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VA / VETERANS SERVICE OFFICE

Department of South Carolina VSO Officer

John Johnson

Command Sergeant Major, USA (Retired)

VFW Department Service Officer

Columbia, South Carolina

Office:  (803) 647-2442/2443

Fax:  (803) 647-2313

6437 Garners Ferry Rd, Suite 1124

                               Columbia, SC 29209

                             Email:  John.Johnson34@va.gov

 

Valarie Singleton

Claims Consultant/Administrative Assistant

Office Phone: (803) 647-2242

Email Valarie.Singleton2@va.gov

 

Office Schedule

Monday-Wednesday 0800-1600 Hours

Friday 0800-1200 Hours-Scheduled Appointments

Thursday 0800-1600 hours BVA Hearings

Friday 1200-1600 hours Training/Administrative.

 

Until further notice BVA Hearings will be conducted 2 days a week until the current backlog is eliminated.   

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September 13, 2021, An Article from a Veteran to bring awareness of what veterans are going through due to the recent events in Afghanistan! Reach out to our Comrades who served in Afghanistan to encourage them as they deal with the invisible wounds.

Is The War Really Over?

I returned this week from a trip to Virginia where my wife and I visited our son who served 56 months in combat as a Green Beret Combat Medic and Sniper in a war that is now being declared as finished.

During the time with our son, I traveled with him on a day trip to North Carolina to attend a ceremony honoring two veterans who recently passed away, a function hosted by a large number of members of the Veterans Motorcycle Club. My son is a member of this non-profit organization that was formed in

1982 with chapters located in New York, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, Missouri, Texas, Germany, Virginia and a Nomad Chapter. It is comprised of veterans, for veterans, by veterans, where all

members own and ride street legal, American-made, motorcycles.

At this ceremony I found some unbelievable heroes of this country, many were former or current Special Forces veterans, and some having served with my son in combat. I met heroes missing a leg, missing both legs, suffering from multiple bullet wounds, horrific scarring, having traumatic brain injuries from exploding devices, with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), along with other mental and physical health conditions after service to America. Of course, most were highly decorated with rows and rows of medals such as the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Valor and multiple Purple Hearts. One, I was told, receiving the first Purple Heart presented by former President Trump during his tenure in office.

The first thing you see at a veteran’s function like this is their comradery and outright love for one another. In fact, they refer to one another as "brothers”. And, they are, and I will refer to them in that manner. Because they served together, fought together, bled together, cried together over fallen brothers, and they became one. They became brothers. As an Air Force retiree with no combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan and having served before most of these brothers were even born, I figured it would be difficult to talk to them but found the opposite to be true. I did note that whenever I discussed their service in the war, they always seemed to indicate they only performed their assigned jobs and their brother served more honorably and heroically. I also observed many were struggling terribly with the results of our departure from Afghanistan.

My lead into our conversations to discuss the Afghanistan withdrawal and their thoughts on the subject was that I and my "brothers” had experienced a similar situation, notably depicted throughout the decades by helicopters over the U.S. Embassy in Saigon airlifting troops and refugees out of country.

Unfortunately, this past week we have seen similar actions in Kabul as thousands were being airlifted to safety. I think my own war experiences, though absolutely nowhere near their sacrifices, made it considerably easier for these young veterans to open up to me. I found they were not just saddened about the ongoing fiasco as they spoke with tears in their eyes, they were very angry while commenting about America’s departure from Afghanistan. This was not the first time I had seen this reaction because upon my return from Vietnam and the subsequent withdrawal in 1975, I viewed and experienced similar reactions. But there was a big difference. Most of us in the Vietnam War probably served less than 3 tours of duty, while the recent war found many veterans serving tours of duty in double digit figures.  I mentioned my son’s 56 months in combat and please realize that is 56 months fighting and risking your life nearly every single day of a tour of duty. Imagine having to do it for 75 or 100 months, or longer. Imagine your physical health. My son, for example, has a shoulder nearly destroyed, a foot that required surgery and a knee in horrific condition. He has a traumatic brain injury that is impacting his memory, his eyesight, his mental health, and other related conditions. After "only” 56 months in combat. Imagine, if you will, serving double that number and the resulting impact upon your life.

