Have Questions About the Disability Claims Process for Social Security or Veterans Benefits? Check Out Our FAQs
Dealing with the disability application or appeals process always comes with plenty of questions. Whether your questions are about Social Security or VA Disability, here are some of the questions we hear the most at our Omaha law firm.
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Am I eligible for the Agent Orange Registry health exam?
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of the toxic chemical Agent Orange on Vietnam’s trees, plants, crops, and vegetation, making it difficult for the Viet Cong and Vietnamese to use the thick foliage as a way to hide. It’s possible that if you served in Vietnam, you may have been exposed to Agent Orange, and qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You may also be eligible for the Agent Orange Registry health exam.
What Is the Agent Orange Registry Health Exam?
If you believe you were exposed to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, and you suffer from a medical condition related to this exposure, you can request a VA Agent Orange Registry health exam.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a Compensation and Pensions (C&P) Exam used for obtaining benefits.
While there are no medical tests that prove someone was exposed to toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange, there are benefits to having the Agent
Orange Registry health exam:
- It can assist in determining if you have a medical condition, illness, or disease that's potentially related to exposure to a toxic herbicide.
- It helps in the collection of data on veterans who were exposed.
- It allows follow-up exams if, at any time following your first exam, you develop other medical conditions that might be related to or caused by your exposure to Agent Orange.
Many Vietnam veterans qualify to take the Agent Orange Registry health exam, including those:
- Who served in Vietnam from 1962–1975.
- Known as “Brown Water” Veterans who served on small river patrol and swift boats operating on the inland waterways of Vietnam.
- Known as “Blue Water Navy” Veterans who served on “a vessel operating not more than 12 nautical miles seaward from the demarcation line of the waters of Vietnam and Cambodia as defined in Public Law 116-23.”
- Who served between September 1967 and August 1971 in a unit in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
- In the U.S. Air Force who served on “Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) bases near U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter anytime between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975.”
- In the U.S. Army between February 1961 and May 1975 who provided perimeter security on RTAF bases in Thailand.
- In the U.S. Army who were stationed on a small Army installation in Thailand between February 1961 and May 1975. These veterans must have been a “member of a military police (MP) or assigned a military occupational specialty whose duty placed him or her at or near the base perimeter.”
Cuddigan Law Firm Can Help
If you’re a Vietnam veteran and believe your medical condition is associated with exposure to Agent Orange, contact Cuddigan Law. Having legal representation and an advocate on your side can provide invaluable assistance with your disability claim. Our attorneys know the medical conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure and can help prove that yours qualifies for disability compensation. Call Cuddigan Law (402) 933-5405 to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Which Social Security Disability cases often receive a durational denial?
You may receive a durational denial after submitting a claim for Social Security (SS) Disability benefits. This type of denial means your medical condition, illness, or injury didn’t meet the time period requirements set by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that define a true disability.
Reasons Claimants Receive Durational Denials
When a disability examiner reviews your application, he looks specifically at your medical condition and whether it meets the following durational requirements:
- It’s impossible for you to work for 12 months at a substantial gainful level due to a physical or mental condition.
- Your physical or mental condition will likely prevent you from working for 12 months.
- It’s not expected that your mental or physical condition will improve in 12 months.
- It’s likely your mental or physical condition will result in death.
If your claim is denied due to durational limitations, it means the claims examiner didn't find sufficient evidence to prove your condition will be persistent and continue to interfere with your ability to work after a 12-month period.
Cases That Often Receive Durational Denials
Providing medical evidence that proves your condition will last beyond 12 months is critical in receiving an approved claim from the SSA. However, it’s often tough to do this.
Not only does the examiner who reviews your case have little–to–no medical experience, the medical consultant who helps make the determination doesn’t know or understand your condition.
Both are making decisions about your case using their own individual perspectives and opinions to forecast the likelihood of your recovery.
Certain cases in particular tend to receive durational denials, including:
- Car accidents that result in broken bones
- Accidents that cause traumatic injuries
- Recoveries after major surgeries
In cases involving broken bones, the SSA evaluates how the break impacts your ability to do your job on a daily basis. A claims examiner wants to understand how your fracture interferes with your ability to perform at work. For example, the SSA's Blue Book of Impairments requires that for a broken leg bone, the bone must fail to have a “solid union,” and this must be shown through X-rays, MRIs, CT scans, and other medical imaging. Additionally, your inability to move around must be expected to last at least a year.
