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Floyd, Skeren and Kelly LLP is pleased to announce the formation of its disabled veterans litigation unit. The attorneys in this group represent veterans who have claims for benefits pending before the Veteran’s Administration.

Veterans qualify for disability benefits if they suffer from a current diagnosis that has a “nexus” with military service. The scheme of benefits is very similar to workers’ compensation for civilian workers. The veteran need only show active military service, a discharge at greater than dishonorable service and a “nexus” between the current disability and military service to receive benefits. The nexus can be established by direct injury, an aggravation of a disease by military service, or by a presumption of causation imposed by federal law or in other ways. A nexus issue in veteran cases has the same implication as an AOE-COE issue in workers’ compensation claims.

Vietnam veterans, for example, who have had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, even for one day, qualify for the Agent Orange presumption. Agent Orange is one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the military as part of its herbicidal warfare program. Between 1962 and 1971, the military sprayed nearly 20 million gallons of Agent Orange over Vietnam. The product contained an extremely toxic dioxin compound. Dioxins and furans are some of the most toxic chemicals known to science. Vietnam veterans who develop a number of diseases years after service such as ischemic heart disease, diabetes mellitus type II, a number of cancers including prostate cancer (and other listed diseases) are presumed to have a nexus between military service and those medical conditions;

Once a nexus has been established, a veteran may obtain medical care in any VA facility nationwide. This may include free care for health problems in addition to those that are service connected. The veteran may also receive a monthly tax free disability payment. The disability is rated using a rating schedule similar to the workers’ compensation scheme. The rating can increase over time if the condition worsens. There is no time limit to request an increase of a disability award. The system provides death and survivor benefits, payment for at home attendant care, educational and rehabilitation benefits and more.

Another veteran program provides a pension to war era veterans who are totally disabled for any reason even if there is no service connection. This program is “means tested” meaning that current income is measured and used to offset this benefit. If a war era veteran is 65 years of age or older, they are presumed to be totally disabled and entitled to this pension. The means testing allows the veteran to reduce any income by current medical expenses. Thus, even veterans who have a source of income may qualify for a pension if their income is currently used for medical care.

If a veteran’s claim for disability compensation or pension is turned down by the VA Regional Office (RO), they may seek the services of an “accredited” advocate to appeal an unfavorable decision. Lay and attorney advocates must be accredited by the Office of the General Council of the Veterans Administration to assure a minimal level of competency before they can serve a veteran. The appeal begins at the Regional Office where the claim was filed. The Veteran can ask for a de-novo review of the file by a Decision Review Officer (DRO). If unsuccessful, the claim can then be appealed to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals (BVA). The BVA decision can be appealed to the Court of Appeals of Veteran Claims (CAVC) and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court.  These cases are quite similar to workers’ compensation litigation in that they heavily involve forensic medical issues.  Practitioners need considerable experience with medical terminology and medicine in general.  Generally advocates can be paid a contingent fee of 20% of accrued and unpaid benefits as of the time of the successful appeal.  Thereafter the veteran retains 100% of the balance of the award.

Three of our attorneys, Rene Thomas Folse, Chris Lear and Tim Morgan have been accredited by the VA Office of General Council to represent veterans.  Rene is a Vietnam veteran, and Chris is also a veteran who has had several deployments in the Persian Gulf. Both served in the U.S. Army. Tim has a background in the civil litigation of medical malpractice claims and will assist with the complex forensic medical issues.

Any veteran who would like a no-cost consultation about his or her right to benefits may call Rene, 818 651-7028.  He is the litigation group lead counsel, and does initial client contact and intake. Since this is a federal program, we can represent veterans nationwide.  In those cases we will conduct our interviews by teleconference.