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
eBenefits



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.

What is Gulf War Syndrome?

02 Mar 2017

Gulf War Syndrome is a chronic condition affecting those who served in the military while assigned to Southwest Asia. This service includes the Gulf War (1990-1991), Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2010) and Operation New Dawn (2010-2011).

Symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome can include a wide range of medical issues -- fatigue, memory problems, pain, rashes, and even tumors, to name just a few examples. Many causes are often blamed for the condition, from sarin gas to stress to exposure to smoke and pesticides. However, the exact cause of the problems still has not been reliably proven, even after numerous studies.

A recent report by the Department of Veterans Affairs stated that anywhere from twenty-five percent to thirty-three percent of Gulf War military personnel suffer from this syndrome. In fact, veterans of this war suffer a greater number of multi-symptom illnesses, overall, than veterans of other wars.

Gulf War Veterans are generally eligible for special benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as health care and disability compensation, for any problems related to their service. If you're suffering from GWS, help is available! The Institute of Medicine concluded that serotonin inhibitors along with cognitive therapy are the most beneficial treatments to ease many symptoms. Even so, a fuller understanding of Gulf War Syndrome is still needed.

If you're a Gulf War Veteran, and you need legal representation to get the full benefits that you're due, please contact us as soon as possible. We represent veterans' interests in all states, and we can help you get what you're entitled to receive as a military veteran.

Taking a Long Walk: Wilderness Therapy for Veterans

23 Feb 2017

Several outdoor adventure and wilderness therapy companies and organizations are offering specialized outdoor adventures for veterans. These can range from fishing and camping weekends to rafting and wild river trips, to Outward Bound for Vets. Some are designed as a quick relaxing getaway, others are man versus nature and full of an adrenaline rush. One wilderness program, Warrior Expeditions, is different, and offers the support for vets to take a long walk.

The first man to walk the entire length of the Appalachian trail from Georgia to Maine was taking a long hike to recover from the memories of war. Earl Shaffer decided to walk off his war, to get the sights and sounds and memories out of his head and heart, and find out who he was. He wanted to discover how the war had changed him, and what he had left of the person he was before. This was in 1948, and it took him four months of walking to complete the trail.

When Sean Gobin returned from multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he also took to the Appalachian Trail, and found that the time, the quiet, and the act of being in nature gave him time to process memories and issues he had kept buried. The process reminded him of the way military people used to walk home from wars, or take long slow boats. Those long trips home gave people time to process and transition from military to civilian life. With modern transportation and the quick turn-around today, veterans can go from a battlefield across the world to their kid's elementary school within a week.

Sean decided to start Warrior Expeditions because of the benefits he found for himself in the long hike. The organization provides support of several kinds for veterans who want to make a long hike. They offer gear and equipment, a small stipend, food and supply restocking along the trail, and support partners in small towns along the trail, veterans and their families who host hikers for a hot meal and a night in a bed.

Since Warrior Expeditions first developed their Warrior Hike program, they've expanded to supporting hikes on long trails across the country, from the Pacific Coast Trail, the Continental Divide, and others. They've also started river expeditions, a long canoe trip down the Mississippi, and long biking trips for vets with disabilities.

The support is very necessary for the trips to be successful, but the true value of the expeditions comes with the time, and the quiet. Being outside in nature with a like-minded friend or just yourself, with only the immediacy of the trail, you have time to think, or not think and just feel. 

 

For more veteran's topics, please contact us.

Is VA Healthcare Worth It?

16 Feb 2017

The Veterans Health Administration is the largest healthcare organization in the country if not the world. According to the VA:

The mission of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is "to serve the needs of America's veterans by providing primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services."

The VHA does not have another mission. There is no other agency or organization with that mission. Can the VA be trusted with veteran’s healthcare?

We hear of scandal after scandal at one VA facility after another. Veterans wait months for an appointment. We hear about veterans dying waiting to get care. We even hear about veterans dying on VA property and not being found for hours. The veteran suicide rate is reported to be through the roof. Veterans have killed themselves on VA property. What’s going on?

Some veterans and politicians have asked to privatize the VA or to allow veterans to get their wherever they want. Veteran’s organizations fight back and support the VA system of care. All our nation’s veteran’s organizations support the continued availability of VA provided healthcare. They argue that privatizing veteran’s healthcare will dilute it and not provide the expertise of many treatment programs available only in VA facilities. The consistency of access to experts in veteran’s care would be lost. The VA is a significant provider of training for virtually every medical specialty. Our entire nation would suffer without it. 