Contact Cuddigan Law
Over 60 percent of initial SS claims are denied, which is why the best way to avoid receiving a durational denial is to contact a skilled SS disability attorney. The legal team at Cuddigan Law understand the complex rules governing Social Security Disability benefits law, and our experts know how to assist you with an appeal should your claim be denied.
Call Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405, to get help with your SS disability application today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Am I eligible for disability if I was exposed to Agent Orange while working on a base in Thailand?
Yes. During the Vietnam War, a program called Operation Ranch Hand was developed to spray tactical defoliants on Vietnam’s plants, trees, and dense vegetation to remove cover for enemy soldiers.
For approximately 10 years, the U.S. Air Force engaged in Operation Ranch Hand, spraying nearly 20 million gallons of toxic herbicides, including Agent Orange which contained 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, generally known as "dioxin." Agent Orange is a highly toxic chemical known to cause cancer.
Agent Orange on Bases in Thailand
C-123 aircraft helped with Operation Ranch Hand and often landed on and departed from bases in Thailand during missions.
For military personnel who worked on these aircraft and near the Thailand storage areas, there was a high risk of exposure to Agent Orange because the equipment used to house and spray the herbicides were prone to leaking.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initially claimed that planes used in Operation Ranch Hand and the herbicides they carried weren't staged on Thailand bases. That position was challenged by documentation and sworn statements by military personnel, as well as by national archives detailing herbicide missions launched from Thailand.
Disability Benefits for Thailand Veterans
When the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed, the VA acknowledged veterans who provided service on the ground. They were given “presumptive service connection” for medical conditions they suffered linked to their Agent Orange exposure.
However, prior to 2010, veterans stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War didn't share this same presumptive connection benefit. Instead, they were required to provide evidence they suffered from a disability; the disability occurred because of an event during active duty; and there was a link between them. This additional third requirement made it more difficult for veterans stationed in Thailand to get disability benefits.
It took until 2010 for the VA to recognize that many veterans stationed in Thailand suffered from medical conditions related to their exposure to Agent Orange and deserved presumptive service connection.
You may now be eligible for disability benefits if:
- You’re a veteran who served perimeter duty on a U.S. Army installation in Thailand.
- You’re a veteran who served on RTAF bases in Thailand, including U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, or Don Muang.
- You have a medical condition you think is linked to dioxin exposure and is on the list for “presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.”
Call Cuddigan Law
If you’re a veteran once stationed on a base in Thailand, you may be eligible for VA benefits, and we can help determine if your military duty during this time qualifies you for disability benefits.
Call Cuddigan Law (402) 933 5405 to get help with your VA disability application or appeal today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Am I eligible for disability if I was exposed to Agent Orange while working near the DMZ?
The answer is yes—all thanks to the Fairness for Korean DMZ Veterans Act.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed over 10 percent of South Vietnam with a deadly herbicide known as Agent Orange. This toxic chemical was used as a tactical defoliant to wipe out the thick vegetation, plant life, and trees that provided cover to the Viet Cong and Vietnamese.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognized that veterans who served in locations near or at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) had been exposed to Agent Orange as well, citing exposure dates from April 1, 1968 to August 31, 1971. Eventually, the VA reported that serious, debilitating medical conditions could occur after exposure to even small doses of the deadly toxin.
How the Fairness Act Helps Veterans Who Served Near the DMZ
For many years, only DMZ veterans who served from April 1968 to August 1971 were eligible for disability benefits for medical conditions linked to Agent Orange exposure. However, this excluded some veterans who served earlier at the DMZ.
Penned by U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, the Fairness for Korean DMZ Veterans Act redefined the period of exposure for veterans who served near or at the DMZ. The VA recognized September 1, 1967 as an earlier date for exposure, expanding the time period by seven months.
The Act proved beneficial for DMZ veterans in the following ways:
- Those DMZ veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange earlier than April 1968 were also given "presumptive status" and benefit equity for their associated medical conditions.
- Those DMZ veterans no longer had to endure a lengthy and difficult appeals process or provide proof they were exposed to Agent Orange.
