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First Class Petty Officer
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JustGettingStarted last won the day on September 14 2018

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About JustGettingStarted

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    E-5 Petty Officer 2nd Class

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    USAF CMSgt, Retired
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  1. My skin disease covers very little of my body, but it is extremely painful if not kept under control. I take oral medication to suppress it. If you have eczema and you are taking immunosuppressants, then you should be rated at 60%. File for an increase. Sorry it has taken so long for me to respond. The hurricane damage to my house was much more extensive than we realized at first. It has taken us 8 months of hard work to get back to nearly normal.
  2. Hi Paulstrgn, No, my condition covers less than 5% of my body. The key is that the immunosuppressant has to be oral or injected, not a topical cream that you rub on your skin. It doesn't matter if it is controlling your condition, as long as you are on the oral/intravenous medication, you qualify for the 60% rating.
  3. Here are some of the curve balls VA threw at me when I did my CUE claim. This should have been simple. In 2009 I claimed "eczema" and I was on constant oral medications. VA service connected me for eczema, noted I was on daily medications, and then gave me a 0% rating. I did not have a VSO and I did not know my skin condition should have been rated the same as eczema, so I did not appeal. In 2002, Title 38 was changed so that anyone with a skin condition rated the same as eczema or dermatitis, would get rated on the area of coverage, or how often the veteran had to take "systemic" medications. The regulations said like "immunosuppressants or corticosteroids" and this caused a lot of confusion in the ratings. Many raters did not include other types of systemics like anti-viral, anti-fungal, or antibiotic drugs in the skin ratings when they should have. That is what happened in my decision in 2009. Fast forward to 2016, the VA illegally calls me in for re-evaluations on 2 of my conditions. I was over 55, and I had the conditions for more than 5 years. Under Title 38 they are not supposed to do a re-eval without "unusual circumstances". When I questioned why - they said it was because they were backlogged. Like many vets, I was afraid of a reduction so I decided to get smart on my disability benefits. I went back and looked at all the conditions I had claimed, and compared them to Title 38 and a website called Military Disabilities Made Easy. That is when I found the error on my skin condition. I should have been rated 60% in 2009 instead of 0. I thought my only choice was to claim it and move forward, but someone on a FB page told me about CUE. My research on CUE led me to HADIT. I learned what was and wasn't CUE and also checked my case against the BVA claims - I knew I had a rock solid claim. It was all in the my records and in the claim I did in 2009. I thought it was going to be easy. I did my claim and was scheduled for a C&P exam. Since my claim revolved around the use of systemic medications, I provided a list of my medications I had been taking back to 2004 with my systemic medication highlighted. Unfortunately, I got a bad examiner that left my medications off because he didn't see my skin disease listed by the VA and he didn't think my medications were important (I saw the same idiot for a knee exam later and confronted him). And although the VA had the same list of medications in my claim file and mentioned in my Statement, they did not "consider all my evidence" and denied my claim because I wasn't on constant use of systemic medication. I requested my claim be reopened for reconsideration because the doctor left my medications out. The VA reopened it and then they said I missed an exam that was never scheduled and denied my claim again. I challenged the VA to prove the exam was ever scheduled and requested my claim be reopened for reconsideration again. It was, and the VA scheduled another skin exam. However, the exam and claim ended up being for my chronic wart condition rated at 0 percent instead of the eczema condition. I was denied again. I was tired of this VA BS. I had an upcoming appointment with my dermatologist, who had never treated me for my "eczema". I was seeing him every 6 months for pre-cancerous lesions. But that didn't stop me from filling out a DBQ, attaching all supporting documentation, and asking him if he would sign the DBQ. He did, and I submitted it asking for my claim to be reopened again. This time my skin condition was increased to 60%, but there was no mention of back-dating it to 2009. At least I had one a battle, but the war wasn't over yet. So now I submit a CUE claim again for the back date. I was denied because the VA said there was a "policy change" in 2016 (it was actually in 2015 but they don't know their own policies), that allowed for my drug to be systemic in 