Exposure to Agent Orange

20 Apr 2017

For an entire decade, from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, the United States sprayed millions of gallons of the blended herbicide Agent Orange throughout Vietnam and the surrounding regions. Its purpose was to defoliate the land to remove any covering for guerrillas. The herbicide was also used to clear areas around military bases.

At the time, concerns arose about the side effects the herbicide could have on human beings since Agent Orange contains highly toxic compounds called dioxins. These substances, shown as carcinogenic in animal studies, indicated that similar dangers could exist for people. Even so, the use of these chemicals continued until 1971 when the United States Air Force finally conducted the last official spray.

Today, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes many problems as "presumptive diseases" associated with exposure to Agent Orange -- such as various cancers, peripheral neuropathy, chloracne, and heart disease, among others. The VA continues to conduct research on the effects of Agent Orange and its associated health issues.

If you're a veteran and served in Vietnam during the conflict, or near the Korean demilitarized zone, you could have experienced exposure to Agent Orange. For those who served on military bases in Thailand, during the Vietnam War, you also could have suffered exposure. Children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange aren't immune to health problems either. Cases of defects at birth, such as Spina Bifida, are known to have occurred.

For veterans who are suffering the effects of Agent Orange, you're eligible for compensation. If you're concerned about your rights or need representation for any reason, please contact us today. We're here to help veterans throughout the United States with all of their legal issues.

Obtaining Medical Records​

20 Apr 2017

If you were injured while serving in the armed forces and your injury is keeping you from living a full and productive life, you may be eligible for veterans disability benefits. A strong claim for disability benefits can only be made with relevant and supporting medical records. Medical records can help establish the date of your injury, the cause of the injury, the severity of the injury, and how this injury continues to impact your ability to function today.

Do I Need To Request Copies of My Medical Records?

The short answer is YES!  

When filing a “standard” claim, the VA is responsible for obtaining medical records from the federal agencies and requesting records from private treatment providers that you have identified on your application. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking for the VA because of the significant number of veterans filing for disability benefits each year. The VA will make a reasonable effort to get your records; however, this does not mean that all of the requested records will be sent to the VA or that the records will be complete. As a result, the VA may make a decision about your eligibility for benefits that may not be based on all of the facts.

When filing a “Fully Developed Claim,” you are responsible for gathering and providing all of the relevant medical records with your application for benefits. This means that when you submit your application, you will certify that all of the relevant evidence has been included and the VA will use that information to make a decision about your claim. Again, if any records are missing or incomplete, the VA may not be able to see that your current impairment is related to an injury from your military service or they may not understand the severity or impact of the injury.

Whichever option you choose, it is important to make sure that the VA has ALL of the relevant evidence in their possession when reviewing your claim. This can only be done by requesting and submitting the medical records yourself (or with the help of your VSO).

How Do I Request My Medical Records?

Contact your VSO! They have experience handling claims and medical record requests and will make sure that the following types of records are requested:

Service Treatment Records contain details of the outpatient, dental, and mental health treatment received by an individual while in the service; for example, physicals, routine medical care, lab tests, etc. Depending on your separation date, these records are filed in various facilities around the country (See https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/medical-records.html to determine the location of your records).

Clinical Records contain the information from the hospitalizations of active duty members (inpatient stays). These records are held at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) under the name of the treating hospital.

Requests for health and clinical records can be made online; or by mail or fax using Standard Form 180.

VAMC Treatment Records contain the treatment information for eligible veterans after separation from the service at VA medical centers. These records are stored at the facility where treatment was performed. Therefore, you must contact each facility and submit a written request to receive a copy of your VA treatment records.  

Private Medical Records contain medical information from any doctor, therapist, or treatment facility outside of the VA or other military service-related treatment. Similar to the VA records, requests for copies of any private medical records must be submitted to the treating facility or physician. Some physicians charge a fee for your records. Check with your VSO to see if your state requires physicians to offer a discount (sometimes free) for records that are being used to support a disability claim. Please note, if the VA requests private medical records and the provider charges a fee the VA will not pay this fee. You will need to get the records and provide them to the VA.

