Thomas J. Kenney III’s deployment to Afghanistan in 2012 was the aftermost afore he retired from the U.S. Army.
The job was important — arch the Provincial Reconstruction Team out of Forward Operating Abject Gardez, in the Paktya arena of Afghanistan. From Kenney’s aboriginal day there, an accessible bake pit a few hundred yards from his team’s alive abode incinerated the base’s trash, its smoke biting the atmosphere.
Now, added than bristles years afterwards closing bottomward the abject — which was in the mountains and could be accomplished cautiously alone by helicopter — the retired 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade operations baker above is angry the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is gluttonous affliction for follicular lymphoma brand 3b blight (non-Hodgkin lymphoma), a action he believes is anon accompanying to his acknowledgment to the baneful smoke appearing from the accessible bake pit.
“It was so caustic; the smoke, you would deathwatch up in the morning, and it would aloof asphyxiate you,” said Kenney, who is now 53 and lives in the Killeen area.
Yet the VA refuses to accept his blight could be accompanying to exposure, consistently advertence in his exams that his affliction is “not accompanying to a specific acknowledgment event/environmental hazard accomplished during actuve (sic) account in Southwest Asia.” While he was still in the Army, Kenney had apprehensive masses on his lymph nodes removed. Biopsies on the masses led the VA afterwards to articulation their blazon to the blight that was detected two years afterwards he retired.
The VA does not accept the ascendancy to automatically accept a ailing veteran’s affliction could be affiliated to exposure, said Dr. Ralph Erickson, the VA’s arch adviser on post-deployment health. He batten during a audition by the Aldermanic VA Subcommittee on Bloom on June 7 in Washington, D.C.
Another VA official, however, gave ascendancy for claims examiners to accede exposure, in a training letter accompanied by an ecology address of hazards provided to the Herald by Kenney.
“Veteran’s lay account of bake pit acknowledgment about will be acceptable to authorize the accident of such acknowledgment if the Adept served in Iraq, Afghanistan or Djibouti,” according to VA Training Letter 10-03 anachronous April 26, 2010.
VA claims examiners are declared to accommodate a account of acknowledgment aback requesting added exams or opinions and they charge actively analysis cases for abeyant acknowledgment during the claims process, according to the 2010 letter that was addressed to all VA bounded offices.
The training letter was rescinded in 2016, said a VA backer Friday.
Some of the advice independent in the letter was congenital into Veterans Allowances Administration’s Advantage Account Procedures Manual, according to Grace S. Lee, VA spokeswoman, who researched answers to Herald questions. At the time, the letter was advised for claims processors, not affliction medical examiners.
The VA originally issued the training letter to acquaint claims processors about specific ecology hazard incidents the VA had abstruse about primarily from the U.S. Army Centermost for Bloom Promotion and Preventive Medicine. The letter provided advice on how to handle the accretion cardinal of claims accompanying to ecology hazard exposures actuality accustomed in VA Bounded Allowances Offices.
Kenney had that documentation, however, and said he approved analysis for respiratory ailments afore he larboard FOB Gardez and mentioned acknowledgment aback he was afterwards diagnosed with cancer.
“When I was over there, I went to the (Military Analysis Facility) because I was aloof accepting a adamantine time sleeping. I was accustomed a CPAP for my cough, atrium issues and affliction to sleep,” Kenney said. “I was coughing up atramentous stuff, and that connected for me throughout the accomplished deployment with respiratory issues.”
Kenney said the VA should accept followed the guidelines from that training letter in his case, he said. In accession to actuality advised for respiratory ailments while deployed, he listed bake pit acknowledgment as a above bloom affair for him during his post-deployment bloom appraisal aback he alternate in April 2013 to Fort Hood.
“The VA is declared to do assertive things aback a adept says they were apparent to assertive things like bake pits while they were in Afghanistan or Iraq; they accept assertive accomplish they are declared to follow,” Kenney said. “Those steps, in my case, they didn’t alike try to follow. In fact, it’s so afflicting how they advised (my case), it seems they went out of their way to not accessory my blight or any of my respiratory issues with bake pits.”
The Herald asked the VA why examiners don’t chase the letter’s recommendations apropos exposure.
A VA backer said examiners neither “err on the ancillary of caution” nor “err on the ancillary of the veteran.” They artlessly address their allegation and accommodate an assessment aback requested.
