barrel-847440_640 (1)Although thousands of veterans served in the Panama Canal Zone, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize it as a place in which veterans were exposed to tactical herbicides such as Agent Orange.  Is that about to change?  Is there now sufficient evidence to convince VA that Agent Orange was sprayed in the Panama Canal Zone?

I don’t have the answer to the first question.  Frankly, I don’t know whether VA is ready to concede that Agent Orange was sprayed in the Panama Canal Zone.  I do believe that there is sufficient evidence to convince VA in individual cases that veterans have been exposed to Agent Orange in the Panama Canal Zone.  I’ll summarize and discuss the evidence for veterans who served in the Panama Canal Zone in future posts, but first, I want to explain a bit about Agent Orange and presumptive service connection for VA disability compensation.

In legal terms, certain veterans who file compensation claims for diseases or disorders linked to Agent Orange exposure are entitled to presumptive service connection.  In future posts, I will summarize and discuss which diseases and disorders VA recognizes as due to exposure to Agent Orange.

Presumptive service connection is a legal basis for awarding veterans’ disability compensation based on a presumption.  In the case of Agent Orange, certain veterans are presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange based on where they served or their specific occupational duties.  The presumption acts to lessen the evidentiary burden on a veteran filing a claim for compensation.  In other words, the veteran need not provide evidence of specific exposure to Agent Orange if VA has already accepted that the veteran is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.

The most well-known presumption is for veterans who served in Vietnam.  A veteran who had service in Vietnam during a specific period is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.  Pursuant to the Secretary’s own regulations, a veteran who is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange is entitled to disability compensation for a host of diseases and disorders.  In future posts, I plan on summarizing and discussing VA’s list of locations and occupations that are presumed to have exposed veterans to Agent Orange.  The list is constantly being updated.

As of this date, VA does not recognize the Panama Canal Zone as a location where veterans were exposed to Agent Orange.  Based on my own research and experience, I have come to conclude that veterans who did serve in the Panama Canal Zone during certain periods were exposed to Agent Orange.  More to follow ….

If you served in the Panama Canal Zone and believe that you have been diagnosed with a disease or disorder that is due to exposure to Agent Orange, I invite you to contact me to discuss legal representation.  Feel free to call me at (202) 607-5731.


National Vietnam Veterans FoundationBad Charity: A charity set-up by veterans to help veterans sounds like an excellent idea. But, according to Charity Navigator, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is among the worst charitable organizations in the country. NVVF has raised over $27 million over the past four years, yet last year only 2% of the money raised last year actually went towards programs aimed at helping veterans. The rest went to paying salaries, travel, parking, and professional fundraising. Sounds bad, right? Well, it gets much worse. The CEO and founder of NVVA, Thomas Burch, is an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs where he works as a lawyer earning $127,000 annually. Thanks to the work of CNN, the VA Inspector General’s office is now undertaking an investigation into the situation involving Mr. Burch. We will keep you updated on any developments as the story develops.

Executive Sentences: Former Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman was in court yesterday to learn her fate on charges that she had failed to disclose over $50,000 in gifts she received from a lobbyist friend. Helman, who had pleaded guilty, sent a letter to the judge telling him that she did not realize that she was supposed to report the gifts, which included am $11,000 Disneyland vacation, among other things. The judge presiding over the case wondered aloud whether Helman’s statement indicated that she was failing to accept responsibility for her crimes. At the end of the day, the judge sentenced Helman to two years probation, meaning that she will not have to serve any time in prison.


  • Defending VA: In an Op-Ed published in The Hill, the president of a major union representing VA employees argues that the VA is not broken, but rather that the whole situation is being sensationalized.
  • Press 1 for Veterans: At a press conference yesterday, VA executive Matt Eitutis admitted that 30 percent of calls placed to the VA Crisis line are still being routed to backup call centers where staff are not trained to deal with the unique problems facing veterans.
  • Felonious Nurse: A VA Nurse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was arrested on felony charges yesterday. She is accused of falsifying paperwork following the death of a veteran patient at a local nursing home.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email ( or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Headlines.

doctor-563428_640Broken Choices: Two years ago there was national outcry when it was revealed that veterans were facing massive delays in receiving medical care at VA facilities. In response, Congress cooked up a new program known as “Veterans Choice” which allows certain veterans to receive their care at private facilities on the VA’s dime. Two years later, virtually everyone involved in the Choice program agrees that it is an utter failure. Veterans say that the program forces them to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops just to get a simple medical appointment, and that the delays they face in getting an appointment through the Choice program often exceeds the wait times at VA facilities. The private medical facilities who offer services to  vets through the Choice program say that it is an overly-complex system and that the VA often fails to reimburse them for their services in a timely manner. And VA healthcare workers call the Choice program a “black hole,” saying that they feel bad when they have to refer a veteran to a private doctor through the Choice program. In the end, it seems that little has changed, and that veterans still encounter massive hurdles when they seek healthcare from the VA.