So, is the war over? As far as combat for our veterans, perhaps, but I guarantee you this country for decades to come will be combating the mental and physical health of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Whether it is PTSD, diseases from the burn pits, physical injuries, or other health conditions, we in this country will be in combat. In combat trying to make these heroes whole once again.

Unless you get involved to support these heroes, we will lose another war. Please step up and do whatever you can to help these men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you do not know how you can help, contact your local veterans’ organization. Please, please get involved.

 The war is not over. Essentially, it is just beginning.

John Stewart is a retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant, disabled Vietnam War veteran and has been a veteran advocate for nearly three decades. In 2016 he was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame for his volunteer service.

 

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 September 8, 2021 

 

Reach Out’ campaign highlights programs and assistance for Veterans during Suicide Prevention Month

WASHINGTON — In conjunction with Suicide Prevention Month this September, the Department of Veterans Affairs is launching Reach Out, a new campaign that raises awareness of its mental health resources available for Veterans.

Timely evidence-based suicide prevention public service announcements on firearm safe storage have been released as the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches and the recent events in Afghanistan spark an array of emotions along with other stressors.

Reach Out emphasizes the importance of not waiting for a crisis to happen by acting now to help prevent Veteran suicide later. In addition to reaching out other critical actions that can save a life are hearing a Veteran’s story, being prepared, finding resources and spreading the word.

The messaging ensures Veterans, their families, friends and caregivers know they are not alone, and it only takes a moment to reach out and ask for help. VA's Suicide Prevention Month campaign encourages Veterans who might be going through a challenging time in their lives to reach out for support.

"Transitioning from military service, changing jobs, ending a relationship, and even raising kids can be overwhelming at times, and while everyone goes through ups and downs, sometimes Veterans’ experiences can intensify these situations,” said VA Acting Under Secretary for Health, Steven L. Lieberman, M.D. "Veterans don’t have to go through the challenges of life alone; VA and community organizations can help by providing resources before a crisis develops and assistance for Veterans in crisis.”

There are many ways to reach out to friends, family and VA:

  • Calling or texting a friend or fellow Veteran to talk about what they’re going through.
  • Tapping into VA tools to get help when going through life’s challenges.
  • Make the Connection, where more than 600 Veterans and family members share their stories of strength and recovery.
  • MyVA411, where Veterans, their families and caregivers can call 1-800-MyVA411 (800-698-2411) to easily access information on VA benefits and services.
  • VA Resource Locator, where Veteran and families can find VA resources at the national and local level.

VA also has resources to help Veterans transitioning from the military or going through a difficult time in life. VA Solid Start connects Veterans with qualified representatives who call three times during a Veteran’s first year of separation to walk through benefits available. The Self-Check Assessment is a confidential anonymous risk assessment Veterans can use to help them understand if and how stress and depression are affecting them.

Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness can get free confidential support through the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans, where trained counselors are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Veterans do not have to be registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care to contact the center.

Veterans and loved ones can also find additional external resources on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services tool. It is confidential and anonymous and allows users to search by ZIP code for local treatment facilities that focus on substance use/addiction and/or mental health issues.

For more information and resources, visit REACH.gov/SPM.

