In October, 2006, I filed a service connection claim for Prostate Cancer following the guidelines for Presumptive Agent Orange Illnesses. At the same time I filed for Chronic Peripheral Neuropathy (PN), an ever increasing and debilitating illness that I was having in my lower extremities, one that first manifest in 1969 while still in Nam and one that has lingered on for 40+ years. I attributed this problem to an injury but years later found that PN is one of the most common illnesses experienced by Vietnam Vets (Google Charles Kelley "Symptoms of PN" presentation to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs ). I reported my loss of feeling in feet and toes to my flight surgeon in December, 1969. As fate would have it, that particular flight physical is the only one missing from my official file of Military Health Records.....no records....claim denied. In 2008, pain in my lower extremities had intensified and had moved into my hands and fingers. I booked an appointment with a Board Certified Neurological Diagnostician. The results of my emg/nerve conduction study was a diagnosis of moderately severe, chronic peripheral neuropathy, sensoral and motor, axonal and demilinating, etiology.... toxic poisoning. EMG/Nerve Conduction studies are considered the gold standard for diagnosing periperal neuropathy problems. I had been misdiagnosed for 40 years using the standard tap-tap, poke-poke tests. After ruling out, by blood tests, all other likely causes my private doctor opined,” the most likely cause of my PN is agent orange/dioxin exposure”. With Nexus letter in hand I went back to the VA and was denied again. So I appealed. My state Veterans Services Officer, Ed Van Dyke, said that once I had a private, board certified neurologist's letter stating “most likely AO caused” that legally I had won the case. Never-the-less, I got Oregon State Senator Jason Atkinson involved. He got my case moved from the bottom of the pile to the top and within 3 months I had a positive DRO (Decision Review Officer) decision in my favor. I followed the advise of Col Eugene B. Richardson, a warrior who has been championing this cause for 47+ years...go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get his recent article in his Neuropathy Support Network March 2010 Newsletter...the Col will put you on his mailing list. This article, entitled “Guidance for Veterans with Agent Orange Exposure and a Chronic Neuropathy” will detail what must be done. Also, Google some of the following Board Approved claims:
1. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Citation Nr. 0306225, Docket 97-18 169
2. Phoenix, Arizona: Citation Nr. 0606156, Docket No. 04-19 301
3. Atlanta, Georgia: Citation Nr. 0802669, Docket No. 97-33 277
4. Tennessee: Citation Nr. 0821251, Docket No. 05-17 482
These are all recently approved service connected chronic peripheral neuropathy claims.
Submit your claim as direct causation, not as a presumptive illness. Submit as many past physicals as possible that show continuity of symptomatology and get blood work to rule out the 10 or so other common causes of PN. Get a good Veterans Services Rep, a supportive Board Certified Neurologist, and get your Senators backing. Your symptoms do not have to have started within two years of exposure as implied by the acute/subacute presumptive regs which will be referenced by the VA to adnauseam during your claims process...see Brown vs. Combe for after-the-fact chronic illnesses. Don't forget to reference to title 38, United States Code, section 5107(b) in your claim as often as possible.....5107(b) grants VA claimants a statutory right to the benefit of the doubt with respect to any benefit under laws administered by the VA when there is an approximate balance of positive and negative evidence regarding any issue material to the determination of a matter. In other words, if your Doctors opinion says “most likely agent orange” and the VA doctor says “not likely”...you should wiin your case! Good luck, be forceful, do not give up!
Semper Fi, JC Short