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How will a buddy statement help my VA disability claim?
A buddy letter—also known as a “Statement in Support of Claim” by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—can help support your VA disability claim by providing an eyewitness report that substantiates your disability and when it happened. This letter may be necessary if there is a lack of evidence in your military record that you witnessed a certain incident, experienced an event, or were at a certain location. Providing a buddy letter is especially helpful if your claim is for a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There are basically two types of buddy statements: those written by military co-workers and those written by family members or close, personal friends. Both types have benefits, but each has a different focus and purpose. These letters can be written or typed on basic letter-sized paper or on the VA form.
Buddy Statements From Co-Workers
A buddy statements from a military co-worker helps establish your whereabouts when your service-connected disability occurred and the circumstances surrounding the incident. Ideally, this statement should be written by someone who was with you when the incident took place. It’s helpful if the statement is written from someone in your squad or platoon or who with you during the majority of your deployment.
For example, if your military vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED) or you were frequently exposed to sudden blasts and now suffer from migraine headaches, your letter should come from someone who was in the vehicle with you or witnessed the many times you experienced these loud blasts. The statement should include as many details as possible about the incident and how it impacted you, including when you began experiencing migraines. Did the headaches occur immediately following the blast or explosion? Did you seek treatment for these headaches? If so, what action did you take to resolve them? What, specifically, did you say to the co-worker about your migraines and how debilitating they were? If your combat situation included many recurrences of explosions and blasts, the co-worker can focus on how often you were exposed to the noise with focus on the most significant and worst episode.
The VA often advises veterans to provide a buddy statement to establish combat facts, your work activities while in the military, and observed changes in behavior—all to support the disability claim. During war and combat, sometimes only soldiers who experienced the conflict or event can know what happened during a specific incident. There are difficult cases that involve soldiers who don’t have a military occupational specialty (MOS) or took part in combat that was never recorded by the unit they were in. In this case, a veteran can retain a military historian who reviews the records of that unit to determine what events occurred in that area at the time of the military service. Ultimately, a buddy statement from someone who experienced the same events with you can verify your exposure to the IED event and other explosive devices that caused your migraines.
Buddy Statements From Friends and Family Members
A buddy statement from a family member or friend is different from a letter from a co-worker. The obvious difference is that these people didn’t serve with you in the military. But another difference is that their letters won’t focus on what caused your disability; rather, they will focus on how the disability has impacted you and those around you. Preferably, these letters will detail your behavior and attitude before your deployment and compare them to how you appear now. Here are some questions a friend or family member should consider when writing a buddy letter:
- Was the veteran a happy, patient, easy-going person who is now irritable, exhausted, or easily provoked?
- Have migraines changed the veteran’s behavior? In what ways?
- How have these headaches impacted the veteran’s daily life and routine?
- Is the veteran unable to enjoy the same activities, interests, and exercise he once participated in?
- How have the migraines affected the veteran’s relationships with his spouse, wife, and friends?
- How have the migraines impacted the veteran’s ability to work?
The objective of the statement is to provide the person processing your claim a close look at your daily life and how your migraine headaches are negatively impacting how you live and your relationships. The writer of this type of buddy statement should be extremely honest and reveal the hard truths about what happened to you. It is important to consult with your lawyer to make sure your buddy statement covers the elements necessary, if possible, to establish your claim.
If you are seeking VA disability benefits for a service-related illness or condition, we can help you every step of the way, including how to get a buddy statement written from a co-worker, friend, or family member. Contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation.
What is the VA rating system used to determine disability for migraines?
Migraine headaches are recognized by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a service connected disability if you can prove that your military service caused or aggravated your headaches. When filing a claim, you need to show that an event or incident took place during your service that caused your migraines; that the migraines began while you were in service; or were caused by another condition that is service related.
In general, the VA rates migraines based on how often you experience them and their severity. Because headaches are difficult to assess because they’re not easily diagnosed like a cancer, high blood pressure, or an eye problem, the VA gives headaches four possible ratings to determine their seriousness and eligibility for compensation and benefits.
The VA Rating System for Migraines
When a VA ratings specialist examines your disability claim, he looks for evidence that your migraine is “prostrating”—a word used to characterize how serious your headache needs to be to be eligible for disability. A prostrating migraine means you experience extreme weakness and you must lie down for an extended period of time. When assessing your condition, the VA assigns one of four possible ratings to your headache based on their frequency and severity.
