteran or military contractor who served between 2003 and 2015. You may be entitled to compensation if you have experienced any of the following:

  • Partial or total hearing loss
  • tinnitus, frequency or ringing in the ears
  • Headaches, dizziness or loss of balance
  • Chronic tinnitus
  • Other symptoms of hearing loss

Filing a claim against 3M will not affect your VA Disability benefits. Our experienced VA and personal injury attorneys will work hard on your behalf to ensure you receive the medical treatment, benefits and other compensation you are entitled.

Benefits for Veterans’ Surviving Spouses & Children

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When a veteran passes away and leaves behind a family, the government allows for the surviving spouse and children to receive tax-free monthly benefits, known as dependency and indemnity compensation.

This compensation isn’t automatically awarded. In order to receive benefits, the surviving family members must submit an application to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and meet a number of eligibility requirements. Unlike other type of veterans’ benefits, dependency and indemnity is paid regardless of the applicant’s income or assets.

To see if you or a family member qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation, review the following lists of eligibility factors and evidence requirements, as well as information on how much compensation you can expect and how to get started on your application.

Eligibility for spouses

In order for a surviving spouse to be eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation, the following requirements must be met:

  • The surviving spouse was married to a servicemember who died during active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training; or
  • The surviving spouse and veteran were married before Jan. 1, 1957; or
  • The surviving spouse married the veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of service in which the disease or injury that was the cause of death began or was aggravated; or
  • The surviving spouse and veteran were married for a minimum of one year; or
  • The veteran and surviving spouse had a child together; and
  • Either lived with the veteran continuously until the veteran’s death, or, if separated, was not at fault for the separation; and
  • The surviving spouse is not currently remarried.

Eligibility for a surviving child

For a surviving child of a veteran, the eligibility requirements are much simpler. To be eligible, the surviving child must:

  • Not be included in the surviving spouse’s dependency and indemnity compensation, and
  • Be unmarried, and
  • Either under the age of 18, or between the ages of 18 and 23 and attending school.

Evidence requirements

For either a surviving spouse or a surviving child, the following evidence requirements must also be met:

  • The veteran died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training; or
  • The veteran died from an injury or disease that was related to his or her military service; or
  • The veteran dies from a non service-related injury or disease, but was receiving, or entitled to receive, VA compensation for service-connected disability that was rated as totally disabling
    • For at least 10 years immediately prior to death; or
    • Since the veteran’s release from active duty and for at least five years immediately preceding death; or
    • For at least one year before death if the veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after Sept. 30, 1999.

How to apply

Surviving family members have several options for applying for dependency and indemnity benefits:

  • Online at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website
  • Complete and mail or fax VA Form 21-526EZ “Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits” to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Intake Office
  • Apply in person at a VA regional office
  • Apply with the help of an accredited VA attorney, representative or agent

In addition to the completed application, surviving family members must also submit the following forms of evidence:

  • Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)
  • Service treatment records, if they are in your possession
  • Medical evidence (hospital and doctor reports)

How much compensation you can expect

Dependency and indemnity compensation is tax-free and paid monthly. The amount of benefits you will receive are as follows:

  • If the veteran’s death occurred on or after Jan. 1, 1993, the surviving spouse will receive 1,283.11 per month.
  • If the Veteran’s death was before Jan. 1, 1993, then the amount the surviving spouse will receive is dependent on what the veteran’s pay grade was while they were in the military. Benefits start at $1,283.11 for E-1 pay grade and begin to increase at E-7 and above. For W-1 and O-1 pay grades, benefits start at $1,354.93 and increase with each pay grade increase.
  • If at the time of death the veteran received, or was eligible to receive, compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling for a continuous period of at least 8 years immediately preceding death during which the veteran and surviving spouse were married, an additional $272.46 per month will be awarded.
  • For each dependent child under the age of 18, $317.87 per month is added.
  • If the surviving spouse qualifies for aid and assistance, an additional $317.87 is given.
  • If the surviving spouse qualifies as “housebound,” the benefit increases by $148.91 monthly
  • If the surviving spouse has one or more children under the age of 18, an additional the transitional benefit of $270.00 is added to the monthly benefit.

If you qualify for dependency and indemnity compensation, a VA accredited veterans attorney can help ensure you and your loved ones receive the benefits to which you are entitled.

 

 

 

Paying for Your Veterans Disability Attorney

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When clients have an injury or disability that keeps them from working or impacts their ability to live independently, financial issues often come hand in hand.

