Service connection for the cause of death for a widow of a deceased veteran.
Result: Benefits granted and back pay awarded of $150,000.
The veteran served during the Korean Conflict, and as a result of the stress of combat he developed an ulcer. He obtained service connection for the ulcer.
With the help of his doctors the veteran was able to manage his ulcer for many years. In the mid 1990’s the ulcer progressively worsened, which resulted in the overall deterioration in his health.
Unfortunately, the veteran also developed prostate cancer in the late 1990s. His prostate cancer was unrelated to his time in the service. The doctors attempted to treat the prostate cancer, but it continued to progress. In an effort to prevent the cancer from metastizing the doctor put the veteran on some very strong chemotherapy drugs. Unfortunately, the chemo drugs caused the veteran’s service-connected ulcer to bleed and cause him anemia and further deterioration in his health. As a result, the doctors were forced to stop the use of the most potent chemo drugs.
Without the strong chemo drugs, the prostate cancer eventually spread to the veteran’s brain and he died.
His widow filed a claim with the VA for service connection for the cause of her husband’s death. The VA denied the claim and she appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The Court remanded her claim back to the Board, which again denied the claim. By this time, the widow retained our law firm. We again appealed her case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims where we successfully obtain a remand of the case.
Upon remand, we obtained another medical expert who found that it was the service-connected ulcer that caused the need to stop the aggressive chemotherapy. And without the chemo drugs, the cancer spread to the veteran’s brain and he died. The VA, however, was initially unwilling to accept our private medical expert, and the Board obtained a medical opinion from its own expert. The VA’s expert, not surprisingly, gave the opinion that the ulcer had nothing to do with the veteran’s prostate cancer.
We responded by obtaining an opinion from a medical school professor who was board certified in oncology and hematology. He gave the opinion that under the unique facts of this case, the ulcer did prevent the use of the more aggressive chemotherapy drugs, thus allowing the cancer to spread to the brain. The result was death.
The Board again decided the case, but this time it was forced to concede that our client’s position was correct. The widow’s benefits were granted, and she was awarded $150,000 in back pay.