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Pulmonary Disorder Claims

The list of severe pulmonary disorders is long. It includes: chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis, asbestosis and so forth.

The disability level or rating of these pulmonary disorders is often measured by the FEV1/FVC ratio, also called Tiffeneau index, is a calculated ratio used in the diagnosis of obstructive and restrictive lung disease. It represents the volume of air exhaled in the first second. Another test called diffusion capacity of the lung is a measure of how well oxygen and carbon dioxide are transferred (diffused) between the lungs and the blood.

If you are a veteran of the US Armed Forces and you have suffered from a pulmonary disorder or damage to your lungs from your service in the military, contact an attorney at the Veterans Law Group at 888-811-0523.

The VA is a monolith of an institution. Thousands of employees work tirelessly to process claims and get veterans the help they need. Despite its size, the VA has a reputation for being slow moving and inefficient. Benefit claims can sometimes take years to be approved and paid out. When a veteran awaiting benefits dies before their claim is paid, their surviving family members may be entitled to their benefits.

The rules surrounding accrued benefits can be confusing. Surviving spouses, children and parents of deceased veterans should consider contacting an attorney familiar with VA benefits for guidance. A knowledgeable lawyer can be a great ally for families seeking benefits in days following the loss of a loved one.

Eligibility

Not just anyone can receive the benefits accrued by the veteran before their passing. Spouses are the primary beneficiary of accrued benefits. If no spouse exists, the deceased veteran’s dependent children may split the benefits equally. In circumstances in which the deceased veteran had neither spouse nor children, their dependent parents may receive the accrued benefits. Those who paid for the veteran’s funeral may also be eligible for reimbursement of those expenses.

Beneficiaries may seek accrued benefits if a claim for VA benefits was pending at the time of the veteran’s death. If benefits were awarded but not paid at the time of their passing, dependent beneficiaries are also likely entitled to them. There must be a pending or approved claim yet to be paid out by the VA to pursue an accrued benefit claim.

Substitution of Claimant

If a VA rating or decision has not yet been finalized, an eligible survivor may apply to be the substitute claimant for the veteran. The claim would proceed as if the veteran had not deceased and allows the beneficiary to act in place of the deceased veteran and continue with their original claim. They are also allowed to introduce additional claim-related evidence to the VA.

Applying for Accrued Benefits

Beneficiaries have the year after the loss of their veteran to apply for accrued benefits. To apply, VA form 21-534 should be filled out and sent in by the spouse, children or parents of the deceased veteran.

Compassionate Legal Representation

Though accrued benefits should be easy to claim and receive, the process is often confusing and stressful. In the period after the loss of a beloved spouse, parent or child, the survivors need time to grieve, not fight against the seemingly endless red tape of the VA. Veterans Law Group knows how difficult that time can be for surviving family members and can help ensure you and your loved ones get the support you need.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or confused by your rights after the loss of a loved one, reach out to Veterans Law Group for guidance. Depending on the circumstances, you may be entitled to VA spouse benefits. To learn more about VA compensation rates, benefits for spouses and how to apply for accrued benefits, contact Veterans Law Group today.

Gulf War Syndrome

Many Gulf War veterans suffer from illnesses which the medically community does not clearly understand. Physicians sometimes refer to these poorly-known illnesses as undiagnosed illness, chronic fatigue syndrome or chronic multi-symptom illness. The causes of Gulf War syndrome are not well-known, but there is speculation that toxic exposure or medical vaccinations may be a cause.

At any rate, to qualify for VA benefits, a Gulf War veteran must have an undiagnosed illness, a medically unexplained chronic multi-symptom illness or one of the diagnosed illnesses listed in the regulations. Also, the illness must manifest a disability to a degree of ten (10) percent or more. See 38 U.S.C. § 1117.