When clients can’t work or have to pay out for large medical expenses, it can be a real struggle to make ends meet. Budgets are tight, barely enough to cover necessities, with little room for extras. We see this time and again with VA Disability, Social Security Disability and workers’ compensation claims.

If clients can’t afford the basics, how can they be expected to come up with the funds to hire an attorney? Clients are sometimes unsure if they should even pursue a case or have any likelihood of success.

At our firm, clients aren’t expected to provide any money upfront.

As a veterans’ disability attorney at the Deuterman Law Group, I work on a “contingency” basis, as do all my other colleagues.

That means our clients don’t pay any money upfront and we only collect a fee if the disability claim is approved. If we don’t win, we don’t collect a fee.

Disabled veterans shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for an attorney as they’re seeking benefits for their service-connected injuries and illnesses. And they shouldn’t have to navigate the complex and often bureaucratic VA system on their own because they can’t afford expert legal help.

If your VA benefits have been denied, you deserve the expert help that only an experienced, accredited VA Disability attorney can provide.

Clients who are worried about the cost of hiring an attorney should know there are limitations on our fees and other protections for veterans.

While most people are used to attorneys charging at least a third for the work they do in a case, in VA Disability benefits cases, our fee is only 20 percent of the past-due benefits (lump sum) and not any of the future monthly payments. Under current law, a disabled veteran cannot be charged a fee related to a disability claim until an appeal is filed.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has many safeguards in place to protect veterans. Any attorney representing a veteran in a benefits case must first be accredited by the VA. The Veterans Administration also has the right to review our fee before we can collect it to ensure our veteran clients have been treated fairly.

In other words, if an attorney doesn’t substantially advance your VA Disability benefits case, they shouldn’t get paid. That’s exactly the way it should be.

Why Should I Hire An Attorney

While there are many free resources available to disabled veterans applying for benefits, including Stateside Legal and local Veterans Service Organizations, our firm provides consistent communications with dedicated support staff. In addition, your benefits award is much more likely to be maximized when you have one of our attorneys representing you.

That’s because we work exclusively on these types of cases every day and we know how the VA appeals process works, especially at the local level. We stay on top of all the filing deadlines for appeals and develop best practices for the evidence required for VA disability cases.

Did you know that if you miss a filing deadline as part of your appeal, you might have to start the entire process over again? We’ve seen this happen many times to disabled vets who don’t have an attorney and a team of paralegals focused on their claim and important dates.

When Should I Hire An Attorney

If you have been denied VA Disability benefits, or if you’re in the process of applying, I encourage you to contact the Deuterman Law Group to see how we can help.

Once you have submitted your initial application for VA Disability benefits, it may take several months to receive an initial decision. Many veterans aren’t approved on the first go-round, so it ends up being a year or years before a grant is eventually made.

It’s not uncommon for legitimate VA claims to be denied at first. If you don’t already have an attorney, now is the time to hire one to helping you deal with the VA’s bureaucracy and red tape. There are many important deadlines involved in a VA appeal. As mentioned earlier, if you miss a deadline, you may have to start the entire process over again – prolonging your wait for benefits.

If you’ve been denied for VA disability benefits, it helps to have an experienced VA-accredited attorney working on your appeal. Our VA-accredited attorneys have helped many disabled veterans with their VA disability claims. Our team can assist you with developing a thorough and effective appeal that qualifies you for the highest level of VA disability benefits you deserve.

 

 

Are You Eligible for Veterans Disability Benefits if You Can Still Work?

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Here’s something many disabled veterans may not know: Even if one is working or able to work, eligibility for VA disability compensation may still be possible – even at the 100 percent evaluation level.

For many VA claims, current employment or ability to work does not bar you from receiving benefits.

In fact, it’s not even considered in the VA’s evaluation of the condition. Veterans should not let the fact alone that they’re able to work keep them from applying for benefits for service-related injuries, illnesses or disabilities.

Instead, claimants should try to become knowledgeable of the specific rating requirements for any conditions at issue.

For example, consider the rating criteria for Valvular Heart Disease. Nowhere in the rating for that condition is employment or ability to work expressly considered, although physical exertion levels are.

However, compare that with the rating criteria for Mental Disorders. These ratings expressly consider “occupational and social impairment.” If a person works full-time without accommodations being made by the employer for the mental disability, it’s most likely that person would not be able to receive a 100 percent rating for the condition as they are not likely to have a total occupational impairment.

