- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

Three years ago, my 21-year-old son, an Airman in the Air Force, was diagnosed with ALS. His symptoms developed several weeks after receiving immunizations required for him to go to Japan. He never even got to go. He received a medical discharge following his diagnosis.

My son loved the Air Force, but I have just the opposite feelings. He can no longer work. He tried to attend college, but his right arm shakes too much for him to be able to write papers or type accurately on the computer.

He is compensated by the military with $376 per month. He no longer has any dreams of getting married or starting a family, and has become very depressed. I know we need to appeal for an increase in his benefits, but he believes he doesn’t have “that much time left.”

What, as a mother, can I do? At least with enough money to fulfill some of his dreams, the time he has left could become exciting and worthwhile. Please assist me any way that you can. — Darlene P. via the Internet

Dear Darlene,

I have referred your query to top officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been assured that your son will be contacted by the VA and that they will help him complete the process of filing a disability claim. Please keep me updated.


Shaft notes

As part of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s effort to break the back of the backlog, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reducing the paperwork and expediting the process for veterans seeking compensation for disabilities related to their military service. 

“These reductions in paperwork, along with other improvements to simplify and speed the claims process, symbolize changes underway to make VA more responsive to Veterans and their families,” Mr. Shinseki said.

VA has shortened application forms to reduce paperwork for veterans. The new forms, which are available on VA’s Web site at www.va.gov/vaforms, include:

• A shortened VA Form 21-526 for veterans applying for the first time to VA for disability compensation or pension benefits. This form has been shortened from 23 pages to 10 pages. It is immediately available to veterans via Web download, and will be available through VA’s online claim-filing process later this summer at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp.

• VA Form 21-526b for veterans seeking increased benefits for conditions already determined by VA to be service-connected. This new form more clearly describes the information needed to support claims for increased benefits.

In order to make the claims process faster, VA has also introduced two new forms for veterans participating in the department’s new fully developed claim (FDC) program, which is one of the fastest means to receive a claims decision.

Gathering the information and evidence needed to support a veteran’s disability claim often takes the largest portion of the processing time. If VA receives all of the available evidence when the claim is submitted, the remaining steps in the claims-decision process can be expedited without compromising quality.

To participate in the FDC program, veterans should complete and submit an FDC certification and VA Form 21-526EZ, “Fully Developed Claim (Compensation),” for a compensation claim, or VA Form 21-527EZ, “Fully Developed Claim (Pension),” for a pension claim.

For additional information, go to http://www.va.gov/, or call VA’s toll free benefits number at 800/827-1000.

• • •

New research from NYU Langone Medical Center shows that a simple, inexpensive and noninvasive carotid artery ultrasound of the neck can be used as a preliminary diagnostic tool for coronary artery disease (CAD). This may be an alternative to the standard, expensive and more invasive coronary angiography. The ultrasound test can also be used to rule out the diagnosis of CAD in patients presenting with reduced heart pump function. The new study appeared in the June 2010 issue of the American Heart Journal.

“Our research has identified that carotid artery ultrasound is capable of identifying the presence of severe and extensive coronary artery disease,” said Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, assistant professor of Medicine and associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Based on our findings, physicians might consider using the carotid ultrasound test as an initial screen for CAD in patients with reduced heart pump function and no history of heart attack. If a patient tests positive for plaque buildup in the neck arteries, then it can be followed by angiography of the heart arteries.”

When a patient has reduced heart function, severe and extensive CAD is often the cause. CAD is a narrowing of the arteries in the heart caused by deposits of plaque. This condition reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and may lead to weakening of heart muscle and/or a heart attack.

Traditional diagnosis of CAD is through coronary angiography. However, this is an invasive and expensive catheter imaging procedure that is associated with risks from contrast material and radiation exposure. In the study, patients underwent the noninvasive carotid artery ultrasound to determine the artery’s intima-media thickness and presence or absence of plaque. Researchers concluded that carotid artery ultrasound is a valuable screening tool for diagnosing and excluding CAD when a patient has heart muscle weakness without a known cause.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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