We Provide Answers to Your VA Disability Benefits Questions Here
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What benefits are available with TDIU?
If you’re a veteran who returned from military duty with a service-connected disability, you may have applied for benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Your compensation was determined by the VA’s rating schedule, and if you met the listed requirements for that illness, you received a rating of between 10–100 percent.
However, some veterans suffer disabilities so severe, they're unable to work. These can include:
- Mental conditions such as depression or PTSD
- Physical conditions such as diabetes, traumatic brain injuries, back problems, and heart disease
- Conditions considered “secondary” to your service-connected medical problem
If a veteran has 100 percent and can’t sustain gainful employment, he or she may be eligible for a special type of disability known as Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU) or IU.
If you think you’re eligible for TDIU benefits, you need hire an experienced VA disability attorney to help with your claim. Initially, most TDIU claims are denied by the VA and must often go through the appeals process before being approved.
The Benefits of TDIU
A VA TDIU rating can affect a veteran’s benefits in a positive way. When the VA approves a claim for TDIU, the rating for the veteran’s service-connected disability is automatically paid at 100 percent. Thus, the payment happens despite the combined rating for each of the veteran’s individual disabilities.
For example, if a veteran suffers from depression, heart disease, and back pain, and his combined rating is 60 percent, he will be paid at 100 percent if awarded a TDIU rating. This increase significantly boosts the veteran’s monthly benefit, and it can have a major impact on veterans who find it challenging to find or maintain a job because of their service-connected conditions.
If you receive TDIU benefits you may be eligible for other benefits.You may eligible for VA Special Monthly Compensations and other benefits. And if you apply in the appropriate timeframe, these benefits might be awarded retroactively to the date you could no longer work.
Call Cuddigan Law
If you’re a veteran who is unable to work due to a service-connected disability, you may qualify for TDIU. Contact the VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We’ll examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied. We’ll help you understand the process and work with you on your VA application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.
What does it take to qualify for total disability VA benefits?
When a veteran suffers a service-connected disability, it may be severe enough that he can no longer perform the type of work he or she did in the past, or even work at all. When this happens, a veteran may qualify for a 100 percent disability rating known as Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
The primary factor when determining the eligibility of a TDIU claim is whether or not a veteran is unable to engage in “substantially gainful employment” due to a service-connected condition. This term means a person can hold a job that meets the annual poverty level amount designated by the federal government.
If you're not able to work because of an impairment suffered during military service, an experienced VA disability attorney can help determine if you qualify for this benefit.
Meeting the Requirements for TDIU
To qualify for TDIU benefits, a veteran must meet the following criteria:
- He or she has a service-connected condition or disability with a scheduler rating of 60 percent or more
- He or she has two or more service-connected conditions or disabilities, and at least one of them is rated at 40 percent or more, and the combined rating is 70 percent or more
- In both cases, the service-connected conditions must make the veteran unemployable
In order for someone to prove unemployability by the TDIU requirements, an individual must provide medical evidence which verifies he or she can’t work. Often, a doctor’s opinion letter is included with the veteran’s application that outlines and explains the veteran’s inability to work.
Additionally, employment history records are included to show a veteran is now unable to perform past jobs and that shows evidence of unemployment due to his or her condition.
You Can Still Have a Job and Get TDIU Benefits
You won’t be disqualified from getting a TDIU award if you have a paying job. However, that job must meet the following requirements:
- It pays less than the designated poverty level amount
- It's “protected” from the typical requirements another employee might be required to perform for that position
- It's a task or responsibility a friend or family member has hired you to do.
Contact Cuddigan Law
We understand that every veteran’s claim is different. The attorneys at Cuddigan Law will examine your specific case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit your claim or file an appeal if it’s been denied.
Contact Cuddigan Law to get help with your VA application to increase your chances of getting an approved claim.
What evidence do I need to get the VA extra-schedular rating?
If you’re a veteran and suffered a service-connected injury or condition after returning home from military duty, you may be eligible for the extra-schedular rating offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This rating gives you an additional percentage of compensation for your disability, but only if your symptoms are unique and exceed what's expected for that rating code.