Military veterans signed an enlistment contract. They raised their hands and swore to support and defend the Constitution. That contract wasn’t one-sided though and Congress additionally recognizes many of the sacrifices servicemembers make. If a veteran upheld his or her end of the bargain, the government needs to uphold theirs.

If you were hurt during the time spent serving our country, you may be entitled to certain benefits, including financial compensation and medical treatment. VA disability claims can be filed for conditions ranging from physical and emotional problems to hearing loss and many other medical issues. To qualify, a veteran may need to affirmatively prove the condition was caused or aggravated during the period of active military service.

However, the process for being approved for VA disability benefits isn’t just about listing events that occurred in service and current symptoms. It’s also about making a persuasive legal argument and presenting the medical evidence in convincing fashion in order to win.

Many VA disability claims are denied at the first administrative level but veterans should not let that discourage them from filing or appealing. Navigating the VA system can be very difficult. No matter how “good” your claim is, if not presented properly, the VA may still not approve it. To complicate matters, veterans are sometimes given poor advice by those who do not understand the complexity of the VA disability process.

If you’ve been denied for VA disability benefits, it helps to have an experienced VA-accredited attorney working on your appeal. Our VA-accredited attorneys have helped many disabled veterans with their VA disability claims. Our team can assist you with developing a thorough and effective appeal. Our experience allows us to look for optimizations and errors in order to find you qualified for the highest-level of VA disability benefits you deserve.

The Myth of “Requests for Reconsideration” in VA Benefits Claims

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Veterans routinely ask our Veterans Disability Benefits staff, “Why is the attorney filing a Notice of Disagreement for my claim? I was told by my previous representative to file a request for reconsideration and that it would produce results much faster.”

My initial response to that inquiry almost always includes the phrase, “You should know there is legally no such thing.”

The Recommended Approach – File an Appeal

When veterans receive an initial denial as part of a new or reopened claim, the Department of Veterans Affairs, by law, must provide them with notice of their rights to appeal that determination. One of the most important notices provided is the deadline for initiating an appeal by filing a Notice of Disagreement within one year from the date of the decision Notification Letter. Doing so ensures the VA will re-examine that decision, even absent any additional evidence or statement from the veteran.

An Additional Option to Be Used in Combination with an Appeal – New and Material Evidence

There is also a lesser known method, which is inferior in some important aspects, for forcing the VA to “reconsider” any decision. However, it is not limited to just initial denials, and it is this method that I suspect is the source of confusion about the “reconsideration request” described above. However, the method I refer to here already has a description with which veterans and accredited advocates are familiar, so it is unclear to me why it should be referenced as anything other than what it is – submitting new and material evidence, and doing so within a year of a decision.

To explain further, recognize that the submission of new and material evidence within one year of a decision will trigger a re-examination of the decision with no additional filing needed. If a veteran submits new and material evidence along with a “request for reconsideration,” it is the new and material evidence alone that matters. The request adds no additional authority (though it may arguably provide better context).

If a veteran submits new and material evidence alone, with no request, the pre-requisite for forcing the VA to review that evidence and consider changing their decision has still been met. However, if the veteran submits a “request for reconsideration” alone, with no accompanying new and material evidence, the VA will send the veteran a letter stating that no action will be taken without either filing an appeal or submitting new and material evidence.

Don’t Let the Time Period for an Appeal Lapse While Waiting for a “Reconsideration”

Submitting new and material evidence within one year of a decision is not an initiation of or a substitution for an appeal. Attorneys accredited to represent  veterans with VA claims are well accustomed to developing a strategy that works best for the facts and circumstances presented, routinely submitting new and material evidence in combination with the filing of an appeal in order to ensure that benefits are maximized when granted.

Why Doesn’t the VA Tell Veterans About This Option? Actually, They Almost Always Do

The Notification Letter (which begins “We made a decision regarding your entitlement to VA benefits.”) routinely speaks only of the one year deadline for filing a Notice of Disagreement and includes no mention of the option of providing new and material evidence. To find such language, one must look to VA Form 4107, titled “Your Rights to Appeal Our Decision,” which should always be attached to the letter.

The VA Claims Process is Full of “Magic Language” – Don’t Confuse with Pre-existing Terms

As a final note, use of the phrase “request for reconsideration” as used in the initial inquiry is even more puzzling when one considers that there is already a mechanism by that name in the VA claims process. The circumstances in which it would arise are specific as prescribed by law, meaning that any statutory or regulatory reference to “reconsideration” in the context of VA claims, refers only to a request made to the Chairman of the Board for Veterans Appeals after a Board decision has issued.

