Are you a veteran who has been fighting the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) in appeal on a benefits claim? As a veterans’ benefits lawyer, I have the privilege of representing veterans from all over the country. Recently, our legal team won a particularly noteworthy VA benefits case after 19 years on appeal.
I share this remarkable story to remind every veteran seeking VA benefits to keep fighting, don’t give up and don’t hesitate to call in the experts.
Korean War Vet Develops Prostatitis in Okinawa
Our case involves a veteran who served during the Korean War era. While stationed in Okinawa, he developed an infection of the prostate. The veteran’s physician recommended increased sexual activity as an effective means of fighting the infection.
Following the physician’s advice, the veteran began to frequent prostitutes on the island of Okinawa. As a result, he contracted venereal disease and developed a chancroid lesion on his penis. Unfortunately, the chancroid continued to worsen until the veteran developed gangrene. When the veteran’s physicians began to discuss the prospect of penile amputation, the veteran was devastated. He had just become engaged to his wife and developed severe psychological issues in response to the very traumatic experience.
Veteran Develops Gastrointestinal Problems after Long-Term Antibiotic Use
Fortunately, the doctors were able to excise the gangrenous tissue without requiring a full penile amputation. However, the veteran’s prostatitis continued. Doctors began treating the veteran with high doses of antibiotics over the course of many years. As a side effect of the long-term antibiotics, he developed chronic ear infections and significant gastrointestinal problems, variously diagnosed as either ulcerative colitis or inflammatory bowel disease. None of the VA doctors could definitively diagnose the gastrointestinal problem and successful treatment remained elusive.
Private Hospital Diagnoses Veteran with C. difficile Colitis: Goes Untreated
On one occasion, the veteran presented to a non-VA emergency room with severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Laboratory tests revealed the presence of Clostridium difficile colitis, a bacterial infection of the large intestine that causes fever, diarrhea and severe abdominal cramping. The veteran left the private hospital and continued his treatment at the VA facility, yet the VA facility never obtained his medical records from the private hospital and never learned of the C. difficile colitis diagnosis.
The veteran’s C. difficile colitis went untreated for years. By some accounts, it took up to 13 years for the VA to discover the veteran’s condition. During infection, these bacteria generate toxins that attack the intestinal wall, causing intestinal ulcers. Long-term infection can cause weakness, dehydration, fever, nausea, vomiting and blood in the stool. In fact, a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked C. difficile colitis to 29,300 American deaths per year.
Veteran Argues Colitis Caused By Treatment of Service Connected Prostatitis
After years of suffering from infection, the veteran attempts to receive VA benefits. He argues that his C. difficile colitis was a direct result of long-term antibiotic usage used to treat the service-connected chronic prostatitis. And appropriately so. The CDC reports, “Patients who take antibiotics are most at risk for developing C. difficile infections.”
C. difficile is a normal intestinal bacteria, present in the gut at low levels to assist with digestion. Other normal bacteria in the gut compete with C. difficile for nutrients and keep the bacterial population in check. When a patient takes antibiotics over a long period, a large population of normal gut flora are killed off. With the lack of competition, C. difficile is able to multiply to disproportionate levels, releasing high levels of toxins and destroying the intestinal lining.
VA Argues Colitis Not Caused By Antibiotic Usage: Veteran Retains Legal and Medical Experts
The VA denied the veteran’s argument over the course of almost two decades, claiming he did not have the type of colitis that was associated with long-term antibiotic usage. Luckily, in 2007, the veteran retained our veterans’ benefits legal team to represent him in appeal. We succeeded in getting the case overturned at the U.S. Court of Appeals and the matter was remanded back to the Board.
We continued to litigate the case, hiring a forensic medical examiner to determine the exact type of colitis this veteran had. The forensic medical examiner reviewed the file and found a striking concern. He noticed that the veteran had indeed tested positive for C. difficile colitis and determined that the VA never followed up on the diagnosis made by the private hospital and never offered any treatment.
The forensic medical examiner concluded that the veteran’s C. difficile colitis had reached a high level of severity because of negligence on the part of the VA medical facility. Yet, the Board denied the case again and the matter returned to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The Court determined the Board had grossly distorted the facts and misrepresented the evidence, we were again successful at the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the Court sent the case back to the Board for reconsideration. This went on back and forth for several years.
Veteran’s Team of Experts Argue Medical Negligence on Part of VA
Our forensic medical experts continued to argue that VA medical negligence was a major cause of the severe colitis. The VA attempted to defend itself by saying it had no knowledge of the private hospital’s C. difficile colitis diagnosis. Further research conducted by our legal team discovered that several Federal District Court cases found the presence of medical negligence when doctors fail to inquire as to prior medical history, get prior medical records and review them.
Veteran Prevails After 19 Year Appeal: Awarded Benefits for GI Disability
In March 2016, after 19 years on appeal and a total 27-year battle with the VA, the veteran finally won his claim for gastrointestinal disability. By granting the claim, the VA acknowledged the veteran’s position and gave credence to his long-maintained story of suffering at the hands of VA medical negligence.
This veteran suffered immeasurable harm over the many years of disabilities. It is gratifying to know that we played some small part in helping this veteran win his claim for benefits and vindicate his position. Too often, veterans feel slighted and hurt by the VA’s repeated denials of their claims. When the VA continues to deny these claims, it sends the message to veterans that their service did not count and that they are liars - when the veterans themselves know the events better than anyone else.
More often than not, if a veteran is persistent enough and continues to fight, he can win his claim. Especially when he or she hires an aggressive, hard-hitting veterans’ disability lawyer who has a track record of winning difficult cases. Within just the last several months, our veterans’ appeals law firm has won several appeals that have been ongoing in excess of 15 years.
If you are a veteran who is caught in a lengthy appeal process and is not getting anywhere, perhaps it’s time to consider hiring an aggressive, experienced veterans’ benefits attorney who can help you win your claim. No veteran should have to wait 15 or 20 years for vindication.