TRR Veterans Disability Benefits – The Burn Pits 2020
Janet: Hi. My name is Janet Santeramo. And I’m a partner at Turley Redmond & Rosasco. And I’m here with my friend Patrick who’s also a veteran. And we’re gonna really talk about the Burn Pits and Other Toxins exposure Act of 2020, the proposed legislation. So what do you think about the proposed legislation, Patrick?
Patrick: Well, I think it’s a great idea, right? Because it’s going to remove serious hurdle that veterans face in trying to improve service connection for their underlying medical conditions. So what the act proposes to do is they establish a list of presumptive conditions for veterans who have served for over 15 days in one of over 30 countries mostly in the Middle East beginning any time after August 2nd, 1990. The proposed presumptuous conditions would include but are not limited to many different lung conditions and any type of cancer.
Janet: And that’s major…
Patrick: It’s huge.
Janet: …because most of the other acts even any legislation having to do with Vietnam veterans they don’t even list any type of cancer, right? They’re pretty relegated to a couple of different kinds but not any type of cancer. So this is really a landmark act if it goes through. So I mean we know for a veteran to be successful in being awarded benefits or compensation benefits really they need to meet three elements, right? You need to have an ins or you need to be able to show an in-service stressor or event right the causation then you need to be able to show a diagnosis and then you need to be able to show a nexus.
So really presumptions really remove that burden completely as far as the nexus is concerned because now with a presumption it’s assumed that that is where the veteran actually contracted the condition or disease. So that makes it a lot easier I mean, I don’t know about you but at least it’s been my experience that most veterans or for most veterans, the nexus is one of the largest hurdles for them to overcome because they can say they were here, they were there but it still doesn’t show that wherever they were actually caused the condition. This act will surely alleviate at least that hurdle. What do you think or what would you suggest your fellow veterans do at this point?
Patrick: Well, if they were exposed to the burn pits for over 15 days since January 2nd, 1990 I would recommend that they register with the Burn Pit Registry through the VA and get that on the record that they were exposed because the problem with a lot of the conditions that stemmed from burn pit exposure is that they take extremely long to manifest themselves so that’s why proving that medical nexus becomes very difficult because years after having been exposed now the conditioned surfaces.
So the in-service event they were at the burn pit, the diagnosis they have that both of those are cut and dry. Now proving the nexus is the most difficult part so the fact that it’s now presumed that that condition was actually caused by the exposure to the burn pit makes the veteran’s life so much easier, the burden has now shifted to the VA. So even if you’re not sick right now the best thing to do would be to get on the registry because God forbid you get sick later on down the line, now it’s already known that you were exposed and at that point, you’ll have a diagnosis. And if this act comes to pass you don’t have to prove the medical nexus which would be the toughest part at that point. So it eliminates that and now the veteran is assumed to have their condition was caused by their exposure.
Janet: So I mean let’s talk about what this does for the veteran’s family as well, I mean this is beneficial to the veteran’s family because unfortunately as we’ve seen in the work that we do that many of these veterans are not affected till many years later. Some of these conditions including but not limited to the cancer, of course, can be fatal so if the veteran doesn’t get on the burn pit registry, doesn’t file an intent file, does nothing, most veteran spouses’ have no idea as to what to do if the veteran passes.
If the veteran didn’t have a claim pending upon their death the spouse needs to know that they can get out there and file a claim or if the veteran at least has a claim pending, that leaves the spouse the opportunity to substitute themselves as the veteran and hopefully be able to take care of the veteran’s children or even the veteran’s spouse themselves, so a lot of good stuff can come out of this legislation. And we get people calling all the time about a lot of these conditions that are gonna be on the presumptive list or we hope are gonna be on the presumptive list.
I mean, I agree with you, I think they definitely should get on the burn pit registration I think, you know, file an intent to file, keep that claim alive, you know, start a claim keep it alive because once this legislation goes through hopefully they’ll be able to start paying some of these claims and making it a little easier for the veterans. I mean, veterans can obviously call us, they can call the VSO and talk to them about it. If they call us the consultation is free at least that way we can get everybody on the right track because sometimes it’s a better idea to be a little proactive than it is to be reactive so that’s what we would suggest.
Patrick: And their families I don’t know if all veterans know that their families would be entitled to benefits if they pass away from a condition that they were service-connected for, you know? So that’s why this presumption is also important because it’s making it easier for the veteran to get service-connected than if they were to pass from that condition which unfortunately is starting to happen already with vets that are younger and younger then at least their families may be entitled to benefits when they’re gone which is very important.
Janet: Yes, it’s usually very important to the veteran too they want to be sure that their family members are taken care of.