Deadly Healthcare: Vietnam Veteran Rodger Holmes was well-known in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he had survived homelessness and recovered from alcoholism. In 2014, he turned to a VA medical center for for help in treating his liver disease, and that’s when his health began to rapidly deteriorate. He died shortly thereafter. In a report released last week, the VA Office of the Inspector General found that the treatment received by Holmes was inadequate in that the “care provider often did not provide the care or assess the patient thoroughly when seen.” The Inspector General concluded that “the lack of a thorough analysis of the patient’s condition may have contributed to his progressive decline and slower recovery.” Ultimately, the Inspector General laid much of the blame at the feet of hospital administrators who failed to have a back-up doctor available when the hospital’s hepatitis specialist reduced his hours. Its not clear that Holmes would still be alive if he received adequate healthcare at this Colorado facility, but that’s not really the point. The health of our veterans shouldn’t be jeopardized by inefficient treatment and staffing shortages


  • Speaking Out: In an opinion piece, current VA Secretary Robert McDonald and former Secretary James Peake say that now is the time for Congress to act to fix the struggling agency. They implore our elected representatives to pass legislation that would  (1) fix the way that veterans received private healthcare, (2) work to end veterans homelessness, and (3) overhaul the appeal process for benefits claims that have been denied.
  • Privatization: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump says that privatization of VA healthcare is something that would be seriously considered were he to be elected president. This announcement puts Mr. Trump at odds with nearly every veterans’ group in the country.
  • Fiduciary Problems: When the VA determines that a veteran is too disabled to to manage their own money, they appoint whats known as a “fiduciary” to manage their finances. In Ohio, a local news network has uncovered a startling case where the VA-appointed fiduciary is accused of grossly mismanaging and misusing the money of these severely disabled veterans.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email ( or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Headlines.

This week, Orlando is hosting the “Invictus Games,” an international sporting event where wounded veterans from fourteen countries compete in Olympic-style events. This marks the second year that the competition has been held, and another round is planned for next year in Toronto. The games were originally the idea of Prince Harry of the UK, who served in the Middle East as a Captain in the British Army. The prince has been joined at the games by other dignitaries including former President George W. Bush. Watch the whole inspiring story above.

donald-j-trump-1271634_640Donald and the Veterans: Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump has come under fire in recent days for his commitment to veterans. First, a group of 50 veterans, including numerous elected representatives, pointed-out that despite claims of having raised $6 million for veterans during a fundraiser earlier this year, there is no sign of where more than half of that money has gone. Then, Senator John McCain of Arizona called on Trump to make amends for hurtful comments made about veterans, especially former prisoners of war. McCain’s comments referred to a statement made by Trump last year in which he questioned McCain’s heroism and said that he preferred “people who weren’t captured.” Although Trump often claims to support veterans, many veteran groups have grown tired of his overtures, and feel as if Trump is using the men and women who served as political pawns in a cynical attempt to get votes.

A Sad Oath: This past weekend hundreds of sick and injured veterans took an unusual oath: they pledged not to end their own lives without reaching-out for help. Suicide among veterans is significantly higher than the general population, with some estimates saying that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. Veterans who find themselves in these emotional crises often feel isolated and alone, and that is why Iraq veteran Boone Cutler says he organized the event. “It’s about the brotherhood,” Cutler says. The pledge is designed as a way to remind veterans that, despite their feelings, there are always people, especially other veterans, who support them. (Veteran or not, if you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you reach out for help by calling (800) 273-8255. If you prefer, you can always visit the nearest medical facility, police station, or simply call 911. Please remember: you are not alone.)


