Disability Law Group: Case Spotlight

During her hearing on May 9, 2019 in Lansing, Michigan, before a federally-appointed Social Security Administrative Law Judge, our client walked in prepared and confident – not because she had been through the process before in 2016 but in spite of that. This time around, she walked in to court alongside her attorney, Erika Riggs, with Disability Law Group. Not only did she know what to expect, but she had piece of mind knowing that Mrs. Riggs and her firm had obtained every piece of evidence needed dating back to when she became disabled and unable to work, including statements from her doctors detailing her condition and work-related limitations. Unfortunately, she did not feel the same sense of comfort and care during her 2016 hearing which resulted in an Unfavorable decision, denying her the disability benefits she worked hard for and deserved. She knew she was disabled since 2014 when she was no longer able to do her job in the medical field, or other work full-time, but that prior decision found otherwise.

Prior to hiring Mrs. Riggs, she had a disability hearing in 2016 with an attorney at a different firm who never appealed the 2016 decision from the Judge denying her claim. She felt left in the dark and decided to hire a different attorney, starting from scratch, hoping to find someone with more expertise and compassion. She hired Mrs. Riggs who helped her at every step of the process, reassuring her along the way and helping her feel at ease about what to expect next.

When it was time for her hearing in 2019, Mrs. Riggs respectfully and zealously advocated for her client, advising the Judge that the previous decision was not only unfair, but contrary to the law. Erika motioned to re-open the 2016 Unfavorable Decision from a different Judge based on clear legal error in accordance with 20 CFR 404.988. The Judge agreed and issued a Fully Favorable Decision in June of 2019, re-opening the prior 2016 decision with a finding of disability dating back to July of 2014. Not only does this decision mean more than 4 and a half years of back pay benefits for the client in addition to the monthly amount and Medicare coverage, it meant validation of her disability and that her fight for relief was finally at an end.

At Disability Law Group, disability is all we do. Our partners, Erika Riggs, Mandy Kelly, and Randall Mansour, work closely with our team of experienced and caring staff to ensure that every client feels heard and knows that they matter. Disability benefits provide a critical lifeline for people who are no longer able to work and earn an income to provide for themselves and their families. We know how complicated and overwhelming the process can be for any person, especially when balancing the many doctor appointments and treatment needed. If you or someone you know is in need of disability benefits, either from Social Security or the Department of Veterans Affairs, you can turn to Disability Law Group to help you win the benefits deserved. Call us today to speak with an experienced attorney who will listen and help you at every stage, whether you have already been denied or are only thinking about the disability process. Consultations are always free and we do not collect a fee unless you win.

Justice for Blue Water Navy Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

US Navy Officer Sitting In Wheelchair Reading Document.

On January 29, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court issued a reversal in what has proven to be one of the most contentious areas of veterans’ disability benefits in decades. With this decision comes dramatic changes in how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs addresses service-connected disability benefits claims arising from Agent Orange exposure. During the Vietnam War, there was widespread use of Agent Orange in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, the devastating, and even deadly, effects from Agent Orange – an herbicide contained dioxin – is now well known for veterans suffering symptoms linked to Agent Orange years later. In fact, studies correlate the harmful effects of Agent Orange to exposed veterans’ children and even their grand-children.

With the Agent Orange Act of 1991 came 38 U.S.C. § 1116, allowing veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam who develop certain health issues a presumption of Agent Orange exposure and that such exposure caused their condition or illness. Some of the presumptive conditions include prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, chronic B-cell leukemia’s, Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, certain skin conditions, diabetes, and more. Therefore, some Vietnam-Era veterans have been able to obtain the service-connected disability benefits they deserve if they have a specified condition(s). However, this presumption has been strictly limited to those who meet the designated “boots on the ground” criteria. A decision, issued nearly 2 decades ago, cut-off benefits for our navy veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange at sea, providing benefits only to those veterans who were exposed on the ground.

However, the recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit Court reversed that decision. Mr. Procopio, a 73 year old veteran who suffers from diabetes and prostate cancer, served aboard the USS Intrepid during the Vietnam War. The Court’s decision found that Mr. Procopio, and other veterans who served at sea, are entitled to the same presumption that has been afforded to our “boots on the ground” veterans linking certain conditions to Agent Orange exposure.

Many veterans and supporters echo statements made by American Legion National Commander, Brett Reistad: “It doesn’t matter where you were exposed to Agent Orange when you served. It only matters that you were exposed when you served. To deny VA disability benefits for victims who were exposed at sea, and to provide benefits only to those veterans who were exposed on the ground, is a distinction based much more on budget than justice.”

This ruling is a monumental and well-deserved victory for our Blue Water Navy veterans, providing the tens of thousands of veterans like Mr. Procopio, the VA benefits they deserve. While this recent ruling may be challenged further with an appeal from the VA, legislation is now in front of Congress to lock in the presumptions of service-connected disability from Agent Orange exposure for our navy veterans. The ongoing fight and collective efforts of caring attorneys, schools and service organizations will ensure justice for our veterans who risked their lives to protect our freedoms.

If you or someone you know may be affected by Agent Orange exposure, contact our experienced attorneys to know what benefits you are rightfully owed. Even if you have been denied disability before, you may be entitled to back pay for all the years that you have been waiting. Disability Law Group specializes strictly in disability benefits before the VA and Social Security Administration. We will fight for you so that you can focus on your life and healing. Call us today for a free consultation. 800-VET-1100 or 800-838-1100.