Documenting Your Migraines Carefully Is Essential for a Proper Rating
To ensure that your migraine is properly rated, you need documentation that your headache is actually a migraine. Your medical records need to show a diagnosis of migraines from a qualified medical specialist—preferably a neurologist, an ophthalmologist, or a migraine specialist. However, you need to have more than a diagnosis. Your records must show evidence of the frequency and severity of your attacks. It’s a good idea to keep headache diaries and provide employment records that indicate how often you missed work due to a migraine.
In general, you’ll receive a 0 percent rating if your migraines are not prostrating, or they occur less than once every two months. Thus, if your migraines are infrequent and don’t cause you to lie down, leave work, or incapacitate you, you probably won’t be eligible for disability. A rating of 50 percent is the highest you can get for migraines.
VA Ratings Specialists Use These Criteria to Determine the Severity of Your Migraines and Rate Them:
- 50 percent. A Veteran receives this rating with “very frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability.”
- 10 percent. A Veteran receives this rating with “characteristic prostrating attacks averaging one in two months over last several months.”
- 0 percent. A Veteran receives this rating with “less frequent attacks.”
What If My Migraines Interfere With My Ability to Work?
Because 50 percent is the highest rating for migraines, it indicates that the VA may not feel migraines completely interfere with someone’s ability to maintain employment. However, if you feel you’re unemployable because of your condition, and your headaches debilitate you to the extent that you cannot sustain normal regular employment, you may be eligible for Individual Unemployability (IU). IU is part of a disability compensation program through the VA that will award 100 percent compensation to a veteran, even if his service-connected disability was not rated at 100 percent. The criteria for IU include the following:
- Due to his service-connected disability, the veteran is unable to sustain “substantially gainful employment.” The VA does not consider minimal or minor jobs such as odd jobs under that term.
- The veteran must have a service-connected disability that was rated at 60 percent or higher.
- The veteran must have two or more service-connected disabilities, and at least one of them was rated at 40 percent or higher. Their combined rating must be 70 percent or higher.
What to Do If You Don’t Meet the Criteria for Individual Unemployability
It’s possible that you may not meet any of the listed criteria for IU eligibility. If so, special consideration may still be given to your claim if you can show that your disability demonstrates unusual or exceptional circumstances that interfere with your earning ability. For example, if your condition requires frequent hospitalization, and you’re unable to work in a consistent manner, this might be considered an exceptional situation.
If you do receive IU compensation, you will be required to fill out an annual employment questionnaire in order for the VA to determine your continued eligibility.
The Importance of Documenting the Frequency and Severity of Your Migraines
When you visit your doctor about your migraines, it’s very important that you explain how often you’re experiencing them and if they are, in fact, prostrating. The more descriptive you can be about your symptoms and how you must respond to alleviate them, the better. If your medical report simply notes that you had two migraines each month, that doesn’t tell the VA rating specialist much about your situation. But if your records detail your symptoms showing you had prostrating headaches requiring you lie in a dark, quiet room for days, you provide the rating specialist with important information.
These details are critical because you will be rated based on what’s in your medical records. The VA specialist has more confidence and trust in what is printed in those records over what you may tell the VA administration directly.
Our VA Disability Attorneys Can Help With Your Claim for Benefits
If you suffer from migraine headaches you believe were caused by your military service, you may be eligible for benefits, and our VA disability lawyers may be able to help your claim. At Cuddigan Law, disability law is all we do, and we have over 50 years experience handling disability claims and appeals. We represent Veterans across the country.. Contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation.
Can I get VA disability benefits if my migraines started when I was in the military?
In 2009, migraine headaches were on the list of most commonly approved disabilities for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. For male veterans receiving benefits, it was the fifth most common condition at 12 percent. For females, it was the second most common condition at 5 percent.
Migraine headaches can be chronic and debilitating, causing severe, intense pain that throbs in one spot of the head. This throbbing can last for hours or days. People who suffer from migraines usually experience nausea, extreme light and sound sensitivity, lightheadedness, and blurred vision—symptoms that require them to lie down in a quiet, dark room.
Although it’s not known what triggers migraines, medical literature suggests they can be brought about by sleep problems, depression, and medication. Disabled veterans who suffer from migraines caused by military service may do so because of an eye injury, spinal problems, or a traumatic brain injury. If you have service-connected migraines, you may be eligible for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
What Triggers a Migraine?
