On December 17, 2015, I blogged about the VA’s intent to propose regulations regarding presumptive conditions for veterans exposed to VOCs at Camp Lejeune. I noted in a follow-up blog that “news sources quoted VA officials as stating that it may take up to one year for any future proposed regulation to become final.”
On December 30, 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs amended the provision of the VA Adjudication Procedures Manual M21–1 [hereinafter “M21-1”] regarding Camp Lejeune Claims. The M21-1 is the VA’s internal procedural manual for the use of field personnel. As the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit noted, “the VA Adjudication Procedure Manual, M21–1, is dynamic rather than static. Manual provisions are amended, added and deleted on a continual basis for any number of policy, legal or administrative reasons.” Fugere v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 103, 109 (1990) aff’d, 972 F.2d 331 (Fed. Cir. 1992). As the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has frequently commented “VA handbooks, circulars, and manuals may have the force and effect of law if they prescribe substantive rules.” Buzinski v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 360, 369 (1994) (internal quotations omitted). In simplified terms, the M21-1 is the controlling guidebook that VA rating personnel use to determine how a claim should be adjudicated.
The updated guidance on processing Camp Lejeune claims can be found at the following link, M21-1 (Camp Lejeune December 30, 2015). In essence, the VA will continue to process claims and appeals for the eight conditions noted in the December 17, 2015 Press Release (kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, leukemias, liver cancer, Parkinson’s disease, scleroderma, and aplastic anemia/myelodysplastic syndromes) on a direct-service connection basis if there is competent medical evidence in the record to suggest a correlation between the claimed condition and exposure in service. In the absence of competent medical evidence for one of the eight conditions listed above, the VA will stay (i.e. defer a decision) until the final regulation creating a presumption of service connection is published in the Federal Register. For all conditions not otherwise noted in the December 17, 2015 Press Release, the VA will continue to process those claims in accordance with the regular regulations governing direct service connection . . . (1) the existence of a present disability; (2) in-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury; (3) and a causal relationship between the present disability and the disease or injury incurred or aggravated during service.
If you have questions concerning possible entitlements under Title 38 for Camp Lejeune veterans, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (732) 382-6070 or via email at sdirector@FRE-L.com.