Risky Business–The Mirror Test


Sorry. No Tom Cruise and no U-boat commanders in this.  

     When you file a claim for benefits, you will be asked to supply any and all pertinent evidence you have, know of, and any personal evidence you can testify to (if you so wish) that would aid in your decision. There is no implied requirement that you supply the VA with negative, or harmful evidence. This would be in keeping with the holdings of the Fifth Amendement ensconced in the Bill of Rights. Should they come across proof that you have acted fraudulently later, you can be prosecuted for it and go to jail. Be aware of that.  

      Some Vets read this very broadly and assume the VA is their good buddy. They may go so far as to feel compelled to get diarrhea of the mouth. An inattentive Service Officer can often let damaging information get by him and enter the claims process. Like a bullet, once this happens you cannot call it back. 
      Members have approached us over the last several years and asked that burning question. Just how much information about myself should I, or am I required to supply to the VA? Like any Texas necktie party, the more rope you give them, the better the chance of your neck getting longer. With that said, think about this. I’m certainly not suggesting lying about it. That would fall into the category of supplying knowingly false or fraudulent information to illicitly receive compensation. You don’t want to go there.
     The VA utilizes what we here consider to be almost Gestapo tactics in their pursuit of denial. It sounds so natural to hear a VA official say “We grant all claims that are presented that can be proven. This is a non-adversarial process where the Veteran is accorded the benefit of the doubt and his lay testimony is given full faith.”So we propose viewing it like the VA.
     When you look at the Risk Factors Questionnaire, consider modifying it. I refer to the risk of jetguns (unlisted) and haircuts (same). Remember all the times the barber used the straight razor to trim off the hair where it met your neck? What makes you think he had a corner on the sterilization market? I never noticed any autoclaves back near the mirror. The razors always sat on the counter and the combs always soaked in that vase of blue water that looks like the liquid they use in portable toilets. Sterilization consisted of rinsing it in 116 degree water and  wiping it back and forth on the leather strop. 
     The main thing, though, is how to view the different risks they list as being suspect. If you were in the habit of injecting drugs with all your buddies using the same syringe and needle, you probably shouldn’t be here reading this and trying to figure out a way to win. Nevertheless, we have a big tent and there’s room for everyone. If you did it once or twice to “experience” it, chances are it isn’t the culprit that VA would automatically assume it to be. Similarly, snorting junk was not the kind of thing that provoked nosebleeds. Snorting or shooting up a lot of anything is different though. Doing it with shared instruments is suicidal behavior. You certainly don’t need us to tell you that. Apparently, using a Pedojet air inoculation system with poor sanitary hygienic practices is different and only a plausible, unproven risk factor. 
     We don’t believe that you are any more obligated to provide VA with evidence you personally feel is irrelevant than they are to render a decision on your claim that is going to be fair and balanced. If you smoke or ever smoked pot and admit it, you will be seated at the back of the bus with Rosa Parks. Likewise, admitting to having consumed vast quantities of adult beverages for aeons and/or continuing to do so while pursuing the claim will generally cause problems. VA may insinuate that you are a perennial abuser of multiple drugs based on your history or what fell out of your pie hole when you were at the VAMC on a detox staycation getaway. 
     If you have information about yourself you alone possess that would be prejudicial to your claim, I ask you to look in the mirror and be honest. Is the action or info you are contemplating withholding the most probable reason for your disease? If it falls into the category of willful misconduct, please be considerate of other Vets and don’t clog up the system with it.  If you have multiple risk factors that are all potentially suspect, would the admission of the negative evidence you alone possess be a deciding factor in a denial of your claim? Consider that 60%+ of Vietnam Veterans have this disease. I mean Veterans who were in-country, not Vietnam-era Vets. Yet when collated, we see that many Vets who weren’t in-country also are infected. We see a predominance of 1A genotype which is American grown, not the 3a seen in SEA.  The odds of your getting it from the jetgun are not quantifiable according to the VA. So, if they won’t consider the jetguns to be a risk, why should you consider a minor indiscretion or two to be one? Most Veterans fail to see the big VA picture. Any admission of impropriety will become the self-admitted risk factor in spite of your lack of medical training to describe it in context or rule it out as the reason. 
