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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What is conscious and unconscious avoidance related to PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common medical condition that many veterans deal with after time spent in combat. PTSD occurs when someone witnesses or experiences a life-altering, traumatic event and is unable to recover from the incident.
Because many veterans serve in dangerous environments that are emotionally and physically challenging, they're at a higher risk of developing PTSD than those who never served in the military. Those who suffer from PTSD may try to avoid the emotions associated with the traumatic event. Two types of avoidance are conscious and unconscious avoidance.
Understanding Emotional Avoidance
Emotional avoidance is a way for people to escape the painful remembrance of a tragic event. Because memories linked with the trauma are often too powerful and crushing, avoidance offers a way for people who suffer with PTSD to cope.
If you’re struggling with PTSD, it’s helpful to understand two types of avoidance: conscious and unconscious.
In general, someone with PTSD purposefully avoids any stimulus that reminds him or her of the traumatic incident. This person learns what triggers these intense emotions and will intentionally avoid them. For example, a veteran who has trouble sleeping, feels irritable, or engages in self-destructive behavior might try to avoid any situation or person that activates the negative emotions connected with the trauma. Thus, the veteran consciously avoids whatever is necessary to stay far away from feelings that might cause him or her to re-experience the event.
The symptoms of unconscious avoidance are sometimes hard to recognize, because the brain is tricking you and working overtime to prevent you from acknowledging and dealing with the event. Ultimately, the symptoms of unconscious avoidance become “truth” for the veteran, and these inaccurate truths prevent him or her from seeking treatment.
A veteran reacting through unconscious avoidance may:
- Be unable to recall key characteristics of the trauma, which might be due to “dissociative amnesia” rather than drugs, alcohol, or a head injury.
- Have ongoing negative thoughts about themselves and the world.
- Have ongoing thoughts blaming themselves or others for what happened.
- Have decreased interest in activities they once loved.
- Have feelings of alienation or detachment from people they love.
- Be unable to experience any positive emotions about their lives.
Cuddigan Law Can Help
If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD,you may qualify for financial support from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for disability benefits, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.
How do I tell if I’m suffering from PTSD or combat stress?
During active service, many veterans experience traumatic events. They may witness the event or live through it personally. A traumatic event can include imprisonment, death, and sexual trauma.
It can also include experiencing a moral injury—a psychological injury where a veteran behaves in a way or witnesses an event that goes against his moral code.
Each veteran responds differently to a life-changing, traumatic event. Some suffer combat stress; others suffer PTSD. If you're seeking disability benefits for PTSD from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), it's important to understand the differences between this medical condition and combat stress.
Understanding Combat Stress
Combat stress is also referred to as combat fatigue, combat disorder, and shell shock. It's an anticipated condition that occurs as a reaction to extreme combat experiences. When veterans are placed in situations that create intense physiological and psychological stress, it's expected that most soldiers will show symptoms of combat stress, including:
- Being hyper-startled by surprise or loud noises
- Being hyper-vigilant—always feeling watchful, wary, and on guard
- Having nightmares
- Suffering sleep problems
- Feeling irritable and anxious
PTSD isn't an immediate response to combat situations—it’s a mental condition that impairs a person’s ability to function. Combat stress is typically considered predictable and expected after a lengthy time at war, but PTSD is a severe illness. When a veteran is diagnosed with PTSD, he must experience several specific symptoms following a traumatic event, including:
- Recurring dreams, flashbacks, and/or “intrusive images” of the event
- Avoiding anything associated with the event, including people, places, and conversations
- Sleeping problems and sleep disturbances
- Ongoing problems with concentration
- Constant irritability and problems with anger management
There's some overlap in combat stress and PTSD symptoms, but they're not handled the same way. Combat stress isn't a medical condition that requires any treatment, and it's typically resolved after a veteran is no longer in service. PTSD, on the other hand, is a mental illness that requires a doctor’s intervention.
Cuddigan Law Firm Can Help
If you're a veteran who suffers from PTSD, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the VA. If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for benefits or appeal a rating decision, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and we'll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you'll speak to an intake specialist for free.
How can I handle a trauma anniversary?
Veterans who experienced traumatic events during service often face an “anniversary reaction” when the anniversary date triggers the memory of the incident.
Because the date creates such a strong reminder of what happened, a veteran may feel edgy, stressed out, and as if he's living through the event again.
Triggers are unpredictable and occur anywhere, at any time. But there are strategies veterans can use to cope with what is often a symptom of PTSD.
Ways to Handle Your Anniversary Reaction
When the anniversary of a traumatic event approaches, there are ways to reduce the severity of your reaction. You can do this by:
- Anticipating and preparing. If you’ve experienced this response before, you probably know that when the date approaches, you'll feel stressed and anxious. Being cognizant of the forthcoming date and working to keep your life calm and more peaceful during this time can help. Plan ahead so you eliminate as many stressful situations as possible.
- Honoring. It may be helpful to create a plan that relates to whatever loss you experienced on that date. You may want to commemorate the date in some special way, contribute in some way to your community, or visit the graveside of someone you’ve lost. Honoring the person or the event in a meaningful way often helps reduce your anniversary reaction.
- Knowing it won’t last. Most reactions don’t last long. Although some can go on for months, they typically end after a few weeks. Knowing that the stressful feelings you have are temporary can help reduce the anxiety you feel near and during the anniversary date.
- Garnering support. Call on friends and loved ones to "have your six" as the anniversary approaches. Spending time with people you trust and who understand your situation will help lessen the depression, anxiety, and other stressors you may feel.
Cuddigan Law Firm Can Help
If you’re a veteran who experiences symptoms of PTSD, including a trauma anniversary, it’s possible to qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for benefits, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have supported veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.
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.