For example, if you suffered an elbow injury, you might receive a 20 percent rating because the range of motion in your arm is limited. However, you might be considered for the extra-schedular rating if you’re unable to work at a computer for more than 30 minutes before there's intense pain and swelling in the elbow.
Getting an approved claim for an extra-schedular rating requires a significant amount of evidence, so it’s helpful to hire a VA disability lawyer to assist you through the appeal process for this financial support.
Evidence for the Extra-Schedular Rating
Some veterans have special and exceptional conditions that make them eligible for the extra-schedular rating. Their symptoms may not match the criteria for a specific disorder or listing, but their illness, disorder, or injury exceeds the rating code. They may have experienced a life-changing event and now suffer with consequences that make it difficult to sustain gainful employment, or live a life that allows for a normal, daily routine. Veterans in these circumstances are considered for the extra-curricular rating.
However, it’s important to understand the evidence you need to make a successful claim for the extra-schedular rating. Here are three tips for helping to ensure your claim is approved:
- Know what’s in your C-file. A veteran’s claims file—also known as a C-file—is considered the most significant element to a successful claim. Consequently, it’s important that you have a copy of the information that’s in the file because, in general, it contains all the information the VA is using to make a determination about your claim. The information may include service records, service medical records, C&P exam request letters and opinions, post-service treatment records, VA correspondence, and VA legal documents like your notice of disagreement (NOD).
The C-file also contains code sheets. Each time the VA issues a ratings decision, a code sheet is usually attached to the last page of the decision. This code sheet tells you and any legal advocate you have which claims were service-connected, the effective dates of the injury or condition, the impairment ratings, the method of service connection, and the diagnostic codes used to make a determination. It’s a critical piece of documentation that many veterans don’t know exists.
It’s important that you also know what’s not in your C-file. If the VA can’t find parts of your paperwork, the agency may conclude that there’s an absence of evidence against the claim. And because people at every level of the claims process read and review your C-file, it’s important that critical documentation be there.
- Provide superior proof and credible evidence. The evidence you provide with your claim for an extra-schedular rating must clearly show why you need and deserve this financial benefit. It’s not good enough to simply fill out the forms, state that you have a service-connected condition, and expect the VA rater to immediately see or understand your situation. To show your eligibility, your evidence should:
- Be given by a specialist or someone who has expertise and skill. The person should have personal knowledge of your condition and, if possible, training in that area to offer substantiated proof that your symptoms are documented accurately.
- Be factual. Your claim should show that you're an eligible veteran; suffered a service-connected injury or condition; and have received a medical statement of the diagnosis with an expert medical opinion about how your condition is related to your military service.
- Provide both lay evidence and medical evidence. These are generally the two classification types for evidence in a VA claim. Here is a brief look at each:
- Lay evidence. Typically, lay evidence is proof that doesn’t need trained, skilled, or knowledgeable expertise. This can include your “buddy statement” that confirms and substantiates the events that led to the injury or condition; your own testimony about the incident and the symptoms you suffer with your disability; your spouse’s testimony about how the condition has affected you; and even your performance evaluations following the incident can be used.
- Medical evidence. This typically comes from a physician, psychologist, medical examiner, or a professional in the medical field. If you have a private medical expert offer an opinion about your condition and its connection with your military service, it’s important that he include critical words and phrases in that opinion to ensure it’s considered competent by the VA, including:
- “I reviewed the claimant’s entire C-file.” VA raters may believe that the medical professional can’t possibly give an expert opinion if he hasn't looked at all the medical information.
- “As least as likely as not.” This phrase is important to show that you’ve met the burden of proof and have enough evidence to support your claim. However, medical professionals aren’t used to this phrase, and may not feel compelled to cite their findings this way, even though it’s the best way to state that they have a reasonable degree of medical certainty about your condition.
- Words that explain why the medical professional reached the conclusion he did and why the diagnosis may differ from the VA C&P exam results.
Let Us Help You
If you need help applying for the extra-schedular rating, or want to know if you meet the extra-schedular criteria, contact the VA disability attorneys at Cuddigan Law. We can help answer your questions. To discuss your situation, start an online chat on our website today or call us today for a free evaluation (402) 933-5405.
Why does experiencing a hostile act or terrorism cause PTSD?
