We Provide Answers to Your VA Disability Benefits Questions Here
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I’m a veteran with symptoms of sarcoidosis. What causes this disease?
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can affect many body organs, but most often attacks the lungs. The inflammation that happens as part of this chronic condition causes a buildup of granular type nodules that look like grains of sugar or sand. When these granulomas gather or cluster together, they can change the way a body organ functions.
Researchers have theories about why this disease occurs and have conducted studies about the association of this disease with certain exposures, but the causes of sarcoidosis aren’t known. Anyone can suffer from sarcoidosis, including those who have served in the military and those who haven’t. If you’re a veteran and suffer from sarcoidosis or symptoms of this disease, your eligibility for benefits from The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will depend on whether your symptoms are chronic and related to your military service.
Sarcoidosis: the Mystery Disease
Sarcoidosis is sometimes considered a “mystery disease.” And although it’s believed there are many causes, no single cause has been identified. Some researchers think sarcoidosis occurs when the body’s defense system doesn’t respond the way it’s supposed to when there’s an “intruder” in the body—this is called an abnormal immune response. In healthy people, inflammation happens when the cells in the body’s immune system come to an organ to fight the intruder. But in someone with sarcoidosis, the cells cluster together and form lumps called granulomas.
Sarcoidosis in Veterans
Sarcoidosis is not unique to those who serve in the military, and there’s been no conclusive evidence to show that sarcoidosis in veterans and active service members is caused by occupational or environmental exposures. However, some military personnel may be subject to certain exposures associated with the development of this condition. Research shows that for those military employees serving on aircraft carriers, there’s a higher number of sarcoidosis cases. More studies indicate a relationship between some duties performed on-board ship and employees hospitalized for sarcoidosis.
Possible Causes of Sarcoidosis
While it’s not clear what triggers a body to have an abnormal response, theories suggest that sarcoidosis can develop if:
- You are genetically susceptible to the disease and are exposed to certain environmental “agents”—these could be organisms, including bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
- Your immune system overreacts to something in the environment—chemicals, dust, bacteria, or a virus—or it turns against the healthy cells in the body.
No one knows the exact reason why this overreaction occurs, but it may be caused by:
- A bacterial or viral infection.
- A defect in your body’s immune system.
- Exposure to a toxic substance that is unidentified.
- An inherited or a genetic predisposition to the disease.
If you’re a veteran and suffer from sarcoidosis or the symptoms of this disease are 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 Disability benefits.
I’m a veteran with sarcoidosis. Which body organs are most affected by this disease?
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can attack many body organs and usually affects the lungs. The inflammation that occurs as part of this chronic condition causes a buildup of granular type nodules—granulomas—that look like grains of sugar or sand. When the granulomas cluster together on an organ, they can change the way the organ functions.
Sarcoidosis is not unique to the military, as both veterans and civilians experience this disease. Research has been inconclusive about whether sarcoidosis is caused by environmental and occupational exposures. What is known is that the lungs are most often affected by this disease, as well as the skin and eyes. Some people have serious symptoms that must be treated with drugs and sometimes with an organ transplant. If you’re a veteran suffering from sarcoidosis, you may be eligible for disability benefits from The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
What Body Organs Are Most Affected?
One or many body organs can be affected by sarcoidosis. Here is information about three specific body organs that are most often attacked by this disease:
- Lungs. Sarcoidosis commonly affects the lungs and is called pulmonary sarcoidosis. Small, inflamed patches of cells may appear on the lymph nodes, air sacs, or breathing tubes of the lungs. When this happens, the lungs may become stiff and unable to hold the amount of air that healthy lungs can hold. In severe cases, this disease causes scar tissue that can negatively affect the lung’s ability to move oxygen into the bloodstream.
- Skin. Sarcoidosis frequently affects the skin. It appears as red, tender bumps—often on the shins. Sometimes it’s accompanied by joint pain and fever. Although these symptoms will sometimes resolve in a few months, prolonged sarcoidosis may produce raised patches or “plaques,” flat patches, or plaques that discolor the ears, lips, cheeks, or nose.