Personality Disorders

In the United States, there is an unfortunate stigma associated with asking for help with one’s mental health. This is as true in the military world as it is in civilian society. Though millions of people face an array of mental health challenges in this country, many choose not to seek help in the face of mental illness. For veterans whose jobs and families require unwavering mental fortitude, seeking help isn’t just a good idea — it’s often the only way to survive.

Unfortunately, personality disorders are not recognized as disabilities by the VA. For veterans to receive benefits for personality disorders, their condition must stem from a psychiatric condition incurred or aggravated by their military service. For example, borderline personality disorder benefits are not granted if there is evidence of the condition pre-dating the veteran’s service. This distinction makes seeking disability benefits from the VA even more difficult than usual.

Challenges for Veterans Seeking Benefits

Dealing with the VA can be incredibly frustrating for veterans seeking help, but this is especially true of veterans with personality disorders. Because the VA is so quick to deny claims associated with personality disorders, the veteran applying for benefits must be extremely careful in collecting evidence. They must have proof that their condition is connected to their military service.

Personality disorders are nuanced and complex, and people diagnosed with them must constantly battle stereotypes and misconceptions associated with their condition. They face an uphill climb in seeking benefits from the VA and can use all the allies they can find. Some even find themselves the subject of a military mental health discharge.

Independent Medical Exams and Personality Disorders

For those seeking disability benefits from the VA, an independent medical exam can help clarify a person’s mental health history. The doctors employed by the VA ultimately work for the VA, not for the disabled veteran they treat. Independent medical exams can be an invaluable tool to prove to the VA that a veteran’s personality disorder is not merely a personality disorder but another mental health diagnosis incurred or aggravated by their service in the military such as bipolar, depression, anxiety, PTSD or schizophrenia.

These independent exams can be expensive, but are well worth the cost for veterans. The information learned in an exam is often enough to convince the VA to approve benefits for a disabled veteran.

Diagnosis Difficulties

Mental health disorders can be hard to diagnose, and even the most experienced doctors can mistake some symptoms for signs of other ailments. If you received a personality disorder diagnosis from your doctor or while in the military, you do not simply have to take their word for it. Seeking out a second opinion is always a good idea, especially when your disability benefits are on the line. Doctors owe it to their patients to take the time and effort to correctly diagnose their mental illness.

Allies for Veterans with Personality Disorders

Whether you’re struggling with borderline personality disorder disability, need help understanding the VA rating for bipolar disorder or you’re facing an Army mental health discharge, Veterans Law Group is here to help. The process for getting a personality disorder benefits claimed approved by the disability can be an arduous one, which is why it is so important that veterans seek the guidance of skilled, experienced attorneys. If you have been denied VA disability benefits due to a personality disorder diagnosis, reach out to the Veterans Law Group for a consultation with a knowledgeable lawyer ready to help you.

In-Service Sexual & Physical Assaults

PTSD claims based upon in-service assaults, especially sexual assaults, present unique problems of corroboration. Because of the sensitive nature of sexual assaults, many victims do not report them. As such, there will rarely be documentation or other written memorial of the assault. Because of this problem, the VA has relaxed the evidentiary requirements for corroborating this type of in-service stressor:

If a post-traumatic stress disorder claim is based on in-service personal assault, evidence from sources other than the veteran’s service records may corroborate the veteran’s account of the stressor incident. Examples of such evidence include, but are not limited to: records from law enforce authorities, rape crisis centers, mental health counseling centers, hospitals, or physicians; pregnancy tests or tests for sexually transmitted diseases; and statements from family members, roommates, fellow service members, or clergy. Evidence of behavior changes following the claimed assault is one type of relevant evidence that may be found in these sources. § 3.304(f)(3) (emphasis added).

AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE

What is Agent Orange?

“Agent Orange” refers to a mix of tactical herbicides the U.S. military sprayed in the jungles of Vietnam and around the Korean demilitarized zone to remove trees and dense tropical foliage that provided enemy cover. Herbicides were also used by the U.S. military to defoliate military facilities in the U.S. and in other countries as far back as the 1950s.

