- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 23, 2005

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I was awarded a service-connected disability (30 percent). I then asked why I cannot have the benefits awarded retroactive to my date of discharge. I was told that was impossible.

When I was being discharged (chapter 9 pregnancy), the medical officer said that my shoulders were so bad that I should have not been allowed to enlist in the Army.

Why was I not informed during my discharge, that because of my injury in the military, I would be able to get a service-connected disability? Is this a case of she (the soldier) did not ask, so we (the Army) do not need to tell? I only found out the possibility of getting the Veterans Affairs Department to help me start a claim from a civilian doctor because my service-related injury needed surgery eight years after my discharge.

The claims process took more than a year. The VA told me the Army lost my medical records (that was OK; I had the originals with X-rays). Since I was pregnant, I was allowed to keep my medical records. (I was going into the Army Reserves, and because I was married to an active-duty airman, I was becoming an Air Force dependent wife.)

The VA took my medical records and X-rays to make my claim before the VA Medical Board. About 4 months into the claim, the VA insinuated that my injury was a pre-existing condition. That really ticked me off. Before enlisting in the Army, I was an Air Force dependent daughter, I had to have my parents go to the base hospital and pull my dependent medical records to prove I had no pre-existing condition. There was always something the Army/VA lost, or proof I had to come up with, it was a never-ending battle. My VA rep changed four times during this process. It was a nightmare, but in the end I did end up with some compensation.

Bottom line — is there a chance of ever seeing the missing 10 years of compensation? Go Army.

Krisi R.

Wharton, N.J.

Dear Krisi:

The powers that be at VA headquarters say that it is important for a veteran to contact VA at the earliest opportunity if he or she has questions concerning any VA benefit. This is especially true concerning a claim for service-connected disability compensation. If a claim for compensation is filed within one year of separation from service, the law allows payment of benefits from the date of discharge from service. If a claim is filed more than one year following separation from service, the law allows payment of benefits only from the date the claim is filed.

Veterans are also welcome to submit additional evidence at any time to reopen their claim. This includes filing a reopened claim for an earlier effective date. Such additional evidence would be considered in conjunction with all evidence previously submitted.

Additionally, if a veteran disagrees with a decision VA makes on his or her claim for compensation, he or she may appeal that decision.

If any veteran ever has questions regarding entitlement to VA benefits or medical care, he or she may contact their local regional office at 800/827-1000.

Shaft notes

The Sarge is looking forward to participating in marking the third year of Fran O’Brien’s Stadium Steak House providing free weekly dinners to service members treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center for injuries sustained during Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Guests will include many administration dignitaries. Of course, the special VIPs will be the wounded heroes and their families. This event will take place on the evening of Oct. 28 at Fran O’Brien’s, located at 1001 16th St. NW at the Capital Hilton Hotel.

• Recently declassified reports on Cold War-era tests reveal that U.S. veterans may have been exposed to live nerve and biological-warfare agents. The Veterans Affairs Department is now attempting to contact veterans who may have participated in the tests.

Conducted between 1963 and 1970, the tests were part of Project SHAD, an acronym for Shipboard Hazard and Defense. The SHAD tests, part of the larger Desert Test Center program, were designed to identify U.S. warships’ vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical- or biological-warfare agents and to develop procedures to respond to such attacks without reducing the battle-ready status of the ships.

Recently declassified medical information from 12 SHAD tests indicate that an unknown number of U.S. veterans may have been exposed to harmful nerve and biological agents.

While many details of the SHAD tests remain classified, the Defense Department has started to provide the VA with information necessary to evaluate veterans’ applications for benefits. In its investigation, the Pentagon is collecting information on test dates, identification of ships and personnel involved; test locations; simulated agents, tracer material and decontaminants used; and test methods employed.

Any eligible veteran’s medical problem linked to Project SHAD can be treated at VA medical facilities and, potentially, qualify the veteran for VA disability compensation.

Veterans who believe their health may have been affected by these tests should contact the SHAD help line at 800/749-8387 or contact VA by e-mail at [email protected]

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 e-mail [email protected]

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