Archive for November, 2010

VA Releases New Disability Compensation Questionnaires

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

First thing’s first, Happy Veterans Day! Everyone here at The Veterans Blog wishes to send our sincere thanks and gratitude to all the men and women who have served in the U.S. military and continue to serve our country around the world.

Now on with the latest VA news…

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have a huge backlog of disability compensation claims they absolutely must address or face dire consequences. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has vowed to clear the backlog by 2015, so the VA is taking action and completely overhauling the entire disability compensation claims process. Part of this reformation includes automating the disability claims process, which requires new disability benefits questionnaires. The VA released the first 3 of 79 questionnaires the new disability claims processing system will require.

These first 3 questionnaires will be used by both VA and private physicians when evaluating the most common medical conditions seen in veterans. In order for the new claims process to work effectively, medical diagnoses must be quick and correct. These new forms will force physicians to include critical information into the claims system, which will speed up compensation decision times.

The VA’s automated health records system requires VA physicians to submit specific information in a very precise manner. This is so claims adjudicators have all the information they need to process the disability claims quickly. These new questionnaires will guide the physicians in exactly what information is needed, when it is needed to be put into the system, and where it needs to be put into the system. The thinking is, the more standardized everything becomes, the easier it will be to process the disability claims.

It is no coincidence these first 3 questionnaires cover the latest 3 diseases added to the VA’s presumptive disease list for Agent Orange exposure as these claims are just beginning to be processed. Sec. Shinseki imposed a goal on the VA, which is to process claims in no more than 125 days with a minimum 98% decision quality rate. Using these new questionnaires on 3 brand new diseases should be a perfect test for the VA’s new process.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

Burn Pits Still Injuring Soldiers

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Returning from a combat deployment without being hit by anything the enemy throws at you is pretty impressive. Surviving enemy assaults does not, however, mean soldiers will return home unharmed. Returning home wounded because of something the American government has done is another story.

The military operated burn pits in Iraq throughout the entire United States presence in country. Those burn pits emitted toxic, black smoke that constantly covered many military bases and has since been found to cause detrimental effects in soldiers. Jet fuel was used as an accelerant in the pits, which were filled with:

  • Amputated body parts;
  • Military vehicle parts;
  • Human waste;
  • Plastic; and
  • Garbage.

Thousands of soldiers and private contractors have been exposed to the burn pits, and the toxic contaminants contained in the smoke. The military, of course, spent years denying that the burn pits were dangerous, up to around October 2008. Jump to April of 2010, and burn pits have become responsible for so many health issues, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) felt it necessary to put forward a 25-page letter outlining what should be  paid attention to when processing disability claims associated with the burn pits.

Yet, the military still refuses to appropriately supervise the burn pits and follow their own rules as far as what not to burn in the pits. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), there were still 251 pits in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq as of August 2010. More military troops being deployed to Afghanistan with the United State’s new mission means there will likely be a higher demand for more burn pits.

Research is already being conducted in an attempt to discover specific health issues caused by burn pit exposure. The VA is handling claims on a case-by-case basis and only approving claims for certain diseases.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

Agent Orange Claims Will Take Time To Pay

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, and B-cell leukemia are the latest three diseases to be added to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumptive disease list. The Congressional review period for Agent Orange claims ended on October 30, 2010, with Congress deciding not to prevent the 3 diseases from being added to the presumptive list. Vietnam veterans were looking for their first compensation checks now that all roadblocks have been seemingly removed. Like everything with the VA, however, things take time.

The VA’s first payments did hit the mail last week, but claims based on those 3 most recently added diseases only amounted to approximately 1300 claims, totaling about $8 million. The issue has now become the length of time it is going to take the VA to figure out the complex subject matter of retroactive payments. If the VA’s current plan pans out, they will be issuing disability rating decisions and checks on a weekly basis. What they will not be doing, however, is issuing floods of checks at a time.

The VA plans on paying approximately 163,000 claims associated with these 3 diseases. Their current schedule has them processing and paying all of these claims by October, 2011. This isn’t exactly how veterans thought the payments were going to happen. Because of the VA’s computer system, they could  not assign a disability rating to any of the claims before that 60 day waiting period lapsed.

Not unexpectedly, the VA does not have all the information it needs to rate and process retroactive disability claims, some of which date back 25 years. They are also attempting to establish time lines for individual diseases and their progressions as ratings will be dependent on this information.

It is unclear how many claims will need this information, but the next year will likely be a very watched one as veterans and the VA will continue their battle over disability compensation payments, albeit on a new battlefield.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

New Findings May Serve To Destigmatize PTSD

Monday, November 8th, 2010

One reason post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is so hard to treat is because it is so hard to diagnose. Currently, there is no set diagnosis on the books, so doctors look for a combination of specific symptoms and treat then treat patients for PTSD. A new breakthrough, however, may have taken all the guess work out of diagnosing PTSD. The Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and the University of Minnesota conducted a study that may have linked mis-communications between the areas of the brains having to do with memory with positive PTSD diagnoses.

There were 80 veterans in the study. The conclusion that a person’s brain with PTSD undergoes a physiological change must have come as a relief to those veterans blaming themselves for their disorder. PTSD usually manifests itself in:

  • Flashbacks;
  • Nightmares;
  • Hostility or anger; or
  • Hyper-vigilance.

The study used a scanner to measure magnetic patterns in the subject’s brains. Researchers then interpreted brain activity in PTSD patients against brain activity in non-PTSD patients. They found a disconnect between the right side of the brain and the rest of the brain in PTSD patients-even when they’re not experiencing flashbacks or thoughts about the traumatic event(s) causing their PTSD.