- There were nearly 1,500 DMZ vets who became eligible for disability due to the Fairness Act.
Additionally, DMZ veterans may qualify for an Agent Orange Registry health exam, which is offered to determine whether a veteran suffered long-term health problems due to his exposure to Agent Orange.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you’re a veteran who served at or near the Korean DMZ from September 1, 1967 to August 31, 1971, and you have a medical condition you believe is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law.
You may be eligible for VA benefits, and we can help determine if your military duty during this time qualifies you for disability benefits. Let our experienced lawyers help you with your disability claim. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
As an Air Force Reservist, how was I exposed to Agent Orange?
During Operation “Ranch Hand,” the U.S. military sprayed 18 million gallons of tactical defoliants to destroy the jungle and dense foliage used by the Viet Cong for cover in Vietnam. One of these defoliants was Agent Orange—a deadly herbicide that contained the highly toxic chemical, TCDD.
Agent Orange Exposure
From 1969–1972, approximately 40 C-123 aircraft were used to disperse Agent Orange. When this spraying initiative was finished, the planes were sent back to the U.S. Over 20 of those planes were distributed to U.S. Air Force (AF) reserve units. The others were sold to other countries for use.
In the years that followed, 1,500–2,100 AF Reservists worked on or maintained these C-123 aircraft used to spray Agent Orange ultimately came in contact with chemical residue on the planes’ surfaces.
Navigators, loadmasters, flight engineers, pilots, and anyone providing maintenance for the planes were likely exposed by:
- Inhaling or ingesting the TCDD residue left on the surfaces of the plane
- Flying on these planes to provide medical services
- Flying on this aircraft to perform regular duties or ground responsibilities
Initially, The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) denied AF Reservists' applications for disability under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, because they hadn’t fought in Vietnam and weren't considered Vietnam veterans. However, in 2014, the VA asked the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to research and evaluate the exposure of Reservists to Agent Orange.
The HMD found that when C-123s were sent back to the U.S. for reconditioning and then returned to service, crew members who washed these planes to rid them of Agent Orange were exposed, typically spending between 4.5–12 hours per shift on board one of these contaminated planes. Thus, anyone who had regular contact with them was likely to suffer illnesses caused by or associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you worked on or maintained a C-123 plane as a U.S. Reservist and believe your medical condition is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. We can help determine if the work you did on this plane qualifies for VA benefits.
Call Cuddigan Law to talk with an intake specialist for free and get help with your VA disability appeal. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you.
As an Air Force Reservist, can I obtain VA disability if I was exposed to Agent Orange?
Possibly. At the request of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine studied U.S. Air Force (AF) Reservists and their likely exposure to Agent Orange while working on C-123 aircraft used in the Vietnam War.
The 2015 report, "Post-Vietnam Dioxin Exposure in Agent Orange-Contaminated C-123 Aircraft," was released with findings about the negative health impact Agent Orange had on Reservists who came in contact with this aircraft.
The report found that “approximately 1,500-to- 2,100 AF Reserve personnel trained and worked on C-123 aircraft that had previously been used to spray herbicides, including Agent Orange, in Vietnam.”
Additionally, the report determined that Reservists who had “regular contact with the aircraft could have been exposed to chemicals from herbicide residue, including TCDD—the toxic chemical in Agent Orange—and that exposure could result in adverse health effects.”
Disability for AF Reservists
After the published report, the VA recognized that AF Reservists who operated or maintained C-123s were exposed to Agent Orange. These planes were used to spray tactical defoliants to destroy trees, plants, crops, and vegetation used by the Viet Cong and Vietnamese as cover. After the U.S. stopped spraying Agent Orange in 1971, the C-123 planes were reassigned to reserve units to carry cargo and for medical evacuation missions that continued for 10 years.
If you were a Reservist, you may qualify for disability benefits due to Agent Orange exposure if you came in contact with a C-123. If you’ve developed a disease you believe is due to that exposure, you need to prove you worked on or with this type of plane.
