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SGT. SHAFT: Widow of veteran exposed to Agent Orange makes claim

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My husband passed away on July 4, 2004. He was a Vietnam veteran exposed to Agent Orange. He was working at Toyota motor manufacturing, and in 1997, he began having stroke symptoms.

He was put on medical leave and sent to neurologists in Lexington, Ky. After test he was told he had bleeding on the brain. First they thought he had cavernous angioma. He got worse. After months of mini strokes, he continued to get worse. I insisted that he was seen at several hospitals and doctors (specialists), and they diagnosed him with primary cerebral vasculitis autoimmune disease.

He was put on cytoxan and a large dose of prednisone. He did fairly well until 2001. He became extremely ill with high fevers, chills and was hospitalized for six weeks.

Many doctors treated him and were not sure the problem. He could not get his blood and platelets to stay up even after transfusions. He was in the heart wing at Central Baptist. Finally, they let him come home so weak he could barely stand.

For two years he was in the doctor's office and the hospital. In 2003, he became critical and was told he had Acute Myloid Leukemia (A.M.L.).

He went to Markey Cancer Center. Six weeks later, he was in remission. In September 2003, the process was started at Indianapolis University Hospital for stem-cell transplant. The first test they did on him was an echocardiogram. They came out and asked me to take him to a different hospital to have the test on the heart.

He had a huge myxoma in the heart, and the transplant was put on hold. Back to the University of Kentucky (U.K.) for open-heart bypass surgery to remove myxoma and also bypass surgery.

After a few weeks of healing from the surgery he went back to I.U.H.for the transplant, back to Markey Cancer center later on, and in June of 2004, we knew the transplant had failed. He went to U.K. in July with septic shock and passed away July 6, 2004.

Doctors said the myxoma caused the strokes. He had atrial fibrillation, strokes, vasculitis, myloeidysplasia, A.M.L., myxoma, coronary artery disease.

He filed a claim in 2003 for A.M.L. but was denied as it was not on the Agent Orange list.

I kept appealing, and I was awarded the non-service connected pension from 2004 till 2007. I had lost hope of compensation and then in September 2010, the VA sent me notification that I might be entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (D.I.C.) through my husband's leukemia, a new presumptive disease.

Then in May 2011, the appeal was denied, but I was informed that I could and should reapply as VA legislation and regulations change periodically due to new medical evidence. I got all medical records together on the heart and submitted it to the VA on Dec.13, 2011,

I was told at a toll-free number that I was awarded D.I.C. in December 2011, but no letter. Now for several months my service representative says he can't get into my information. They say it is an appeal, and I don't know when I will hear. I don't know if they have paperwork on the heart condition, and they say my service representative will tell you and he says he can't.

I am no better than anyone else, but if I could see a ray of hope it would help me.

The new VA guidelines say that we do not have to apply again for the heart to be eligible. The records were obtained by the VA from Markey Cancer in 2004 about his heart.

Sir, do you think I have a chance and what can I do? It is great what you do and I thank you.

Sandra C.
Via the Internet

Dear Sandra:

Those in the know at VA tell me that this issue began with a Notice of Disagreement (N.O.D.) received on May 16, 2011. The Regional Office (R.O.) issued the required Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) Notice on July 8, 2011. Upon expiration of the diary, the R.O. requested a medical opinion from the VA Medical Center, Lexington on Oct. 28, 2011, which was received Nov. 10, 2011. The R.O. then issued a Statement of the Case on Dec. 5, 2011.

The appeal was finalized via receipt of the VA Form 9 on Dec. 13, 2011, with evidence, which required a new medical opinion. The R.O. requested a new medical opinion on March 14, 2012, which was received on March 22, 2012.

By rating decision dated July 24, 2012, the R.O. granted service connection for the cause of death effective Aug. 31, 2010. Additionally, basic eligibility to Dependents Educational Assistance (D.E.A.) was established that same effective date. This was a full grant of the benefits sought on appeal.

The effective date was determined based on the addition, on Aug. 31, 2010, of coronary artery disease (C.A.D.) to the list of disabilities recognized as being related to Agent Orange exposure and the objective medical evidence shows it contributed to the veteran's death.

Therefore, service connection for the cause of death is granted, effective Aug. 31, 2010, the date of change in law. The claim was received within one year following the date of change in law, and there was evidence of continuous entitlement since that date.

This grant was based on the C.A.D. being a contributory cause of death since the original claim for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (D.I.C.) was based on a condition not presumptive under Agent Orange protocols.

I understand that the VA contacted you on July 24, 2012, and informed you of the decision and that you would receive formal notification shortly.

Shaft notes

The House of Representatives unanimously passed the Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 (H.R. 1627).

The bill, now headed to the president for signature into law, will bring immediate VA health care to Camp Lejeune veterans and their families who have been diagnosed with a disease related to the water contamination that occurred at the base between 1957 and 1987.

In addition, H.R. 1627 increases VA accountability to veterans by streamlining the disability claims process, ensuring transparency in VA funding, protecting veterans from sexual assault and transforming how VA does business in the 21st century.

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

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