Can your military service make you ill?
Research shows that lupus among the military population is becoming more prevalent. Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease whose signs and symptoms can last for years. The disease can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body) and can be life-threatening for some. The result of the immune system dysfunction in lupus is widespread inflammation, which is the primary feature of the disease in most patients.
As a veterans' disability attorney I applaud the research being done by Dr. Joseph Ahearn, MD of the University of Pittsburgh. He is studying the biomarkers that indicate who could develop lupus.
This is important from both the VA and disabled veterans perspective. Over the last few years, we are seeing demographic changes in the military population that have resulted in an ever-increasing prevalence of lupus in military and veterans' hospital clinics.
As a veterans' disability attorney and staunch advocate for veterans, it would be unlikely to find an actual diagnosis of lupus in service medical records. Rather, the effort would likely entail looking for risk factors or other hints of a medical problem that later developed into lupus after service.
In addition, a veteran may exhibit symptoms of lupus during service but it is missed by the medical community, even when the veteran seeks treatment. This is because the military population is relatively young and oftentimes more serious and chronic conditions are often overlooked as possible causes for various symptoms.
Lupus can be a very disabling condition. Veterans suffering from lupus are often denied benefits because the VA says there was no evidence that lupus was diagnosed in service or was already in existence during service. That is why better understanding of the various risk factors and early symptoms of lupus is so critical: it would help us better pinpoint the onset of lupus during a time of active duty. This in turn would allow the veteran to obtain service-connected benefits for this incurable disease.
Accordingly, we support any necessary research to better understand lupus so that veterans can receive the appropriate compensation they deserve if this condition is proven to develop during active duty. Our attorneys are also interested in learning if there are factors about military service that raise one’s risk for developing lupus.
For instance, it has long been known that people who served in the military generally have a higher risk of developing ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
In terms of explaining the in-service causes of lupus in veterans’ disability cases, researchers have pointed to environmental factors. I have written in the past about multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome, and have helped many veterans win service connection for the MCS. But with lupus as well, there is some research suggesting a possible chemical etiology.
Also of interest is the research implicating infectious agents in the cause of lupus. Examples noted by some researchers include cytomegalovirus and hepatitis B. But more important still is the research linking the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) to the development of lupus. The EBV causes chronic fatigue syndrome, which is common in the Gulf War veteran population.
Lupus is like many of the chronic illnesses that I have seen over the years in my veterans benefits practice. The common scenario is that the prodrome or the early manifestations of a disease–especially one like lupus–cannot be identified except in retrospect. This explains why medical corpsmen in the service simply record symptoms in isolation. The medical corps simply lacks the historical perspective to evaluate whether an isolated symptom is part of a systemic and chronic problem like lupus or chronic fatigue syndrome. Only in hindsight can a forensic medical examiner connect the dots and identify the earliest signs of a problem, which frequently occur during active duty.
Therefore, if VA has denied you compensation for a severe and chronic illness that you believe may be linked to events of military service or had an early onset in service, working with a team of veterans disability lawyers and forensic medical experts is the best option for success. This is particularly true in highly complex cases. If you have recently been denied VA compensation for lupus, and you want a free case evaluation, please feel free to contact our veterans benefits law firm.