VA Particulate Matter Presumptive Conditions
Category: Veterans Disability Law
Many veterans live with injuries or illnesses that they developed as a result of their military service. Depending on when and where a veteran served in the military, they may be eligible for disability benefits. If you or someone you know was exposed to particulate matter, you might be entitled to compensation.
What Is Particulate Matter?
Particulate matter is the inclusive name for small particles and liquid that can occupy the surrounding air. Particulate matter can be made of acids, metals, soil, dust, and a number of other particles. While particulate matter can be found in virtually all air, the concentration of harmful particles in Southwest Asia is higher and poses a potential risk to members of the military who serve there.
Smaller particles are viewed as more dangerous because they can pass through the nose and throat into the lungs. These tiny particles can then cause serious health effects in the heart and lungs. Regardless of size, however, the main variable is the chemical composition of the particulate matter. Certain chemicals will cause problems, no matter the amount inhaled.
How Can I Be Exposed to Particulate Matter?
Particulate matter can exist in the surrounding air for a multitude of reasons. Both natural and artificial factors can result in particulate matter pollution. When it comes to military service, the most common causes of particulate matter exposure include the following:
- Burn pits – Military bases in remote locations do not have reliable waste disposal systems. One of the primary strategies for removing garbage involves burning all the contents in giant piles. Depending on what gets burned, the particles can enter the surrounding air and affect anybody within a substantial radius.
- Oil well fires – During the Persian Gulf War, a large number of oil wells were lit on fire. The burning oil released toxic black smoke across much of the region. This oil polluted the air and put those who inhaled it in danger.
- Sandstorms – Depending on the location of an individual’s military service, they may be at an increased risk of inhaling sand and dirt particles. Especially in arid regions of Southwest Asia, there is naturally more particulate matter in the air.
How Does Particulate Matter Affect Veterans?
The health risks of inhaling particulate matter can manifest in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, because the origin of particulate matter is not always known, it can be difficult to predict the exact ramifications that toxic air may have.
While the body may be able to clear sand and dust from the respiratory system over time, other toxins might be more difficult to purge. Burn pits contain everything from chemical weapons to human waste. There’s no telling what hazardous substances may find their way into the bloodstream.
Particulate matter can damage virtually any bodily system. Respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, epidermal, and auto-immune are some of the more commonly affected systems. It’s important to keep track of any potential particulate matter exposure you encounter because the full impacts are incalculable. Being able to trace symptoms back to causes can be essential to receiving compensation.
VA Particulate Matter Presumptive Conditions
VA has recently recognized three separate respiratory conditions as presumptively connected to particulate matter. Presumptive conditions are those which are assumed to be associated with military service and therefore do not require further proof of service connection beyond proof of presence. If you can prove that you served in a specific place at a specific time, VA assumes that your condition was “at least more likely than not” caused by said military service.
VA determines presumptive service connection by studying trends and patterns in veteran disability claims. When an unorthodox number of veterans develop similar symptoms around the same time, or for the same reason, VA streamlines the process by assuming those who served with them experience the same issues. The new reviewal process presumes particulate matter exposure with veterans who served in the following locations and times:
- Anytime after August 02, 1990, in Southwest Asia
- Anytime after September 19, 2001, in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, or Syria
Qualifying veterans will not have the burden of proving service connection for the respiratory conditions rhinitis, sinusitis, or asthma.
VA Disability for Allergic Rhinitis
Rhinitis, also called hay fever, is classified by an allergic overreaction of the body to external stimuli. Both indoor and outdoor allergens, such as pollen, pet dander, and dust mites can cause rhinitis symptoms in a vulnerable individual. Rhinitis symptoms typically include minor annoyances that resolve themselves quickly, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion.
Individuals who experience prolonged exposure to certain allergens may begin to develop chronic or more severe forms of rhinitis that make it difficult to live their normal lives. VA recognizes rhinitis as a relatively mild condition that is usually a symptom of a separate problem. Rhinitis can also cause other infections to develop, such as sinusitis.
VA Disability for Sinusitis
Sinusitis is most commonly the bacterial or viral infection of the sinus cavities in the head and face. When your sinuses become infected, they can swell up and cause difficulty breathing, headaches, and fevers. When the body’s ability to drain mucus is hindered, it can cause a buildup that hosts harmful pathogens.
Viral sinusitis typically lasts 7-10 days, while bacterial sinusitis usually lasts over 10 days and may require antibiotics. If the sinusitis lasts for longer than four weeks, it stops being referred to as acute and may require continued medical treatment. After 12 weeks, it becomes chronic sinusitis. Chronic sinusitis is a persistent condition that requires proper care and can be very debilitating depending on the severity of symptoms.
VA disability for allergic rhinitis and sinusitis is awarded based on the level of unemployability. The harder these conditions make it for a veteran to work, the higher the disability rating they will receive.
VA Disability for Asthma
While both rhinitis and sinusitis involve other bodily systems that affect the respiratory system, asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that causes inflammation directly in the airways. Asthma can range from mild attacks which last a few minutes to severe flare-ups which last for several hours or days. Coughing, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest are all common symptoms of an asthma attack.
Asthma has a variety of causes, including prolonged exposure to particulate matter. If you experience asthma that was caused or worsened by time served in the military, you may be eligible for VA compensation, especially if your condition prevents you from working or other necessary activities.
Sinusitis and asthma can be triggered by allergens or irritants in the air. Sinusitis is more likely to occur in individuals with severe asthma, and the resulting sinusitis can make asthma worse. These conditions should be controlled as soon as possible and, if necessary, claimed for VA disability benefits.
VA and Particulate Matter Exposure
VA is working with the U.S. Department of Defense to identify individuals that were potentially exposed to environmental hazards during their active military service. Beyond the obvious connections, VA still requires adequate proof before providing a VA disability rating for particulate matter exposure.
Military records rarely verify incidents of exposure. This places huge importance on buddy statements, personal statements, news articles, and other pieces of lay evidence that establish some form of connection between the veteran’s condition and exposure to particulate matter.
VA does understand and acknowledge the variety and severity of symptoms caused by particulate matter exposure. They also understand how easily veterans can be affected by working on or around burn pits. Lay statements and other documents that prove your involvement with these hazards are typically considered sufficient proof of a connection.
Particulate Matter VA Disability Rating
Your VA disability rating for particulate matter exposure will depend on the resulting symptoms and how much they affect your daily life. Usually, the presence of one of these conditions as a result of military service comes in combination with other issues. While sinusitis and rhinitis typically have lower ratings, if they are paired with asthma or other respiratory conditions, they may contribute to a higher combined disability rating for particulate matter.
Include all relevant evidence or documentation regarding your service-connected condition. After making a claim, VA will likely order a compensation and pension (C&P) exam for you. At the C&P exam for particulate matter exposure, you will be physically assessed by a VA-approved medical professional.
You will also be asked a multitude of questions referring to your symptoms and daily life. Answer everything truthfully and comprehensively to receive the most accurate particulate matter VA disability rating.
Contact Tuley Law Office for Help Filing a Particulate Matter VA Disability Claim
Particulate matter exposure VA claims are similar to other VA disability claims—they all require a diagnosis, event, and medical nexus. Depending on your condition, however, you may have a particulate matter presumptive condition for which service is already assumed.
An experienced VA disability lawyer can help you find out whether or not you qualify for a presumptive connection and assist you in assessing the potential value of your condition.
Contact one of our VA disability lawyers today to get started receiving the compensation you deserve for your particulate matter exposure.
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