Many people who experience migraines are often able to identify triggers or what they think activates their migraines. However, other people cannot single out a specific cause. Here are some possible triggers that bring about migraines:
- Allergies and allergic reactions
- Strong smells, odors, perfumes
- Lights that are too bright or flickering
- Noises that are too loud
- Over excitement, tension, anxiety, depression, and emotional or physical stress
- Fatigue, exercise, and jet lag
- Smoking, exposure to smoke, and smoky rooms
- Low blood sugar caused by fasting or skipping meals
- Foods such as aged cheese, smoked fish, and red wine that contain tyramine
- Foods such as peanut butter, bananas, chocolate, and nuts
It’s important to remember that these potential triggers don’t always cause a migraine, and even if you avoid these triggers, you still may get a severe headache.
If you’re a veteran who suffers from migraines, and you believe they started while you were in the military or because of a service event, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for disability benefits from the VA.
How do I know if my headaches are severe enough for VA disability benefits?
Migraine headaches are often characterized by some common symptoms. Most people experience some level of nausea, pounding and throbbing head pain, and sensitivity to sound and light. But symptoms vary greatly, and people will experience migraines differently. They can suffer any or all of the common symptoms, as well as others.
While the cause of migraines isn’t known, these types of headaches can be very debilitating, and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes this. The VA will provide veterans disability benefits for their migraine headaches if it’s proven that the headaches were caused by an incident or event while in-service; they were caused by another condition that is service related; or they began while the veteran was serving.
Signs and Symptoms of Migraine Headaches
There are a variety of signs and symptoms that characterize a migraine headache. Someone who suffers a migraine may experience some of the following:
- Throbbing, pulsing, severe pain that may be located on one side of the head
- Head pain that increases by performing any physical activity
- Pain that disrupts your normal, daily activities
- Vomiting or nausea
- Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
Typically, a migraine lasts from 4 to 72 hours, but that time varies for each individual. And some people may have migraines once or twice a year or many times a month. Some people may experience migraines with auras, also known as “classic migraines.” Symptoms for this type of migraine include:
- Flashes of sparkling light
- A zigzag of dazzling light in your vision field
- Blind spots that spread slowly in your vision
- A tingling sensation in an arm or leg
If you’re a veteran and believe your migraine headaches are caused by your military service, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.
What are the signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s disease due to Agent Orange exposure?
The sixth most common cancer in the U.S. is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and it begins with your lymphatic system—part of your immune system that fights off infection and filters out viruses and bacteria. Tumors develop from a type of white blood cell called lymphocytes. It is estimated that in 2015, over 70,000 patients will be diagnosed with NHL, and over 19,000 will die from this disease.
Many veterans who served in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange—a herbicide used during Operation Ranch Hand by the U.S. military to clear vegetation, destroy crops, and remove forest cover from around U.S. bases. Agent Orange contained dioxin—a hazardous chemical contaminant that is now linked to cancers, birth defects, diabetes, and other types of disabilities. Since 2003, many specific cancers are believed to be caused by this chemical, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
If you were exposed to Agent Orange during your military service and have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, you’re eligible for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Signs and Symptoms of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
Depending on where the tumor is growing in the body, the signs and symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can vary. It’s possible for a patient to not have any symptoms until the tumor is large. Here are some common symptoms to watch for:
- You have pressure or pain in your chest
- You are anemic (low red blood cell count)
- You have swollen lymph nodes in your stomach, groin, neck, or underarm
- Your abdomen is swollen
- You feel full after eating a small portion of food
- You have a cough or shortness of breath
- You have lost weight
- You experience night sweats
- You experience extreme fatigue
- You have a fever for no apparent reason
- You develop an itchy skin rash
If you’re a veteran and your military service exposed you to Agent Orange, you may have symptoms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or been diagnosed with this disease. Contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.
How can I fast-track my claim to receive VA benefits for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma?
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes—these are located in the lymph nodes and lymphoid tissues. There are two main types of lymphomas: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s can be considered indolent or aggressive in nature.
Many veterans who served in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange which has been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 1990, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognized service-connected non-Hodgkin’s disease based on results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Selected Cancers Study. This study indicated that veterans who served in Vietnam were “at an increased risk” due to their exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans who have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are eligible for VA disability benefits.
The Fast-Track Processing System for Agent Orange Disability Claims
In 1991, the government established presumption of service connection for some specific diseases associated with exposure to certain chemicals. This included non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In 2010, the VA announced the idea of a “fast track” for expediting veterans’ claims for service-connected presumptive diseases that may have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. You qualify to use the fast-track claims process if you’re a veteran who:
- Served in Vietnam or in the inland waterways between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975
- Has been diagnosed with any of a variety of diseases, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Veterans who have a disease covered by “presumption of service connection” don’t have to prove that there’s an association between their illness and the time they spent in the military. So, veterans with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma have an easier time receiving disability benefits.