 

VA expands rental supportincreasing housing options for Veterans - The Department of Veterans Affairs has expanded the Shallow Subsidy initiative and will grant $200 million to 238 nonprofit organizations across the country and territories to provide housing rental assistance to extremely and very low-income Veteran households eligible under VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. (8/25/21)

 

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August 25, 2021

 

"The Board of Veterans’ Appeals has learned that a limited number of Veterans may have had their Board Appeal forms (VA Form 10182, Decision Review Request: Board Appeal (Notice of Disagreement)) mistakenly rejected for being untimely.  Out of an abundance of caution, the Board is sending out a wide notice to help ensure no other Veterans were impacted by this.  If you filed a VA Form 10182 with the Board between February 19, 2019, and March 23, 2021, and believe it may have been improperly rejected as untimely, please send a letter to the "Clerk of the Board” at P.O. Box 27063, Washington, DC 20038 or via fax to 1-844-678-8979 no later than March 1, 2022.  In your letter, state you are asking the Board to "RECALCULATE TIMELINESS” and be careful to include the Veteran’s full name, claim number or SSN, the date of the rating decision you appealed to the Board, and the date of your original VA Form 10182 appeal form that the Board told you was untimely.” 

 

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August 20, 2021 


Nominate a VFW Veteran for Veteran of the Week by Clicking on the link below!

Chase McCallister VTW Graphic

August 16, 2021

Lance Corporal Chase McCallister is our "Veteran of the Week.”

LCPL Chase McCallister served four years in the Marine Corps from 2005-2009. McCallister was an 0331 Machine Gunner and deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom twice in 2007 and 2008. He received a Combat Action Ribbon with one star.

After his term of service, McCallister attended the University of South Carolina in the upstate for his bachelor's degree and got his master’s in accounting from Clemson University. He is currently an Assurance Manager with Price Waterhouse Company (PwC) working in Spartanburg, SC but servicing clients throughout the state. McCallister serves as the Operations Lead for the PwC Carolina’s Veterans Affinity Network and enjoys serving and connecting with Veterans. He lives with his wife, Lauren in Greenville, SC with their two daughters Bennett and Porter.

Thank you for your service, Lance Corporal McCallister!

Chase McCallister Collage

 

 


Nominate A Veteran of the Week

 

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August 20, 2021 

What is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder. The diagnosis of PTSD is made when a Veteran has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following have occurred:

  1. The Veteran experienced or witnessed an event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury
  2. The Veteran experienced a threat to the physical well-being of him/herself or others, and the Veteran’s response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror. 

Treatment may include: 

  • Individual therapy and/or group therapy, medication.

Physical and Mental Changes to Expect:

While the general symptoms for PTSD are similar, the types and severity of symptoms will differ for each Veteran.

  • Physical changes may include: difficulty staying or falling asleep; irritability or outbursts of anger; physical reactions—such as profuse sweating, increased heart rate and rapid breathing—when exposed to internal or external cues or reminders of the traumatic event; intense distress when exposed to internal or external reminders of the event such as certain sounds or smells; avoiding any activities, places or people that remind the Veteran of the trauma.
  • Mental changes may include: recurring and intrusive thoughts about the event; recurring and distressing dreams of the event; acting or feeling as if it the traumatic event were recurring—also known as having flashbacks; being unable to recall an important aspect of the trauma; difficulty concentrating; and efforts to avoid thoughts, feeling or conversations associated with the trauma.
  • Emotional changes may include: intense distress when exposed to internal or external reminders of the event such as certain sounds or smells; a noticeable lack of interest or participation in important activities; feelings of detachment or estrangement from others; limited ability or inability to show affection or love; feelings of a bleak future, such as limited career or family opportunities, and shortened life span; overly alert or on guard—also known as "hyper-vigilance”—and/or exaggerated response when startled.

What does This Mean for Me?

One of the areas in which you may notice a difference is in your social lives. The Veteran you care for may become uncomfortable in large crowds or unfamiliar places, and so you may find yourself feeling more socially isolated, losing support networks, or feeling the need to compensate for the Veteran you care for in social situations that are uncomfortable for him or her while providing support and encouragement at the same time. You may also have to learn coping skills to manage the stigma that is sometimes associated with mental health disorders.

You may also notice a difference in your personal relationship with the Veteran you care for. It is important to understand that it may be harder to talk to the Veteran due to changes in his or her behavior and/or communication style.