When is Agent Orange exposure presumed?

VA presumes that Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides if they served:

What does presumed exposure to Agent Orange mean?

The “presumptive policy” makes it easier for veterans to prove their disability claims. Specifically, if exposure to Agent Orange is presumed, the veteran does not need to submit evidence of actual exposure to Agent Orange.

How do you prove actual exposure when exposure to Agent Orange is not presumed?

Even if you do not serve in Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone during the specified time periods, you can still apply for disability compensation if you were exposed to an herbicide while in the military and believe it led to the onset of a disease. This includes:

  1. Veterans who served on or near the perimeters of military bases in Thailand during the Vietnam Era.
  2. Veterans who served where herbicides were tested and stored outside of Vietnam.
  3. Veterans who were crewmembers on C-123 planes flown after the Vietnam War.
  4. Veterans associated with Department of Defense (DoD) projects to test, dispose of, or store herbicides in the U.S.

Which diseases are presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange Exposure?

The VA presumes the following diseases are caused by exposure to Agent Orange:

Assuming Agent Orange exposure, what evidence is needed to prove your disability claim?

If you are seeking service connection for one of the diseases VA presumes is associated with exposure to herbicides during service, VA requires the following:

  1. A medical diagnosis of a disease which VA recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange (listed above)
  2. Competent evidence of
  3. service in Vietnam or at or near the Korean demilitarized zone during the dates shown above, or
  4. exposure to herbicides in a location other than the Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone.
  5. Competent medical evidence that the disease began within the deadline (if any). (See 38 CFR 3.307(a)(6)(ii) for more information on deadlines.)

If you believe that you have a disease caused by herbicide exposure, but that disease is not on the list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, you may still apply for service-connection. In these cases, VA requires all of the following:

  1. Competent medical evidence of a current disability,
  2. Competent medical evidence of an actual connection between herbicide exposure and the current disability, AND
  3. Competent evidence of:
  4. service in Vietnam or at or near the Korean demilitarized zone during the dates shown above, or
  5. exposure to herbicides in a location other than Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone.

Heart Disease

There are many severe heart diseases contemplated by the VA disability system, including: valvular heart disease, rheumatic heart disease, endocarditis, pericarditis, arteriosclerosis, hypertensive heart disease, cor pulmonale, myocardial infarction and so forth. Normally, these conditions are not caused by any service-related incident. Rather, a claim for service-related heart disease is normally proven by showing that the first the symptoms of the heart disease manifested or appeared during a claimant’s period of service.

Ischemic heart disease is also known as coronary artery disease or “hardening of the arteries.” Cholesterol plaque can build up in the arteries of the heart and cause “ischemia,” which means the heart is not getting enough blood flow and oxygen. If the plaque blocks an artery, a heart attack can result.

Veterans who develop ischemic heart disease and were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service do not have to prove a connection between their disease and military service to be eligible to receive VA

Congenital Heart Disease is a familial or genetically caused heart disease. Just because a veteran is genetically predisposed or susceptible to a disease (coronary blockage or cardiac arrest) does not mean the condition is not service-related.

For Veteran’s Administration purposes, a disability or disease can still be considered service-connected if it manifested (became symptomatic) during the veteran’s period of service. This alternate method of proving service-connection– the so-called theory of temporal service-connection — is based upon a temporal relationship or coincidence between the veteran’s period of service and his current disability. Under this theory, a condition, illness or disorder becomes a “disability” within the meaning of VA law when it first manifests symptoms. Thus, if a condition first becomes symptomatic during service, his condition will be considered service-related or service-connected.

If you believe you are suffering from heart disease as a result of your service in the U.S. Military, contact the office of the Veterans Law Group today at 888-811-0523.

Neurological Disabilities

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI refers to any significant trauma to the head. In VA cases, TBI is normally associated with trauma caused by a nearby blast or explosion. Symptoms of TBI can vary, including changes in a person’s ability to think, difficulty with controlling emotions, walking, or speaking, and also impairment of a claimant’s sense of sight or hearing.