2016 but it was not considered systemic in 2017. Anyone familiar with CUE knows it has to be based on the LAW at the time the mistake was made, and not policy. When I was going through this, Title 38, which is the law, had not changed since 2002. VA was trying to say "no" based on MR 21-1. The policy change in 2015 was an update in MR 21-1 which helped to clarify what "systemic" drugs were because a lot of veterans were getting rated incorrectly. So, I requested my case be reopened for reconsideration again, and explained to the VA that CUE has to be based on law, pointed out a VA case they had lost in 2004 for the same condition I had, and also a recent US Veterans Court Case that also explained the law as it applied in my case. What does the VA do? The send me to another exam, and then they say they were denying my "increase" because I was already receiving the highest rating possible for my skin condition. They completely ignored my request for an earlier effective date. Aaargh! About this time, RAMP, had just opened up to all veterans. You did not have to have an invitation letter. Glory be - I would no longer have to deal with regional offices. I watched a video on one of the VA official sites that said if you wanted to skip DRO Review, fill out a NOD, fill out a RAMP opt-in, and submit them together. I did just this and requested Higher Review with an informal telephone conference. This was on 21 May 2018. Then I get a letter saying I cannot opt into RAMP because there was already a decision on my BVA case. ???? There never was a BVA case, so I know this was impossible. I called VA and was told to wait until my NOD was in the system, and to call back. About a week later I called, explained the situation, and was told my original RAMP opt-in letter dated 21 May would be used. Things looked squirrely in eBenefits, but I kept calling and checking and everything finally fell into place. Around the first week of Sept, I got a phone call from RAMP. They wanted to know if I was ready to talk or if they should call back. I was 8 hours from my home but I had brought my files with me because I knew I was getting close to the RAMP 125-day goal. I went out to my car and had my telephone conference. They brought up the "policy change" and I said yes, but that wasn't the law and explained the law hadn't changed since 2002 and that CUE could not be based on MR21-1. I pointed out all the vital evidence - the 2009 decision letter that said I had the skin disease and I was on a daily medication that was systemic, the pharmacy records that showed I continued to take the medication since 2009, MTF record that showed I was put on the medication in 1998. On 13 Sep 2018, I got a call from my VSO. Exactly 120 days from when I had done my RAMP claim, I was given an earlier effective date of May 2009 for my skin condition. It was a long, frustrating road, but every time I could see the obvious errors made by the VA. I do not know how much of it was intentional and how much of it was people that didn't know how to read or do their jobs properly, or even someone trying to protect their bonus. Now it has been 6 weeks since I won my CUE and I am waiting for my back pay. However, I know the first time I received back pay on a claim, it took 4 months. The second time it took 6 weeks. This is a larger amount, around $40K, so I expect it may have to go through additional audits. No Longer, JustGettingStarted
  4. For anyone following this - check me out under the "Success Stories"!!!
  5. Thanks everyone. I couldn't give up because I knew I was correct on this. However, VA put me through the ringer. I am so glad RAMP opened up and I was able to get this straightened out. Now it has been 6 weeks, and I am still waiting for the back pay. I am sure it will come - I got the letter that says what I was paid, and what was actually owed. A lot has happened since I made the announcement on Sep 13th. We got stuck in Canada when our truck broke down and had to wait for parts. While camping in the Nissan parking lot for two weeks, Hurricane Michael struck my home. Our home took moderate damage and of course utilities have been out. Today is the first day I have been able to go online and catch up on bills and other paperwork. Now I just need to find the DFAS number to contact to make sure the back pay is in the works. It will come in handy paying for a few "upgrades" to our house as it is repaired. No longer, JustGettingStarted
  6. I just got a phone call from my VSO who said my RAMP decision letter will be mailed out today. I won an earlier effective date (CUE claim) for my skin condition! I was denied on the PN earlier effective date which I knew was a long shot. My skin condition was rated at 0 in May 2009 and I had an overall rating of 60. In Jun 2017, I was finally increased to 60 for my skin condition. If I had been rated correctly for my skin condition in 2009, my overall rating would have been 80. So the back pay will be the difference between 60 and 80 percent from May 2009 to June 2017 -- not bad. I can't wipe the silly grin off my face. You can see my other posts in the CUE Forum.
