The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy

The Blog at Military Disability Made Easy: November 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exposure to Chemicals, Radiation and Other Environments and Substances

There are a great many health risks related to life in the military. The obvious ones are the risk of injury from the physical requirements and physical dangers that are natural to the military.

Just as real, but much less recognized, are the risk of future illnesses caused by exposure to various environments/substances, whether chemicals, agents, radiation, etc. Many conditions caused by exposure do not develop until after the service member leaves the military.

These conditions are considered service-connected and do qualify for VA Disability as long as there is PROOF that the service member was indeed exposed to the cause while in the military. Less proof is needed, however, if the conditions are included on the VA Presumptive List

Since these conditions don’t develop until later, many service members don’t properly prepare for this possible future when leaving the military. Because they seem to be in fine physical condition, they see no need to mess with any disability issues. They simply leave the military and continue on with their lives.

This negligence is the cause of a great deal of stress and headache for a lot of our veterans.

After separation, many veterans develop conditions that are service-connected. They prepare and submit a VA Disability Claim only to have their claim denied or for the VA to request further evidence.

The VA must have PROOF that every condition a veteran has is service-connected. This goes for every veteran and every condition. No one is exempt.

Because these particular vets didn’t have any health concerns while in the military, though, their medical records do not provide the proper proof they need. The only way to prove to the VA that their conditions are service-connected is to be able to prove that they were exposed to the environment/substance that is known to cause their condition.

This proof can come in the form of a letter from their commander stating that they were exposed to x-chemical or x-whatever. The info about the exposure must be detailed. Just saying that they were exposed to chemicals isn’t enough. The VA needs to know exactly which chemical it was and how much they were exposed.

There are some stations that are known to have caused exposure to certain things during certain periods of time. For example, all service members stationed at Amchitka Island, AK before 1974 were exposed to large amounts of radiation. If they develop leukemia later on, then all they would have to do is prove to the VA that they were in fact stationed there before that date.

Some types of jobs are also known for greater exposure to certain things, just like coal miners develop lung conditions because of the amount of coal dust they inhale. Proof of your job assignment and the length of time you were in contact with those substances would be sufficient proof.

If you submit a claim to the VA without sufficient proof, they will come back to you and tell you what further proof they need. Then comes the hard part of getting this proof.

It is always easier to get this proof while you are still in the military. If you know that you have been exposed to an environment known for causing conditions, get a letter from your commander that states that you were exposed to that environment. Make sure that the letter is clear about exactly what you were exposed to. Just saying you were exposed to something in general is not good enough. The VA must have specifics.

If you have already left the military, you are still going to need this same proof, but it will probably be much more difficult for you to get it. Try contacting the commander or division you were in when you were exposed. You may have to make quite a few phone calls, but be persistent. This proof is VITAL to your VA Disability and thus to your future. There is no easy answer to getting this info. Just do whatever you can.

We were recently contacted by a veteran with COPD. While in the military, he was diagnosed with bronchitis, which is often a symptom of COPD. It is not, however, COPD. You can have bronchitis without having COPD. After leaving the military, he was officially diagnosed with COPD. The VA came back to him after he submitted his VA Disability Claim, requesting evidence of his exposure to chemicals.

Since he was not diagnosed with COPD while he was in the military, the only way for him to get disability for it is for him to prove that he was exposed to chemicals known to cause it. He must now go back to his commanders/units/stations/etc., trying to find this evidence.

If you are now preparing to leave the military, make sure to arm yourself with any and all proof of your exposure to substances and environments that could cause health conditions in the future. Having this evidence will save you a great deal of time and headache if you ever develop a condition in the future.

Remember in all things relating to Military Disability, documentation is key!

Monday, November 17, 2014

What does it mean to be disabled?

The term “disability” has numerous definitions, and its real meaning depends on the context in which it is used. A disability for one person or group may not be a disability for another.

In general, a disability is basically anything that limits your body or mind in any way. So basically, any medical condition is a disability. A condition does not have to severely limit the body in order for it to be a disability in this sense.

For example, if a vet has a shoulder condition that makes it impossible for him to raise his arm straight overhead, he wouldn't really be all that limited in his ability to do the majority of activities. Very few things require someone to be able to raise their arm straight overhead. It does, however, limit his arm's function in some way, so it is still considered a disability. A completely healthy arm would be able to lift overhead.

“Disability” is defined differently, however, when looking at things like Military Disability compensation. An organization can define a disability however they want, and both the DoD and the VA do just that.

For the VA, a medical condition must be service-connected in order to be considered a disability that qualifies for VA Disability.

For the DoD, a medical condition must be service-connected AND make the service member Unfit for Duty to be considered a disability that qualifies for DoD Disability.

As long as a condition fulfils these requirements, it will be eligible for Military Disability Benefits.

Now just because a condition is officially considered a disability by the DoD and/or the VA, it may still not qualify for any disability benefits. This is where the seriousness of the condition is taken into account.

The exact type and amount of compensation given for a military disability is determined by the Military Disability Ratings that are assigned to a condition based on the laws and regulations of the VASRD.

If a disability doesn’t really limit the overall ability of the vet to function, then he will be given a 0% rating. As the severity of the condition worsens, the rating percentage will increase.

The exact rating assigned to each condition is determined by the VASRD. The VASRD was written by a group of lawyers and physicians who went through the various body systems/parts. It attempts to provide fair ratings for every condition, although it does fall short at times.

For example, the ratings for all hearing conditions are rated on how bad the hearing is without the use of a hearing aid. All vision conditions, however, are rated on how bad the vision is WITH glasses or contacts. How is this fair? If someone can hear perfectly with a hearing aid, isn’t that just as good as someone seeing perfectly with glasses? Why should people with hearing problems get more disability compensation than people with vision problems?

While there are definitely problems like this in the VASRD, it is the law, and all military disability cases are determined based on its regulations. No one is exempt.

So, getting back to our original question, a disability is basically any medical condition that limits the proper functioning of the body and mind, but for it to qualify for military disability, it must fulfil all the requirements that the DoD and the VA have in place. The seriousness of the disability only comes into play when the Rating Authorities assign ratings to each of the conditions. The more serious the disability, the higher the rating and the more compensation it should receive.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Claiming Conditions for VA Disability

Last week, I received a really good question that I think deserves some further discussion.

When filling out the VA Disability Claim form, should I list every condition I have, even if multiple conditions affect the same body part?

Yes! Definitely list every single DIAGNOSED condition that you have. If you are unsure whether or not the condition is officially diagnosed, you might as well list it.

It is true that for many body parts, only one VA Disability Rating will be given for the overall functioning of that body part. So even if you have multiple diagnosed conditions affecting that body part, they may only give you a single rating for it. It’s better, though, for them to decide this after considering all of your conditions than for them to only give one rating since only one condition was listed on the claim.

There may be a VARSD Principle or other obscure regulation somewhere that you’re unaware of that makes an exception in your case and allows multiple conditions to be rated. If you don’t list all the conditions, then you won’t get the full disability compensation you deserve.

For example, a muscle condition and a nerve condition in the foot can both be rated if they affect different functions in the foot. Let’s say a veteran has a muscle condition that affects muscle Group XII in the foot. This group controls the ability of the foot to flex upward. The veteran also has damage to the Tibial Nerve which affects the ability of the toes to spread and close. Both conditions affect the foot, but since one affects the toes only and the other affects the flexion of the foot only, then both can be rated separately. But if the veteran does not list both conditions on the form, he won’t get ratings for both eligible conditions.

Regardless of the conditions, it is always the best option to list every condition separately on the VA Disability Claim form.