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VA has hands full with old, new claims

Overall, the Department of Veterans Affairs in Southern Nevada has been doing an excellent job taking care of local veterans. Those individuals who have been in the area for the past 20 years can recall when treatment was not always up to par, but in recent years things have greatly improved.

The VA headquarters in Washington, D.C., has been working to keep up with the demands of veterans and diseases. But not in all cases, as I’ll detail here. It has the additional burden of keeping all its hospitals, clinics and offices around the nation informed as to the latest decisions, both administrative and medical. And, as the population of veterans and their families provide feedback and advice concerning potential changes, it must listen and respond, but sometimes it fails.

Recently, the department has taken another new proposal under its wing. It is considering changes to its disability rating system for some conditions to bring it in line with “modern medicine.” The choice of words — “modern medicine” — might worry some veterans. Does it mean that certain conditions are being treated using old medical techniques? Yes and no, if one considers a system developed in 1945 and still in use an old process.

The agency has proposed changes focusing on ratings for respiratory conditions, as well as mental health and ear, nose and throat disorders. In some cases, such as with mental health, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the changes would lessen the requirements that veterans need to meet to receive a 100-percent disability rating. The changes are part of a larger effort, started in 2017, to make the entire disability rating system more up to date, the department said.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough explained that the system was developed in 1945 and “has hardly changed since.” But he said that the VA is in the process of modernizing the schedule to account for today’s understanding of diseases and treatments to ensure that veterans getting the ratings, and therefore the care and benefits, deserved.

Fortunately, if approved, the amendments will not lead to any reductions in disability ratings for veterans who are already receiving compensation. On the plus side, those veterans can apply for an increase if they think the changes mean they could secure higher ratings, the agency said.

There has always been some confusion where a disabled veteran rated at 100 percent can still hold down a job and receive a salary. McDonough clarified that a bit by saying, “Holding down a job doesn’t prevent veterans from being rated 100 percent for physical health conditions, so it shouldn’t prevent them from being rated at 100 percent for a mental health condition. The proposed rule will right that wrong and ensure veterans don’t have to choose between a job and the benefits they deserve.”

In related news about claims, the U.S. government found those stationed at the Camp Lejeune Marine Base in North Carolina were exposed to contamination in the water system between August 1953 and December 1987. The VA said the water had trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene, benzene, vinyl chloride and other compounds in two on-base water wells, which were shut down in 1985. But published reports stated that some 85,000 claims related to the contaminated water have been filed with the VA, and only a small percentage have resulted in compensation. Veterans have been quoted as saying getting such claims approved is nearly impossible.

For more information, the VA Clinic in North Las Vegas can be contacted at 702-791-9000.

Chuck N. Baker is an award-winning journalist and a Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran. He can be heard at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday on KKVV-AM hosting “That’s America to Me” and occasionally on KUNV-FM hosting “America’s Veterans, Today and Tomorrow.”

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