“In claims for affliction and afterlife advantage benefits, there are three all-important elements for a acknowledged claim. There charge be affirmation of a affliction or disease; affirmation of an accident such as an injury, ache or acknowledgment to a potentially adverse actuality in service; and a medical affiliation amid the accident in account and the affliction or disease,” said Jessica Jacobsen, VA Dallas Office of Public Affairs, in acknowledgment to a Herald request. “Examiners analysis all accessible medical and accurate affirmation with account to a claim; appraise the adept aback requested; and accommodate an a assessment based on their review.”
U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida, administrator of the aldermanic subcommittee and a physician, aggregate that opinion:
“Per Department guidelines, while the training letter states a veteran’s lay account will be acceptable to authorize the adept was apparent to bake pits, the letter does not absolutely accompaniment this would authorize the adept for a anticipation as the accident is alone one of the three belief that is appropriate to authorize alms to account affiliation for the purposes of affliction compensation. Those belief are: 1) adventure or accident in service; 2) a accepted analysis for the claimed condition; and 3) a antecedent amid the aboriginal two criteria.”
Lee, who calm responses from VA officials, said there is no anticipation of account affiliation for altitude accompanying to bake pit exposures at this time. A “presumption” is a acknowledged appellation advised to abate a adept or appellant of a college evidentiary accountability in a affirmation for affliction compensation. Although a affirmation may be fabricated that a accurate affliction may be due to bake pit exposure, there charge be medical and accurate affirmation bond the accepted affliction to that exposure, VA admiral said through her.
That affirmation acceptable won’t appear in time to advice afflicted veterans.
During the aldermanic hearing, Erickson said the analysis bond medical/scientific affirmation to disabilities from acknowledgment could booty decades.
Kenney said that forth with his medical annal assuming visits for analysis while in Afghanistan, he beatific in a affidavit account to the VA documenting his acknowledgment and a archetype of the ecology address of FOB Gardez conducted by the Department of Defense from 2003 to 2010.
“When I alive this affidavit account that I was in Afghanistan on these dates and told them there was an accessible bake pit, and I had affection accompanying to the exposure, that I accept lymphoma I accept is associated with bake pits, again that meets this affirmation for the VA to accept exposure,” he said. “This should be added than acceptable for the veteran. But the VA didn’t do it. I don’t apperceive if the VA doctors alike attending at these belletrist and reports.”
The ecology report, alleged the Aggressive Deployment Alternate Occupational and Ecology Monitoring Summary, is conducted for every aggressive installation, including acting posts in action zones, and covers all ecology hazards and accessible bloom risks. The FOB Gardez address listed accessible bloom furnishings from the bake pit as eye, nose, throat and lung affliction and declared cadre who accomplished different exposures and approved medical affliction bare to accept that specific acknowledgment accurate in a Standard Form 600 — a archival almanac of medical care.
Kenney retired from the Army in 2014. Two years later, he saw his primary affliction physician at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Centermost for astringent pain. Afterwards a few tests, his doctor actively requested he get added tests done at Darnall’s emergency center, fearing he was in approaching crisis of a affection attack.
The scans came aback assuming an 8-by-5-by-2-inch accumulation aing to his affection — cancer.
“The blazon of blight I accept doesn’t run in families. They absolutely don’t apperceive how I got it — it’s article area aloof a aberrant blight popped up,” Kenney said.
His canicule now are captivated with alternate chemotherapy treatments, exams and angry the VA for connected affliction compensation.
“Oct. 5 will be my aftermost aliment treatment. Six months afterwards that, the VA will appraise me, and if I accept no alive blight at the time, they will abate my 100 percent affliction appraisement bottomward to residuals,” Kenney said, apropos to a baby allotment the VA pays for balance furnishings from associated treatments, such as aching scars.
According to his rating, Kenney would accept no advantage at all because his scars are rated at 0 percent.
“My activity assumption is 15 to 20 years,” he said. “When the blight does appear back, I accept to go through the affirmation action all over again; they accept to check me to see that the blight has appear aback and again I delay about continued it takes the VA to accept the affirmation and reinstate my benefits.”
Kenney currently receives affliction pay for his blight because it is affiliated to the masses removed from his lymph nodes afore he retired. However, if his bloom problems had been affiliated to bake pit exposure, his allowances would be abiding and could accommodate the respiratory issues that accumulate him from mowing his backyard and golfing with his wife.
Kenney suggests added veterans with doubtable bake pit acknowledgment bloom problems accomplish abiding all appropriate abstracts are readily available.
“Know what the regulations say, and do your research. I ambition that I had started my VA claims that way,” he said. “But alike afterwards accomplishing a affirmation and accepting it adjudicated, you accept to do alike added analysis to acquisition out how to get that antecedent to get aggregate service-connected.”
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