Matthew: Hello and welcome to the Hill and Ponton video blog. I’m Mathew Hill here with Carol Ponton. Today we’re going to talk to you about Parkinson’s disease. It’s been in the news lately with VA because it’s a new presumptive disease with Agent Orange. First of all, let me tell you how you can get service connected for Parkinson in a direct manner. A “direct manner” means something happened in service that caused your Parkinson’s. These cases are very difficult. The only way you can do it is if the Parkinson’s is diagnosed or manifest. “Manifest,” meaning that the symptoms of Parkinson’s have started to appear but you have not been diagnosed yet, or you were exposed to something in service that caused it. The research is starting to show that exposure to certain chemicals does cause Parkinson’s. Some of the chemicals that are being found in the Camp Lejeune water such as TCE and PCE are chemicals that may be related to Parkinson’s. The other big chemical is Agent Orange. The VA has conceded that the Agent Orange does cause Parkinson’s. If you were exposed to Agent Orange and you have Parkinson’s, that is a presumptive case. Everyone in Vietnam who’s exposed and has Parkinson’s has an easy case. But as Carol will tell you, there are other areas that the VAs has not readily conceded the connection.
Carol: The problem is that Agent Orange was used in so many places and the VA does not want to recognize that this happened. Many veterans who were in Thailand and Guam were exposed to Agent Orange, as well as other places. Those are the cases that are very difficult because the VA have a limited area in Thailand and also in Korea, where they’re willing to accept that you may have been exposed to Agent Orange. But for the general veteran, they’re not accepting. We have gathered a lot of literature, a lot of information that shows that Agent Orange was actually in these places. That is one of the things we’re using to get the people service connected for Parkinson’s.
Matthew: Back to your point about Thailand, in particular. The VA has been spotty, if you will, on what they will concede is exposure to Agent Orange or not. They want to see veterans who were next to the perimeter of their bases and had some kind of a duty like a military police guard duty or a search dog where they were on the perimeter. But as veterans know and those who serve there in particular, almost everyone was near the perimeter. Furthermore, if you look at the literature and what Carol is referring to – some of the documents we found – we found that the radius or distance of Agent Orange from which it is lethal or potent is something like 500 meters. So it does not really matter how far you were from the perimeter. You most likely were exposed in Thailand.
Carol: One of the new things that I have gotten recently that I think we’re going to be able to use is, I actually have a lot of pictures of some of the bases in Thailand. Pictures of where the hooches were, where the people stayed, where the different offices were. Hopefully, if people don’t have this, maybe when they come to us, we can get them to identify from looking at that where they were and send that in as part of the proof.
Matthew: As far as exposure to Agent Orange goes, pictures help, maps of bases help, statements from others who serve with you or had a similar military specialty that you did help a lot as well. The other thing we need to discuss with Parkinson’s is the rating system. The minimal rating you can get from Parkinson’s is 30%. If the VA gives you a 30% rating for your Parkinson’s, what they’re saying is they acknowledge you have the diagnosis but you don’t have any significant problems. We have seen a lot of cases on appeal where the veteran will come to us and have a 30% rating for Parkinson’s, and then veteran will be on Social Security for the Parkinson’s. Sometimes they can’t walk or talk because of the Parkinson’s. This is a big problem. This is what we would call an underrating.
Carol: The thing that you don’t realize is just because you get 30% for Parkinson’s, that doesn’t mean that you’re not entitled to the other problems that Parkinson’s causes. Talking, swallowing, walking, using your hands, and thinking – all of those things should be separately rated. So, when someone gets a rating for just Parkinson’s, they’re not getting rated for most of the problems that they have.
Matthew: That’s a great point. Parkinson’s is rated by the symptoms, not just the diagnosis. The diagnosis gets 30% but as she said, there’s a diagnosis for face, there’s a diagnosis for problems with walking, stuttering, and cognition problems such as memory loss. Once you get rated for Parkinson’s, you should see each symptom broken out. Sometimes the VA misses this because Parkinson’s affects the whole body.
Carol: Often the VA misses this. I am just shocked at how low the ratings are compared to the problems that people have with Parkinson’s.
Matthew: We have spoken to the rating system on another one of our video blogs. Again, the VA looks to the veteran’s inability to work as to how much you should be disabled or how much of a rating he should get. A veteran who cannot work at all should be 100% rated or rated under unemployability. If the veteran can work then maybe he’s not that high. But we’ve seen plenty of veterans where they had just a 30% rating for Parkinson’s yet were on Social Security disability for that. The other thing to look for is even if you are 100% service connected to Parkinson’s, unfortunately the disability is so devastating that you can be entitled to a special monthly compensation. Essentially, compensation above and beyond 100% because the VA recognizes the disability is so awful.
Carol: When you hear that there is nothing beyond 100%, you need to know that’s not right. Especially in cases that are so devastating like Parkinson’s, people may need aid and attendance; they may need people to help them. They may be housebound or they can’t go out. All of these things may qualify you for additional monetary benefits.
Matthew: That is important. If you were to look at today’s scale for VA compensation, I think 100% or something like $2800.
Carol: For a single person.
Matthew: If you look at the single person for the highest special monthly compensation rating, it’s just under $8000. There’s a huge increase there when a veteran is entitled to special monthly compensation. That is something to look for.
Carol: This law is extremely complex. When the VA put in 100% – and often it’s easy to figure that out. The special monthly compensation is very difficult to figure it out because instead of saying there’s another percentage beyond 100%, it could be loss of use of your foot, loss of use of your hand, or loss of vision. There are so many different things that come into effect in getting you this extra SMC that you just need to know what’s out there. If you think you qualify, you definitely should try to put in a claim for that.
Matthew: Or an appeal that they underrated you.
Matthew: Just to recap. To get Parkinson’s service connected, if you had it in service or you had the symptoms in service, that’s a way to get it directly service connected. Otherwise, if you were exposed to toxic chemicals, you hopefully could get a doctor to connect that to the Parkinson’s, and of course for Agent Orange exposure. The difficult cases, as Carol said we’ve seen are the outside of Vietnam cases. Finally, if a veteran has a 30% rating, that is probably not enough. Not only could they be up to 100%, but if they have problems such as we call for aid and attendance or loss of use of limbs, they should be rated a lot higher. Thank you.