Mild TBI often involves short-term change or loss in consciousness. Severe TBI refers to longer periods of both. It is important to keep in mind that, while TBI affects a person’s physical functioning, it also can his or her emotional well being. Insomnia, depression and anxiety are common secondary symptoms of TBI.) .

Migraine Headaches

Migraine headaches are one of the most underrated VA disabilities. The schedule only allows for a fifty (50) percent disability rating for the severest condition: “With frequent completely prostrating and prolonged attacks productive of severe economic inadaptability.” In cases of severe migraines, the best approach is to seek a total disability rating based upon individual unemployability (TDIU).

Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

We all know that MS is a very debilitating disease. For VA disability claims, the key question is when did the MS symptoms first manifest. If they can be shown to have manifested during service or within seven (7) years of discharge, then the condition is considered to be service-related. Therefore, early signs of MS are what to look for in proving a MS claim. Multiple sclerosis symptoms generally appear between the ages of 20 and 40. The most common early symptoms of MS include: tingling, numbness, loss of balance, weakness in one or more limbs, blurred or double vision.).

If you are a veteran of the US military and are suffering from a neurological disorder such as TBI, migraine headaches, or multiple sclerosis, contact the Veterans Law Group at 888-811-0523 to discuss your potential claim with one of our attorneys.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

The human brain is a complex organ, and it’s one that is still not fully understood by scientists and doctors. Experts are getting closer to understanding the way the brain works, though. As science progresses, more is known than ever before about the damage a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can have on a person.

For veterans with brain injuries, daily activities can become a challenge. Tasks at work may be virtually impossible for victims of TBI, which is why some veterans with brain injuries choose to pursue a disability claim with the VA. Considered an invisible disability, those with TBI do not outwardly appear injured to the general public. Unfortunately, this often means veterans with TBI struggle to receive the help they need because to the outside world, they appear to be just fine.

Types of TBI

Brain injuries can range from mild to severe. Concussions are some of the most common kinds of TBI and can be caused by even the most minor of bumps to the head. Severe brain injuries, on the other hand, stem from serious incidents in which the head is penetrated by bullets or shrapnel, or is crushed from a blow to the skull. Closed skull injuries in which no injuries are immediately obvious can be deceptively dangerous and just as severe as the injuries involving penetrating wounds.

The severity of a brain injury depends largely upon the length of time that the person was unconscious for during their accident. In the moments directly after being wounded, the way the victim responds to commands and questions are often indicative of the seriousness Their length of memory loss can also be a good indicator of the severity of the injury.

TBI and PTSD

Many veterans with TBI are also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. One of the most common disorders among veterans who have seen combat, PTSD occurs when a person experiences highly stressful, traumatic events. The impact of the event can linger in a person’s mind for years afterward, causing agitation, depression, social isolation and self-destructive behaviors.

For many veterans, TBI and PTSD go hand in hand. A blow to the head in combat can trigger both TBI and PTSD symptoms, many of which overlap. Brain Injury Journey Magazine says that up to 35 percent of veterans with mild brain injuries also have PTSD. Though PTSD is a psychological disorder and TBI is a neurological one, the combination of the two can make life increasingly difficult for veterans.

Thankfully, there are resources available for those affected by PTSD and TBI. Veterans looking for guidance on how to file a VA disability claim for PTSD should consider speaking to Veterans Law Group for insight into the claims process. Get help with your VA PTSD claim today by reaching out to VLG.

Challenges of a Dual Diagnosis

Veterans diagnosed with both PTSD and TBI face a unique struggle. The combined effect of the disorders can result in destructive and often terrifying symptoms. A person’s memory can be jeopardized by TBI, but their PTSD can also plague them with intrusive thoughts of their most traumatic moments. Veterans with both TBI and PTSD may struggle to fall asleep or be frequently awakened by nightmares.

