13 Aug Subject Matter Experts Cause a Spike in Denials of VA Claims
What happens when the VA decides to rely on “outside help” in evaluating the disability claims of veterans? If you are a veteran who served at Camp Lejeune between the 1950s and the 1980s and who developed any one of a number of health complications due to exposure to tainted water at Camp Lejeune, the use of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) by the VA means your claim now has a much greater chance of being denied. While the VA is standing by its policy of using SMEs to help it evaluate certain claims (saying that doing so increases the consistency and accuracy of its decisions), critics charge that the use of SMEs is just another way for the VA to justify denying veterans the benefits they deserve.
What Happened to Camp Lejeune Veterans?
In the 1980s it was discovered that the water at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina had been contaminated since at least the early 1950s by leaking underground storage tanks, industrial spills, and the disposal of dry-cleaning solvents. Exposure to these chemicals (such as trichloroethylene – TCE – benzene and vinyl chloride) are believed to be connected to conditions such as kidney cancer, kidney disease, and prostate cancer. Prior to 2013, it is believed that 75% of Camp Lejeune veterans who claimed disability benefits based on exposure to chemicals in the water had their claims denied. Now, that number has increased greater than 95%.
What is a Subject Matter Expert?
The VA launched the SME program in 2013 as a means of (allegedly) increasing the consistency and accuracy of the decisions it makes. SMEs are typically physicians with credentials in environmental health and/or occupational health and who are provided with ongoing training and education. Critics have claimed, however, that the SMEs employed by the VA use outdated research and reports to justify decisions to deny veterans’ claims for benefits.
What Can VA Disability Applicants Do?
A veteran whose case is being reviewed by one of these SME (some estimates say there are approximately 20 such SMEs) is likely to have his or her claim denied, at least initially. It is important to retain experienced and knowledgeable VA disability counsel as soon as possible after a denial in order to protect your appeals rights and increase the chances of having your denial overturned. Your VA disability attorney can:
- Evaluate and refute the evidence and research the SME relied upon to deny your claim
- Ensure your claim for benefits contains all the proper documentation necessary to show you are entitled to benefits
- Have independent testing completed to verify your service-connected disability
With the VA’s decision to use SMEs, you need a powerful and knowledgeable advocate in your corner. At the Klok Law Firm LLC, we are not intimidated by the use of SMEs by the VA. This is just another attempt by the VA to delay or deny veterans their benefits. We will ensure your case is properly documented and supported and fight to get you the benefits you deserve. Contact our office today at (843) 216-8860, set up a free initial consultation, and learn how we can help you in your VA disability claim.