Some diseases associated with Agent Orange include:
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Peripheral neuropathy and early-onset peripheral neuropathy
- Chronic B-cell leukemia
- Multiple myeloma, Hodgkin’s disease, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Lung, trachea, and prostate cancer
Call Cuddigan Law
If you maintained or came in contact with a C-123 plane as a U.S. Air Force Reservist and believe your medical condition is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. You may be eligible for VA benefits, and we can help determine if the work you did on this plane qualifies for these benefits.
Call Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA disability appeal today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Which Blue Water Navy ships were exposed to Agent Orange?
During the Vietnam War, sailors in the Blue Water Navy were service members who never stepped foot on Vietnamese soil. However, these sailors were on ships that sailed in the country's 12-mile territorial waters, and also docked in Vietnam.
Through these actions, they were exposed to the deadly toxin, Agent Orange. This tactical defoliant was used by the U.S. military to destroy dense vegetation, plants, and tree leaves that the Viet Cong and Vietnamese troops used for cover. Because the Blue Water Navy sailors never had “boots on the ground,” the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) later denied them disability benefits for Agent Orange-associated diseases.
In early 2019, a federal court ruling in the case Procopio v. Wilkie gave over 90,000 Blue Water Navy vets “presumption of service-connection” for medical conditions linked to Agent Orange. If you're a Blue Water Navy vet and have a disease on the list linked to Agent Orange exposure, you may be eligible for VA benefits if you served on a ship or boat included in the Inshore Fire Support Division 93 or the Mobile Riverine Force.
If you didn’t serve on these ships, you must have worked on a vessel with a specific designation. Here's a short list of those designations:
- AGP (Assault Group Patrol/Patrol Craft Tender)
- LCM (Landing Craft, Mechanized)
- LCU (Landing Craft, Utility)
- LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel)
- LST (Landing Ship, Tank)
- PBR (Patrol Boat, River)
- PCF (Patrol Craft, Fast or Swift Boat)
- PG (Patrol Gunboat)
- STABS (Strike Assault Boats)
- WAK (Cargo Vessel)
- WHEC (High Endurance Cutter)
- WLB (Buoy Tender)
- WPB (Patrol Boat)
- YFU (Harbor Utility Craft)
Be sure to check the list of the boats and ships exposed to Agent Orange to see if you might be eligible for VA benefits. It’s possible that even if your ship isn’t listed, you may still qualify for disability.
Ships Not Eligible for VA Benefits
Military personnel who served on ships that sailed in deep-water harbors and bays— including those at Ganh Rai Bay, Ranh Bay Harbor, Qui Nhon Bay Harbor, and Da Nang Harbor—aren't included in the list of vessels eligible for VA benefits.
Because of their open access to the South China Sea and capability for deep-water anchoring, these bays and harbors are considered “offshore waters” of Vietnam.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you served in the Blue Water Navy and believe your disease is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. You may be eligible for VA benefits, and we can help determine if your service vessel meets the requirements for disability.
Call Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA disability application today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you. Contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Are Blue Water Navy vets eligible for VA benefits?
Yes. For many years after the Vietnam War, sailors who served in the Blue Water Navy and were exposed to Agent Orange but didn’t have “boots on the ground” were denied benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Thousands of service members were exposed to this deadly toxin—a chemical used as a tactical defoliant to remove dense vegetation, tree leaves, plants, and crops that helped conceal the Viet Cong and Vietnamese troops. Exposure to Agent Orange was later linked to serious diseases, but only those who had actually stepped foot on Vietnam soil were eligible for Agent Orange-associated benefits.
Federal Court Ruling: Blue Water Vets Eligible for Benefits
In early 2019, over 90,000 Blue Water Navy vets became eligible for VA benefits after a federal court ruling gave them presumptive disability status. This means Blue Water Navy vets whose ships sailed in inland waters or docked in Vietnam qualify for “presumption of service-connection” for Agent Orange-linked medical conditions.
The ruling was made in the case Procopio v. Wilkie. Alfred Procopio Jr., who suffered from diabetes mellitus and prostate cancer, was denied service-connection benefits because his ship hadn’t sailed in Vietnam’s inland waterways, and he’d never had boots on the ground in the country.
However, both of Procopio’s medical conditions are cited on the VA’s list of presumptive diseases linked with Agent Orange exposure, and the USS Intrepid—the aircraft carrier on which Procopio served—was stationed inside Vietnam’s 12-mile territorial waters.
