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Veterans say VA unfair in denying disability benefits

The Associated Press
January 7, 2007   8:11 pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Department of Veterans Affairs is not properly considering statements from veterans' private physicians when determining a disability rating, relying instead on its own physicians who aren't as favorable to their claims, according to veterans and others.

Such decisions violate the so-called "treating-physician rule," which calls for the VA to give preferential weight to statements from a veteran's private physician, they said.

"I've been working with the VA with a lot of my (patients)," said Fred McQueen Jr., a physician in Hamlet. "With the VA, I can't make them accept (my statements). I've sent them pages from textbooks and articles, and they don't pay any attention. They've been jerking (veterans) around."

The News & Record of Greensboro said the VA has not responded to its numerous questions from about its disability compensation/pension program.

One of McQueen's patients, Joel Brigman, served in the Army from 1961 to 1964 and worked with Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles, the key ground defense against hypothetical waves of Soviet bombers. Maintenance and cleaning required Brigman to use chemicals such as trichloroethylene, benzene and toluene, all of which were used in the toxic defoliant Agent Orange and are toxic themselves.

Brigman now suffers from adult-onset diabetes, eye and skin problems, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and leg neuropathy -- all symptoms associated with exposure to the chemicals.

"I wouldn't want nobody else to go through, I'll tell you, what I've been through," Brigman said. "I had so many problems they couldn't list 'em all on the medical record, but it all leads right back to the chemicals in Agent Orange."

McQueen said he has given the Department of Veterans Affairs no fewer than eight statements attesting to the fact that Brigman's diabetes and other conditions were caused by his military exposure to these chemicals.

The VA, relying instead on its own physicians, has repeatedly refused to give Brigman the 100 percent disability rating he is seeking, he said.

"Mr. Brigman is just one of many," said McQueen, a former Army doctor.

Brigman's attorney, Craig Kabatchnick, worked for the VA from 1990 to 1995 and defended the department against veterans' disability claims. He says the "treating-physician rule" was followed more conscientiously then. Increasingly, he says, it's being ignored.

"They don't want to hear anything a civilian doctor says," McQueen said.