Regulating emotions becomes difficult for people with the dual diagnosis of TBI and PTSD. If the area of the brain that controls emotions is damaged, the person can experience both dramatic mood swings and emotional numbness. For their loved ones, these conflicting emotional states can be difficult to understand.

Depression is perhaps the most common diagnosis for people with TBI. It is incredibly pervasive among veterans who endured traumatic incidents, too. Though highly treatable with medication and therapy, many choose not to seek help because of the stigma associated with mental illness. Anxiety, anger and suicidal thoughts can also develop in people with both PTSD and TBI.

Help for Veterans with TBI

If you need help filing a VA disability claim for PTSD, TBI or both, Veterans Law Group can help. Consider reaching out to an experienced veterans disability benefits lawyer before you start the claims process. Just a brief consultation can give you the edge you need to get the compensation you deserve.

They say you don’t notice how critical your back is until you hurt it. Many veterans know this to be true, since back injuries are unfortunately common among veterans. Though most people will encounter a minor back problem at some point in their lifetime, severe back injuries can seriously limit the way a person lives their life.

Severe back injuries are painful and limit the way a person moves. Sprains, strains and herniated disks are just a few of the most common kinds of back injuries. Fractured vertebrae can also permanently change a person’s way of life. Any back injury that jeopardizes someone’s long-term ability to earn a living or spend quality time with their family and loved ones can be considered serious. Understanding the VA disability ratings for back pain can help provide context for a veteran’s injury.

VA Disability Ratings for Back Injuries

Back injuries are often rated based on the range of motion of the veteran’s spine. The range of motion of both the cervical spine and thoracolumbar spine will be measured, and a rating will be assigned based upon the measurements. Of course, things like periods of incapacitation can be factored into the rating as well.

Not every back injury limits a person’s range of motion. Arthritis and intervertebral disc syndrome are rated based on how incapacitating the maladies are on the veteran, while those with paralysis of the sciatic nerve are rated based upon their degree of paralysis.

Every patient is different, so the VA disability rating for degenerative disc disease can differ drastically from the VA disability rating for lower back pain.

Common Causes of Spinal Injuries

When a person joins the military, they volunteer their body and mind for use under extreme circumstances. Loss of limb is perhaps the injury most commonly associated with combat, but many servicemen and women suffer from afflictions that are easier to miss. Some return home with spinal injuries stemming from running around while wearing heavy armor, while others sustain such injuries in motor vehicle incidents while on active duty.

Because these kinds of injuries are not caused directly by an enemy attack, the veterans are not awarded the Purple Heart or included on lists of servicemen and women injured in combat zones. Still, these spinal injuries can have a long term and sometimes permanent impact on the veteran.

Specific Challenges of Back Injuries

When a person injures their foot, they may find themselves out of commission and on bed rest while they recuperate. A pair of crutches or wheelchair can help them get around while their foot heals. For those with back injuries, though, the solution is rarely as simple.

Because doctors cannot see the tendons, ligaments and muscles the way they can bone fractures, back injuries are often incredibly difficult to treat. Instead of a straightforward prescription of bed rest or medication, medical professionals must go the trial and error route, gauging their patient’s reaction to targeted and sometimes painful treatment. Even exercise, commonly recommended to people recovering from accidents, can exacerbate back injuries.

Since the spine is so critically important to the way the human body moves, even activities like sleeping, walking and sitting can become painful for a person with a back injury. Stress, time in front of the computer and even the gentlest of exercise can jeopardize the progress of someone with a back injury. Such injuries affect virtually everything a person does and can be worsened in ways you least expect, making them one of those most challenging afflictions with which a veteran can be diagnosed.

How The Veterans Law Group Can Help

If you are a veteran suffering from a back injury or damage to your spine from your service in the military, the Veterans Law Group can help. No matter what the VA disability rating for your back pain might be, we can offer insight into your claim and offer guidance for your next step. If you are unhappy with the VA’s decision, an attorney can be your best advocate.