  7. My VSO didn't get back to me today, and I know he is off tomorrow, so being the impatient person I am, I just called VA myself. The person I talked to was very helpful. He said I did not need to file RAMP again; they would use the opt-in I already submitted. Also, my claim will skip the DRO and Statement of Case, and be sent straight to RAMP,--do not pass Go, do not collect 800+ days of waiting. He put a note in the system to make sure everything is laid out clearly for the RO. Hopefully, someone at the RO can read and my claim will soon be off to RAMP bliss. I went for Higher Review (no new evidence), but if I get denied any part of my claim, I can add new evidence and all the lovely info provided by Berta, and switch to the Supplemental Lane. I believe my claim for an earlier effective date for my skin CUE is as solid as they come. If the peripheral neuropathy gives me any trouble, I've got that neurologist from Wilford Hall in my back pocket. Will keep you posted. Fingers crossed that within 125 days I will be posting in the "I won my CUE" thread. JustGettingStarted
  8. My appeal showed up in Vets.gov yesterday. The status is 13 to 30 months for DRO Review. However, when I filed NOD, I checked Traditional BVA on my NOD per my VSO's instructions (there is no block for RAMP right now) and attached the RAMP opt-in per instructions on the VA video. I hope it doesn't sit in someone's box actually waiting for DRO Review. I called my wonderful VSO this morning to ask if I need to resubmit RAMP since I got that denial letter earlier this week. He has to check on that. I am keeping records of all your advice because I hope to use it in my Form 9 when I finally get a Statement of Case. Maybe the DRO will realize their errors when they try to write the SOC - miracles happen every day, right? On the PN, from Asknod's recent post, I learned I don't need CUE to get an earlier effective date. I can reopen and that still leaves the CUE card open for later if I need it. Asknod said if you complained of something when you got out, and it didn't get service connected, then it was service connected later, and you have evidence they didn't use the first time, you can reopen the original date. I think that fits my PN really well and I believe the records I have are highly "relevant". Just in case there are more doctor's notes I don't have, I called Wilford Hall yesterday and faxed a records request. The STR I have says something like the MRI I had certainly supports my clinical symptoms of radiating pain and numbness. In my case, I complained of radiating pain and numbness from my cervical stenosis when I got out and it is in my 2009 VA exam. PN was denied service connection because of no diagnosis. In 2016, I was diagnosed with bilateral PN at a C&P exam and given 20% each side. When researching to request an earlier effective date, I found no records from my evaluation by a top AF neurologist in my C-File although I had a copy in my STRs, and the neurologist was listed twice as a treating neurologist in my C-File (info I provided when I was retiring). Per the Asknod blog, this is better than CUE because it doesn't dead-end like CUE.
  9. This is a case that is similar to mine that was lost at BVA and went to CAVC. The CAVC sided with the veteran that his oral antifungal drug is a systemic medication, and then they remanded it. The court uses Mauerhan v. Principi to say any medication that affects the entire body is systemic. It is based on the 2002 change to the skin law. The meat of the decision is this: "Because "systemic therapy," which is the type of therapy that creates compensability, is connected to the phrase "corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs" by "such as," those drug types do not constitute an exhaustive list of all compensable systemic therapies, but rather serve as examples of the kind and degrees of treatments used to justify a particular disability rating. Mauerhan, 16 Vet.App. at 442. Consequently, the types of systemic treatment that are compensable under Diagnostic Code 7806 are not limited to "corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs." Compensation is available for all systemic therapies that are like or similar to corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs." http://www.veteranslawlibrary.com/files/CAVC_cases/2016/Warren_13-3161.pdf
  10. Are you talking about the RAMP letter that says I can't do RAMP right now? That letter was all wrong because St Pete hasn't even processed my appeal yet. From I'm learning, it could take them a year or longer to do the Statement of Case. So I have no BVA decision letter. There wasn't much at all to the last denial from St Pete for my skin condition because they completely ignored my request for an earlier effective date. It is like it never happened. They treated it like I was requesting an increase for a condition that is already at the max rating. I am attaching a copy of the last real denial which used false reasoning to deny me. They based the denial on an update to MR21-1 that occured in 2015 (The VA said 2016, but they got the date wrong, of course). The skin law is Title 38 and it has not changed since 2002. The update to MR21-1 was because this was a common error many evaluators where making. You can search BVA decisions, and find decision after decision in favor of the veterans because the VAROs did not apply a broad enough definition of "systemic" medications. If you check the BVA decisions, you can see where other drugs, such as anti-inflammatories, antivirals, antifungals, etc... were not being counted as systemic drugs. In the vast majority of these cases, the veterans won their claims on appeal. I have never seen MR21-1 used against a veteran in the BVA decisions. Here is where the change to MR21-1 is that they used to deny my claim: https://view.officeapps.live.com/op/view.aspx?src=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.benefits.va.gov%2FWARMS%2Fdocs%2Fadmin21%2Fm21_1%2Fmr%2Fpart3%2Fsubptiv%2Fch04%2F10-5-15_Key%20Changes%20M21-1III_iv_4_SecJ.docx Scan0025.pdf
