January 28, 2020
Weil successfully represented a 27-year-old U.S. Army veteran, pro bono, in his veterans benefits appeal. Our client served as an infantry soldier for three years, including a one-year deployment to Afghanistan. While he was deployed, he manned his company’s “burn pits,” which are large holes in the ground where his company dumped its garbage (including lithium batteries and plastics). Our client was responsible for burning the garbage, using gasoline to do so. He was not given a mask or any other type of protection for the toxic fumes he was exposed to. Soon after returning from his deployment, he began suffering from nasal swelling and sleep apnea, and continues to suffer from those conditions today. During the deployment, he also carried about 100 pounds of weapons and equipment every day, for 16 to 20 hours per day, which has led to a chronic knee condition, compressed discs and spinal strain, and a chronic shoulder condition. His shoulder and back conditions have also caused associated nerve damage, which continues to cause him severe pain on a daily basis.
After its initial review of our client’s claim, the Veterans Administration (VA) denied his claim for sleep apnea, finding that it was not related to his service. The VA likewise denied his claim for his shoulder strain based on a finding that it was not service-connected. They did find that his knee and his back conditions are service-related, but only assigned him a 10% disability rating for those conditions. Weil appealed all of the VA’s ratings decisions. At a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge on June 27, 2019 which included a direct examination of the client, the team submitted evidence that our client’s sleep apnea and his shoulder condition are connected to his military service, and submitted evidence of the extent of his disabilities related to his knee condition, his back condition, and the nerve damage associated with his shoulder and back conditions. The judge complimented the team’s work and preparation on the record.
The judge granted our client’s appeal for sleep apnea and remanded the remaining issues, which remain pending. In light of the ruling, the VA recently increased our client’s disability rating from 30% to 60%, which entitles him to additional monthly benefits going forward and retroactive benefits dating back to January 2013. Based on his new disability rating, the VA also assigned our client to Priority Group 1, which will allow him to get VA care more quickly in the future, and will lower his VA copay rates.