If you’re a veteran who was exposed you to Agent Orange, you may have been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If so, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help you file a claim through the fast-track process for disability benefits from the VA.
How can I get a hearing aid for hearing loss caused by my military service?
Hearing loss has been a risk for soldiers since explosives and artillery were introduced on the battlefield, and service-connected hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the top two disabilities in veterans. Consequently, the need for hearing aids for veterans continues to grow. On average, the VA spends approximately $50 million annually to provide over 160,000 hearing aids to veterans.
Additionally, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) states that over 800,000 veterans receive disability benefits for service-connected hearing loss, impairment, and tinnitus. For those 1.5 million veterans who are not eligible for benefits, they do qualify for treatment at VA facilities.
The VA Hearing Aids Program
In the late 1950s, the VA started its hearing aid program. At that time, over 70,000 veterans had been identified with hearing loss. In 2001, over 300,000 patients were treated by VA audiologists who issued over 240,000 hearing aids to military personnel. Today, the VA provides excellent hearing services to veterans and a variety of hearing aid options, including cochlear implants, analog, in-canal, and behind the ear.
Who Is Eligible for Hearing Aid Services?
Veterans who apply for VA benefits for hearing loss are evaluated to determine if the disability is service-related. All veterans with service-connected auditory problems such as hearing loss or tinnitus qualify for hearing aid services, as well as the following:
- Those who are 10 percent or more disabled
- Those who were prisoners of war
- Those who served during World War I
- Those who served during the Mexican Border Period—between May 1916 and April 1917
- Those who receive special pension benefits
- Those whose hearing loss is caused by a medical condition that’s been treated at a VA facility or resulted from treatment of that condition
- Those whose hearing loss is severe enough that in order to participate in their medical care, a hearing aid is needed
How to Receive a Hearing Aid
If you want to receive a hearing aid through the VA, you need to register at the Veterans Health Administration of a VA Medical Center. You can do this:
- In person
- By filling out a 10-10EZ Form online
- By mailing a 10-10EZ Form to the Medical Center
Once you’ve registered, your assigned VA primary care provider may refer you to the Audiology and Speech Pathology Clinic. An audiologist will evaluate your hearing problems to determine your need for a hearing aid. If you qualify, your hearing aids and repairs will be made available to you at no charge.
If you’re a veteran who was exposed to high levels of noise during your military service, and your hearing loss or tinnitus began or was aggravated during that service, you may qualify for disability benefits from the VA. Contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.
How does the Veterans’ Hearing Healthcare Bill help me deal with my hearing loss?
Military personnel are often exposed to high levels of noise during service, and as a result, veterans face severe hearing issues. Hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the two most common service-connected disabilities experienced by veterans. Nearly 60,000 soldiers who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have experienced hearing loss.
Given what some people describe as a “hearing loss epidemic” in veterans, The International Hearing Society (IHS) reintroduced a federal bill that would allow the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to do more for veterans with hearing loss.
What Is Provided in the Hearing Healthcare Bill?
The Veterans’ Access to Hearing Health Act of 2015 (H.R. 353) provides a number of important benefits to veterans by allowing the VA to make hearing healthcare more accessible to them. Here are some key elements of the bill:
- It will allow the VA to hire hearing aid specialists and include them on the list of approved medical personnel that veterans can see for their hearing problems. Instead of being able to only see audiologists, veterans will have more choices. This will assist in responding to the growing demand for hearing aid services.
- It requires the VA to provide Congress with an annual report on how long veterans wait for hearing appointments, along with the rate of utilization of hearing aid specialists and audiologists. This will encourage the VA to exhaust all professional options to tackle the backlog of appointments to ensure improvements in the care of veterans.
- It will allow hearing aid specialists to perform evaluations, recommend hearing aids, and provide fittings, adjustments, and repairs to veterans’ hearing aids.
- It reduces the travel distance and wait times for veterans to get the hearing care they need, and it reduces the burden on VA audiologists.
If you’re a veteran whose hearing loss or tinnitus began or was aggravated during your service in the military, you may qualify for disability benefits from the VA. Contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.
What occupations put workers at risk for noise exposure?