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can happen to anyone who’s been through any type of emotional or physical trauma. This trauma is usually a shocking, terrifying, or dangerous event that a person witnesses or experiences and feels he can’t control, and believes his life or the lives of others are in danger.
Experiencing trauma isn't uncommon. Approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience a traumatic event in their lives.
There are a variety of factors that increase the chance they will develop PTSD, including if they were exposed directly to the traumatic event or injured by it.
It’s estimated that 8 million adults have PTSD each year, and 9 percent of soldiers age 18 or older who returned from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffered from PTSD, and 31 percent suffered from the condition a year after deployment.
If you have PTSD after serving in the military and your symptoms make it impossible for you to work, hiring a VA disability lawyer can be beneficial in helping you get compensation.
PTSD and Military Personnel
When you’re deployed for military service, it’s possible that you’ll experience combat or be on missions that expose you to horrific, hazardous, and life-threatening events. All of them can produce symptoms of PTSD. Consider the statistics for recent wars:
- Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Approximately
11–20 percent of every 100 veterans who served in these wars have PTSD in a given year.
- Gulf War (Desert Storm). Approximately 12 percent of every 100 veterans who served in this war have PTSD in a given year.
- Vietnam War. Approximately 30 percent of every 100 veterans who served in this war have had PTSD in their lifetime.
When you’re involved in combat, there are circumstances that can produce additional stress and contribute to PTSD symptoms, including where the war is fought, the kind of enemy you face, the political issues of the war itself, and your individual role in the war. Additionally, PTSD can also be caused by military sexual trauma (MST), which can happen to both men and women. Among those veterans who utilize healthcare from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), approximately:
- 23 percent of every 100 women in the military reported sexual assault.
- 55 percent of every 100 women and 38 percent of every 100 men have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.
How to Tell If You’re Experiencing PTSD
You may experience PTSD days, months, or even years following a traumatic event, and the symptoms are different for each veteran. However, symptoms are often classified in four general clusters:
- Recurring, interrupting reminders of the trauma. This can include nightmares, upsetting thoughts, and flashbacks that make you feel the event is happening all over again. You may experience extreme physical and emotional responses to reminders of the trauma such as heart palpitations, shaking, and panic attacks.
- Avoiding anything that reminds you of the trauma. This can include avoiding places, people, situations, or thoughts that you correlate with the event. You may feel withdrawn from your family and friends, and may lose interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Undergoing negative changes in your mood and thoughts. This can include having extreme negative ideas about the world or yourself and constant feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. You may be unable to feel positive emotions.
- Feeling “on guard” all the time. This can include feeling jumpy, emotionally reactive, angry, irritable, reckless, and hypervigilant.
VA Disability for PTSD
If you’re a veteran who now suffers from PTSD, you may find that you’re unable to work consistently at any job. If so, you may want to apply for disability from the VA. To receive compensation for PTSD, the Blue Book listing of impairments outlines how to qualify under Section 12.15, Trauma- and stressor-related disorders. You must satisfy parts “A” and “B” or “A” and “C.”
The VA disability lawyers at Cuddigan Law can help you with your service-connected PTSD application for compensation. Call us today to discuss your disability case (402) 933-5405, or download our free book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.
- Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Approximately
As Someone Previously Stationed at Camp Lejuene, What Do I Need to Know the Water Contamination There?
When Camp Lejeune was built at the mouth of the New River in North Carolina in 1941, it’s doubtful anyone could have predicted the environmental disaster that would impact nearly one million soldiers and their families who lived there. Located on 240 square miles of land with 14 miles of beaches, Camp Lejeune was considered an excellent location for amphibious warfare training.
However, countless soldiers and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune from 1953 through 1987 were exposed to contaminated water; tainted with hazardous chemicals at concentration levels that far exceeded safety standards. In the years after leaving Camp Lejeune, many of these residents developed serious medical conditions believed to be caused by the contaminated water. As early as WWII, many military base personnel used chemicals and toxic substances and then disposed of them in ways that allowed for them to leech into the soil and water. Later, it was determined these chemicals posed a variety of health risks.
Although the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has made healthcare available to the victims of Camp Lejeune, and proposed regulations to establish presumptive service connections for eight medical conditions caused by the contaminated water, people still have many questions about the polluted water and the medical conditions suffered by so many who lived at the base.
