In August 2021 Partner Mandy Kelly received a great win for a widow of a disabled Veteran. The Veteran surviving’s spouse came to Mandy Kelly several years earlier contending that her husband’s brain cancer was caused by his exposure to oil well fires and burn pits while serving in Kuwait. The widow was armed with medical literature to support this contention, but she knew brain cancer was not a condition that the VA presumes is caused by exposures from the Gulf War. Mandy Kelly knew that this would be an uphill battle for this widow but was willing to take on the challenge. The Veteran served on active duty from 1989 to 1993, with additional National Guard service. Military personnel records demonstrate that the Veteran was involved in Operation Eager Mace in Kuwait. After thoroughly reviewing the Veteran’s service records, Mandy Kelly was able to obtain not one, but three doctors to agree that the chemicals the Veteran was exposed to can lead to brain cancer.
Generally, to establish service connection, a claimant must show: (1) a present disability; (2) an in-service incurrence or aggravation of a disease or injury; and (3) a causal relationship between the present disability and the disease or injury incurred or aggravated during service, the so-called “nexus” requirement. 38 U.S.C. §§ 1110, 1131; 38 C.F.R. § 3.303.
To establish service connection for cause of death, there are many complex rules and difficult hurdles that a veteran must meet. However, a veterans disability attorney can help a veteran navigate the veterans benefit process, and help prove that the disability incurred in or aggravated by active service either caused or contributed substantially or materially to the cause of death. 38 U.S.C. § 1310. A service-connected disability will be considered as the principal (primary) cause of death when such disability, singly or jointly with some other disorder, was the immediate or underlying cause of death or was etiologically related thereto. A contributory cause of death is inherently one not related to the principal cause. In determining whether the service-connected disability contributed to death, it must be shown that it contributed substantially or materially, that it combined to cause death, or that it aided or lent assistance to the production of death. It is not sufficient to show that it casually shared in producing death, but rather it must be shown that there was a causal connection. 38 C.F.R. § 3.312.
A Board of Veterans’ Appeals hearing was held in February 2021 and all legal arguments were presented by attorney Kelly. In the end, the Judge agreed with Mandy’s arguments and held that the evidence supplied supported that the Veteran’s brain cancer was at least as likely as not caused by his exposures while serving in Kuwait, ultimately leading to his death. Furthermore, Mandy Kelly also argued that the accompanying epilepsy and psychiatric conditions were also secondary service connected conditions, for which the Judge agreed. The lawyers at Disability Law Group understand that a favorable decision like this one gives minimal solace to a grieving widow, but we know that a veterans’ surviving family member needs a strong advocate in their corner to help obtain all benefits owed. If you, or someone you know, was exposed to burn pits or oil well fires, contact Disability Law Group today for your free consultation. Our attorneys and staff specialize strictly in disability benefits, and we will fight to help you win every benefit you deserve. Whether you were already denied or if you would like advice from the very start, contact us today and speak with one of our attorneys to understand your rights and get the representation that you need.