In addition, if the Veteran is experiencing difficulty managing his or her anger, you may feel like you live in an atmosphere of constant chaos. If the Veteran you are caring for is your spouse or partner, you may experience additional changes in your relationship. This might include feeling worried that your Veteran is no longer emotionally or physically attracted to you due to emotional unavailability, or a decreased interest in physical intimacy and sexual activity. In addition, due to sleep disturbance (for example, insomnia, waking-up frequently, nightmares), many couples choose to sleep in separate beds (and rooms), which may cause further feelings of emotional separation.

At times, you may experience your own feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, discouragement and loss when the Veteran you care for experiences symptoms of PTSD. These reactions are normal, but can be challenging to deal

Caregiving Tips

  • Learn as much as you can about PTSD by reading, going to lectures, talking with others in similar situations, and talking with the Veteran’s treatment team. A good place to start your learning is VA’s National Center for PTSD.
  • Consider encouraging the Veteran you care for to seek mental health treatment. VA has proven treatments for PTSD that help Veterans manage their symptoms in all types of environments. Just remember that not everyone is ready to admit they need help, so if there is no threat of harming themselves or others, respect a Veteran’s decision about seeking treatment.
  • If the Veteran you care for decides to seek treatment, encourage and fully support that decision. It’s important for both of you.
  • Request to be part of the Veteran’s treatment. If the Veteran you care for agrees, talk with the mental health providers regularly. Ask questions and take notes.
  • Recognize the Veteran’s social and/or emotional withdrawal is due to his or her own issues and not your relationship. A Veteran with PTSD will have good days and bad days. Foster relationships with family, friends, and others to stay connected and get support.
  • Learn coping skills to manage stigma sometimes associated with mental health disorders.
  • Pay attention to warning signs of a potential relapse, including an increase in symptoms or other changes in behavior. Keep the psychiatrist and/or therapist, local crisis team, Veterans Crisis Line, and other emergency phone numbers handy.
  • If any Veteran talks about suicide, take it seriously and seek help immediately. The Veterans Crisis Line is 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 for Veterans).
  • Don’t forget to pay attention to your own needs. Visit your doctor regularly, and get plenty of rest so you can stay strong. Your health is essential to your ability to keep providing for the Veteran you care for.

Resources:


Need Help?

Your local Caregiver Support Coordinator is a licensed professional who can support you by matching you with services for which you are eligible, and providing you with valuable information about resources that can help you stay smart, strong and organized as you care for the Veteran you love.

Call VA’s Caregiver Support Line at 1-855-260-3274 to learn more about the support that is available to you and for assistance connecting with the Caregiver Support Coordinator at your local VA Medical Center.

Caregiver Support Program (CSP) - Menu of Resources

*By clicking on these links, you will leave the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site.

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 August 17, 2021Patriots Day, September 11, 2021

 

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August 5, 2021

 

Earlier this week VA announced their continued plans to add three presumptive conditions based on exposure to particulate matter (ex. Burn Pits) in Southwest Asia, Afghanistan, Syria, Djibouti, or Uzbekistan.  VA’s proposed regulations would service connect asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis (to include rhinosinusitis).

 In order for the presumptive condition to be granted, the veteran must have qualifying service in Southwest Asia from August 1990 to present or service in Afghanistan, Syria, Djibouti, or Uzbekistan on or after Sept 19, 2001.  The medical condition (asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis, or rhinosinusitis) must have manifested within ten years from separation date which had the qualifying service.  VA is not requiring that the condition manifest to a compensable rating for the claim to be granted on a presumptive basis.

