NGV may speaker

VA benefits expert Karen McIntyre presented the latest information on service-related disability compensation at the May NGV lunch meeting. PHOTO BY DAVID HOWE

Valuable but poorly understood VA benefits explained to NGV

BY DAVID HOWE

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The phrase “drinking through a fire hose” easily came to mind as the North Georgia Veterans listened to the presentation by Karen McIntyre, an expert on Veterans Administration regulations and benefits, and the detailed process of entering and applying for benefits in the VA Healthcare System.

As president of Veterans Information Services for 15 years and accredited VA agent, McIntyre has been educating professionals and families on service-connected benefits available from the VA and, for retired combat veterans, supplemental programs available from the Department of Defense.

McIntyre’s presentation targeted service-related disability compensation, benefits for which are non-taxable and are not means tested. Beyond more obvious eligibility stemming from injury and disability while on active duty, she focused on important recent changes in VA regulations that create “presumptive” service-connected disability. “Presumptive disability” refers to conditions developing well after the end of active duty service which are “presumed” to have resulted from conditions experienced while on active duty.

Examples of a presumptive conditions are those tied to exposure to ionizing radiation (veterans involved in atomic testing in the 1950s); POW captivity; Agent Orange during the Vietnam War; and unexplained chronic illnesses experienced by Gulf War veterans.

Eligibility for benefits relating to Agent Orange exposure was discussed at length. Conditions such as respiratory and blood cancers, sarcomas, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, neuropathy, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and others appearing well after the end of active duty service are now considered presumptive conditions and create automatic eligibility for VA benefits. McIntyre explained that very recent court decisions have also extended eligibility to “blue water” veterans serving on Navy vessels within 12 nautical miles of the Vietnam coastline.

McIntyre expects that within the next 12 months the VA will add bladder cancer and Parkinson syndrome to the list of eligible conditions. She pointed out that federal law gives the benefit of the doubt to the veteran if the VA cannot definitively prove that a condition is not service related, so it is important not to take “no” for an answer when pursuing a claim.

McIntyre emphasized the importance of filing an application for the VA Healthcare System. None of the benefits available from the VA can be obtained unless a claim is filed, and she recommends filing an application to get into the system even if a claim is likely to be denied.

Especially with respect to Agent Orange, she urged every veteran to file ANY claim believed to be related to Agent Orange exposure. If a condition that is denied later comes into law, commencement of benefits may revert to the date of the original denied claim.

McIntyre’s wide-ranging comments touched on several other entitlements in VA law, such as hearing aids, burial benefits, dependent entitlements and help with navigating the appeals process.

McIntyre observed that in her experience, many veterans are unaware of the breadth of services available from the VA and she suggested beginning with the VA website, www.va.gov. On that site, “Form 10-10EZ” can be found for filing a claim. There is no charge for submitting an initial claim application.

More information is available from the Canton Regional VA Service Office. Contact Rita Barnhart at 220 Brown Industrial Parkway, Canton, GA 30114, phone (770) 720-3538.

North Georgia Veterans welcome active duty and honorably discharged members of all branches of U.S. military service. Lunch meetings are held on the second Wednesday each month in Mountains Grille at The Clubhouse at Lake Sconti. There is no cost to join. Meetings start at 11:30 a.m. and include a $17 buffet lunch and program. Reservations are required. Application can be made online at ngvets.org.

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