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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.
What happens if the VA decreases my disability rating?
If you’re a veteran and have obtained benefits for a service-connected disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), you may think the process is over. However, a number of potential changes can take place in the years following your initial award that are important to understand. As an approved applicant, you have the right to request a rating increase if you have evidence proving that your illness, disease, or condition has worsened. At the same time, except under special circumstances, the VA can re-evaluate your claim to increase, decrease, or completely terminate your benefits at any time. If the VA has medical evidence that shows your condition has improved, the agency can decrease your rating or stop compensating you for your disability entirely.
Because the process for appealing a VA rating reduction can be tricky, it’s helpful to hire an attorney who has experience working with VA applications, appealing claims, and dealing with proposed rating reductions. You may need an attorney’s skill and expertise to understand the best way to navigate the many VA processes.
When the VA Proposes a Reduction in Your Rating
The VA has the authority to require that you report for follow-up medical exams, especially if the agency is looking into your claim. Like the initial Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam, it’s important that you show up for this exam on the day it’s scheduled. If you fail to report and you don’t have a satisfactory reason for missing the appointment, the VA can reduce compensation or sever it completely.
If medical evidence is obtained by the VA that shows your condition has improved, the agency has the right to reduce your disability rating. However, before the rating is changed, here are some specific steps in the process:
- The VA must follow a formal process that proposes the reduction before the agency actually reduces your rating.
- The VA must send notice to the claimant of the proposed reduction.
- The VA must ensure that there is accurate medical evidence from a legitimate medical exam to support a reduction in the rating.
- The VA must determine that there’s been a real change in the claimant’s disease or illness, not just a limited or short-lived improvement.
- The VA must have enough evidence to support a decision to reduce an entire history of the claimant’s condition.
- The claimant has the right to challenge the reduction and send evidence to refute it.
- The claimant must respond within 30 days to prevent a change in his rating.
Additionally, it’s possible for the VA to terminate your claim. While this action doesn’t happen often, the agency may determine that the initial rating was awarded based on an error, fraud, or some type of illegal or unlawful action. If this happens, the claimant has the same right to challenge the proposed termination of compensation.
Challenging a Proposed Ratings Reduction
If you receive notice from the VA of a proposed rating reduction, you’ll likely want to appeal this proposal. It’s important to understand what can happen during this process. Here is a brief look at some critical points you may want to consider:
- You may have to repay money to the VA if your appeal is not successful.
- If the VA finds that your disability rate was too high, an “overpayment” will be generated that you’ll have to pay back.
- The amount of the overpayment could be significant.
- If you’re unable to repay the overpayment, the VA will likely withhold some amount from any future benefits checks until there is resolution of the overpayment.
Some disability ratings are considered “protected” from a VA proposed reduction; however, no claim is 100 percent secure. In general, veterans have protected benefits if they:
- Have received benefits at the same rating for over five years
- Have reached the age of 55 or older
- Have received their disability compensation for over 20 years
- Have a disability that will never improve such as the loss of an arm or leg
- Have a 100 percent disabled rating or are considered totally and permanently disabled
It is possible for the VA to lower a protected rate, but it’s a more difficult process. It usually doesn’t happen unless the VA can prove there was fraud connected with your initial claim.
Our VA Disability Attorneys Can Help
If you’re a veteran whose disability rating might be decreased, contact the VA disability lawyers at Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We can help you with the appeals process to ensure that you receive the fairest possible rating. Call us to schedule a case evaluation to discuss your specific situation.
Will I receive higher VA benefits if I request an increase in my disability rating?
If you’ve been approved for service-connected disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the agency will assign a disability rating that specifies the seriousness of your condition. You can be given a rating of 0 to 100 percent, and this percentage is associated with a certain monetary amount you’ll receive for the disability. Even if you’re assigned a 0 percent rating, the VA still acknowledges that the service-connected condition exists, but it doesn't affect your ability to hold a job or function on a daily basis.
Additionally, a 0 percent rating can increase your healthcare eligibility, and if your condition worsens in the future, you can file to increase your VA disability rating instead of starting the application process over. To receive VA benefits, you don’t have to be completely disabled; however, your condition must have a 10 percent rating to receive financial compensation.
Making the Case for a Rating Increase
There may come a point after you’ve received VA benefits for a period of time that your disability begins to worsen. You may experience greater pain, suffer broader or more challenging symptoms, or find that your day-to-day functioning has decreased. You may even find that it’s getting harder to work and sustain gainful employment. If this happens, you may feel that the percentage rating you were assigned when your claim was first approved is no longer high enough to represent the deterioration and regression in your health due to your disability. Ultimately, you may want to ask the VA for a rating increase.
The process for making this request isn’t difficult. However, the outcome of this request may not be exactly what you expect or intend. It’s possible that making a request for this change can actually lower your disability rating. Thus, it’s helpful to hire a lawyer who can explain why a request for an increase can mean a higher rating without an increase in financial compensation and why it can ultimately decrease your percentage rating.