  11. I answered the questions above in brackets. Sorry for the confusion, I kept writing Jan 2017 when I should have written Jan 2018. Here is a synopsis of the denials: 6/6/2017: Evaluation of [skin condition] is continued as 0 percent disabling. We reviewed the evidence received and determined your service-connected condition hasn't increased in severity sufficiently to warrant a higher evaluation. [This is when the examiner left my medications off the exam, although I provided them to him. Also, the rater did not weigh all the evidence that had been submitted. I had lots of medical and pharmacy records to support the constant use of systemic therapy in my file]. 10/01/2017: We received you reconsideration of the evaluation for your service-connected [skin condition]. We scheduled you for a VA examination and a medical opinion regarding your current continuous treatment. However, we received notification that you were unavailable for your scheduled VA examination on September 8, 2017. The results from this scheduled exam may have allowed us to grant an increase in your service-connected disability compensation. If in the future you provide us with your good cause reason for missing your scheduled VA examination and you indicate a willingness to report for another VA examination we will reconsider your claim. We have continued our non-compensable evaluation for [skin condition]. [The exam was never scheduled and VA admitted that later. I got my own dermatologist to do a DBQ at this point and reopened the claim.] 1/05/2018: The evaluation of [skin condition] is increased to 60 percent disabling effective May 5, 2017. Service connection has been established from the day VA received your claim. When a claim of service connection is received more than on year after discharge from active duty, the effective date is the date VA received the claim. We have assigned a 60 percent evaluation for your [skin condition] based on: Constant systemic therapy required during the past 12-month period. This is the highest schedular evaluation allowed under the law for dermatitis or eczema. [They ignored my request for an earlier effective date when I filed for the increase, but at least I finally got the increase.] 1/23/2018: Whether the effective date assigned for [skin condition] was clearly and unmistakably erroneous and evaluation of [skin condition], currently 60 percent disabling. Rating decision dated August 11, 2009, granted service connection for [skin condition] at 0 percent disabling effective May 1, 2009, day after discharge. The rating decision correctly assigned a 0 percent evaluation based on [skin condition] involving less than 5 percent of the entire body or less than 5 percent of exposed areas affected. The 2009 rating decision noted that you continue to take [medication] on a daily basis to reduce flares of the condition. At the time of the August 2009 rating, [medication] was not considered systemic therapy as it is an anti-[redacted] drug but not an immunosuppressive drug, therefore a higher evaluation was not warranted. We received your claim for increase evaluation for [skin condition] on May 5, 2017. Rating decision dated January 5, 2018 granted a increase evaluation to 60 percent disabling effective the date we received your claim for increase based on policy changes that took effect in 2016 that states the term "systemic therapy such as corticosteroids or other immunosuppressive drugs" medication(s) prescribed by a medical professional to treat the underlying skin disorder. Therefore, no clear and unmistakable error is shown. [They quoted MR21-1 and not Title 38 to determine CUE here. I objected because CUE cannot be based on policy; it has to be based on law. The skin law in Title 38 has been exactly the same in 2002 and that is what my request is based on.] 5/17/2018: The evaluation of [skin condition] is continued as 60 percent disabling. We have assigned a 60 percent evaluation for your [skin condition] based on: Constant systemic therapy required during the past 12-month period. This is the highest schedular evaluation allowed under the law for dermatitis or eczema. [In this decision, my request for an earlier effective date was completely ignored.]
  12. There is no appeal yet so there is no decision. That is one of the things that is so wrong with the letter. I faxed the NOD in on 22 May 2018. According to Vets.gov, I should check after 3 months if it doesn't show up on their site. Then St Pete will have to do a Statement of Case before they file the appeal with the BVA. I think Vets.gov is saying it can take 12 to 18 months before the appeal is ready to go to BVA/RAMP.
  13. My RAMP application is not off to a good start. I followed the instructions on this VBA video where it says technically you can't file NOD and RAMP at the same time, but you really can do it by filing the two together (Start at 7:00 to cut to that part). Today, I got a letter from the Appeals Management Office at Washington DC that says I can't file RAMP because I no longer have an open appeal. It even says there was a recent decision on my appeal and I should refer to that. This is so wrong since St Pete hasn't even logged in my appeal yet and I've never had one. This is just so discouraging that one hand doesn't seem to know what the other is doing. I've attached the opening of the letter I received. I guess I will have to wait for St Pete to process my appeal before I can begin the RAMP process. I was hoping to get a jump on this, but with my luck, RAMP will be as back-logged as the traditional BVA appeal system by the time St Pete gets to my claim. I am beginning to wonder if I should withdraw my NOD and go back to the reconsideration hamster wheel. At least that is a wheel I know.
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