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July 21 South Carolina Benefits Website


https://scdva.sc.gov


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July 12 Pamphlets to assist Veterans with Benefits:

 

2020 VA Federal Benefits Guide 

/uploads/Documents/VSO/2020_Federal_Benefits_for_Veterans_Dependents_and_survivors.pdf

 

South Carolina Veterans 

 

Planning Your Legacy, Survivor Benefits

 /uploads/Documents/VSO/PlanningYourLegacyVASurvivorsandBurialsBenefitsKit.pdf

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June 17 Veteran Service Office Pamphlet:

 

 Veterans Service Office Tri-Fold

 

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June 16 Update

 

The State Commander has donated a framed military poster for the service office to preserve his legacy and decorate our bare walls.  I placed a plate on it and with his Branch of Service.  I am challenging former State Commanders to provide a military framed picture or poster and I will place a plate on it to preserve your legacy.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 1 Update

 

A MESSAGE FROM THE SECRETARY

 

Updated Masking Guidance for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Employees, Contractors and Visitors in Non-Health Care Settings

 

The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced updated Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People. Consistent with this guidance, and subject to any applicable labor relations obligations, fully vaccinated Federal employees, fully vaccinated onsite contractors and fully vaccinated visitors are no longer required to wear masks indoors or outdoors while on VA grounds, except when working in or visiting Veterans Health Administration (VHA) buildings providing health care. All VA personnel should continue to comply with CDC guidance regarding areas where masks should be worn, including within airports and health care settings.

 

To clarify what this announcement means for VA personnel and visitors:

  • If you are fully vaccinated (at least 2 weeks past your final dose), you are no longer required to wear a mask.
  • If you are not fully vaccinated (at least 2 weeks past your final dose), please continue to wear a mask consistent with the requirements set forth in VA’s Charting the Course safety plan and your Administration or Staff Office workplace safety plan.
  • Masking requirements remain in place for both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated employees and visitors to VHA buildings providing health care.

 

Personnel who are not fully vaccinated should continue to follow applicable VA mask requirements, including continuing to wear masks in Federal buildings and on Federal lands. Maximum telework and Federal building occupancy limits remain in place. Safety guidance related to these other matters will continue to be updated based on the latest public health guidance. 

 

These changes are consistent with Executive Order 13991 on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing, which charged Federal agencies to "require compliance with CDC guidelines with respect to wearing masks” and with Office of Management and Budget memorandum M-21-15, which noted in its guidance on face masks that "agencies may provide for exceptions consistent with CDC guidelines.”

 

Thank you for your continued commitment to Veterans, their families and survivors. Our workforce is our most valuable asset, and we truly appreciate your tireless dedication. As the situation and guidance changes in this fluid and improving environment, you will receive updates. 

 

Denis McDonough

 

 

 

NOTES:

• COVID-19

o The Columbia Regional Office is open to visitors in our public contact areas though occupancy remains limited. Virtual appointments by phone and video chat are also available by emailing or calling us locally:

Public Contact Team:

Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri - 8:00 – 4:00; Wed - 8:30 – 4:00

803-647-2488 or VetAsst.VBACMS@va.gov

• VBA Customer Experience (CX) Strategic Management Program Office established which will include Veteran Signals (V Signals), short surveys of Veterans/claimants after interactions with VBA. o Starting this year and expanding the next couple years across sections of VBA, V Signals surveys will be conducted to ensure that VBA is serving Veterans well. Scores will be aggregated by business line such as call centers, VR&E and appeals. VBA leaders will be required to demonstrate high or improving CX scores in areas within their span of leadership.

 

• Military Sexual Trauma claims processing consolidation.  VBA is centralizing the processing of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) claims to improve quality, consistency and timeliness while compassionately processing these claims. Columbia is one of the stations temporarily processing these claims as a part of the consolidation process. VBA plans further consolidation to a single VBA regional office in the future.

 

• Local initiative for customer focus, performance, and Veterans Readiness and Employment (VRE) (used to be known as Vocational Rehabilitation or VOC REHAB) Modernization Virtual Counselor Drop-in live chat line available for handling general questions. Each counselor is on the line at least one day per week

 

WHEN: Monday thru Thursday

TIME: 9:00 am to 3:00 pm

LINK: Microsoft Teams

Join on your computer or mobile app

Click here to join the meeting

Or call in (audio only) +1 872-701-0185

Phone Conference ID: 482 913 278#

o Case Management Solution (CMS) allows for paperless processing of VR&E cases and reduces administrative tasks allowing counselors to spend more time helping Veterans achieve their employment goals.