Frequently Asked Questions About Camp Lejeune’s Water Contamination
The countless number of illnesses suffered by residents of Camp Lejeune and the investigation into the Marine Corp’s alleged cover-up of the water contamination generated a great deal of concern. Here are some of the most common questions about the environmental disaster there, and some general answers to those questions:
- What caused the water contamination? In the years prior to the construction of Camp Lejeune, trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) were safety solvents used as cleaning chemicals. These and other chemicals were found in the Camp Lejeune water and believed to be contributors to the contamination. Many believe there were three primary sources of contamination:
- Solvents used at a nearby dry-cleaning company were highly carcinogenic. Most of the soldiers used this company to get their uniforms cleaned. When the dry-cleaners disposed of the liquid waste, much of it was absorbed into the ground.
- Military personnel used TCE to clean its equipment and ensure that it functioned correctly. After washing greasy parts in the TCE, the chemical was dumped, likely leaching into the ground.
- Leaky underground fuel storage tanks leached TCE and PCE into the ground and into the aquifer that provided the base with water. Benzene from a fuel farm close by also leached into the soil. Vinyl chloride is also believed to be one of the contaminating chemicals.
- Are there other bases with water contamination? Camp Lejeune is not the only base with water or soil contamination. According to the Department of Defense (DoD), there are approximately 60 U.S. military bases known to have serious soil and water contamination. DoD officials say this list of contaminated military bases is based on a status report for its Installation Restoration Program. Other military sites that are toxic include:
- Kelly Air Force Base. Personnel allegedly dumped TCE into the soil here. Some people refer to this base as part of a “toxic triangle” in south-central Texas.
- Umatilla Chemical Depot. Located in the plains of northern Oregon, mustard gas and VX nerve gas were stored here.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers and their families, as well as civilians who lived and worked in close proximity to these bases, may have been affected by these chemicals after drinking the water, using the water for bathing and doing dishes, and exposure through “vapor seepage.”
Research shows that many of these chemical compounds seeped into the ground water supply on several military bases and, in some cases, impacted properties near the bases, including schools, churches, and private wells.
- Is the water at Camp Lejeune safe now? A Marine Corp website states that the drinking water at Camp Lejeune currently meets or exceeds all government drinking water standards, including the Safe Drinking Water Act. It also indicates the water is tested more often than required.
- What is being done to guarantee the safety of Camp Lejeune water? The following three efforts are ongoing to ensure the water safety at the base: Water quality testing; compliance with current waste management regulations; and the cleanup of past hazardous waste sites.
The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA) authorized the federal government to respond to hazardous waste released into the environment. Camp Lejeune complies with CERCLA with an active program to deal with past hazardous waste sites and groundwater contamination before it can affect the drinking water.
- What has been done to help victims of the water contamination? President Obama signed into law the Janey Ensminger Act to provide medical care for 15 illnesses and diseases caused by the contaminated water. Additionally, the VA has proposed regulations that would establish presumptive service connections for eight medical conditions caused by the contaminated water.
- What is a superfund site? This is any piece of land in the U.S. that the EPA has identified as being contaminated by hazardous waste and a “candidate” for cleanup due to its risk to human health and the environment. These superfund sites are placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). Approximately 900 of these waste sites are abandoned military bases or facilities, including chemical warfare and research facilities and abandoned disposal pits.
We Can Help
If you’re a veteran, member of the Reserves, or a member of the National Guard assigned to Camp Lejeune at any time from 1953 through 1987, and you believe that you suffer from a disease or an illness caused by the contaminated water there, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for benefits.
How does the VA rate respiratory illnesses?
If you're a veteran who worked in close proximity to open air burn pits during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, in Djibouti, or in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, you may have returned home with symptoms of respiratory illness, or been diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or a rare illnesses known as constrictive bronchiolitis.
Many veterans of the Vietnam War who were exposed to Agent Orange developed different types of respiratory cancers. Similar to their cases, these respiratory conditions and other illnesses are eligible for disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
However, obtaining VA benefits for respiratory illnesses isn’t always easy, and there are only a few respiratory medical conditions that have been given a presumptive service connection. Veterans who have tuberculosis, bronchiectasis, and coccidioidomycosis may be eligible for a presumptive service connection, as well as personnel exposed to excessive radiation during their service who developed lung cancer, bronchioloalveolar carcinoma, or cancer of the pharynx.