Preparing your application for VA disability benefits can be overwhelming and frustrating, but finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz today to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources

Directory of Veterans Service Organizations

VA Treatment Locations

New Research Shows Relationship Between Hormone Levels and PTSD

14 Apr 2017

Can hormones have anything to do with PTSD? For decades, researchers have grappled with the question of whether abnormal cortisol levels have any effect on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cortisol is a hormone that the body releases when faced with dangerous situations that require a flight-or-fight response.

Although previous studies were inconclusive, new research by the University of Texas at Austin and published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology reveals that cortisol levels do play a role -- but only when testosterone levels are suppressed. The studies suggest that previous research failed to take into account the effect testosterone levels have on cortisol and its relationship with stress levels.

As part of the studies, 120 soldiers were tracked before, during and after their deployment and combat duties overseas in Iraq. Saliva samples were taken to determine hormone levels. Before deployment, soldiers were exposed to stressful situations. The natural response to stressful situations is an increase in cortisol levels. Soldiers who didn’t show such an increase -- in other words, those who had an abnormal cortisol level -- were more likely to develop PTSD after combat.

These studies are part of the Texas Combat PTSD Risk Project, which is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

So, how can such research benefit soldiers and veterans? The answer: By helping researchers develop preventative interventions to reduce the risk of PTSD. With the aid of more research, scientists can analyze soldiers’ hormone levels and reactions to stress before their deployment and help develop preventative measures that will reduce the risk of PTSD later on.

For more help with PTSD, just contact us

Obtaining Copies of Service Records

06 Apr 2017

If you are a veteran of the U.S. military and have a current injury or condition that is connected to that service, you may be eligible for veterans’ disability compensation. While the VA is responsible for assisting with the gathering the information that is relevant to your claim, the only way to make sure that the VA has all of the information related to your service and disabilities is to submit the records yourself, or with the assistance of your Veteran’s Service Officer (VSO).

The steps for requesting your service treatment records (STRs) and personnel records are explained below to help guide you through the process.

How Do I Get My Service Treatment Records and Personnel Records?

Obtaining Copies of Service Records If you are the veteran or next-of-kin (widow/widower (un-remarried); son or daughter; or father, mother, brother, or sister of a deceased veteran), you can submit a request for military personnel, health, and medical records online through the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) at www.vetrecs.archives.gov. Your authorized representative, including a VSO, may also submit requests for these records on your behalf, with a signed and dated authorization (i.e., a Power of Attorney or POA).

What Information Do I Need to Request My Service Records?

Because there are so many records to sort through, it is important to include enough information in your request to accurately identify your service record. To save time, make sure to have the following information available when making your request

  • The veteran’s complete name;
  • Service number and/or social security number;
  • Branch of service;
  • Dates of service;
  • Birthdate and birthplace;
  • Name of last facility that was responsible for the veteran’s treatment record;
  • The year and type of treatment received;
  • You may also need the veteran’s place of discharge, last assigned unit, and place of entry into service.

If you are not a computer person, the request for your records can also be made by mail, using Standard Form 180. This form can be obtained online or from your local Veterans Administration office or veterans service organization. It requires the same information as the online request. Upon completion of the Standard Form 180, mail it to the appropriate address listed on the 2nd page of the form. 

After approximately 10 days, you or your VSO can check the status of your request through the Online Status Update Request form or by calling the Customer Service Line at 1-866-272-6272.

What If Some of My Service Records Are Missing?

Once the service records are received, it is important to review them with your VSO since it is not uncommon for the records to be incomplete. After review, if you determine that there are missing records, you can contact the Records Center or VA and make another request. When making this new request, make sure to provide more specific information about your location, dates, etc.

If you are still unable to locate the records, you may be able to fill in gaps in your service history with statements from an officer or a buddy who served with you, or other medical records that can draw a connection between your service and your current disability.

