Recently, I posted about how the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has begun recognizing that those veterans who served in Vietnam and have Parkinson’s most likely obtained that disease because of their exposure to Agent Orange. Additionally, Vietnam veterans who have ischemic heart disease or B cell leukemias are now, based on their Agent Orange exposure, presumptively service connected as well. So if a Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange has Parkinson’s, ischemic heart disease, or B cell leukemias, then the VA will pay disability compensation to that veteran.
On one hand, the veteran can now relax, knowing that the VA has finally confessed to the military’s use of Agent Orange caused these diseases. But on the other hand, the veteran must know that there are still key issues to consider. Those issues are the effective date of the compensation and the rating of disability.
Under the special litigation of the Nehmer case, which has taken place over the past decades about Agent Orange, the VA must pay the veteran compensation for diseases caused by Agent Orange back to the first date that the veteran filed a claim for disability compensation for that disease. So, for example, if a veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange made a claim for compensation based on ischemic heart disease in 2005 and the VA denied him, now the VA must grant benefits not only for a current claim, but also must pay benefits back to 2005, the date of his first filing.
Recently, I reviewed a veteran’s rating decision in which he received a grant of benefits for Parkinson’s. The VA awarded the veteran not only 100% benefits, but also special monthly compensation (SMC) because the veteran currently needed the aid and attendance (A&A) of others to make it through the day. The VA recognized that he had filed for a claim in 2000 and granted him an effective date of 2000.
However, the VA stated that the veteran’s entitlement to a 100% rating and SMC were the date of his claim in 2010, the date he asked the VA to reopen his claim. The VA gave him a rating of 30% back to the 2000 effective date.
The veteran told me that in 2000 he applied for both Veterans’ disability benefits and Social Security disability benefits. At that time, his Parkinson’s had become so bad that he was having a difficult time working. The Social Security Administration found that he was so disabled that he could no longer work and awarded him full benefits. So for the same disability that the Social Security Administration awarded 100% disability benefits in 2000, the VA gave a 30% rating.
The difference in retroactive VA benefits is huge. For the ten years between his original claim in 2000 and the increase to 100% plus SMC in 2010, the VA paid the veteran a lump sum that would break out to about $300 per month. The veteran, since his increase, is currently receiving $3,300 per month. This difference is about $3,000 per month. The difference between what the veteran received in retroactive benefits and what he should have received is over $350,000.
This veteran has appealed his VA Parkinson’s decision and is in the process of fighting for the correct amount of retroactive benefits. If the veteran had not appealed this decision VA would have been able to keep the hundreds of thousands of dollars that belonged to the veteran. With the awards for the new Agent Orange disabilities, it is important to make sure that the VA awards not only the proper current disability rating, but also the proper retroactive disability rating.