Additionally, people exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides that have resulted in cancer of the trachea, lung, bronchus, or larynx are eligible. For most other respiratory illnesses, veterans must prove the service connection.
This is why it’s important to have an experienced disability lawyer to help you. Because the VA looks at each claim individually, working with a disability lawyer can improve your chances of getting your claim approved.
How Does the VA Rating System Work?
The VA ratings for the respiratory system are based on three main things:
- How well the lungs take in air
- How well the lungs absorb oxygen into the blood
- How the lungs exhale leftover gasses
To make determinations in these three areas, the VA requires an individual to go through pulmonary function tests (PFTs) to show if the lungs are functioning properly and how the body is affected. Because the lungs provide oxygen into the blood stream, if you have a severe lung condition, it can affect the heart, so various heart tests are included as part of the PFTs.
Here's a brief look at some of these tests and their VA ratings:
This series of tests records how the lungs and the airway to the lungs function. Ideally, a patient performs the tests before and after taking medication. If not, the doctor needs to explain the reasons for this in the medical report. The performance results after medication are the ones that must be used for the VA rating unless the results prior to taking the medication are worse—and this isn’t usually the case.
Here are the measurements used for the rating:
- Forced Vital Capacity (FVC). After taking a full breath, the FVC indicates the maximum amount of air you can exhale.
- Forced Expiratory Volume in one second (FEV-1). This indicates the greatest amount of air you can blow out in a single second.
- Ratio of FEV-1 to FVC. This measurement is used to determine the ratio between both the maximum amount of exhaled air and the air blown in one second.
- Flow-Volume Loop. This test is calculated from the spirometry results and charts the patient’s entire lung capacity—his ability to move air by inhaling completely, exhaling completely, and then inhaling quickly again. The results are presented on a graph, but it’s the doctor’s analysis that matters. He needs to state if there’s an obstruction that’s blocking the patient’s airflow.
This test, also known as a stress test, determines how much oxygen is being used by the body when it’s performing at "maximum capacity." This is defined as the greatest amount of physical activity that can be "repeated and sustained" by the patient.
When the VA rates these conditions, the agency gives one rating for each respiratory condition, and uses the rating that best reflects the patient’s general, overall condition. Here's a brief look at some of these ratings:
- FEV-1. If the results are less than 40 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 100 percent.
- FEV-1. If the results are 40–55 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 60 percent.
- FEV-1. If the results are 56–70 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 30 percent.
- FEV-1. If the results are 71–80 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 10 percent.
- FEV-1/FVC. If the results are less than 40 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 100 percent.
- FEV-1/FVC. If the results are 40–55 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 60 percent.
- FEV-1/FVC. If the results are 56–70 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 30 percent.
- FEV-1/FVC. If the results are 71–80 percent, you'll likely get a rating of 10 percent.
- Exercise test. If the results are less than 15 ml/kg/min with the limitation caused by a respiratory or heart condition, you'll likely get a rating of 100 percent. If the results are
15–20 ml/kg/min with the limitation caused by a respiratory or heart condition, you'll likely get a rating of 60 percent.
We Can Help
If you're a veteran suffering from a respiratory illness you believe is service related, particularly if you worked near open burn pits during your tour of duty, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405 or email us [email protected] . We’ll evaluate your claim to help determine your eligibility for benefits.
Why should I sign up on the burn pit registry?
During the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many veterans and military personnel worked near open-air burn pits. Used throughout the Middle East, these burn pits served as areas of disposal for trash and waste. In addition to ordinary waste, other types of garbage were burned as well. Many of the pits burned petroleum products, batteries, plastic, paint and oil, appliances, medical and human waste, and even amputated body parts. Thousands of service members returned from duty near these pits suffering from lung and respiratory illnesses, with concern about the long-term effects of exposure to the smoke many believed to be toxic.