 

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 May 14th Update

 

Readjudication of denied claims - Nehmer Decision

 

Earlier today, Acting Undersecretary for Benefits Tom Murphy released the attached notice which states that VA will announce a plan to re-adjudicate claims for veterans who were previously denied service connection for a herbicide related presumptive condition due to lack of in-country Vietnam service. According to this notice, VA will automatically review the evidence of record and provide replacement decisions in the cases of veterans who were previously denied service connection for one or more herbicide related conditions on the basis that military service was not performed in the Republic of Vietnam or on its inland waterways. This review will also apply to eligible survivors of deceased Vietnam-era veterans.


Though we do not have an official date for the start of this review yet, we anticipate that reviews of these claims will begin shortly after VA’s official announcement is made. As more details emerge about this re-adjudication plan, including regulations, procedures, and any required actions on the part of our accredited representatives, we will pass them on to you. In the meantime, please read the attached notice and be aware of this upcoming review of claims.

 

Veterans Service Organization Partners

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May 4th Update

  • Columbia Regional Office Phased Reopening

The Regional Office continues to operate in Phase 1.

Our office is open to host virtual hearings.  Co-located VSOs have been back in the building since November 2020.

  • COVID-19 Vaccine Email to Veterans

On February 2, 2021, VA sent an email message to approximately 600,000 Veterans who signed up on the COVID-19 vaccine 

Keep Me Informed tool on VA.gov. This is the fourth email and provides information on VA COVID-19 vaccine plans.

 

  • Dorn (Columbia VA Healthcare) VAMC

Dedicated COVID-19 Vaccine scheduling number:

803-776-4000 extension 2873

https://www.columbiasc.va.gov/ services/covid-19-vaccines.asp

 

  • Charlie Norwood (Augusta) VAMC

Dedicated COVID-19 Vaccine scheduling number:

706-733-0188 extensions – 3265, 3613, 3634 or 3632

https://www.augusta.va.gov/ services/covid-19-vaccines.asp

 

  • Ralph H Johnson (Charleston) VAMC:

https://www.charleston.va.gov/ services/covid-19-vaccines.asp

"For more information about vaccine eligibility and administration at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center visit www.charleston.va.gov

 

For Veterans who are not currently enrolled in the VA, please call our eligibility office at 843-789-7008 or visit our eligibility website https://www. charleston.va.gov/patients/ eligibility.asp.”

 

Contact 843-789-6900 to schedule a vaccine however, it is recommended to check the website and social media posts.

 

The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (NDAA) (H.R.6395) added three (3) more conditions to the Agent Orange presumptive-conditions list wherein Veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange may qualify for benefits:

      bladder cancer,

      hypothyroidism, and

      Parkinsonism, or Parkinson-like symptoms.

      Until further procedural guidance is provided to the field, claims adjudicators cannot grant service connection based on herbicide exposure for any of the three new conditions

      Claims processors will fully develop for the evidence necessary to adjudicate the claim, to include ordering of any examinations, for all conditions claimed

      Rating decisions for the three new conditions will be deferred pending final procedures for granting these conditions on a presumptive basis

      In situations where the claim can be granted on any basis other than a presumptive basis due to Agent Orange exposure, claims adjudicators will not delay making a decision on the claim

  • If a claim is received and AO exposure has not already been conceded, the entire claim will be referred for centralized processing
  • If AO exposure has previously been conceded, all other issues will be adjudicated fully. After all other issues have been decided, the claims processor will:
    • Apply "VACO Special Issue 7” to the EP and,
    • Add a VBMS Note: "NDAA 2021 AO Issue(s) – awaiting final guidance”

Note: The special issue will only be added at this stage if the claim contains only the new AO presumptive issue(s). NWQ will recall the claim prior to moving to rating once the special issue is attached. If additional issues are associated with the claim, the claims adjudicator will not add the special issue at this stage and will continue to develop and decide all other issues.

 

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