As you may have heard in the news, the VA has finally recognized 8 conditions that are associated with the contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune. From the 1950s to the mid-1980s, hundreds of thousands of service members and their families were exposed to toxic chemicals in the water at Camp Lejeune. These contaminants included chemicals such as trichloroethylene (TCE), benzene, perchloroethylene (PCE), and vinyl chloride. In order to be eligible for benefits under this new presumption, a veteran must:
- Be an active duty, reserve or National Guard member who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
- Have served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days (cumulative), between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
- Have a current disease on the list of presumptive conditions related to Camp Lejeune
The 8 diseases currently covered by the presumption are:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and
- Parkinson’s disease
This new presumption brings a huge sigh of relief for many veterans who have struggled for years to get the benefits they deserve for these diseases. Basically, by the VA granting presumptive service connection for these conditions, as long as the veteran meets the 3 requirements listed above, his or her claim should be relatively simple. In a typical VA case, the VA requires what is known as a “nexus” – or a link between a veteran’s current medical condition and his or her military service. Here, the VA “presumes” that the link is there if a veteran has one of the listed conditions and served at Camp Lejeune during the applicable time period.
Because the nexus is conceded by the VA for these specific conditions, the main issue for veterans with claims that fall under this new presumption will be whether the VA has rated their disability correctly. Today we are going to discuss Parkinson’s disease specifically. The minimum rating you can be awarded by the VA for Parkinson’s disease is 30 percent, but if you fail to appeal that rating, you are potentially leaving thousands of dollars of benefits on the table. The 30 percent rating is given to veterans who have the diagnosis of Parkinson’s, and is basically acknowledging that they have the condition. What many veterans do not realize is that once you are service connected for Parkinson’s, you are entitled to service connection for all the other problems that the condition causes: talking, swallowing, walking, balance problems, using your hands, memory, concentration, depression, and many more. If you have Parkinson’s, you are entitled to a separate rating for any condition that it causes. As you may guess, this can be a long list, especially as the disease progresses.
If you are service connected for Parkinson’s, you also need to apply for a Total Disability Rating based on Individual Unemployability. Often veterans are initially rated as 30 percent disabled by the VA for Parkinson’s, but are on Social Security for Parkinson’s. If you are unable to work because of Parkinson’s, it is important to file a claim for individual unemployability with the VA, not only so you receive benefits at the 100 percent rate, but so you can receive what is known as Special Monthly Compensation as well.
Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) is compensation that is awarded above and beyond the 100 percent disability payments for conditions that are more serious and more debilitating than for which the 100 percent rate is able to compensate. For instance, you may be eligible for SMC is you are housebound or need aid and attendance. Or, you may be able to receive SMC for the loss of use of your hands, feet, or vision. Note that SMC is not a separate claim, and is instead part of the original appeal. When you appeal for a higher rating for Parkinson’s disease, it is a good idea to also appeal for individual unemployability and any SMC to which you are entitled.
As you can see, there is a potential for a lot of benefits for veterans who suffer from Parkinson’s because it is a particularly devastating disease. If you are a veteran who is now eligible for presumptive service connection for a condition presumptively linked to Camp Lejeuene, it is important to know what benefits are available to you so you do not leave any benefits that you are owed on the table. Especially for a condition like Parkinson’s, it is likely that you would be eligible for compensation above and beyond the 100 percent rate when you factor in SMC.