Re-evaluation of service-connected disabilities

I frequently encounter veterans who have a service-connected disability awarded by the VA years ago, and have never looked into a “re-evaluation” of that disability or associated disabilities that are secondary to the original disability.

Believe me, a service-connected disability incurred years ago doesn’t usually get any better in time, and most likely has worsened.

But, frequently, an SCD veteran is afraid they will lose the VA disability rating they already have if it is “re-evaluated.” It’s a simple fear, so they never pursue a worsening problem. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Essentially a service-connected disability is “locked in” after 10 years. It can’t be taken away from the veteran, except under certain circumstances such as fraud, etc., but that is rare and I have never encountered such a case. If you have had the evaluation for less than 10 years and the condition has improved then, yes, you could have your SCD evaluation reduced. I can usually spot such a problem and advise accordingly.

Sometimes worsening disabilities are very evident, sometimes not. Only a trained specialist can make that determination.

However, sometimes additional disabilities can occur that are due to the original disability. Let’s say you lost a leg in Vietnam due to a land mine and you have a 50 percent SCD for that loss of limb. Over the years because you have to walk with a different gait and compensate for the missing limb you are now having problems with your hips and other leg because you have had to shift your weight to walk, etc.

Those additional disabilities are what we call “secondary” to the original SCD. These disabilities are much easier to prove than the original disability. Mostly you need current medical evidence of a worsening condition that a physician can determine is associated with the original problem.

I have filed many claims for “re-evaluation” of SCD and many of them resulted in a 100 percent SCD rating. The 2008 payment for a 50 percent SCD for a married veteran is $799 a month. The payment for a 100 percent SCD rating for the same veteran is $2,669 a month. The difference makes it well worth the effort to file for re-evaluation.

If you have legitimate medical problems from your military service, or additional medical problems associated with an earlier disability, we need to file an SCD claim for you. Obviously I have only barely scratched the surface here, of the VA process for SCD claims.

I strongly urge you to stop by and see me and we can file those claims. And, the best part is the price to file a VA claim ... nothing, nada, and I will do all the paper work for you.

ALS, new presumptive

Veterans with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may receive badly-needed support for themselves and their families after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that ALS will become a presumptively compensable illness for all veterans with 90 days or more of continuously active service in the military.

“Veterans are developing ALS in rates higher than the general population, and it was appropriate to take action,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake said.

Secretary Peake based his decision primarily on a November 2006 report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) on the association between active-duty service and ALS.

“We are extremely grateful to Secretary Peake, Rep. Henry Brown and Sen. Lindsey Graham for standing on the side of veterans with ALS across the country,” said Gary Leo, president and CEO of The ALS Association. “Thanks to their leadership, veterans with ALS will receive the benefits and care they need, when they need them. Thanks to their efforts, no veteran with ALS will ever be left behind.”

The report, titled Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Veterans: Review of the Scientific Literature, analyzed numerous previous studies on the issue and concluded that “there is limited and suggestive evidence of an association between military service and later development of ALS.”

“ALS is a disease that progresses rapidly, once it is diagnosed,” the secretary explained. “There simply isn’t time to develop the evidence needed to support compensation claims before many veterans become seriously ill. My decision will make those claims much easier to process, and for them and their families to receive the compensation they have earned through their service to our nation.”

ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neuromuscular disease that affects about 20,000 to 30,000 people of all races and ethnicities in the United States, is often relentlessly progressive, and is almost always fatal.

ALS causes degeneration of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that leads to muscle weakness, muscle atrophy, and spontaneous muscle activity. Currently, the cause of ALS is unknown, and there is no effective treatment.

The new interim final regulation applies to all applications for benefits received by VA on or after Sept. 23, 2008, or that are pending before VA, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on that date.

VA will work to identify and contact veterans with ALS, including those whose claims for ALS were previously denied, through direct mailings and other outreach programs.

DAV vans

The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization is running a VAHC van from Durango on Tuesdays and Thursdays (call Mike Dunaway 970-385-5089) and from the Farmington area on Mondays and Wednesdays (Call Harriet Mulnix 505-793-1782).

Durango VA Clinic

The Durango VA Outpatient Clinic is located at 400 South Camino Del Rio, Suite G, next to Big 5 Sports. Phone number is 247-2214.

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Pagosa Springs Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard The office number is 731-3837, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-6648, and e-mail is afautheree@archuletacounty.org. The office is open from 8 to 4, Monday through Friday. Bring your DD Form 214 (Discharge) for application for VA programs, and for filing in the VSO office.