Help for veterans with PTSD

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What does the face of PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) look like?

For too many veterans, they simply have to look in the mirror to know the answer to this question.

PTSD is a serious and very complex disorder that affects veterans as a result of the horrors of war, injury, or other in-service event that acts as the root of the disorder.

Once it was called combat fatigue, shell shock and war neurosis.

It affects men and women, the young and old. Often it happens as a direct result of combat. Sometimes it is a result of intense fear.

But one thing that remains common among veterans suffering with PTSD is that it doesn’t simply “go away”.

In my practice I’ve had the privilege to meet many vets who have been diagnosed with PTSD and many who were referred out to medical providers for evaluation of PTSD.

The VA seems to do a decent job of screening for PTSD symptoms. Just ask anyone who has been asked those questions over and over again every time they go in to the VA for even a hangnail.

But there is good reason for this constant screening. In 2011, nearly a half-million veterans were treated at the VA for PTSD. The rate of PTSD in Vietnam veterans has been found to be as high as 30 percent, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. Persian Gulf war vets reflect a PTSD rate as high as 24 percent; and the Iraq and Afghanistan war vets it is currently at 12.5 percent, with that number expected to rise dramatically.

PTSD also affects families.

Many vets talk to me and make it clear that what we discuss stays between us, allowing the vet to have a kind of compartmentalization of their life in war outside of their life now.
We all value how our family “sees us,” and I think vets don’t want to burden their families with stories of war time when discussing their VA Disability claim.

That’s a situation where being an attorney, outside of the family, actually is a benefit for the veteran. The vets status as a father, spouse, brother or sister doesn’t have to then be tainted by a far away war. An important part of my job is just listening and being that safe place where veterans can talk openly about what they saw and experienced in service to their country.

What kind of symptoms do vets suffering from PTSD experience? Let’s see what the VA has to say about this:

  • The veteran has bad dreams or nightmares about the event that happened in service or something similar to it.

    • The vet behaves or feels as if the event were happening all over again (this is known as having flashbacks)
    • The vet has a lot of strong or intense feelings when reminded of the event
    • The vet has a lot of physical sensations when reminded of the event (for example, a racing or pounding heart, sweating, finding it hard to breathe, feeling faint, feeling like they are going to lose control)
  • The veteran has symptoms of avoiding reminders of the traumatic event that they experienced in service:

    • Avoid thoughts, feelings, or talking about things that remind them of the event
    • Avoid people, places, or activities that remind them of the event
    • Have trouble remembering some important part of the event
  • Since the event happened, the veteran notices that they:

    • Have lost interest in, or just don’t do, things that used to be important to them
    • Feel detached from people; find it hard to trust people
    • Feel emotionally “numb” or find it hard to have loving feelings even toward those who are emotionally close to the veteran
    • Have a hard time falling or staying asleep
    • Are irritable and have problems with anger
    • Have a hard time focusing or concentrating
    • Have a feeling that they may not live very long and feel there’s no point in planning for the future
    • Are jumpy and get startled or surprised easily
    • Are always “on guard”
    • Stomach problems
    • Intestinal (bowel) problems
    • Gynecological (female) problems
    • Weight gain or loss
    • Pain, for example, in back, neck, or pelvic area
    • Headaches
    • Skin rashes and other skin problems
    • Lack of energy; feel tired all the time
    • Alcohol, drug, or other substance use problems
    • Depression or feeling down
    • Anxiety or worry
    • Panic attacks

There are other symptoms, specific to women who are suffering from PTSD. I’ll address women veterans and PTSD in a later blog post.

If you see several of these symptoms in yourself or a loved one, talk to a professional about it.

There are an incredible number of ways for veterans to discuss and get help with PTSD:

  • The VA Veteran Crisis Line: (800) 273-8255, Option 1 (You can also TEXT them: Text to 838255)
  • The Veteran Combat Call Center (87) WAR-VETS (1-877-927-8387) to talk to another combat war veteran
  • DOD Defense Center for Excellence  (866) 966-1020
  • Military OneSource (800) 342-9647 (counseling and other resources)
  • Support for Families of those who suffer from PTSD

If your claim for PTSD was denied by the VA, please consider contacting Deuterman Law Group.