Although it can be frustrating, it is important to make sure that the VA has a complete file (or as complete as possible) when reviewing your application for veterans disability compensation. Taking these additional, proactive steps to get your records will save you time and heartache down the road.

Finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources

To find out where your records are stored, visit: https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/locations

CTE: Are Veterans Sustaining Repeat Concussive Injury from Weapons Training?

06 Apr 2017

CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that starts with concussive injury to the head and ends in cognitive impairment, sleep and mood disorders, and in many cases, suicide. The condition is associated with professional football players and in earlier times, with boxers. It is being studied by scientists at the Uniformed Services Health University as the etiology behind the behavioral and physical symptoms exhibited by veterans who experienced blast injuries.

Current thinking in military medicine is that PTSD and TBI, with their similar symptoms, have overlapping etiology, and that etiology is related to concussive injury from blast trauma. Since CTE is a progressive, fatal condition that can only be confirmed by biopsy of the brain after death, the VA and other military medicine specialists have been hesitant to clarify the role of repeated blast injuries to CTE in veterans. Liability issues, of course, are also of a concern.

In December 2016, the Pentagon shelved a project that was using mobile sensors attached to helmets and body armor that was designed to measure blast force trauma, in an effort to quantify the amount of blast and concussive injury military members received. Part of several studies looking at blast trauma, the sensors were also used in studies by the USMC to measure signs of concussive trauma in weapons training instructors. At this time, they have no plans to begin using the blast sensors again. It is a rule of thumb in health care that if you do not intend to treat a condition, don't test for it. You don't want documentation of untreated symptoms in someone's medical record. But not testing servicemembers for blast injuries from weapons training and combat is not going to prevent the resulting brain damage.

For more information on Traumatic Brain Injury - Veterans, please contact us.

Incarcerated Veterans with Service-Connected Disability

30 Mar 2017

Veterans with service-connected disabilities, treated or untreated, are frequently in conflict with the justice system. What services are available to veterans who are under threat of incarceration, and what happens to VA benefits when a veteran is incarcerated?

The VA has a program called Veterans Justice Outreach Program. It is part of the homeless prevention initiatives, but veterans do not have to be homeless to receive services. The goal of the program is to provide mental health and substance abuse services to veterans who are involved with the justice system, to avoid unnecessary criminalization of mental illness.

There is also a program called HCRV, Health Care Re-entry for Veterans. This program is designed to reduce homelessness among veterans leaving prison. This program involves giving veterans information while incarcerated about how to plan for their re-entry.

VA pays disability and pensions. They are treated differently when incarcerated. Disability payments for those at the 20% or higher level are reduced to the 10% level. Those at 10% have their payment reduced by 50%. These reductions occur if a veteran is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days. Pensions are terminated on day 61 of imprisonment for a felony or misdemeanor.

For both programs, veterans have to reapply for benefits upon release and meet eligibility requirements again. There is a program that allows disability payments to be apportioned to a spouse, dependent parent, or child during incarceration. It's not automatic; the eligible family member needs to apply.

The compensation is not stopped for work-release programs, community control, or halfway houses. 

For more information on psychiatric disability & veterans, please contact us.

Long Term Effects of Agent Orange Exposure

24 Mar 2017

Agent Orange was a two-dioxin compound that was used for widespread defoliation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the 1960s. The Agent Orange compound, TCDD, for dioxin tetrachlordibenzo-para-dioxin, is classified as a level 1 carcinogen, meaning any exposure can cause human cancers. The chemical was banned in the US in 1970, but its effects continue to cause suffering in the US and in Southeast Asia, where the chemical compound impregnates the soil and water. 

The level 1 classification by the International Agency for Research on Cancer has detailed cancer risks for many years. But scientists are now looking specifically at long-term cancers in veterans and other people exposed to Agent Orange fifty years ago. Since the exposure window, new human harm has been documented as the group of veterans exposed has gotten older.

Soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma have long been associated with Agent Orange exposure. Recently, long-tern studies have established a strong link with prostate cancer and bladder cancer. Other significant health effects include neurodevelopmental diseases in children and neurodegenerative disease in older veterans and people exposed.

While veterans exposed during the Vietnam War are one group exposed, other service members had to handle the shipping, handling, loading, and storage of the dioxin while working on military bases or on transport ships and planes. Current VA requirements detail combat service in Southeast Asia for exposure.

There is also the population of people who were born with birth defects in Vietnam; no significant long-term studies have been done to address the heavy exposure risk of those who live in areas where the defoliant was used repeatedly. Some studies have determined that the long-term total body exposure of the chemical is greater in people from Southeast Asia than anyone else. There is anecdotal information regarding congenital heart defects and other birth defects, as well as neurodevelopmental disease in infants. Small studies have determined specific exposure risk, such as paternal exposure and the risk of spina-bifida in children.

The World Health Organization, in their latest fact-sheet on dioxin, related the continuous exposure to humans through the food chain. Since the chemical doesn't degrade naturally, it tends to accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals. Most countries monitor their food supply for dioxin, and it has been found throughout the world and throughout the animal food supply. Unfortunately, the chemical compound is still being produced, used, and accidentally released into the environment by industries around the world.

For more information, please contact us.

Understanding Veterans Disability Claim Types

23 Mar 2017

After serving your country selflessly and completing your military service, you have been left with a life-altering injury or condition. You may have decided to move forward with an application for veterans disability compensation for your service-related injury, but there are several different options and you don’t know where to start.

The three claim types for veterans disability benefits are explained below to help guide you in the right direction.

Understanding Veterans Disability Claim TypesDo I Qualify for Veterans Disability Benefits?

Before you become overwhelmed with paperwork, it is important to understand who can apply for veterans disability benefits. If you are a veteran of the U.S. Military and have a current injury or condition that is connected to that service, you may be eligible for disability compensation.

Filing Your Claim

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides several different forms and filing options for your initial disability application. These are:  

  • Intent to File
  • Standard Claim
  • Fully Developed Claim

Intent to File: This option is a relatively new process and should be used when you know that you want to file a claim for disability benefits but you need more time to gather information or to complete your application. The “Intent to File” option will preserve your date of claim, allowing you time to gather your records and documents without losing your effective date for your benefits. You will have one year from the date the “Intent to File” was submitted to complete your application for benefits.

There are four ways to submit an “Intent to File” to the VA:

  1. Contact a local veterans service organization. A veterans service officer (VSO) there can assist you with submitting an “Intent to File” electronically.

  2. Begin an online application for disability benefits (www.eBenefits.va.gov). Once you have started the claim, your intent to file is recorded after you select “Save,” even if the application is not completed. The eBenefits website can be confusing, so it is best to get assistance from a VSO when completing this application.

  3. Complete VA Form 21-0966 and mail it to the VA. If you choose this option, make sure to keep a copy of the completed form for your records, and place a follow-up phone call to confirm that the VA has received the form.

  4. Call the VA and inform the representative of your “Intent to File” over the phone: 1-800-827-1000

Other Veterans Disability Claim Options: Standard or Fully Developed Claims

If you have gathered some or all of your medical records and other documentation relevant to your conditions or injury, you can choose to move forward with the application for benefits. There are two options to choose from: A Standard Claim or a Fully Developed Claim.

Standard Claim: If you choose this option, the VA is responsible for assisting in the gathering of all of the medical evidence related to your claim for disability benefits. This is known as the VA’s Duty to Assist.  The VA may also require you to seek a medical opinion or attend a medical exam (C&P Exam) to help determine service connection and the severity of your conditions. You will be responsible for providing treatment dates and a list of doctors/facilities that you have visited for treatment.

The Standard Claim usually takes much longer because the VA has to request all relevant medical records, including those from private physicians, and wait for the physicians or treatment facilities to respond to these requests.

benefits. This information is then submitted WITH your application. The VA will still obtain any Federal records, including service medical records. However, if you have them on hand, you should also submit them with your application.

