Working MY VA Claim of Exposure to Herbicides in Thailand
I retired from 22 years active duty on 31 December 1990 and had a heart attack on 28 August 1998.
The VA announced that herbicides had been used in Thailand during the Vietnam War and recognized Ischemic Heart Disease as resulting from exposure to herbicides.
That’s when I filed my first AO claim online in September 2008 listing 25 ailments/injuries I had been treated for on active duty and IHD due to herbicide exposure during my tour in Thailand. I checked the box “have you been exposed to herbicides” it wanted to know where and when I was stationed in Vietnam. I used the entire block stating I was exposed in Thailand 1968 – 1970. The online form populated each listed item as coming from AO.
My first C & P Exam was at Fitzsimmons VA Hospital in Denver. The doctor asked why I waited so long to file a claim for heart disease. I told him that I because was still working and there were so many veterans who needed to be treated I didn’t want to get in their way. I was then prodded and tested and in the end every item on my claim except one was denied because I hadn’t been assigned to Vietnam.
The one item approved as service connected was a procedure done at the Boise VA hospital a few weeks after leaving active duty in during my break in service in 1970 – 1971 that left scars that are unless painful they are rated at 0%. For a long time I didn’t even know or realize I was service connected or had a 0% rating, until I was invited to join the DAV in 2018 or 2019.
My problem after each denial letter was that I was so hopping mad that I could not even read through the entire letter. Later I would appeal the decision and submit new or relative information and it too would be denied as not being new or relative and once again I was too mad to read the denial letter.
At one point I asked a VA Certified Claims Agent to look at my appeal before I sent it back to the VA. He did and said as it was written I would never get it approved. I couldn’t understand why he would say that and once again I was pretty angry.
Someone online said to request my C-File from the VA. I didn’t even know what a C-File was, but I requested my VA Claims File several times but it never came until after I had contacted my congressman and his office received some documents from the VA. I contacted him again and got a few more documents.
When my C-File came it was in DVD format. Nobody had said what to do with the C-File after it arrived.
My C-File contained 176 pdf documents so I figured I would just print those 176 pages and go from there. What I hadn’t counted on was that each pdf document was either a single page or multiple page files. I ended up printing enough reams of paper to fill up an entire file cabinet of just over 1,000 pages. Not to mention the amount of ink cartridges I used.
It was quite a while before I began delving into the mess so I could organize the paper file by its corresponding number on the DVD. The pages and information were random, nothing was chronological or in date order and at first it was quite overwhelming.
Then I began reading each document for date of entry and for content. What I found was surprising as some info didn’t even pertain to me, but it was included in my C-File. I identified those documents and submitted a request for them to be removed from my C-File.
Then I paid attention to any medical sick call or treatment records of my time in service in Thailand because of the VA’s perimeter rule for Thailand Veterans I looked for records of treatment at bases I had not been assigned to, but rather was TDY while on convoys. This was documented proof that I had been seen and treated on a number of RTAFBs as an army truck driver and that I had to have crossed the perimeter to get to the aid station or clinic.
Additionally what I found in my C-File were VA educational and home loan documents and what I thought was everything I’d ever done with the VA (but I was wrong).
Over the course of several years and undergoing two separate C&P exams I had been granted a rating of 10% for tinnitus and 10% for arthritis of the lower back. There were still at least 20 items from my 2008 claim that had not been acted upon.
I submitted my last claim in 2014 including buddy statements by officers and enlisted from my unit in Thailand with photos and my own statement of being exposed while crossing the perimeter or while living at or near the perimeter in the billets of our camp only 10 feet from the perimeter. My heart doctor filled out a DBQ stating that it was more than likely that my heart disease was aggravated by military service. Yet my claim was denied in 2019 and even the buddy statements were not taken as credible by the judge.
My Certified Claims Agent said my claim should go to the Court of Veterans Appeals Claims (CAVC) in Washington DC and that I should get a VA Certified Attorney to represent me.
I obtained a VA list of Certified Attorneys/Law Firms in my area and sent my denial letter to a couple of agencies, spoke to one representative and the rest did not respond. I even contacted a prominent firm online that has successfully represented Thailand Veterans, but was told they would not take my case to the CAVC.
After I regained my composure I decided to self-represent at the CAVC. The form was easy to download and complete. I went through my denial letter, point by point with documented evidence of my herbicide exposure.
The CAVC required the VA to provide me with an RBA (Record before the Agency) of EVERY DOCUMENT used to make their decision on my claim. The RBA was the only documentation that the CAVC would use in my appeal. I could introduce nothing that wasn’t in the RBA. In time I received first a blank DVD from the VA. I notified them the DVD was blank I promptly received another DVD that contained so much more documentation than my original C-File.
But what I found most pertinent was an error in the denial letter by the VA. They stated that I had not proven how or where I had been exposed to herbicides. That if I had been exposed it was minimal exposure, not like an MP walking the perimeter. Hidden deep in the denial letter were instructions for a C&P examiner which said “the VA conceded this veteran was exposed to herbicides during his tour in Thailand”.
I asked the CAVC judge how it could be that as the duties of an army truck driver after crossing the perimeter that took me to areas on RTAFBs where herbicide spraying had occurred and I was only minimally exposed or not at all, yet instructions to the C&P examiner said otherwise? The CAVC judge sent my claim back to the VBA on remand because of that inconsistency.
I then contacted a VA Certified Claims Agent to handle my appeal on remand. After several months of working my claim as of 29 October 2021 the BVA judge made a ruling to grant my claim for heart disease as service connected. I am now waiting on VA scheduling for a C&P exam to determine level of disability and rating.
There is a new problem we must encounter and that is the fact that the VBA now relies on the GPO to print all letters and documents of ratings, appointments and scheduling. This is just another cog in the mechanism of VA document processing. I’m surprised that there is no process of system duplication whereby the VA cannot electronically transmit letters and documentation directly to veterans using email and posting the same documents on the VA.GOV website where veterans can check the status of their claims and see the latest documents?
In my claim it states my claim has been granted and states to see claim document for more information. The only problem is there is no claim document showing!
Updated: I received an email concerning an upcoming C & P Exam to be scheduled. The VA advises to bring NOTHING to the exam as the examiner will only use what’s already in your file. The VA says to upload any new information pertaining to the portion of your claim to be examined. – I am the Real Truckmaster!
MeWe.Com/The_Real_Truckmaster_Series – 2021