Receiving VA Disability for Bladder Cancer
Published February 3, 2023
This article explains some basics of the VA disability process, how the VA looks at bladder cancer, how it rates it for purposes of monthly benefit payments, and what you can do to obtain benefits or increase your VA disability rating for your bladder cancer. A VA disability claim attorney can help you with a specific analysis of your own disability claim.
The VA Disability Rating process
The first step for obtaining VA disability benefits is the filing of a claim. Lawyers are not involved in this first step because federal law prohibits anyone from charging a veteran for assisting them in filing VA disability claims. However, resources are available to help you prepare and file your application. Local VSOs (veteran service officers), sometimes working through DAV or VFW, are trained to assist veterans in preparing the initial disability claim paperwork.
The VA reviews the application paperwork, including service records and medical records. The VA may request additional records and often (though not always) will also set up a C&P exam (Compensation & Pension Examination) for a medical professional to examine you and verify the information necessary for a decision to be made.
Assuming the VA agrees that you have a current disability and qualifying military service and finds a nexus or connection between the two, the VA will grant your claim and assign a VA disability rating number to each disability claim (sometimes veterans have multiple conditions being evaluated). A disability rating will be a number between 0% and 100% (increments of 10).
This rating number, whether for an individual disability or compiled together to reach a combined, or overall, VA disability rating, determines the dollar amount of monthly benefits.
VA disability rating disputes are appeals of the rating decision. If you disagree with the VA’s rating decision, or any part of it, you have appeal options that may allow you to increase your VA disability rating.
Veterans can get a decision reversal of an increased VA disability rating if the VA made a mistake. Involving a VA disability attorney in your team at the appeal level can help you assemble the facts to make it easy for the VA to see their error and correct it.
Is my Bladder Cancer caused by my military service?
It may be. As of 2021, the VA has recognized that bladder cancer is presumptively connected to military service for most Vietnam War-era veterans. What that means is that the VA has a list of service timeframes and geographic areas where veterans were presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange. If you served in any of those locations and later are diagnosed with certain illnesses, including bladder cancer, the VA will assume that a connection exists between your service and the illness.
The geographical areas and list of presumptively connected illnesses were expanded through the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act of 2019 and the PACT Act of 2022. In other words, you no longer had to have boots on the ground in Vietnam itself to be covered under the Agent Orange presumption.
Being able to claim a presumption of service connection can simplify and shorten the process for getting your VA disability claim approved.
The VA also recognizes several other types of toxic exposure veterans may have had during their service that could lead to bladder cancer. PFAS, a man-made chemical used in various products, including military firefighting foams, may have contaminated groundwater at military bases. This connection is not yet considered presumptive as is the situation with Agent Orange, but the Department of Defense and VA are tracking research on the possible connection. If you think there is a connection, you may be able to verify that with a medical opinion.
Additionally, Camp Lejeune’s contaminated drinking water for veterans who spent more than 30 days on base between August 1953 and December 1987 may have also contributed to bladder cancer. While not yet presumptively connected, it is worth exploring further.
What should you expect monetarily for Bladder cancer?
As with all VA disability benefit claims, the dollar amount of monthly VA disability benefit payments is determined on the basis of your VA disability rating number (overall rating number if you have more than one disability).
For bladder cancer, the VA first looks at whether your tumor is benign or malignant. For a malignant tumor (malignant neoplasms of the genitourinary system), the rating will initially be 100% and you may also be eligible to receive an additional payment on top of the percentage amount based on SMC (special monthly compensation). Generally, you would qualify for SMC-K, loss of use of a creative organ.The 100% rating is subject, however, to a mandatory VA examination at the end of six months. If your condition is improved at that point, the rating number may be reduced.
If the tumor is benign, the VA will rate your condition based on “residual conditions,” which are other conditions related to the cancer or the cancer treatment you are receiving.
Can you receive TDIU for Bladder cancer?
Yes, a TDIU (total disability individual unemployability) decision can be made by the VA as long as the necessary criteria have been met, regardless of the nature of the underlying condition. When the VA makes a TDIU decision, it acknowledges that the veteran is entitled to get disability payments equivalent to 100% even though their disability doesn’t warrant it otherwise.
When applying for TDIU, it is important to know there are schedular requirements. A veteran needs to have either one service-connected disability rated with a 60% or higher disability rating; or two or more service-connected disabilities rated with a combined rating of 70% or higher with at least one of the disabilities must have a rating of 40% or higher. In addition, the veteran needs to demonstrate an inability to maintain regular, gainful employment due to those service connected conditions.
There is also an “extra-schedular TDIU” which is a discretionary decision utilized in exceptional or unusual circumstances, for example when there are frequent hospitalizations and render it impractical for the veteran to maintain regular gainful employment. You can request for VA to do an extraschedular consideration if you do not meet the schedular requirement.
How can you appeal your VA Disability rating?
If you are unhappy with your VA disability ratings decision, you have one year from the date of mailing of the decision to file an appeal (sometimes also called a decision review). There are three different types of appeal available depending on the scope and nature of your appeal. A Higher Level appeal is a request that a more experienced rater review the same file again. This is good for obvious errors in the ratings decision, where the necessary information is already in the file. A Supplemental Claim review allows you to add additional information. This is good where the VA is missing information that you can provide that may change their overall decision. Finally, a Board Review allows you to have a live hearing with a judge to go over your case. This can be good where it’s hard to convey your experience or condition on paper and being able to explain it to a person in real-time will be a better way to convey the necessary information.
VA claim appeals are complicated. Your first step in appealing should be to contact an experienced VA disability appeals attorney who can help you decide whether you have a substantial likelihood of a better outcome on appeal, and who can walk you through the process. Most VA disability appeal attorneys work on a contingency basis – they don’t get paid unless and until you get paid.
Are you struggling to provide for yourself or family due to bladder cancer caused by your military service? Does it seem that VA doesn’t believe you or has minimized your conditions? The Veterans Law Group provides VA advocacy with no out-of-pocket cost to your or your family. Have you received a Rating Decision you would like to appeal? Let us do a complimentary review of your case and see if we can help.