VA: Legislation, an extension, and a survey

Camp Lejeune illness. What to do if your VA claim is denied. Secondary connections.

By Bob Gutsche, VietNow National VA Chairman

To honor our national promise to our veterans, we must continue to improve services for our men and women in uniform today and provide long overdue benefits for the veterans and military retirees who have already served. – Solomon Ortiz

New leadership at VA

Now that Congress has given its blessing to President Trump’s nominee to head up the Veterans Administration (VA), we look forward to Dr. David Shulkin assuming command.

There has been concern on the part of some veterans and service organizations that he is not a veteran. Well, after all these years of having veterans in charge, maybe it’s a good idea to have a medical doctor assume the leadership of the country’s largest health-care program.

I certainly hope he can pull the VA out of the doldrums that it has slid into over the past several years, and maybe he will be able to rid the agency of the deadwood and nonperforming staff.

The VA is so large that maybe it’s time to give serious consideration to splitting it into two separate agencies, with a secretary in charge of the health-care part, and another secretary to head up the benefit part. It really does appear to be a large task trying to control both sections of the agency at the same time – and maybe by separating the two major parts, it would let the assigned secretary focus on cleaning up both of them.

It’s about time

After years of studies the VA has decided to establish a presumptive service connection for health problems that have afflicted those who served at Camp Lejeune.

This ruling allows veterans who have served at Camp Lejeune for a minimum of thirty days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, and may have been affected with any of the following diseases, to file for service connection:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Bladder cancer
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s disease

This decision is long overdue, and I hope it will be handled effectively and promptly by VA Medical centers as well as Regional offices, and not have the problems that veterans exposed to Agent Orange have experienced.

While the decision is a long time coming to those veterans who have been affected, including many who have passed on due to the diseases, their remains one lingering question: What about the civilians and families who were living on post, as well as working there? Are they to be forgotten?

Denied, denied, denied

So you filed your claim, and have been patiently waiting for the VA to approve service connection for the injury and/or illness you suffered due to your military service.

The letter arrives, and upon opening it you see the dreaded word “DENIED.” So what do you do now?

First thing to do is to thoroughly read the letter, and determine why the VA has denied your claim. Maybe you forgot to provide the information that you were basing the claim on. Yes, it does happen.

Next, you need to decide if you wish to pursue a Notice of Disagreement to the decision. In fact, the VA even provides a VA Form 21-095 Notice of Disagreement.

Take a moment to contact your veterans service officer, and schedule an appointment to sit down and plan out the course of action you need to take in order to appeal the decision.

Finally, remember that the VA has deadlines for filing the Notice of Disagreement, as it does on all issues, so be sure to proceed as soon as practical. Being late in any correspondence with the VA is a good excuse for them to deny your claims.

There may be a connection

If you have a service-connected disability you may be entitled to compensation for a secondary condition related to your primary condition.

Many veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, TBI, pain, and anxiety, are entitled to compensation for conditions related to the primary diagnosis.

It’s important that you use the services of a trained and qualified service officer to assure that you have the appropriate documentation necessary to pursue compensation for secondary conditions.

In order for the secondary condition to be granted by the VA you must have:

  • Medical Documentation of the existence of the condition.
  • Evidence of the service-connected disability.
  • Medical nexus evidence establishing the connection between the service-connected disability and the secondary disability.

Be aware that most civilian doctors are unaware of how to effectively use the VA guidelines to assure that the secondary condition is connected to the service connection.

Remember this

For a people who are free, and who mean to remain so, a well organized and armed militia is their best security. – Ben Franklin, 1759


Bob Gutsche, VietNow National VA ChairmanAfter over 20 years in the U.S. Navy, VietNow National VA Chairman, Bob Gutsche worked as a counselor in the VA system for many years.