Why Your Rating and Benefits Could Decrease
Before you ask for an increase in your VA rating, be sure you’re making the request strictly because you believe your disability has become worse. You shouldn’t request an increase if:
- You need more money to keep up with the cost of living,
- You have additional financial responsibilities,
- You are suffering sudden financial hardships
The VA won’t award an increase for these reasons. But if you believe your condition has truly deteriorated, you can complete and file a form 21-526b, Veteran's Supplemental Claim for Compensation or a form 21-526EZ to the VA Regional Office (VARO) stating why you believe the increase is proper and appropriate along with medical evidence that supports the worsening state of your disability.
It seems logical that if you’re awarded a higher disability rating, you will receive a larger monthly check from the VA. However, the process doesn’t always work that way. It’s possible that a small increase added to your rating will have little impact on the amount of your compensation.
For example, if your rating is already at 60 percent, an increase of 10 percent may not impact the bottom line. The VA uses complicated formulas and combined ratings tables to decide the percentage. Thus, an attorney experienced in VA disability benefits can help determine if you’re likely to receive an increased rating and an increase in financial compensation.
When the VA receives your claim, the agency will review your entire file. This means your initial rating will be re-evaluated and all of your medical records scrutinized. This can have a positive or negative outcome. The VA may actually decrease your rating based on the new medical evidence you provide about your condition. If they don’t see deterioration and, instead, see improvement in your current disability, the VA may reduce your benefits.
Here’s How Your Request to Change VA Disability Rating Works
At any time, the VA can re-examine your claim, and the agency can reduce or terminate your benefits under some specific circumstances. Most often, however, the VA won’t do this before and until you appear for a reexamination. When you request an increase in your VA disability rating, you are in effect opening up your claim for re-evaluation. In general, here are some basic guidelines the VA uses when determining changes in your benefits:
- If you’ve had your service-connected disability rating for over five years, the VA has to prove that your illness or disease has improved in a consistent way before reducing or terminating your rating.
- If you’ve had your disability for 10 years or more, the VA will not likely terminate your benefits unless the agency can prove that you’ve been fraudulent in your claim. It can, however, reduce your benefits.
- If you’ve had your disability for 20 years, the VA won’t reduce your rating below the lowest rating you’ve received in those 20 years.
To reduce your disability rating, the VA must have specific evidence that your condition has improved. The responsibility of proof is on the VA. However, it’s important to be diligent in protecting your rating. It’s important never to miss a reexamination appointment because the VA can reduce or terminate your rating without warning because of this.
Our VA Disability Lawyers Are Here to Help
When your service-connected disability has worsened and you want to request a rating increase, contact the VA disability lawyers at Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We can help you with your request to ensure you get the fairest possible rating. Call us to schedule a case evaluation to discuss your specific situation.
What illnesses and medical conditions are linked to the Gulf War?
After returning home from the Persian Gulf War, you may have experienced unexplained illnesses and symptoms that have no apparent link to specific medical conditions. These symptoms are often referred to as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS), “Desert Storm Disease,” and/or “Gulf War Illness.”
Initially, veterans who suffered these unexplained symptoms were believed to have problems psychologically, and their pain, fatigue, and cognitive issues weren't considered serious or real. However, researchers analyzed more than 100 studies focused on these illnesses, and the results revealed that exposure to certain chemicals could be linked to the symptoms veterans experienced. These chemicals included:
- The nerve gas Sarin
- An anti-nerve gas drug, pyridostigmine bromide
Gulf War veterans may qualify for benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), but there are challenges involved in filing a claim for GWS. Because the VA denied approximately 80 percent of claims by Gulf War veterans in 2015, veterans often have many questions about how to get medical evidence for these illnesses and the best way to file a claim. An attorney experienced in the VA application process can answer your questions and help with your claim.
Questions About Unexplained Gulf War Illnesses and Conditions
Of the 700,000 soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf War from 1990–1991, approximately 30 percent developed GWS. The symptoms of GWS can be varied, debilitating, and different for every veteran; thus, they’re hard to classify with a single diagnosis. This is one reason why the VA prefers not to use the term "Gulf War Syndrome" and instead refers to the condition as a "chronic multisymptom illness" or an "undiagnosed illness." This makes it difficult to determine if a veteran's condition is related to service and eligible for VA benefits.
How Do I Know If I Have GWS?
There are many different symptoms of GWS, and no veteran experiences the condition the same way. However, here is a brief look at some of the typical symptoms of GWS:
- Neurological issues
- Memory problems
- Arthritis and joint problems
- Gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders
- Rashes and skin conditions
- Headaches and fatigue
Do Veterans Who Suffer From GWS Also Have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is definitely a condition associated with GWS. Veterans with CFS often experience long-term, severe exhaustion that isn’t related to another illness and doesn’t resolve after resting. To be diagnosed with CFS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the exhaustion must persist beyond six months and be present in combination with at least four other conditions, including headaches, memory loss, muscle pain, and tender neck or armpit lymph nodes.
If you’re a veteran seeking VA disability for CFS, you need medical evidence that shows that the new onset of fatigue is debilitating and has decreased your normal daily routine by 50 percent for at least six months. It’s also important that your medical reports show evidence that there is no other possible illness or condition that could produce similar symptoms.