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), approximately 22 million workers in the U.S. are exposed each year to a level of noise that is potentially dangerous. Occupational noise exposure is a common cause of hearing loss, and people who work in loud environments should understand the impact of noise on their hearing. Many people are exposed to extreme noise on the job, including veterans. They may suffer painful symptoms that require time off work or may cause permanent disability. If your symptoms are debilitating, you may be eligible for benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA), or if you’re a veteran, from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
What Jobs Expose Workers to Extreme Noise Exposure?
Approximately 10 million people in the United States have hearing loss that’s related to noise, and four million people work at jobs that have damaging noise. Here are six occupations that expose workers to a high level of noise:
- Military. Noise exposure in the military is common. A firearm or rifle can generate noise around 150 decibels (dB)—that’s 65 dBs over the maximum safe limit. Artillery can reach 185 dBs and jet engines nearly 140 dBs. Often, veterans have been exposed to these dB levels for long periods of time. Those who have worked on aircraft carriers, in flight line jobs, in the infantry, and in artillery and naval ship engine rooms have been exposed to some of the loudest military environments. Combat veterans have likely been exposed to the noises of war and have experienced auditory trauma.
- Manufacturing. People who work in manufacturing are at the greatest risk of occupational hearing loss. A Michigan study shows that more than 50 percent of workplace permanent hearing loss cases stem from manufacturing jobs. Exposure to loud, large equipment and machinery contributes to this high percentage.
- Construction, Carpentry, and Mining. Construction sites create an extreme noise level that can be very hazardous for workers and their hearing health. It’s dangerous for people to be exposed to noise over 85 decibels (dB) for extended periods of time; however, many tools used by construction workers create noise well above this level. Additionally, carpenters work with noisy tools, mitre saws, hand drills, chop saws, hammer drills, and chain saws. Sand and gravel miners are also exposed to high levels of noise on the job.
- Motorcycle couriers and riders. Even when a motorcycle driver is wearing a helmet, if he’s traveling over 50 mph, he can be exposed to up to 90 dB of noise. It’s recommended that drivers not exceed 2.5 – 3 hours of this exposure. Anyone using a bike—for work or pleasure—can have their hearing negatively impacted by continuous, everyday exposure.
- Entertainment and Nightlife. Many entertainment establishments such as concert halls, bars, and nightclubs often have a large number of customers and operate with loud music. Both customers, performers, and employees are often exposed to noise levels above 100 dB, and this can be very damaging to their ears.
- Airport ground staff. Airport traffic directors wear hearing protection for a reason. A jet engine reaches a sound level of 140 dB, and workers face extreme noise conditions in this highly hazardous occupation.
If you’re a veteran, and your military service exposed you to a high level of noise, or you work in an environment or with equipment that creates excessive noise, you may face serious hearing problems and disabling hearing loss. If your hearing loss is interfering with your life and work, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA or SSA disability benefits
Can I get Veterans’ Disability Compensation for noise exposure?
Most military personnel, at some point during their service, are exposed to a high level of noise. Because noise-related hearing loss can be caused by exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time or by a sudden, unexpected loud noise, many veterans suffer from hearing loss disability. If you’re a veteran whose hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) began or was aggravated during your service in the military, you may qualify for disability benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Risk Factors for Veterans
Any noise over 85 decibels (dB) is considered damaging. If you’re exposed to that level of noise, you can experience sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) when the nerve endings or tiny hair cells within the ear are damaged or have died. Most often, SNHL can’t be reversed.
Military personnel experience noise exposure quite often. Here is some important information about the types of equipment and environments that put soldiers at risk:
- Some of the loudest environments for the military include working in flight line jobs or the infantry and around naval ship engine rooms, aircraft carriers, and artillery. Those in combat are often exposed to auditory trauma for long periods of time.
- A firearm or rifle generates approximately 150 dB of noise.
- A jet engine will generate approximately 140 dB of noise.
- Artillery generates approximately 185 dB of noise.
In 2013, over 400,000 veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq suffered hearing loss related to their military service, especially those caught in roadside bombs. The explosions cause extreme change in the air pressure, and this can fracture bones in the ear and rupture the eardrum.
Military personnel and veterans who apply for VA disability for their hearing loss must show a service connection in three ways:
- Provide evidence that they are currently disabled.
- Provide medical evidence that the hearing loss occurred or was aggravated during their military service.
- Provide evidence that there is a link between the disability they have today and an event that took place during their military service.
If you were exposed to high levels of auditory trauma while you were in the military and have developed tinnitus or some type of hearing loss, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.