The decision about using the VA as a sole or primary source of healthcare is each veteran’s decision. Many veterans do not have a choice. Many veterans don’t have the financial option to get their healthcare anywhere else. Veterans must continue to depend on the VA to provide the best healthcare available and the government and veteran’s organizations to hold them accountable. There are many individuals, organizations, and political advocates fighting every day to insure the VA is there to provide the best care for our veterans. Should you have difficulty accessing your benefits or getting the healthcare or services you have earned, contact our experienced legal team for assistance.

Evidence Based Treatment for PTSD

09 Feb 2017

Evidence based treatments are those that have been studied, researched, and developed over time. Clinicians that use these treatments are trained and certified to practice them. These treatments have been used successfully on many veterans and civilians who have experienced a traumatic event and are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

All the listed treatment protocols include an educational component. The treating clinician will also provide relaxation training and help their client learn processes and utilize resources to remain safe during the treatment process and beyond. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement and focus help clients address specific traumatic incidents. EMDR uses desensitizing and reprocessing techniques while simultaneously using eye movement and focusing while the client is telling their trauma story.

Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)

This treatment focuses on help with coping skills. Relaxation training is an important component to address anxiety and fear. Breathing exercises are also learned as an important part of relaxation. Assertiveness training is used to help clients learn how to practically express emotions

Prolonged Exposure (PE)

One of the symptoms of PTSD is avoidance. PE involves telling one’s trauma story repeatedly over time. Part of the treatment also includes learning how and practicing reintroduction into those places and events which are triggering even though not traumatic. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT focuses on writing about one’s traumatic experience. Often those who have a traumatic experience become focused on beliefs about the trauma and its meaning that become distorted when experiencing life after the trauma. This treatment helps challenge assumptions and helps the client recognize and correct distorted thoughts and feelings.

It’s important to remember that each of these treatment programs requires intensive training for the clinicians who provide it. Veterans seeking and/or receiving these treatments should only seek treatment from providers who are trained in these practices.

Contact our experienced firm to help with your VA claim for disability and/or access to the treatment you earned and need.

New PTSD Treatment Studies -- Transcendental Meditation, Sleep, and Ecstasy

02 Feb 2017

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is experienced by a large percentage of military veterans. Its symptoms include flashbacks of traumatic experiences, stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

A new study, as reported by Medical News Today, shows that transcendental meditation can reduce the symptoms of PTSD. The study involved 181 male prisoners from the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary. These prisoners had undergone traumatic experiences and were considered a high risk for PTSD. The study compared those from the group who underwent a four-month transcendental meditation program of 20-minute sessions twice a day to those who hadn’t.

Symptoms were evaluated by using the Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale. The results? The meditation sessions reduced trauma and stress by 47 percent.

In another recent study, also reported by Medical News Today, it was found that sleep can help reduce flashbacks of traumatic experiences.

In related news, the FDA studies of how the MDMA drug, commonly known as Ecstasy, can help treat PTSD are nearing completion. They have been going on since 2000 and are now in Phase 3 of the studies, which is the last step before a drug can be approved for pharmaceutical uses. All research until now points to the drug being approved when the studies are completed. Ecstasy saturates the brain with serotonin, which helps calm a person down and make them feel at peace with experiences they have gone through.

For more information on PTSD, and for help with receiving benefits for disability claims, just contact us.

Health Insurance and the VA

26 Jan 2017

Health insurance does not play a role in eligibility for health care at a Veterans Administration facility. 

The VA will ask if a veteran has insurance to provide the information. Providing insurance information does not impact eligibility for benefits at the VA nor does it impact your insurance benefits. The VA is required by law to bill your insurance company for the cost of non-service connected care provided by them. Your insurance company will not penalize you for services paid for at a VA facility. The VA will not refuse care because you have insurance. Having insurance will restrict your ability to receive emergency care outside the VA for a non-service connected illness or injury however.

Providing health insurance information may offset some of your costs for VA health care including copays. The requirement to pay copays is determined by the veteran’s enrollment priority and service connected status for the care being received.

Veterans may continue to utilize VA health care once eligible for Medicare. VA health care is considered credible coverage for Part D. Veterans do need to enroll in Part B coverage to prevent a penalty as the VA is not credible coverage for Part B. 

The Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obama Care, requires that everyone has insurance coverage to prevent a penalty. The VA is considered credible coverage under the ACA. Veterans who are registered in the VA health care system do not need to purchase health insurance to be in compliance with the law.

Veterans or caregivers having difficulty accessing VA health care benefits can call our experienced firm for assistance.

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