Once your Fully Developed Claim is submitted, you will be asked to certify that there are no additional relevant records. After the application is received, the VA can start reviewing the evidence right away instead of spending a significant amount of time requesting additional information.

How Do I Know Which Option is Best for My Situation?

A veterans service officer (VSO) can be a great resource for determining which claim type is the best for your specific situation. A good VSO has much experience filing veterans disability claims and can help determine which path is appropriate for your situation. The VSO can also help you with understanding your eligibility, gathering the appropriate information, registering online, and filing your claim.

The VA Disability Benefits Claim Process can be lengthy, overwhelming, and frustrating, but finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz today to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources

VA Webpage on the Intent to File Process
VA Webpage on Filing a Claim

The Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act

16 Mar 2017

 The US took a trusteeship role over Micronesia in 1946, a large group of islands in the Pacific, and five days later those islands became the Pacific Proving Ground. The islanders were moved off and the US spent nearly twenty years detonating nuclear bombs on the islands, then left them, covered with plutonium and other radioactive waste blowing in the wind and seeping into the Pacific ocean.

When the US was forced by threat of lawsuit by the Enewetak Islanders to clean up the nuclear waste left behind, they used military personnel to save money. Safety gear, respirators and monitoring equipment were ineffective in the humid heat of the local climate, and there was not enough of it to protect all of the servicemen brought to work on cleanup. One veteran remembers asking for a mask, and being told there were no masks, to use a tee-shirt instead.

In 1988, Congress passed a law granting automatic medical coverage for veterans involved in the bombing, but the veterans who did the cleanup without adequate safety gear were excluded. One veteran recalls being given new safety gear to put on, and after his picture was taken by the military, the gear was removed and stored, and he went to work in shorts and sandals, with no shirt and no other safety gear.

Today veterans who participated in the cleanup report cancers, osteoporosis, birth defects in children, and other well documented health effects of exposure to nuclear waste. After being repeatedly denied by the VA, who relied on readings and documentation of broken or failed or nonexistent safety equipment, Congressman Takai from Hawaii wrote a bill called the Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, specifically to address the inequity for veterans involved in the cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. The bill has been sitting in committee since the end of 2015. There is a Facebook group for Enewetak cleanup veterans to share information and support.

For more information related to veterans, please contact us.

Veterans Crisis Line: No Wrong Number

09 Mar 2017

What is the Veterans Crisis Line? The crisis line is available for any veteran, family member, caregiver, or interested party to help a veteran cope with a crisis, talk to someone about a difficult problem, talk about suicidal thoughts. The caller will be helped to access VA and other resources. The crisis line is staffed at a VA facility and by VA staff, some of whom are veterans themselves. They can also help coordinate follow-up with veterans who have a primary care doctor at a VA facility. It is not required that a veteran be registered with the VA or even be eligible to use the Veterans Crisis Line.

The crisis line is not available to ask questions about VA benefits or to check on claims status. Questions about VA healthcare should be referred to 877-222-VETS (8387). For benefit questions call 800-827-1000.

It is important to note that the Veteran Crisis Line phone number is the same number as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The number 800-273-8255 is available to anyone in crisis. The veterans crisis line is then reached by pressing 1. The Veterans Crisis Line is provided as a partnership with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There is no wrong number between the two. Veterans are not required to call the VA side of the program. The option is available to speak to a VA crisis counselor who has expertise helping veterans. The non-VA side of the program will assist veterans and non-veterans through a crisis and help with access to community resources.

There are a few ways to contact the Veterans Crisis Line. The most well-known and mostly used means of contacting them is by phone at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. Direct chat is also available through their website via https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/Chat. You can also text to 838255. The crisis line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by all access means.

If you are a veteran or know of a veteran in crisis, don’t hesitate to contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255. 

Should you need legal assistance accessing your VA benefits, call our experienced law firm.

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