Officials Say They are Ready for PACT Act Claims
A large veterans advocacy organization says the VA will be ready to process PACT Act claims beginning in 2023, and the organization will be ready to help.
“In my mind, there’s no more important way to do that than to compensate them, compensate veterans for whatever type of suffering they may have endured because of their service,” Amvets National Executive Director Joe Chenelly remarked in a Veterans Day celebration. “A ton of veterans who we knew were qualified for these new benefits and care have been coming to us, and we have been working with them to get them connected,” he added. Chenelly also said an important next step is expanding the questionnaire meant to determine if a veteran is likely to have a presumptive condition. This pre-cancer, post-exposure screening is required but is currently just a questionnaire.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said some concerns remain. “The VA has been chronically underfunded for generations, and so they are not going to all of a sudden be efficient and have enough doctors and nurses and mental health professionals to meet all the needs of all service members and all Veterans,” she observed.
Toxic Exposure Claims
It is difficult to connect cancer or any other long-term illness with a specific cause. Fortunately, the burden of proof in VA disability claims is pretty low. A VA disability attorney must only help prove that it is at least as likely as not that a service-related event caused the veteran’s cancer or other chronic illness. In other words, in a close case, the veteran should get the benefit of the doubt.
The PACT Act burn pit presumption is meant to make it even easier to establish a service-related connection in some situations. Even if the veteran does not have a listed condition, burn pit benefits may still be available. A VA disability attorney must simply work harder to establish a service-related connection.
Usually, this effort involves partnering with an independent doctor for an independent medical examination. This doctor must do more than thoroughly examine a veteran and draw the appropriate conclusions. This physician must also use certain magic cords, and avoid certain others, in a written report. One way independent physicians can add credibility to their reports is by using the disability benefit questionnaire (DBQ) form that VA examiners use. A veteran or their attorney can request one from the VA.
Back pay could also be an issue in toxic exposure claims. Cancer and other chronic illnesses often have more than a 30-year latency period. Additionally, these illnesses become disabling gradually, not overnight. Frequently, veterans file claims, and a claims examiner says their illnesses are not disabling. Then, veterans file claims for the same condition, and since their health has deteriorated, a claims examiner agrees they are disabled. There can be some dispute as to the proper effective date of such claims.
A service-related connection could also be an issue in knee, back, or other injury claims. Service records, on which VA doctors usually rely, sometimes have gaps. In these situations, buddy statements from fellow veterans help fill these gaps. A buddy may testify about an event that the service record did not record or, more likely, avoided seeking treatment, for some reason.
The extent of disability is a more common issue in injury-related disability claims. As mentioned, VA resources have been stretched to the limit in recent years. As a result, many VA examiners are now contractors as opposed to full-time VA physicians. Contractors often do not have specialized experience in specific areas. For example, a doctor who focuses on brain injuries may not do a good job handling a knee injury disability claim.
Once again, buddy statements are often important. However, instead of a fellow veteran, the “buddy” is often a friend or family member. These buddies can testify about how a medical condition affects a veteran in their daily life.
A few final words about multiple conditions. In the world of VA disabilities, three plus three may not equal six. Assume Fred has a 50% knee disability (50% of 100% is 50%) and a 50% back disability (50% of 50% is 25%). So, he is not totally disabled, at least for ordinary purposes. Fred may still qualify for full disability benefits under the Total Disability due to the Individual Unemployability rating scheme.
Count on Savvy Attorneys
An attorney is a valuable partner in all phases of a disability claim. For a free consultation with an experienced Veterans disability lawyer, contact Cameron Firm, P.C. at 800-861-7262 or fill out the contact box on our website. We are here to represent veterans nationwide.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.