Fort McClellan Exposures and VA Benefits

If You Served at Fort Mcclellan in Alabama, You Might Have Been Exposed to Toxic Chemicals and Radiation.

The Fort McClellan military installation in Alabama was first used in World War I as a training base for United States troops. Later, the installation became a storage space for a host of toxic chemicals, including the notorious herbicide Agent Orange. Along with other volatile substances like uranium and nerve gas, Agent Orange was stored at Fort McClellan in large quantities and later widely used during the Vietnam War to destroy foliage and crops, leading to widespread exposure and long-term effects for Vietnam vets. 

The dangerous substances at Fort McClellan leaked into the installation’s water supply and surrounding terrain, making anyone serving on the base susceptible to exposure. Exposure to any of the substances stored on the installation could seriously impact a soldier’s health in the long-term, and more than half a million troops have had verified exposure to dangerous substances from serving at Fort McClellan.

If you served at the Fort McClellan military installation, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) presumes that you have been exposed to Agent Orange, which makes you eligible to receive disability benefits. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms and long-term effects of Agent Orange exposure and how to apply to receive benefits from the VA.

How the VA Rates Disabilities 

The VA grants varying levels of disability benefits to Veterans based on how the disabilities limit the individual Veteran. Disability benefits are given based on your disability rating, a number from 0 to 100. If you are suffering from multiple conditions, your disability rating is likely to be higher as the ratings get combined. A 100% disability rating is typically given to Veterans with extremely severe disabilities or who are ineligible for employment.

An increase in your disability rating can significantly change the benefits you are receiving, and many Veterans have lower ratings from the VA than they deserve. This is especially true of Veterans suffering from degenerative diseases – conditions with symptoms that worsen over time. 

Your disability rating from the VA can increase or decrease after the initial rating. The VA sometimes decreases a Veteran’s disability rating because it appears that their condition has progressively improved. However, after a Veteran’s disability rating has remained unchanged for five years or more, it is much harder for the VA to reduce their rating.

Disability ratings can also increase over time. However, getting a positive change in your rating requires you to seek a reevaluation from the VA. The VA will assume that your condition has remained unchanged unless you have your rating assessed again. 

Because exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to degenerative diseases, your disability rating for exposure to the herbicide can go up as time passes. Keep an eye on your symptoms – if they get worse, you should likely get your rating reevaluated. You may be eligible to receive much higher payments than you are currently getting.

Don’t let the VA short-change you by giving you a lower rating than you deserve. If you have a debilitating disability, support from the VA can give you the resources you need to support yourself and your family if you cannot work. If you are struggling to get your rating raised by the VA, one of our experienced attorneys can help.

What Has Fort McClellan Exposure Been Linked To?

Exposure to Agent Orange is linked to multiple degenerative diseases, regardless of whether the exposure occurred at Fort McClellan or in Vietnam. One of the most common degenerative diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure is Parkinson’s disease, which can significantly inhibit your ability to perform everyday tasks and hinder you from fulfilling the requirements of your career. As a degenerative disease, the symptoms of Parkinson’s tend to worsen as you age, meaning that your rating would have to change accordingly.

If you are a Veteran suffering from Parkinson’s, you may be eligible for total disability individual unemployability (TDIU). This status is given to Veterans with disabilities that prevent them from working and allows you to qualify for much higher disability benefits than your basic rating percentage.

Agent Orange exposure has also been linked to chloracne, gastrointestinal issues, heart problems, and multiple forms of cancer. Cancer is another type of degenerative disease, and you may need to have your disability rating raised to get benefits that reflect the impact of your condition. When you apply to have your rating raised, the VA will have you take a Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination to verify changes in your condition.

What if the VA Gives Me a Rating That Is Too Low?

If you are suffering medical issues due to exposure to toxic substances at Fort McClellan, you deserve to receive benefits from the VA, but they still might give you a disability rating that is too low. If you end up in this situation, don’t give up on receiving the right level of benefits. There are several steps you can take to increase your disability rating. If the VA denies your application for a higher rating, you can enlist the help of an experienced attorney at no up-front cost to help you appeal.

The first step to take if you disagree with the disability rating the VA gives you is to ensure that your current disability is well documented.  If you were only rated by a VA doctor, you can get a second opinion from a medical professional in the form of an independent medical examination (IME). An IME is an in-depth examination of your medical records and your condition by a private physician unaffiliated with the VA. The VA conducts an examination of any disabled Veteran as part of the application process for benefits, but an IME can be used to change the VA’s ruling, especially if the doctor for the IME is a specialist and the VA’s examination was performed by someone who does not specialize in your condition.

In addition to getting an IME, you can also influence the VA’s decision by presenting the VA with testimonials from fellow Veterans and other trusted people who are close to you about how the disability has impacted your life. “Buddy statements” from people with firsthand knowledge of the severity of your condition and the connection between your disability and your military service can help you make a case to the VA that your rating should be raised.

It’s sometimes more difficult to get the VA to raise or maintain your disability rating if your rating hasn’t yet been in effect for five years. After the five-year mark, your disability rating is much more stable and harder for the VA to reduce. Maintaining a stable rating for five years or more is often dependent on staying consistent with your treatment, going to any routine doctors’ appointments, and reporting any changes in your condition to the VA. 

The VA should not be trying to dismiss you – after all, the Department of Veterans Affairs is meant to be there for Veterans, not to work against them. However, the VA’s rulings and decision-making process are not always 100% accurate, so it can certainly feel that the deck is stacked against you. That’s why Berry Law Firm is committed to helping Veterans get the benefits that they deserve from the VA. 

Making an Appeal

If the VA continues to refuse to adjust your disability rating, or if they have denied your application to receive benefits altogether, you can team up with one of our attorneys to make an appeal. VA appeals start at the regional level, but they can move to higher courts if necessary. Having a skilled attorney on your team when appealing to the VA can increase your chances of a ruling that meets your needs.

Many of the diseases linked to exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic substances housed at Fort McClellan can get worse over time. Because these degenerative diseases have a known pattern of increased disability, it seems intuitive that the VA would raise a Veteran’s disability rating to compensate for changes in symptoms. However, this is not always the case. If the VA is unwilling to increase your disability rating due to changes in your symptoms, filing an appeal can be your best option.

If you are suffering from a degenerative disease due to exposure to the toxic substances stored at Fort McClellan, you deserve to receive the benefits that you need to take care of yourself and your family. If your condition leaves you unable to work, you may even be eligible to receive a 100% disability rating from the VA. 

However, if the VA does not give you a rating that fits your condition, it is well worth it to make an appeal. Our team of compassionate and experienced attorneys is committed to helping our fellow Veterans navigate the appeals process and get the benefits they need to keep recovering and supporting themselves and their families. If you need to make an appeal to the VA, let us fight by your side to help you get the best possible outcome.

 

Sources:

https://www.legion.org/magazine/241272/long-shadow-fort-mcclellan

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/parkinsons-disease

https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/degenerative-disease