- Eyes. Approximately 25 to 50 percent of patients with sarcoidosis have symptoms that impact the eyes. These symptoms may include: redness, itching, blurred vision, sensitivity to sunlight, and burning. Patients might also experience small yellow bumps on their eyes. The most serious eye problem is uveitis. This condition occurs when the uvea—the inner layer of the eye that includes connective tissues, blood vessels, and the iris—becomes inflamed. When a patient experiences uveitis, the front of the eye can become very sticky and cause increased eye pressure because the iris and the lens may stick together. Patients often complain of pain, and, if left untreated, uveitis can cause blindness.
If you’re a veteran and suffer from sarcoidosis with symptoms that have become debilitating, and you believe your military service caused your condition, contact us at 402-933-5405. Let us review your case and discuss your eligibility for VA Disability benefits.
Can I get Veterans’ Disability benefits for sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is listed as a chronic condition with a presumptive service connection by The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). This means, the VA recognizes that there could be an association between your disease and your military service. As long as you can provide evidence that your sarcoidosis appeared within the “presumptive period” given for that illness, you may be eligible for VA benefits. For sarcoidosis, you must have been diagnosed with this disease within one year of separation from service.
What it Means to Have a Presumptive Service Connection
The VA recognizes that some diseases may have developed while a veteran was serving in the military, and there may be conditions caused or aggravated by this service. There are over 40 diseases listed by the VA that are considered presumptively service connected. However, certain criteria must be met to be eligible for disability benefits for a presumptive service connected condition. This criteria can include any of the following:
- Proving that a chronic disease was diagnosed within one year of separation from service
- Proving that the condition is serious enough to receive a minimum of 10 percent on the disability evaluation within that period of time
- Proving active duty for at least 90 continuous days
How the “Presumptive Period” Impacts Your Claim
For some diseases caused by military service, the presumptive period is flexible and fairly open-ended. For example, veterans who were prisoners of war or exposed to radiation are entitled to benefits under presumptive service connection at any time they appear after leaving service. Likewise, it’s generally easy to prove this connection if a veteran has a clear medical diagnosis of a disease within the presumptive period.
But if the diagnosis is not so clear-cut, the veteran will need evidence to prove his claim. Not only will he need statements, records, reports, and test results from doctors, he’ll need statements from friends, family, and possibly coworkers regarding visible symptoms to prove he had the disease during the presumptive period.
If you’re a veteran and suffer from sarcoidosis or symptoms you believe are caused by sarcoidosis, you may be eligible 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 do I prove my military service caused my peripheral neuropathy?
If you’re veteran suffering from peripheral neuropathy and you’re applying for disability benefits, it’s easier to show a presumptive connection to your military service than a direct connection. A presumptive connection is an assumption by The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that certain diseases are connected to a veteran’s service in the military. The VA acknowledges that certain diseases experienced by veterans in certain military situations qualify automatically for consideration. For example, if you were in Vietnam and exposed to Agent Orange, and you’re experiencing neuropathy disabilities, you and your surviving family members may be eligible for VA benefits.
Presumptive Service Connection
Your best chance to get VA disability benefits for peripheral neuropathy is by showing a presumptive service connection through your exposure to Agent Orange. To do this, you must:
- Prove you were physically in Vietnam. You’ll need to show the VA that your military service took you to Vietnam or you served on the inland waterways between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, even if it was for a brief period of time. You are not eligible if you simply flew over Vietnam.
- You must be at least 10 percent disabled. You need to show the VA that your disability occurred within one year of being exposed to Agent Orange and left you at least 10 percent disabled, as defined by the VA’s rating schedule.
Direct Service Connection
If you can’t show a presumptive service connection for neuropathy, you can still apply for VA disability benefits through a direct service connection. To prove this connection, you must:
- Prove you were exposed to Agent Orange during active service in the military.
- Provide medical evidence of the neuropathy disability.
- Provide medical evidence that links Agent Orange to the current disability.
If you’re a veteran who’s suffered with the constant pain or loss of functionality related to peripheral neuropathy and were forced to stop working, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.
How do I prove my military service caused my depression?
To be eligible for disability benefits for depression, a veteran needs to show that his condition is connected to his military service. This is called “direct service connection.” You have this connection if an event that took place during your service caused the depression you suffer from now. To prove this connection, a veteran must show that:
- He has been diagnosed with depression.
- He has evidence of an event during his military service that caused his depression.
