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Newsletter for Veterans and active military

Posted

Gulf War Syndrome - new device improves balance:

Gulf War veterans with unexplained illnesses that cause fatigue, headaches, respiratory disorders and memory problems can improve their balance with a device developed by Rutgers University researchers. The study is the first to examine how Gulf War illnesses affect veterans’ vestibular systems, which are integral for balance, memory and brain blood flow.

This prominent condition affecting Gulf War veterans includes a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can also include joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, and dizziness, according to the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, which supported the study. The disorder affects about 25 percent of the 700,000 veterans who served in Operation Desert Storm/Desert Shield in 1990-1991. “Although it’s been more than 25 years since the conflict, we still do not understand the underlying cause of these symptoms and have yet to develop an effective treatment,” said lead author Jorge M. Serrador, associate professor in the departments of pharmacology, physiology and neuroscience at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and a scientist at the New Jersey War Related Illness and Injury Study Center.

Retiree dental care:

Are military retirees getting the word about looming changes to their dental coverage, and do older retirees in particular have the tools they need to make that decision? Some advocates are concerned about the upcoming transition from the Tricare Retiree Dental Program, which ends Dec. 31. It’s being replaced by the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP), traditionally available to federal civilian employees, retirees and their families. But retirees are not automatically enrolled in the new FEDVIP coverage. They must enroll between Nov. 12 and Dec. 10, or they won’t have coverage on Jan. 1.

BENEFEDS administers FEDVIP enrollment and premium payment processes. According to an OPM spokesman, retirees can call toll-free 877-888-3337 to request a plan comparison, and BENEFEDS will provide a table based on the retiree’s ZIP code, placed in the mail the day after the phone call. The table will show each plan available, the plan’s phone number and website, and the rate for each plan, specific to the retiree’s ZIP code. However, it was not immediately clear whether the printed plan comparison would also include other features of each available plan, such as amount of co-pay and the annual maximum benefit.

DoD/VA CWA planning effort - chemical warfare agent exposure:

VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Administration (VA) are currently engaged in a joint effort to develop long-term plans for addressing chemical warfare agents (CWA) and weaponized toxic industrial chemical exposure, including plans for medical follow-up, surveillance, risk communication, benefits, and outreach. DoD tested CWAs on thousands of service member volunteers between 1922 and 1975. They recruited service members on a volunteer basis, but the details of the associated risks were not fully understood at the time. • DoD sent a letter to approximately 3,859 identified Veterans involved in testing, stating that medical care is available from the Army. This is in addition to any VA medical care that Veterans are already receiving or are entitled to receive. The Army will facilitate care at a VA facility if a Veteran wishes to continue using VA facilities.

• For those who may have been exposed to CWA during current operations, including Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and New Dawn (OND), DoD has investigated any possible CWA contacts and identified 411 Service Members who may have been exposed. Possible chemical warfare agents Chemical weapons that OEF/OIF/OND Veterans may have been exposed to fall into four main categories: harassing, incapacitating, lethal, and blister agents. These vary in terms of onset and severity of symptoms and long-term health implications. Exposure to industrial chemicals that can be toxic if/when weaponized should also be considered for long-term follow up. The chemical and industrial agents most commonly encountered are: • Nerve agents (e.g., Sarin, Tabun, VX)

• Blister agents (e.g., mustard, Lewisite) • Respiratory agents (e.g., chlorine, phosgene, ammonia) • Cyanides and blood agents (e.g., hydrogen cyanide) • Harassing agents (e.g., tear gas)

Loophole allowing VA not to pay insurance copay:

Two weeks after the media exposed a new loophole leaving veterans across the nation liable to pay their own emergency room bills, the National Veterans Legal Services Program has filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims against the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie. The suit, filed on behalf of U.S. Coast Guard Veteran Amanda Wolfe, claims the VA is failing to comply with the Emergency Care Fairness Act of 2010, which ordered the VA secretary to cover emergency medical bills veterans are “personally liable” for.

The Veterans’ Emergency Care Fairness Act (P.L. 111-137) was signed into public law. The Act amends 38 U.S.C. 1725 by changing the definition of personal liability. It removes the disqualifying factor of payment in part by a third party payer and removes one’s own automobile reparations coverage from the definition of a health plan contract.

If you go to a non VA emergency rrom it is highly suggested either you, or a member of your immediate family, contact the VA and inform them of the fact that you are receiving medical treatment in a non VA emergency room.

VA claim filing - suggestions for a possible beneficial outcome:

Many Veterans filing a disability claim with VA simply fill in the 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, list the disabilities they are filing a claim for, cross their fingers and hope for the best. Here are some suggestions to help you be successful with your claim the first time it’s submitted.

Intent to file - It may take some time for you to gather the information to support your fully developed claim, such as private treatment records and written statements. You can hold your effective date by filing a VA Form 21-0966, Intent To File A Claim For Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC. The date this form is received by VA is used as your potential effective date for payment purposes. You have a year after it’s received by VA to file your completed claim application.

Write a Statement in Support of Claim -When filing your claim, include a VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim. Do a separate paragraph for each disability you are claiming, and explain the event in service (be specific) and your current disability or symptoms related to your injury or illness. Provide any evidence available on the event, such as personnel records, award narrative, and medical records .

Compensation and Pension (C&P) Exam.- Even if you submit all of your medical records, you may be scheduled for a C&P exam. This is not a typical doctor’s exam, and in some cases, the doctor may just review your records – including any statements in your file – and ask you a few questions. While this may seem unusual for an exam, the doctor is actually filling in a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ), which the rater will use to determine if your claim can be granted, and at what percentage. Some information for the form will come from your medical records, and additional information is gathered from you. Failure to have this examination may result in an immediate disqualification of your claim.

Depleted Uranium (DU) - follow up program by VA on DU:

Veterans may have been exposed to DU during the first Gulf War, Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), or Operation New Dawn (OND), or deployment to Bosnia. VA has been conducting a surveillance program for Gulf War Veterans exposed to DU through “friendly fire” incidents for more than 25 years. Some Veterans enrolled in this program have ongoing DU exposure resulting from DU fragments embedded in their bodies. It is important to note that, to date, no health effects related to DU exposure have been found. Nevertheless, the potential for long-term effects remains, and this group continues to be under surveillance. VA also maintains a registry for Veterans who are concerned about possible DU exposure during their service. If you think you were exposed to DU and would like to enroll in this registry, talk to your local Environmental Health Coordinator. Refer to https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/coordinators.asp to locate your nearest one. You will be asked to submit a urine sample and to fill out an exposure questionnaire to screen for DU exposure. A prerequisite for enrollment is active duty service in any of the conflicts listed to qualify for the DU Follow-up Program:

• Gulf War;

• Bosnia;

• Operation Enduring Freedom;

• Operation Iraqi Freedom; and

• Operation New Dawn.

By Ronald S. Pandos

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