The black, thick smoke clouds created by the open-air burn pits hovered over the areas where military personnel worked and slept. Soldiers were exposed to this smoke 24 hours a day because waste burned in the pits around the clock, and nearly 240 tons of trash was burned each day at some Iraq and Afghanistan bases. Many veterans now suffer from lung problems, respiratory illnesses, cancers, and neurological disorders, which some researchers believe may be linked to burn pit smoke exposure.
While neither the Department of Defense (DoD) or the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have found evidence that these illnesses and health conditions are related to this exposure, both agencies study the health of service members who worked near these pits on a continual basis. Additionally, Congress had the VA provide an online posting of all burn pit locations and establish the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
The Burn Pit Registry is a database of information—a tool that helps people who sign up be more aware of medical conditions that might be associated with burn pit smoke exposure and assists participants in being more enlightened about their own health. The registry was launched to help veterans report environmental exposures related to their military service and identify related health effects. Signing up for the registry is strictly voluntary, and those who choose to participate fill out an enrollment questionnaire. This questionnaire can be used to help direct doctor-patient discussions and identify health issues believed to be associated with active duty near these open-air burn pits.
How Does the Registry Help Me?
While participating in the registry doesn’t mean you’ll receive disability compensation for illnesses you believe are related to active service, it does provide certain benefits that may be of value to veterans and military personnel exposed to burn pits, including:
- Eligibility for a free VA medical evaluation and the opportunity to discuss your questionnaire with a VA health care provider
- Current data and information about services and ongoing health studies by the VA that could impact the type of disability claim you file
- A comprehensive summary of your health issues that can be used as a springboard for discussing medical issues with your doctor
- Current information about exposure to burn pit and airborne hazards
- Satisfaction from helping other veterans learn about illnesses and health conditions they believe are related to burn pit exposure
Dr. Stephen Hunt, the national director of VA Post-Deployment Integrated Care Initiative says, “The registry is a step forward in our ways of taking care of veterans that have been exposed to things that could be harmful.” Hunt says the registry allows for:
- Veterans to document both their concerns and symptoms in a comprehensive way
- The VA to evaluate these concerns and symptoms up front instead of years or decades later
- The VA to have an opportunity to work long term with veterans
Hunt goes on to say, "Ultimately, our goal in the VA is to have 22 million healthy Veterans using VA services and resources as needed to ensure that they enjoy the most meaningful, satisfying, and productive lives possible.” Hunt believes the registry is “a nice way for Veterans to get their foot in the door at the VA and to explore the services, benefits, and resources available to them through VA health care.”
How Do I Sign up?
Any veteran or service member who fought in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, was deployed to the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations after 1990, or was stationed in Djibouti after September 11, 2001 is eligible to sign up on the registry. To determine if you qualify, the VA will use deployment data provided to the agency by the DoD.
To fill out the questionnaire, you need to have a premium level 2 DS Logon. This is a secure ID that allows you to access multiple websites, including the burn pit registry, using one name and password.
Our Attorneys Can Help
If you’re a veteran who worked around open air burn pits or was exposed to toxic fumes caused by burn pits and you believe your medical condition is related to this exposure; or you want to discuss the burn pit registry and if your current medical issues make you eligible for disability, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’re happy to help you.
- Burn Pits May Cause Respiratory Illnesses for Military Personnel
- Lung Diseases Common Among Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits
- Veterans With Breathing Problems Eligible for Benefits
What is the burn pit registry?
Many veterans and military personnel who served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, particularly during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, worked near open-air burn pits. These burn pits were used to dispose of waste materials, some of which were potentially toxic. The waste products burned in the pits included plastic, petroleum, paint, oil, appliances, medical and human waste, and even body parts. Many people subjected to the smoke emitted from these pits are now home and suffer from respiratory and lung illnesses.
The burn pits created large clouds of thick, black smoke that lingered over the work and sleeping areas of military personnel. Because the pits burned 24 hours a day, soldiers were exposed to the smoke for long periods of time and may now have health issues because of this exposure. It was reported that some bases in Afghanistan and Iraq burned nearly 240 tons of trash each day. Hundreds of veterans have been diagnosed with cancers, neurological disorders, and lung problems—which researchers believe could be connected to the exposure to dust and/or smoke from the burning pits.
The Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry
Although there are many claims by veterans that their respiratory diseases and illnesses are related to exposure to the burn pits, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) report no evidence of a link between them. However, both agencies continue to study the health of military members and veterans who were exposed to burn pits. In response to the many concerns about possible health issues, Congress forced the VA to create an online registry that cited all burn pit locations. The VA also established the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry—a database of health information about military personnel who were stationed in areas with open-air pits.
If you’re a veteran and want to submit a claim for disability due to burn pit exposure, you don’t need to participate in the registry. The disability application process is separate and not related to the burn pit registry. However, if you believe your respiratory illness or cancer is related to your exposure to burn pit emissions during active duty, you can apply for disability, and the VA makes determinations about these claims on a case-by-case basis. Because obtaining benefits for respiratory illnesses related to burn pits can be complicated, it’s helpful to hire a disability attorney to help you through the application process.
Why Was the Registry Created?
In June 2014, the VA opened the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, available for active military personnel and veterans. The registry was created for two main reasons:
1) To help the VA identify health issues, illnesses, and conditions suffered by military personnel that may be related to burn pit exposure or other airborne hazards—environmental contaminants that can have a negative health impact, including sand, dust, and smoke from burn pits and oil well fires.
2) To help military personnel and veterans be more aware of their health issues that might be related to burn pit exposure.
Participation in the registry is entirely voluntary, and active service personnel and veterans can fill out an online questionnaire identifying and explaining their exposure to burn pits, airborne hazards, and health conditions. The VA maintains this information in a secure database, and the agency may use it for future research studies.
Once military personnel and veterans are in the registry, it helps them in a number of ways, including:
- Receiving up-to-date information about VA services and ongoing health studies
- Creating a snapshot of their health to use when discussing medical issues with their doctor
- Being eligible for a free VA medical evaluation
- Learning more about the health impact of burn pit and airborne hazards exposure
- Helping the VA learn more about and monitor illnesses and health conditions that might be related to burn pit exposure
Am I Eligible to Sign Up for the Registry?
To qualify for the registry, you must be a veteran or service member who worked in the following countries, bodies of water, or the airspace above these locations:
- Saudi Arabia
- Gulf of Aden
- Gulf of Oman
- Oman Iraq
- The waters of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea
- United Arab Emirates
We Can Help
If you’re a veteran who worked around burn pits or was exposed to fumes caused by burn pits and you believe your respiratory issues are service related; or you want to discuss the burn pit registry and if your current medical issues make you eligible for disability, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’re happy to help you.
Is a METS test required to receive benefits for ischemic heart disease?
Many veterans suffer from service-related ischemic heart disease. Some civilians may also struggle with this condition. Symptoms that include recurring chest pain, tightness and pressure in the chest, and shortness of breath may be so severe that a person can no longer function in the way he’s used to; make it difficult to live a normal life; or are debilitating enough to make it impossible for someone to work.
Financial assistance may be available through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Social Security Administration (SSA). The VA and the SSA recognize ischemic heart disease, also called coronary heart disease and coronary artery disease, in their disability listings. If you’re a veteran and can prove that your heart problems are related to the work you did in the military, you may qualify for VA benefits. If you’re a civilian and your symptoms meet the Blue Book requirements, you may be eligible for Social Security (SS) disability. However, unless you meet certain requirements, you first need a metabolic equivalents of task, or METS test, to determine the nature of your condition.
The process to file for disability can be lengthy and complicated, and the METS test results are critical to your report. It’s helpful to have an experienced disability attorney working with you on your claim.
What Is a METS Test?
The METS evaluation is also called a stress test. During this test, a patient exercises—often on a treadmill or an exercise bike—and medical professionals determine if the coronary arteries that move blood to and from the heart are blocked by plaques or fatty deposits. Doctors look for 70 percent or more blockage. The METS test also assesses how well your heart is functioning and getting oxygen. If you become tired or dizzy while performing this exercise, the VA will likely give you a higher rating. Generally, it takes additional testing to confirm that you have ischemic heart disease and to determine the severity of the condition.
