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Veterans' Adviser: VA now recognizes Lou Gehrig's

By George Compton
Saturday, October 11, 2008

Recently the secretary of Veterans Affairs added amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig's disease, to the list of presumptive conditions. Unlike other presumptive conditions, service connection for ALS does not require specific exposure to biohazards or confinement as a prisoner of war.

Service connection for ALS requires at least 90 days of military service, and there is no time limit on onset of the disease. Basically anyone who served the minimum time and has a diagnosis of ALS is eligible for medical and compensation benefits from the VA.

The minimum rating for ALS is 30 percent, and the rating increases as the condition becomes more severe. Also, because of this ruling, service members who have died from ALS have a service-connected death, and there are benefits for eligible dependents.

The VA is going to try to notify veterans with ALS, including those whose claims for ALS were previously denied. This office is ready to assist veterans and family members.

Q. My husband served in Vietnam and suffered from lung cancer for many years. Upon his death I applied for benefits and was denied. In your column you listed lung cancer as a condition caused by Agent Orange. Why was I denied?

A. For a death to be service connected, the cause of death must be from a service-connected condition, or that condition must be a major contributing factor in the death.

The death certificate you provided with your claim had the cause of death as heart failure and did not list any contributing conditions.

It is certainly reasonable that your husband's lung cancer was a major contributing factor in his death. You need to discuss contributing factors with the doctor who was treating his lung cancer, and if his doctor agrees, we need his opinion to help you with your appeal.

Unfortunately, your claim is a good example of why claims should be reviewed by knowledgeable claims officers before they are submitted. Having a service-connected condition listed on the death certificate or a doctor's letter explaining contributing factors with your original claim would have saved months in adjudication.

— George Compton, retired Army colonel, is the veterans service officer for the County of Ventura, Human Services Agency. Send your questions to Veterans Service Office, 1701 Pacific Ave., Suite 110, Oxnard, CA 93033; phone number: 385-6366; fax: 385-6371; or e-mail: George.Compton@ventura.org.

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