Why Have I Returned Home From the Gulf War With Gastrointestinal (GI) Problems?
GI disorders present in a wide range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, dyspepsia, constipation, bloating, vomiting, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Many civilians have IBS; however, many combat soldiers were diagnosed with IBS after returning home from war. Of those veterans who served in the military and did not have IBS, approximately 20 percent returned from active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and developed this disease. The VA presumed a service connection and defined new guidelines for benefit eligibility.
Veterans appear to have a greater risk for IBS because the condition is more prevalent in people with a high level of anxiety. This is especially true if that anxiety is associated with specific life events that are particularly stressful. Combat soldiers who experience trauma, life and death situations, and worry about being away from family and friends may suffer from stress that could increase their risk of developing IBS.
Am I Eligible for VA Disability?
Possibly, if you meet the following qualifications:
- Proof that you served in active duty in Southwest Asia in the Red Sea; the Gulf of Aden; the Persian Gulf, or the Gulf of Oman; the neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq; or the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, or Afghanistan. This active duty also includes flying in the airspace above these areas. If you served in Turkey, you're not considered a Gulf War veteran.
- Documentation clarifying you're a veteran of the Persian Gulf War.
- Medical records detailing your chronic disability and how it may qualify for benefits.
- Proof you sustained the disability while on active duty.
- Proof your disability is service-connected if it developed after you returned home.
Keep in mind that the VA must assign a 10 percent or higher rating to your disability before any consideration of benefits.
We Can Help
Obtaining VA benefits for GWS can be a challenge. If you’re a veteran who suffers from service-related symptoms and wonder if you're eligible for benefits; or if your GWS disability claim was denied, call Cuddigan Law at 402- 933-5405. We can help determine if you qualify for VA disability.
How does the VA rate Gulf War Syndrome?
Soon after the Persian Gulf War, the American Legion Service Officers received complaints from veterans about medical issues they sustained while serving in Southwest Asia. They suffered from a broad range of unexplained illnesses and symptoms, including skin rashes, memory loss, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and headaches.
However, both the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) dismissed these symptoms as being psychological in nature or stress-related. Some of these veterans were prescribed mood altering drugs such as Prozac, and others were accused of feigning their illness or exaggerating their condition.
A major issue for Gulf War veterans was that they suffered from a cluster of symptoms which could not be easily diagnosed or attributed to a known disease or condition. Ultimately, these symptoms were referred to as Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) or “Desert Storm Disease,” and/or “Gulf War Illness.”
In 2009, the VA took steps to provide benefits for veterans of the Gulf War suffering from what it preferred to call "chronic multisymptom illnesses" or an "undiagnosed illnesses." This also included Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
While it’s possible for Gulf War veterans to qualify for VA benefits, getting a claim approved isn’t always easy. Because many GWS claims are denied, it may be helpful to hire an attorney experienced with the VA application process, especially one who understands GWS.
Three Symptom Categories the VA Rates for Gulf War Syndrome
GWS comprises a cluster of symptoms that are categorized into three main areas: undiagnosed illnesses, multisymptom illnesses, and presumptive disorders. Here's a brief look at these categories.
It’s possible for a veteran with one or more of the following unexplained illnesses to qualify for VA benefits through a presumptive service connection:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Joint and muscle pain
- Psychological and neurological issues
- Rashes and skin conditions
- Respiratory problems
- Trouble sleeping
The following conditions are included in the multisymptom illnesses category:
- Functional gastrointestinal disorders, including: IBS, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, dysphagia, vomiting, and dyspepsia.
Those veterans who served in Afghanistan may have an infectious disease that the VA considers service-connected:
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Coxiella burnetii (Q fever)
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis
- Nontyphoid salmonella
- Visceral leishmaniasis
- West Nile Virus
Except for mycobaterum tuberculosis and visceral leishmaniasis, each of these diseases must have a 10 percent rating or more within one year of service.
Disability for Gulf War Syndrome
A successful VA disability claim must be able to prove that you were a veteran honorably discharged; that you have a current disability; that the disability occurred while in service; and there is a connection between the service event and your current disability.
However, to qualify as a Gulf War veteran, you must also prove:
- You served in active duty in Southwest Asia in the following countries or areas and/or airspace above them:
- The neutral zone between Saudi Arabia and Iraq
- The Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Persian Gulf, or the Gulf of Oman
- The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, or Afghanistan.
- You served in Afghanistan on or after September 19, 2001.
- Your unexplained illnesses or condition occurred during active service prior to December 31, 2016.
- Your disability has a rating of 10 percent or higher.
- Your disability has no other cause other than your service in the Southwest Asia theater or Afghanistan.
- Your disability has been on-going for six months or longer.
We Can Help
The attorneys at Cuddigan Law understand how difficult it is for veterans of the Gulf War to get their GWS claims approved. They know that approximately 80 percent of GWS claims made in 2015 were denied. If you're a veteran suffering symptoms you believe are associated with your military service in the Gulf War; or if you've applied and were denied benefits, call Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405. We can help determine if you qualify for VA disability.