Procopio sued the VA and won in a 9–to–2 decision, with the court ruling that the Agent Orange Act of 1991 never intended to exclude military personnel who served on the seas. This ruling required the VA to recognize Agent Orange-linked diseases in Blue Water Navy vets. These vets worked aboard ships that pumped in potentially contaminated water used to shower and do laundry, and may have been distilled for drinking.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you're a Blue Water Navy vet and believe your medical condition is linked to Agent Orange exposure, contact Cuddigan Law. You’re now eligible for VA benefits, and we can help prove your disease qualifies for compensation. Call Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA disability application today. Let our experienced lawyers go to work for you—contact us to speak with an intake specialist for free.
Why does the SSA care about work history for my disability claim?
Your past employment is a significant part of your Social Security (SS) disability claim. A claims agent scrutinizes your job history before deciding whether you qualify for benefits.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses this information because it compares the types of work you were able to do previously against your medical condition, injury, or illness and how it affected your ability to do those jobs now.
Understanding How Past Work Is Relevant
To determine if you’re disabled, the SSA typically looks at paid work you did in the last 15 years that involved productive mental and physical activities. If the SSA determines this job history is relevant, it compares your ability to work with:
- The tasks, activities, and duties you performed in any of those past, relevant jobs.
- How the work you performed in those jobs is typically done in the “national economy.”
You must provide the SSA with a complete and detailed account of your job history so the agency can make these comparisons. Once the SSA evaluates your past work duties and your disabling medical condition, it decides eligibility in three ways:
- You’ll be denied benefits if the SSA determines you don't have a disability because you can still do your past work tasks as you did in the past.
- You'll be denied benefits if the SSA determines you can do past work in the way the national economy performs it.
- You may be considered for benefits if the SSA decides you’re not mentally or physically capable of doing any of your past relevant work tasks or how it's done in the national economy. However, to make this determination, the SSA moves on to the final step in the disability process: determining if you can adjust to work you haven’t done before, considering your age, education, and job experience.
Call Cuddigan Law
Filling out the work history portion of your Social Security Disability claim can be tedious and challenging. You may feel uncertain about what to include on your application and which details are the most important.
Contact a skilled SS disability benefits attorney who can help. Call Cuddigan Law for a free, over-the-phone evaluation.
How does the SSA evaluate my job history for a disability claim?
When filing for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits because your medical condition makes it impossible for you to work, you’ll need to provide a work history with your application.
In general, the Social Security Administration (SSA) wants to know about all of your past employment and the tasks you had so it can determine if you're still able to do any of that work.
To make a determination, the agency needs to know the details of your duties and the skills you used to do them.
How the SSA Uses Your Work History
It’s important to remember the SSA won’t rate you as having a disability unless your medical condition or injury prevents you from doing your past job or your ability to adjust to other work. So, the SSA looks at the demands and requirements of your recent employment and compares them with its assessment of your current ability to do work tasks now.
When considering this past work, the SSA examines:
- Employment in the past 15 years
- Jobs that involved “significant and productive physical or mental activities” that you performed for pay or profit
- Work you performed long enough to learn how to do it
Because there are types of employment with similar names but with different responsibilities and requirements, the SSA needs your job history to be thorough and complete. You must provide details such as:
- The titles of all your jobs within 15 years
- A description of your work
- The amount of pay you received
- The number of hours you worked each week
- The types of machinery, equipment, and tools you used
- The knowledge and skill your work required
- The extent of your supervisory or managerial experience
- The amount of time you had to sit, stand, kneel, crouch, carry, crawl, balance, walk, or climb
The SSA will also want you to explain how you changed your job duties or presence due to your medical condition, injury, or illness. For example, if you worked fewer hours, took more sick leave, rested during the day, or took frequent breaks, the SSA needs to know all these details.
Additionally, if the SSA determines you can’t do past work, the agency considers at your education, age, training, and work experience to see if there are other jobs you may be able to do.
Call Cuddigan Law
It’s important to fill out your work history report accurately when applying for disability benefits from the SSA. Because this can be a tedious and challenging process, you may feel uncertain about what to include and which details are necessary. Contact a skilled SSDI benefits attorney who can help. Call Cuddigan Law for a free, over-the-phone evaluation.