In the early 1980’s two on-base water supply systems at the Camp Lejeune military base were contaminated with chemicals such as trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), benzene, and vinyl chloride. For many years, the VA has refused to recognize that the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune was directly associated with certain conditions. This made it challenging for Camp Lejeune veterans to obtain service connected compensation for their illnesses. Now, the VA has finally decided to officially recognize that some conditions are in fact due to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. What does this mean for your claim for disability benefits? It means for some conditions, you will not have to prove a link between your diagnosis and your military service. In other words, the VA will grant presumptive service connection. The following conditions are presumed to be associated with the chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Parkinson’s disease
Today’s post will look specifically at multiple myeloma and how to get the most out of your claim for multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a cancer that develops in the bone marrow. Some people with multiple myeloma have no symptoms at all, but some common symptoms of the disease include the following:
- Bone problems: These include pain in the bones (any bone, but typically in the back, hips, and skull), bone weakness, and broken bones.
- Low blood counts: Low amounts of red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets are common with cases of multiple myeloma.
- High blood levels of calcium: This would cause extreme thirst, urinating a lot, dehydration, kidney problems, severe constipation, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, weakness, drowsiness, and confusion.
- Nervous system symptoms: The nervous system can be affected if the myeloma weakens the bones in the spine which then affects the spinal nerves. This can then result in sudden severe back pain, numbness (usually in the legs), and muscle weakness (also usually in the legs).
- Hyperviscosity: Causes the blood to thicken and slow blood flow to the brain resulting in confusion, dizziness, and stroke symptoms.
- Kidney problems: Kidney damage doesn’t cause any symptoms early on, but signs of damage may be seen on a blood or urine test.
- Infections: Someone with multiple myeloma is much more likely to get infections. The most common infection seen in people with multiple myeloma is pneumonia.
If someone has these symptoms, lab tests such as blood and/or urine tests, x-rays of the bones, or a bone marrow biopsy are usually performed to diagnosis multiple myeloma.
Now that the VA presumes service connection for Camp Lejeune veterans with multiple myeloma, the focus can shift from proving service connection to making sure the VA assigns the correct rating. This is important because the VA frequently makes mistakes when they assign a rating, and that can mean the difference between hundreds or even thousands of benefits.
When rating any condition, the VA looks at specific rating criteria associated with the relevant condition. The rating criteria for each condition can be found by looking up the diagnostic code for the condition. The diagnostic code is a four-digit number assigned to a condition and can be thought of as the identifier for a condition. Not ALL conditions have their own diagnostic code. There are some conditions that are rated under the diagnostic code for another condition. The VA refers to this concept as rating analogously. When rating analogously, the VA will use the rating criteria for the condition that best describes the main symptoms or that has the same treatments. Multiple myeloma is one of the conditions that does not have its own diagnostic code and is rated analogously under the code for either Hodgkin’s disease (DC 7709) or leukemia (DC 7703).
Hodgkin’s disease is a cancer of the white blood cells that spreads across the lymph nodes. A 100% rating will be assigned if the cancer is active or undergoing treatment. The 100% rating continues for 6 months after the last treatment. Then, the condition is reevaluated and re-rated based on the ongoing symptoms.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow that causes the over-production of immature white blood cells. A 100% rating is assigned while the cancer is active, and for 6 months after the last treatment. Then the leukemia is rated as anemia or aplastic anemia, whichever gives the higher rating.
Be sure to pay attention to the rating criteria the VA uses to assign a rating for your multiple myeloma claim. It is important that the VA uses the rating criteria that best addresses the symptoms you experience as a result of multiple myeloma in order to ensure the most accurate rating.