- He has medical evidence that shows a connection between the service event and his current state of depression.
Types of Direct Service Connection
There are different types of direct service connection. To prove the connection, most types require a doctor’s medical opinion and your medical records. Here are the different types of direct service connection:
- Aggravated Service Connection. This connection is established if you can show that an existing medical condition was aggravated or made worse after an event that occurred during your military service. If that pre-existing condition isn’t cited in your entrance medical exam, you’ll need to have medical evidence of its diagnosis and treatment. If you believe the symptoms of your pre-existing illness or injury got worse during service, you’ll need to prove that it’s not just a natural progression of your condition. You may need a doctor’s opinion to help show the connection to a service event.
- Presumptive Service Connection. For veterans who have served at least 90 days in the military, there are medical conditions that, by law, are assumed to be service connected. Presumptive service connection is available for POWs who acquired certain illnesses after being confined for more than 30 days, certain chronic health conditions such as infectious diseases acquired after serving in the Gulf War, and for certain cancers due to exposure to hazardous chemicals. You need medical evidence of the diagnosis and that the condition occurred within the presumed time period.
- Secondary Service Connection. You’re eligible for disability benefits if your illness or injury has caused another different or separate condition. For example, a second service connection might be depression caused by an injury you sustained while in combat. You’ll need medical evidence and a doctor’s opinion that prove this.
If your depression is interfering with your ability to work, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA Disability benefits.
What is a staged rating in a claim for an increased rating?
The VA appeal process often drags for several years at a time. The veteran's health can fluctuatewhile a claim is pending during this time. The individual may get medical treatment related to the illness and go through a period of recovery when he or she is incapacitated. After the treatment the veteran is restored to their prior health or is left with residuals related to the illness or the treatment. In this case the veteran would be entitled to different ratings for different periods of time.These different ratings are called "staged ratings." The medical and other evidence show symptoms that determine the rating for each period of time.
Should I Choose a VA Disability Lawyer or a VSO Representative to Help Me With My Claim?
The answer is not always simple. Obtaining any type of representative is a personal decision based on your preferences and situation. For some veterans, applying for and obtaining disability benefits is straightforward and easy, and there’s no real need for help. But for other veterans, the process is complex and complicated and can sometimes result in frustration, a long wait, and a denial of benefits. Some veterans choose a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) because the services are free; but many veterans find there are significant benefits to hiring an experienced disability lawyer to guide them through the filing and the claim process.
The Advantages of Hiring a Veterans’ Disability Lawyer
When Congress passed the 2007 law allowing veterans to hire disability lawyers earlier in the claims process, it made it easier for veterans to get help to dispute a rating or a claim denial. Many veterans used a VSO to represent them; but this legislation was a significant change that benefited veterans who wanted legal representation.
If you’re a veteran who wants to file a disability claim, there are many advantages to hiring a veteran’s disability lawyer. Not only does having a lawyer significantly increase your chance of receiving benefits, a lawyer has the resources to make you a priority, give you personalized attention, and help you with the challenging process of applying for or appealing your claim. But having a lawyer work with you is also beneficial for more specific reasons:
- The VA claims process isn’t an easy one, and the laws governing this process are complex and sometimes challenging to understand. Lawyers attend law school to learn how to read through the many regulations and apply the law to the facts of your specific case.
- A lawyer can help pull together the evidence you need to win. Sometimes, you may need additional medical reports or records, and a lawyer can help you obtain that evidence, even if the VA cannot find it or believes it does not exist.
- A lawyer can write a letter to your doctor or request an independent medical exam. Both can be important to your case. Often, the VA requires very specific information from a doctor, and a report may be rejected because the VA didn’t find the language suitable or sufficient. A lawyer can help with this.
- The appeals process for a denied claim can take months or years to complete. And even if you submit your application properly, many claims are denied. An experienced veterans’ disability lawyer can evaluate the reasons for the denial and determine what needs to be done for your appeal.
What criteria is used to decrease my veteran’s disability benefits?
When the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awards you a service-connected disability rating, they retain the right to reexamine you later to see if your disability has improved or warrants the initial rating. Based on the reexamination, the VA can increase, reduce, or terminate your disability benefits. Not every rating will change, and not every veteran requires a reexamination. And before the VA can change your disability rating, they must first send you a reexamination letter.
