This week, we had the good fortune of discussing ancillary benefits for a Marine Corps veteran who was granted service connection and 100% P&T for disabilities related to Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) exposure while stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. My gratitude to the veteran’s physician for being so accommodating and generous with his time to review an abundance of medical records, service records, and scientific research. Ultimately, that medical opinion formed the basis for the Department of Veterans Affairs (specifically Louisville Regional Office) to grant benefits after the C&P examiners opined otherwise.
The after action report (AAR), for veterans with similar issues is two-fold. One, there was a pretty significant issue with loss/unavailable VHA medical records dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. While I appreciate the fact that older records are not always available, we had indisputable evidence that the veteran was treated during those time periods and those records were extremely relevant to the claim. End result, after multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, FOIA appeals with the OGC, discussions with the FOIA officers at the VAMC, we received a response that was sufficient to demonstrate that records were lost/destroyed and a level of assurance that the VHA had taken every action possible to locate the records. Second take-away . . . competent medical evidence opining as to the relationship between the condition/disability and the chemical exposure was the deciding factor. The veteran’s treating physician took the time to review the veteran’s service medical and personnel records, post-discharge medical records, medical and scientific research and offer an opinion that was in accordance with VA case law and regulations defining what is considered an “adequate” medical opinion.
While a favorable decision is important, we still needed to discuss some of the ancillary issues for a veteran rated as permanently and totally (P&T) disabled, to include:
1) Change in Priority Group for the Veterans Health Care Administration. More information can be found at http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/;
2) Service-Disabled Veterans Insurance (S-DVI). More information can be found at http://www.benefits.va.gov/insurance/s-dvi.asp;
3) Enrollment in CHAMPVA for the veteran’s spouse. More information can be found at http://www.va.gov/hac/forbeneficiaries/champva/handbook/chandbook.pdf;
4) Eligibility for Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA). More information can be found at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/docs/pamphlets/ch35_pamphlet_2.pdf
5) Eligibility for Armed Forces Commissary and Exchange privileges. More information can be found at http://www.mcinfoex.net/?q=personal/commissary-and-exchange-privileges;
6) State benefits, to include NJ Property Tax exemption. More information on the New Jersey property tax exemption, as well as other benefits for qualified veterans, can be found in the NJ Veterans Guide published by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
If you have questions or concerns about your eligibility for veterans benefits, please do not hesitate to contact me for a free consultation at sdirector@FRE-L.com or (732) 382-6070.