VA Benefits for Gulf War Syndrome

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Frequently in my practice I meet veterans who have a variety of symptoms that can’t be attributed to a single cause. The vets go to doctors in and outside the VA who can’t easily figure out what is going on with their health, and they are often misdiagnosed as a result. The problems are very real for the veteran and, unfortunately, the answers are few and far between.

There are nearly 700,000 service members who served in the 1991 Gulf War. The VA estimates nearly 35 percent of those veterans continue to suffer ongoing, chronic symptoms and illnesses, the result of what is commonly called Gulf War Syndrome.

Symptoms affecting Gulf War vets may include headaches, fatigue, joint pains, insomnia, dizziness, indigestion, breathing disorders and memory problems. The VA no longer uses the diagnosis Gulf War Syndrome, but instead refers to these illnesses as chronic multi-symptom illness and undiagnosed illness because of how widely the symptoms can vary from person to person.

What causes Gulf War Syndrome?

Even the VA doesn’t have a definite answer to this yet. Was it because of a chemical exposure, an airborne hazard, vaccination, pollutant or other cause? Possibly.

According to the BBC:

“One popular theory was that soldiers had become ill after exposure to depleted uranium in tank shells. However, troops not exposed to this were just as likely to suffer chronic health problems later on. The same was true of those exposed to fumes from burning oil wells. In fact, no link could be found between veteran ill health and specific jobs or tasks.

“Pesticides have also been suggested as a cause, perhaps affecting the nervous system. But detailed studies found no evidence of damage that could explain this.”

The VA and the Institute of Medicine are conducting a multi-year study now to determine possible causes of Gulf War Syndrome and the best treatment options for combatting the symptoms that veterans still suffer.

Though Gulf War Syndrome is a very real condition with debilitating symptoms, it still largely remains a mystery 25 years later, confounding doctors and medical researchers. For veterans suffering from these symptoms, it can be difficult to get answers and effective treatment.

American and British troops first began complaining of symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome when they returned home, but it would take five years before any medical research was begun on the illness, according to BBC News.

The U.S. and British governments set up disease registers and initially assessed more than 100,000 veterans, according to news reports, but failed to find a pattern to symptoms to indicate a new condition.

From news reports:

In the mid-1990s, scientists at King’s College London (KCL) conducted X-rays and blood tests on British Gulf War veterans suffering ill health. However, they couldn’t find any physical differences between them and a control group.

Yet the suffering was undeniable. A further KCL study in 2009 found Gulf veterans were two to three times more likely to report 53 different symptoms, including chronic fatigue and nerve pain, compared with soldiers deployed to Bosnia. None of the symptoms were unique to the Gulf War, but they were experienced in far higher numbers.

“They’re known as medically unexplained physical symptoms,” says Neil Greenberg, a professor of defence mental health at KCL. “The symptoms are very real, but like with irritable bowel syndrome, there is no obvious physical problem causing it.”

A study by Boston University researchers, published in the journal Cortex earlier this year, reports “the first conclusive scientific evidence that ‘clearly and consistently’ shows that exposure to pesticides and other toxins caused Gulf War Illness,” according to a report by Newsmax.

The researchers concluded that “exposure to pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB) — prophylactic pills intended to protect troops against the effects of possible nerve gas — are ‘causally associated with GWI and the neurological dysfunction in Gulf War veterans.’”

Treatment and Help for Gulf War Syndrome

While the VA might seem best equipped to help veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, often vets need to look outside the system for answers and treatment.
Veterans deserve the very best care that modern medicine can provide.

Often multiple-system illnesses like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic gastrointestinal problems and other undiagnosed illnesses don’t get the attention or classification veterans feel they should.

This is when a doctor outside the VA may be better able to identify the problems as being multi-system. When the VA is evaluating disability claims to determine if a condition is service-connected, they look for consistent medical treatment to prove the existence and extent of a condition. This applies to Gulf War Syndrome, as well as other illness.

As I frequently tell vets in my office: The VA won’t take your word for it that you have a problem. They want to see that the problem is bad enough that you seeking medical help to try to get better. And sometimes that means seeing doctors outside the VA.

If you are a veteran suffering from illnesses related to your service in the Gulf War, there are several other benefits and services for which you may be eligible, in addition to disability compensation and benefits from the Veterans Administration.

North Carolina veterans may be eligible for a variety of other benefits, including a Gulf War Registry health exam, the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, as well as health care and disability compensation for the disease or diseases they suffer from that are related to military service.