Remember those job skills test in high school? Or the workplace personality profiles that some folks make you take?
Every one of those tests has said the same thing about me: I'm good at spotting patterns and trends.
This is a blessing and a curse.
It's a blessing because it helps me see how a particular group, project or case is "trending" - to success, failure, or something else.
It's a curse because if you see enough of the same pattern - over and over and over again - your days start to feel like this:
There's not a week that goes by anymore where I don't get a consultation request (more like several consultation requests) that fit this pattern:
* Veteran died as a result of one of the conditions that is presumed by the law to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
* VA denies the VA Survivor benefits claims.
You would think that the VA could get this one right.
It's so simple: if a Vietnam era Veteran dies from an "Agent Orange" condition, and that Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange in the military, the survivor gets DIC and (invariably) accrued benefits.
But the VA often gets it wrong.
The VA should NEVER deny DIC in these scenarios - unfortunately, I see them ALL the time.
They are what I call "no-brainers" and, once we get the VA Rater to answer their phone and talk about the case, we can usually resolve the problem pretty quickly.
Vietnam Veteran has boots on the ground in Vietnam, and his primary or contributing cause of death is an Agent Orange related claim.
Vietnam era Veteran serves in Thailand or Korea, and shows that they were in the regions where Agent Orange was sprayed, and his primary or contributing cause of death is an Agent Orange related claim.
Vietnam Veteran who served in the Navy went into the inland waterways of the Republic of Vietnam - i.e., they are a Brown Water Navy Veteran - and his primary or contributing cause of death is an Agent Orange related claim.
The VA will usually MISS scenarios like this...these are a little harder to catch, and sometimes require an experienced VA disability attorney to help out.
The Veteran is concededly exposed to Agent Orange, but dies from a condition that isn't - on its face - one of the conditions known to be caused by Agent Orange. Here's a common example.
Veteran is service connected for Diabetes due to Agent Orange exposure, but cause of death is Cirrhosis of the liver.
The VA sees "cirrhosis" and assumes "alcoholism"...they don't ask a doctor to confirm that one of the leading causes of death for diabetics is .... drum roll.... cirrhosis of the liver.
The Veteran dies of a condition that is presumed caused by Agent Orange exposure, but the VA misses the fact that the Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange when he served on a base in Thailand or on the Korean DMZ.
It can be really hard for survivors to prove where and when their husband served in Korea or Thailand during the Vietnam War...so if you are a Vietnam era Veteran that served in Korea or Thailand during the war, take a moment and write down every base you remember serving on, and to the best of your recollection, when you served there.
While the Attig Law Firm is getting pretty good at digging up unit histories and troop movements, and finding Veterans that served with now-deceased Veterans, it doesn't need to be that hard on your survivor.
Put the information in a Sworn Declaration, and either send it in to the VA to be included in your C-File, or leave it in a safe-deposit box for your spouse to use when they have to file VA Form 21 534 and claim veterans survivor benefits from the VA.
The Veteran dies from a condition that is presumed caused by Agent Orange exposure, the VA concedes Agent Orange exposure, but tries to raise some (pardon my legalese) bullshit reason for denying VA survivor benefits.
Recently, a VA rater said that a Veteran who had a Coronary Artery Disease - a condition presumed to be the result of Agent Orange exposure - could not be service connected because there was no evidence that the Veteran's Coronary Artery Disease had elements of "ischemia".
Not only was the rater wrong about those facts, but this excuse for denying VA benefits in an Agent Orange presumption claim is like telling someone that they don't have Lou Gehrig's disease because they never played for the New York Yankees.
The Veteran dies of a condition that was not - at the time of his death - presumed to be caused by Agent Orange exposure.
If you are the surviving spouse of a Vietnam Veteran who passed away, and the following sounds like your situation, please consider contacting a Veterans Benefits Attorney to discuss your case:
Vietnam era Veterans that are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange but whose cause of death was only recently added to the list of conditions known to be caused by Agent Orange exposure....or....at the time of an earlier claim, the Vietnam era Veteran's surviving spouse may not have been able to prove that the particular condition caused their husband's death.
In my opinion, this last scenario is most likely to require the assistance of an experienced VA Accredited Attorney. I have handled several of these cases, and it takes the rater a while to really understand why they have to grant the VA survivor benefits to the spouse.
Here's the pattern many of you picked up on "right off the bat":
The VA reasons for denying VA benefits for spouses of Vietnam Era Veterans "sound" plausible to the un-trained person.
Seriously - if you are a Veteran's surviving spouse, and are in the midst of grieving your loss, these justifications sound "logical".
The problem is, they are about as logical as 3 Dollar Nickel.
This is the kind of hogwash that the VA (and a couple of the big "VSOs" told my grandmother after her husband - a World War II combat Veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge - passed away from his combat-related injuries.
I can't abide it - and neither should you.
If you are the Surviving Spouse of a Vietnam era Veteran that served in Thailand or Korea...don't take the first "no" from the VA.
Go back and look at the Veteran's C-File and death certificate. Do some research and see if there was a claim for any of the following conditions that was not granted before the Veteran passed, or that was pending at the time of the Veteran's death.
If so, there's a good chance that you are missing out on some VA Survivor benefits.
* AL Amyloidosis
* Chronic B Cell Leukemias
* Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
* Hodgkin’s disease
* Ischemic Heart Disease
* Multiple Myeloma
* Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
* Parkinson's Disease
* Peripheral Neuropathy
* Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
* Prostate Cancer
* Respiratory Cancers
* Soft tissue sarcomas
Use this link or the purple button below this paragraph.
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When in doubt, seek the legal advice of an accredited VA attorney.
Use my FREE ebook that will help you find the VA disability attorney that is right for your claim or appeal.
Be sure to ask an attorney you talk to what percentage of their caseload involves survivor representation - VA survivor benefits claims and appeals have a whole bunch of nuances and wrinkles that your average accredited VA attorney may not know about.
This post was original published on the Veterans Law Blog on December 7, 2012; it has been rewritten and edited to provide more updated and current information.
Chris Attig, an Accredited Veterans Benefits attorney and Founder of the Attig Law Firm, PLLC is responsible for the content of the site. The principal office of Attig Law Firm, PLLC, is located in Dallas, Texas. Chris Attig is NOT Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. - Please view our website disclaimer.
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