     My lips are sealed as to what my proclivities were during my two-year vacation in sunny Southeast Asia. The fact that my tin canteen rotted out from carrying Tanquery gin is merely a coincidence. I suspected metal fatigue or shoddy workmanship at the time. No one else’s did. It was bad enough that we were forced to crush up quinine pills and mix them with water to impersonate tonic water. War can be pure hell and the deprivations we were forced to endure are too numerous to list here. As for illicit substances, I suppose I could have claimed the Slick Willie plaint- I didn’t inhale. I could have used the novel defense that I was never innoculated with jetguns so that was right out, but that would have been lying and my claim would have been thrown out. For years VA wanted us to prove we were zapped by the jetguns. They went so far as to say there was no evidence of it in our SMRs or inoculation records! They now begrudgingly acknowledge we were, but fall back on their immutable “plausibility” argument. 
     In summary, I would have to admonish anyone who files or considers doing so, to view it in a different light. Knowing full well that the prosecution is going to use everything in their legal quiver to shoot down your claim, do you honestly feel like giving them the arrows to do so when you have no medical training to make such a determination as to the cause? Put another way, the fact that they will knowingly use such arcane theories as the fact that it (HCV) wasn’t mentioned anywhere in your medical records during your enlistment as reason for denial, do you feel obligated to say “Oh, yeah. I did snort some toot with my buddy Raybob once in 88, about 20 years after I got out.” Your testimony that neither you nor Raybob subsequently suffered bloody noses while engaged in this will be deemed irrelevant. You have no medical training to be able to see red stuff and determine that it was catsup from the french fries present on the living room table. VA, on the other hand, has a large stable of medical professionals available on a moment’s notice for a professional opinion on not only catsup, but which brand it was. Do you really want to go there? 
     The VA has gradually come around to the system whereby you provide a doctor’s letter which says “It is my opinion that thus and so…, therefore I believe it is at least as likely as not etc.” VA will supply one of these in the event you don’t. Due to Appeals precedents, the VA can no longer arbitrarily say “denied” without some explanations. This is where the rubber meets the road. VA’s reasons and logic assume the worst-unless it’s material to their case to be otherwise. This leads to incongruous decisions such as having unprotected sex with multiple partners in service is much less of a risk factor than engaging in it after service where the risk is astronomically high. I got a lot of laughs from the BVA decision wherein they reasoned that a self-administered tattoo at home with India ink prior to service was undoubtedly the cause of the Vet’s hep. That kind of decision is rare these days. In its stead, VA carefully examines each and every risk factor known and assigns a value of probability to it. IVDU tops the list followed by transfusion, hemodialysis, risky sexual behavior, tattoos and so on down the line. Any admission of drug abuse of any kind, as you well know, is the death knell for your claim. I think the whole process is highly subjective. By that, I mean letting one doctor decide which particular risk factor your disease is caused by is rather tilted. The doctor is merely engaging in conjecture. Given enough time and resources, you could assemble a book of possible nexi both pro and con. VA has simply streamlined this process in their favor. Giving them more ammunition to help you lose is the antithesis of fair and balanced. 
     After all these words, I can only come back to the mirror test. I find it underhanded that we, as plaintiffs, are guilty until exonerated. If a court of law is so obviously biased and justice is tainted 70% of the time, where do you draw the line on what’s permissible? Is it cheating to “disremember” like politicians in an attempt to get away with it? I’m glad I didn’t have to personally cross that bridge. It’s risky business fraught with pitfalls. Each of you must make those decisions to be forthright or less than equivocal. Or…screw the moral compass. It doesn’t function well in the VA Triangle anyway

About asknod

VA claims blogger
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