Why People Need a METS Test to Receive Disability
Typically, both veterans and civilians are required to take a METS test as a way of providing medical evidence of their condition. Here is a brief look at the requirements for each:
Disability for Veterans
On the VA ischemic heart disease disability benefits questionnaire, there's a specific section for the doctor to provide the results of a METS test. If, under certain circumstances, this test is not performed, the doctor must still provide information that shows your level of activity as it relates to this test. For example, you’ll tell your doctor if you experience dizziness, fatigue, angina, labored breathing, or syncope while performing certain activities. Then, your doctor checks the METS box that indicates a level consistent with your abilities. If he checks the 1–3 METS box, this shows that you may show symptoms while eating, dressing, showering, or taking a slow walk.
It’s important that your doctor schedule a METS test if you have any type of heart condition, including ischemic heart disease. Because this test checks for how much oxygen the body uses as exercise tasks increase in difficulty, it’s used as an indicator of how well your heart is working. There are only special cases when a METS test is not required; thus, it’s essential that your doctor order this test for your VA disability claim.
Social Security Disability for Civilians
To qualify for SS disability if you have ischemic heart disease, you must meet the requirements defined by the SSA or prove that your heart condition has negatively impacted your ability to work or perform activities that require you to exert yourself. One of the SS requirements is that your stress test show abnormal results, approximately 5 METS or less.
We Can Help
If you’re a veteran diagnosed with ischemic heart disease and want to apply for VA disability, or you’re a civilian who needs SS disability, contact Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for benefits and how to ensure that your doctor provides the necessary data from your METS test.
Does the VA use the results of a reexamination to reduce my rating?
If you return from military duty with a service-connected disability, disease, or illness, you may be awarded disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But even though you may receive this financial support initially, the VA is allowed to reassess your claim to reduce or increase your rating at any time.
Generally, a veteran will not be asked to report for a reexamination if he has an unchanging disability such as a missing foot or hand, a permanent type of disability such as hearing loss or blindness, is over the age of 55, or already has the lowest possible rating given for that disability. Additionally, there are ratings considered “protected,” and veterans with those ratings will usually not be requested to take a reexamination.
Most often, the VA will request a reexamination if the agency believes your disability or condition is likely to improve with time. If the VA makes this request, it usually gets scheduled two to five years from when you first received benefits for your disability. Because you want to understand the nature of the exam and how the VA will evaluate your condition, it’s helpful to hire an experienced VA disability lawyer, especially if the VA reduces your rating after receiving your results.
The Results of a Reexamination and How They’re Used
It’s important that if you’re scheduled for a reexamination, you show up for the appointment. If you fail to appear without a good reason, the VA can terminate your disability benefits. This appointment can be a medical exam, or the request could require that you spend time in the hospital for observation. The VA can request either in order to assess your condition and its severity.
Typically, if you’re scheduled for a reexam, it means the VA has evidence or some type of medical report that indicates your award benefits should not continue at the current rate. It’s possible that conditions change over time, and disabilities aren’t always permanent. Even if your condition improves only temporarily, the VA can reduce your rating during the time you’re feeling better. If your disability worsens after the VA reduces your rating, you can request that it and your benefits be reinstated at their original level. It’s the job of the VA to ensure that all veterans are compensated for their injuries accurately and with the proper rating.
When You Do Not Have a Protected Rating
If your rating does not fall under the “protected” category, the VA can reduce your rating after a reexamination if:
- Your disability has improved
- The improvement increases your ability to live and function normally in your life and at your job
- The report results for your reexamination are thorough
- The complete medical history of your condition, disability, or illness has been evaluated
Additionally, the VA can reduce your benefits temporarily if you are arrested and go to jail.
There are generally three possible outcomes of a reexamination. The VA can find that your condition has deteriorated. If this happens, your rating may be increased. The VA can also determine that there’s no change in your condition. In this situation, nothing changes and your ratings won’t be reduced. But the VA may also find that your condition has improved. If the VA receives medical reports or evidence from your reexamination that proves your disability or condition has improved, gone into remission, or disappeared entirely, your rating may be reduced.
We Can Help You With Your VA Reexamination
Before the VA can make any changes to your rating or benefits, the agency must send a notice letter to you requesting that you appear for a reexamination. Cuddigan Law understands the process for responding to this letter and how to submit the proper medical evidence to keep your current rating status. Contact us at (402) 933-5405 to schedule an evaluation to discuss your specific situation.