Veteran with Cancer Denied Benefits – VA says not service connected

Army combat veteran John Marshall claims the VA abandoned him when they denied his claim for benefits.1  He was diagnosed with cancer and hospitalized.  The VA claims he did not provide information.  They also claim his cancer is not service connected. 

John Marshall’s situation is not uncommon, unfortunately.  Many veterans were exposed to breathing air in Iraq that contained remnants of burnt materials from burn pits.  All kinds of items were burned in Iraq during the Gulf War.  The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) noted that the Department of Defense needs to better adhere to burn pit guidelines and have better protocols for burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.2  The report indicates that many illnesses suffered by veterans returning the Middle East may be caused by burn pits.

I have spoken to veterans who believe they have suffered lung problems, eye problems, cancer and other health conditions as a result of inhalation of burn pit emissions. 

In order to succeed in a VA service connected claim, a veteran must prove they were active military with a proper discharge.  The veteran must prove they suffered a condition during their military service.  This could be something incurred even on leave, such as a car accident.   Veterans do not have workers compensation coverage.  The VA benefits are basically their working insurance coverage.  The veteran must prove they have a chronic condition.  The veteran must prove a connection between the illness or injury during service and the current chronic condition.  This is referred to as a nexus. 

According to the story, the VA denied John Marshall’s claim stating it was not service connected.  The usual denial occurs at the nexus evaluation.  The VA may be saying that John Marshall was unable to prove his cancer was a result of an injury or illness during his military service.  According to the GAO report, the VA is beginning to investigate the burn pit health issues.  So, they may have denied his claim stating he did not suffer an injury or illness during his military service.  If exposure to the burn pits emissions is later deemed to be a cause of many medical illnesses, then he should be able to get his claim approved.

The burn pits are similar to Viet Nam veterans and their exposure to Agent Orange.  This chemical caused many medical conditions in veterans returning from that region.  It was not until later that the VA concluded there are presumptive conditions as a result to exposure to his herbicide. 

Not only is this a travesty for John Marshall, but it leaves his family with no help.  In order for dependents to receive benefits from a veteran’s death not during active duty, the family must prove the death occurred due to a service connected disability or a condition directly related to a service connected disability.  Without the service connected award, the family members could not receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.3

If you are a veteran or know someone who has been denied their benefits, please contact Wickward Law Office, 919-710-6691, for representation.  There is no consultation fee.