There are a variety of reasons your VA benefits for a service-connected disability can be reduced or even terminated. Most veterans only have their benefits reduced if they have undergone a medical examination that adjusts their disability rating. In addition, the VA cannot terminate benefits for a service-connected disability if you have been receiving them for over 10 years—unless there was a serious error when your benefits were awarded.
In most cases, the VA can reduce your rating if:
- There has been a notable improvement in your disability that allows you to live and work effectively.
- Your entire service-connected disability medical history has been reviewed.
- You have been sentenced to serve time in prison.
- You failed to show up for a scheduled disability reexamination without rescheduling or without good reason.
What You Should Do If Your Benefits Are Being Reduced or Terminated?
If your benefits are being reduced or terminated, you have the right to appeal the decision. Find out more about your rights in our free book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims, or contact the VA disability lawyers at Cuddigan Law at 402-933-5405 to get help with your case.
Can I request an adjustment to my disability rating to increase my VA benefits?
Yes. In most cases, a veteran need only write a letter to his or her VA regional office requesting an increased disability rating. However, veterans should be aware that requesting an increase could result in a decrease in benefits.
When you request an increase in your disability rating, the VA will closely examine:
- Any new evidence. Many service-connected disabilities can get worse over time, but it is up to the veteran to prove the extent to which his condition has deteriorated. The VA will look at the reasons you believe you are entitled to an increased rating, the supporting medical evidence you provide in your request, and also any evidence showing how your disability has affected your ability to earn a living. If your rating has increased to the point where you are completely unable to work, you may wish to consider a claim for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU).
- All past medical records. While the VA is required to examine all new evidence you provide, it may also examine past medical records as a basis for comparison. The VA may look at medical records submitted with your original claim, as well as supporting evidence you submit while you are waiting for your claim to be approved. If the VA denies your claim based on records that are several years old, you can appeal the decision or request a new medical examination.
- A new medical evaluation. The VA has a duty to assist claimants in filing their claims. Part of this duty is providing an updated medical evaluation to veterans whose medical records do not reflect their current condition. If you can show evidence that your service-connected disability is noticeably worse, the VA should allow you to undergo a new evaluation to support an increased rating claim.
Our VA Attorneys Can Answer Your Questions
If you need to request an increase in disability rating or need help appealing a decrease in benefits, contact the attorneys at Cuddigan Law today at 402-933-5405. For more information on filing a successful claim or appealing a decision click here to order our free book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.
Is it possible for veterans to suffer from PTSD years after their wartime service is over?
The psychological trauma of past events can strike a veteran at any point in his life. Many veterans will begin to display symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) soon after returning home, some service members begin to experience the first signs before they are discharged, and still more veterans will suffer nightmares or flashbacks 5, 10, or 20 years after leaving service.
Many veterans who have had no psychiatric issues after leaving service may begin to relive the events of their life in the military as they get older. A veteran may suddenly begin to avoid social situations or crowded areas, become startled easily, and have trouble sleeping due to the processing of military memories. This scenario is so common that the VA has a term for it: Late-Onset Stress Symptomatology (LOSS).
LOSS normally begins with a triggering life event, such as:
- Retirement. Retired veterans have more time to think about their wartime experiences, and do not have the distraction of work to take their mind off of their memories. Retired veterans are also more likely to withdraw socially, forcing them to cope with their symptoms on their own.
- Health problems. As people age, they are more likely to experience serious medical problems. A veteran who suffers an illness of an injury may become panicked or depressed because he is not as strong as he used to be, leading to late-onset PTSD.
- Loss of loved ones. Veterans who lost friends during service may begin to have nightmares or other PTSD symptoms when a loved one dies years later.
- Sobriety. Many veterans attempt to medicate themselves by using drugs or alcohol to numb their physical and emotional pain. A veteran may be forced to stop taking drugs or drinking due to health problems, leaving them unprepared to cope with their resurfacing PTSD symptoms.
What Can You Do to Get Help?
No matter how long it has been since your service ended, there are many things you can do to help relieve the stress that is interfering with your life. There are many VA health programs available at no cost to veterans, including PTSD treatment programs and disability benefits for veterans who are unable to work. To learn more about getting benefits for disabling PTSD symptoms, order our free booklet, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims.