Jim Strickland is a Vietnam era Army veteran and nationally recognized expert on VA disability benefits.

Jim writes extensively about VA and Social Security disability benefits. 
Jim's Mailbag is a regular column featured at  Stateside Legal  where veterans, servicemembers,
and family members can  ask Jim their questions  about VA and Social Security disability benefits. 

The VSM

​Question:
Jim, My question is that I was assigned to a reconnaissance squadron (VQ-1) from 1966 through Aug. 1968. VQ-1 flew hundreds of recon missions in Vietnam in search of SAM Sites. VQ-1 served as a direct support services for ground and air services in Vietnam and surrounding areas. My duty was to interpret data coming back from all missions and put it into readable format (longitude/latitude coordinates) to destroy the SAM sites. I was one of the few squadron guys who did not fly. Our home base was Atsugi, Japan. Nobody at the VA can tell if I am qualified to wear Vietnam Ribbon. Does direct high security back room intelligence processing for VQ-1 qualify me for the Medal also? I and only few others handled high security data as off shore support. This question has been bothering me for years. I have three of the presumptive conditions associated with agent orange. All of our coordinates data came directly from Vietnam flights. Thanks for listening.

​​Jim's Reply:
The requirements for eligibility are pretty clear. See Vietnam Service Medal It sounds to me as if you meet the eligibility requirements and then some.
Requirements
Individuals must meet one of the following requirements: Be attached to or regularly serve for 1 or more days with an organization participating in or directly supporting military operations.
This isn't the same as being eligible for agent orange benefits though so your comment threw me off just a bit.
To be eligible for agent orange benefits generally requires that the servicemember has set foot on the soil of Vietnam or served in some other capacity deemed eligible for those presumptive benefits. If you had flown there may have been a link to agent orange but if you didn't leave your station in Japan, I don't see a link to AO.
Wear the ribbon proudly! 

Veterans Lawyer Attorney

Bladder Cancer

​Question:
I just received 100% for my bladder cancer from Agent Orange. What will I need to be able to keep it at 100%? My doctor says you are never cancer free.

​Jim's Reply:
The rating is going to depend on the treatment. In 
The Schedule For Rating Disabilities we find: 
7528 Malignant neoplasms of the genitourinary system 100%
Note: Following the cessation of surgical, X-ray, antineoplastic chemotherapy or other therapeutic procedure, the rating of 100 percent shall continue with a mandatory VA examination at the expiration of six months. Any change in evaluation based upon that or any subsequent examination shall be subject to the provisions of §3.105(e) of this chapter. If there has been no local recurrence or metastasis, rate on residuals as voiding dysfunction or renal dysfunction, whichever is predominant.


Then when we go to...


Voiding dysfunction:
Rate particular condition as urine leakage, frequency, or obstructed voiding.
Continual Urine Leakage, Post Surgical Urinary Diversion, Urinary Incontinence, or Stress Incontinence: Requiring the use of an appliance or the wearing of absorbent materials which must be changed more than 4 times per day 60%


So...if your urinary bladder is removed and you are given a "urinary diversion" your rating will be 60%. To be honest, it's going to be a challenge to keep your rating at 100% after treatment is completed. You can file for mental health and/or other physical issues associated with your cancer to keep your rating up. It's not at all uncommon to have an associated depression with such a disease. You can also file for TDIU if your cancer has taken you out of the workforce.
Good luck sir.

Citation Nr: 21053994

DOCKET NO. 18-00 777
The Veteran reported being in receipt of Social Security Disability (SSD) and in a January 2020 statement, the Veteran indicated he received SSD when he stopped working in 2004. These Social Security records may contain evidence that pertains to the Veteran's claims before the Board. As such, VA must make efforts at this time to obtain any outstanding records.

DIC Benefits

​Question:
I am TDIU P&T for 11 years now. If I die, what does my spouse (wife) have to do to claim her compensation?

​Jim's Reply:
She will notify VA of your passing...often enough the funeral director will do that for her. Details are here 
https://www.vawatchdog.org/dic---survivor-benefits.html  

Must You Sign-Up for MEDICARE Part D?

VA Health Care TRICARE Health Insurance

​​Do Veterans who have VA Health Care, TRICARE,

and other form of health care coverage

need to sign-up for Medicare Part D?

SSI and SSDI differences explained
​The Social Security Administration has various programs like SSI and Social Security, but

it’s important to know the differences.

Nexus letters IMOs Veterans Disability

Welcome Home

The VAWatchdog Dot Org

Social Security and Medicare Benefits For

Military Veterans

Create your personal my 

Social Security account today
A free and secure my Social Security account provides personalized tools for everyone, whether you receive

benefits or not. You can use your account to request a replacement Social Security card, check

the status of an application, estimate future benefits, or manage the benefits you already receive.

Social Security benefits are often available to the disabled veteran. There are plenty of twists and turns here though and the benefits aren't anywhere close to being the same. You may be eligible for one but not the other! The VA rates you on the degree of disability that was incurred while you were on active duty. Those 10 point increments are added up with the very strange VA math that's used to determine your overall rating. The SSA rates you as either totally disabled and unable to work at all or not. Often enough age will play into it and the SSA will see you as employable until age 55 and then you're pretty much over the hill and the SSA will give you a break. If you are eligible for both SSA and VA benefits, study them carefully to learn how best to use the services provided. There is some overlap that you may not need and there are personal decisions you need to make about your overall health care and you need to be aware of all of it. These are great benefits and it's worth your time to learn all you can about them.

Veterans Social Security Disability & Medicare Benefits

Cardiovascular diseases?

Question:
I have a 10% VA rating for high blood pressure. I had a pacemaker installed on in 2016. Should I file for a VA rating? Thanks in advance.

​Jim's Reply:
Yes, maybe. The need for the pacemaker must first be proven to be secondary to your high blood pressure (HBP). If you can prove that your HBP has caused or contributed to the need for a pacer to control the timing of your heartbeats, you may have a well grounded claim that the pacer is service connected (SC) secondary to the HBP. If you're having a touch of heart failure that will be enough to require a pacer and heart failure is often secondary to very high/treatment resistant hypertension.
If you do have a diagnosis of heart failure, you should file that as secondary to the SC HBP also.
As I so often do, I predict that to prevail you're going to have to have an Independent Medical Opinion that spells out exactly, precisely how and why your SC HBP caused the need for the device. Unless you have the IMO, the VA isn't going to see the secondary connection. More about that is here 
https://www.vawatchdog.org/imo-ime-medical-opinions-exams.html  Good luck.

How long?

​Question:
I appealed my decision for a higher rating for MST , and for further backpay. I did this in July of 2020. How long does this take? It's been almost 2 years!

​​Jim's Reply:
I can't offer you an accurate answer since I don't know anything about your appeal. What I can tell you is that delays in the adjudication of all claims and all appeals...functions that are always running behind...are worse than ever because of the pandemic, work from home trials and so on. 
I also can't give you a reasonable guesstimate other than to say that 2 years delay isn't at all surprising, I'd even go so far as to say that we should expect that an appeal to BVA, for example, may take 2 years and even more.
There isn't much to be done about the delays unless and until the veteran is medically eligible for end of life or hospice care. If one could provide sound medical evidence of a health diagnosis that indicates that the veteran is rapidly approaching end of life, the appeals process will try to move that case up to the front of the very long line.
I understand that this sort of negligent treatment by VA may exacerbate your MST symptoms but the reality is, this is what we all have to deal with.
About all you can do is to try to stay on top of your appeal so that you understand that it's 'alive' in the system and then you wait in that long line with thousands of other with the same predicament.
Good luck!

Search the Board of Veterans Appeals Decision Database Here

Type in your key words and choose a couple of years to look at. Try different combinations of key words

as you go along. Remember that BVA cases do not establish a precedent so even if your case seems similar,

you have to repeat the path that other successful appeals have taken.

Industrial Solvents?

Question:
Hi Jim I am doing some research for a veteran I represent. Have you by any chance ever come across any data with the specific ingredients contained in the original formulary of PD680 before it was replaced with PRF 680? Any information you might have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Jim's Reply:
There are so many solvents that we used it's hard to keep track of all of them. Benzene, Acetone, PCE, TCE...there are many more. I used Trichloroethylene to clean steam pipes of autoclaves in the hospital where I worked and we thought little of safety precautions.
Since I worked in the operating rooms at  the 98th General Hospital, we had access to Ether...another powerful cleaner (and anesthetic)...not recommended because it's highly flammable...it came in lead and tin cans so it couldn't spark and explode.
Cosmoline was a petroleum based substance that the Army coated everything (particularly weapons in storage) with and the only thing that would take it off was a rag dipped in a gallon of TCE and a lot of elbow grease.
I doubt that I have any knowledge of solvents that you haven't already seen. I did a quick search and this was new to me https://ecolink.com/info/pd-680-vs-prf-680-degreasing-solvents/ and may be similar to what you're looking for.
For what it's worth, any time I want to help a veteran service connect TCE or other solvent exposure I go straight to an IMO. The Independent Medical Opinion by a board certified expert shouldn't be underestimated when it comes to winning claims. TCE and other solvent exposure and a given disabling condition can be a hard one to pin down without an expert opinion. https://www.vawatchdog.org/imo-ime-medical-opinions-exams.html 
Good luck!
​​

Presumptive Hypothyroidism

​Question:
I filed for hypothyroidism in 2018, it was denied. It is now on the AO list. The VA is required to review every denied claim and back date to the original date of filing. My question I am TDIU and 100 percent. TDIU started in 2003. The claim is on appeal since 2019. The VA added it as a new claim on ebenefits in June 2021. If they ever get the claim completed I don't think I will receive retroactive back pay, true or false? Thank you.

Jim's Reply:
You may or may not be due for some retroactive benefits. In a previous and similar situation not all that long ago, the decision was in favor of vets who had filed and been denied to receive retroactive benefits.
I'm a bit tied to studying this as I have a distant in-law who is a retired-after-20 Blue Water Navy vet in a similar situation. His non-service connected hypothyroidism had had a deleterious effect on his service connected diabetes that was (lowball) rated at 20%. He was in and out of civilian hospitals and in critical care more than once and VA paid no attention...even though he was a DoD employee.
After a stroke the family asked for my help.
We were successful in filing an increase for his DM2 and then got an IMO to connect the hypothyroidism to his military service. (Of course we don't need the IMO now it's presumptive.)
He is currently rated as 100% with SMC-S and he is fully housebound with VA caregiving benefits kicking in.
Of course I'd hope that you never run into the illnesses my in-law has but considering all that, I think it's worth your time to aggressively pursue this benefit so you don't have to do it when you're not well. 
I've been referring these cases to a trusted
veterans law attorney who has shown a particular interest and who has a great track record in dealing with these particular claims. (He did appeals for my relative)
Let him know I sent you his way and listen to what he thinks about your particular situation. He never charges veterans to provide a great evaluation of what they've got going on...he's a vet, 'nuff said.
Good luck sir.
​​

VA health care and other insurance
If you have other forms of health care coverage (like a private insurance plan, Medicare,
Medicaid, or TRICARE), you can use VA health care benefits along with these plans. 

Stateside Legal Help For Veterans

Travel Pay

​Question:
Since the VA adopted the new mileage application via the internet, I haven't received any travel money. I checked with my travel clerk and he told me that there is a big back log here in Florida. Have others experienced this problem? Thank you Jim.

Jim's Reply:
I'm in Florida so I feel your pain.
We're supposed to be reimbursed a per mile amount for certain travel to and from medical care. In my time with VHA I've seen long lines and over an hour wait to receive a few dollars gas money. Then we went to a fill-out-the-form system. The check-in kiosks were introduced a few years back and those worked well other than you had to remember to sign out and sign in again to submit the travel voucher.
Not all that long ago I checked in to my small clinic and the kiosks were unplugged and parked in a corner. I was told to check in the old school way and only when I asked, I was given an old form to complete for travel pay. I was told the kiosks were gone forever.
I returned to that clinic 2 weeks later and the check in kiosks were back, plugged in and ready to go. There was no option for travel reimbursement, I was told to go to the Internet and figure it out. I haven't seen any deposits either.
I don't have any answer for you other than...welcome to your VA. They care!
​​