The haunting memories that often accompany PTSD can pop up at any time, according to the study. The flashbacks are caused by involuntary interactions in the brain as opposed to an external trigger. This explains why PTSD sufferers say the memories never fade even if they have discovered how to exist day-to-day.

The right side of the brain is associated with memory, and in PTSD patients exhibits hyperactivity, even when at rest. This finding serves to reduce a huge amount of stigma associated with PTSD. Should these findings hold, PTSD sufferers no longer have to worry about being labeled with having an emotional problem.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

“Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Still The Law

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The government’s argument that it would be too damaging to immediately stop enforcing the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law won the day Monday. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accepted their argument and ruled the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law is still enforceable while the government appeals a lower court’s finding that the law was unconstitutional.

This ruling could become moot as the House has already voted and passed a provision to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law. The Senate will probably address the repeal provision when they return to session in the middle of November. Should they vote to repeal the law, these court’s holdings won’t be of any consequence.

As of Monday, however, the law is still in place. The Log Cabin Republicans were the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law. Following the 9th Circuit Court’s ruling, they have two procedural options. They can either appeal the decision to the 9th Circuit Appellate Court, or file for emergency relief from the United States Supreme Court.

The Circuit Court weighed the harm of continuing to enforce the law against the military’s current inability to implement an organized transition should the law become unenforceable. The Court found the harm to the military in its current form would be too great and that harm has a reasonable chance of actually occurring and that presents a harm to public interest.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

Army Subsidizing Research Focused On Preventing Suicides

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The Army has chosen to address the increasing amount of suicides among active duty soldiers and veterans. While every military branch has their own suicide prevention and treatment program, there is a common problem among all of them: it is unclear which programs work and which do not. In an attempt to find an answer to that problem, the Army is funding a $17 million research project. The money will be split evenly between the Denver Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Hospital and the Florida State University.

The research project will last 3 years. In that time, the team of researchers employed to perform the study will look into many facets of suicide and suicide prevention. Their work will begin by reviewing previous studies that have been conducted worldwide. These studies will form the foundation of a database. This will provide other people, including those in charge of operating suicide-prevention programs, the ability to review what has worked and what has not worked.

This project will not end the disturbing trend of suicides among soldiers and veterans. What it will provide, however, is a strong starting point for further research. Policymakers will have immediate access to the database once it is completed.

Earlier this year the Army also funded a $50 million research project into mental health and suicides. This project is separate from that study as it serves a different purpose than creating the database. The size of the staff and the number of subjects in this project will vary, based on the topics identified as requiring research.

Over 1,100 soldiers committed suicide between 2005 and 2009. The quicker the database is constructed, the quicker the military can start utilizing the best suicide prevention and treatment techniques available.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

Patient’s Family Appalled at Tampa VA Conditions

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

During his combat deployment to Afghanistan, PFC Corey Kent was severely injured and lost his legs. Kent was taken to Walter Reed Army Hospital where he spent almost a year recovering. Finally he was moved to the James A. Haley Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital in Tampa, Fl. This was supposed to be a positive move for Kent, as he would be closer to his parents and relatives. There was no way Kent or his family could have been prepared for what they were about to experience.

Kent was placed in a room with other recovering veterans, also on the mend from near fatal conditions. Kent shared the room with more than just veterans, however. His room was also occupied by:

  • Mold growing on the floor;
  • Paint shedding fixtures; and
  • Grout between tiles jammed with chunks of dirt.

When Kent’s family first visited him, they were stunned with disbelief. Kent’s stepfather, Dan Ashby, took pictures of the abhorrent conditions to which Kent and other recovering veterans were being exposed. Kent put in his paperwork to transfer hospitals. According to Ashby, Kent’s recovery has been set back because of the conditions in the Tampa VA hospital because he refuses to allow doctors to even touch him. Kent has been sent back to Walter Reed.

Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fl) saw Ashby’s pictures and vowed to address the issue with the VA immediately. Congressman Bill Young (R-Fl) will call for an investigation into this situation as well. These problems cannot be fixed fast enough.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.

More Soldiers Being Diagnosed With Concussions

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Keeping soldiers healthy and combat ready while in combat is a very delicate balance commanders must maintain. New protocols that have been initiated place  parameters on how commanders must maintain their soldiers’ health. New rules mandate soldiers within 165 feet of a blast, to include any soldier in buildings and vehicles hit by bombs, must be removed from the battlefield for at least 24 hours. During that time, they will be examined for concussions.

The result? Hundreds of soldiers are being diagnosed with concussions where they would not have been without the new rules being put in place. If soldiers suffer a second concussion before the first one is completely healed, the chances that soldier will develop permanent brain damage is increased.

This means for the last 8 years, potentially thousands of troops have suffered unnecessary brain damage. The new rules were implemented in July, and the amount of soldiers diagnosed with concussions rose to 370 from 62 in June. July to September produced over 1,000 soldiers diagnosed with concussions. By means of comparison, that is over double the amount of soldiers diagnosed with concussions the entire 4 months prior.

While knowing that thousands of soldiers are sustaining concussions on a regular basis is unsettling, it is much better to know of the conditions, treat them, and be able to prevent more severe brain damage from occurring. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) need to be given this type of attention considering the long-term damage they can cause.

The most frequent source of injury for soldiers are roadside bombs. They have become so commonplace, however, that most soldiers are just told to drive after suffering the blast. More studies must be completed in order to determine if a person’s brain is completely healed in the absence of symptoms.

If you are a disabled veteran who has been denied disability compensation or have not yet applied for benefits from the VA, contact LaVan & Neidenberg. You may be entitled to certain programs and benefits so contact our veterans disability rights firm today.