  • McCain Speaks-Out: Senator John McCain of Arizona spoke-out against the bipartisan omnibus veterans legislation pending in the Senate, saying that it does not do enough to improve accountability for VA employees.
  • Invictus Games: This weekend in Orlando, veterans from fourteen nations gathered for the Invictus Games, an event founded by Prince Harry of England to serve as the Olympics for men and woman disabled through war.
  • Chief Whistle-Blower: Brandon Coleman, a whistle-blower who has been rallying against the VA in Phoenix for the past 18 months, has finally gone back to work after being placed on administrative leave when the scandals first started rolling in.
  • One Year In: David Shulkin became the head of the Veterans Health Administration last June. After nearly of trying to turn the VA healthcare system around, the Philadelphia Inquirer checks in with Shulkin to see how things are going.
  • New Inspector General: Michael Missal started work one week ago, and he is pledging to repair the image of the office of the VA Office of the Inspector General, which has been tarnished somewhat in recent years for what some say are shoddy investigations.
  • Fiduciary Battle: A New York woman says that the VA is stripping control of her disabled husband’s finances from her because she has taken the agency to court several times in the past decade to solve issues involving her husband and father.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email ( or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Headlines.

Several months ago, a VA Inspector General report generated national headlines when it was revealed that veterans seeking help through the agency’s suicide hotline were being sent to voicemail. The VA pledged to fix the problem and immediately diverted resources and appointed new staff to ensure that veterans could always get the help that they needed. Yet today we hear a story suggesting that the VA is still having trouble managing the hotline.

In Washington State, Jim Cusumano found himself in a dark place. The Vietnam veteran who suffers from PTSD and severe chronic pain had reached a point where the pain was too much to bear. He held a gun in his hands as he placed a call to a friend. Not knowing how to handle the situation, Cusumano’s friend called the VA suicide hotline, only to find it nonoperational. Eventually, the friend went to Cusumano’s house and took the gun from his hands, and Cusumano was taken to a local hospital for treatment. The statistic often thrown-around is that 22 veterans end their own lives each day in the United States. Its a heartbreaking number, and thanks to the quick-thinking of a friend, Cusumano did not become another statistic. You can watch the full story above.

Despite this story, we believe that the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline remains an excellent resource. If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you reach out for help by calling (800) 273-8255. You can also chat online by visiting their website. If you prefer, you can always visit the nearest medical facility, police station, or simply call 911. Please remember: you are not alone.

doctor-1149149_640Unqualified Doctors: After a local news station in Minnesota found that 300 brain-injured veterans in their area had been given medical evaluations by unqualified doctors, members of Congress asked the VA to look into the matter. After conducting an investigation, the VA has concluded that over 25,000 veterans had their compensation examinations performed by doctors who, by the agency’s own standards, were not qualified. As a result, the VA is now in the process of contacting these veterans to ask them to return for new examinations to address the severity of their Traumatic Brain Injuries. Moreover, VA Secretary Bob McDonald is taking the extraordinarily rare step of granting equitable relief for veterans who were wrongly denied benefits based on examinations by unqualified doctors. This means that some veterans could be received years of back-pay if it is discovered that the unqualified doctors indicated that their disability was less severe than it truly was. 

Appeals Reform: Both houses of Congress have proposed legislation which would alter many things at the VA. But fixing the broken appeals process is not among the proposals, despite the repeated requests of VA leadership. In a speech in Washington yesterday, VA Secretary Bob McDonald called the need for appeals reform an urgent matter, and claimed that if Congress does not act soon, the delays built in to the appeals process could persist for years to come. We wholeheartedly agree with Secretary McDonald that reform is needed to speed-up the appeals process, but we disagree with him on how to achieve that goal. McDonald has proposed, among other things, a ban on veterans submitting additional evidence in support of their claims once an appeal has been initiated. In our view, the elimination of unnecessary procedures and realignment of staff would achieve similar results without decimating the rights of veterans to support their claims for benefits.


  • Babies for Veterans: Veterans groups are unanimously supporting legislation which would permit the VA to offer In Vitro Fertilization treatment for veterans who suffered injuries to their reproductive systems during their military service. Currently, the VA is not permitted to offer such treatments due to legislation aimed at limiting abortion.
  • No More Choices: Several of the most prominent veterans groups, including VFW and Legion, are speaking-out against the many proposals that would expand the Veterans Choice program to allow any veteran to see private doctors at any time.
  • White House Chimes-in: In a blog post on the White House’s website, a veteran describes his frustration with the VA appeals process and thanks the President for his work on streamlining appeals. Somewhat ironically, the veterans describes seeking-out and submitting additional evidence in support of his appeal… something which Obama administration officials which to prevent veterans from doing.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email ( or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Headlines.

The families of three Oklahoma veterans are speaking-out about the treatment that their loved-ones received at a VA-run nursing home. In one case, the nursing home staff is accused of scalding the veteran to death in a bathtub. In another, it is alleged that nursing home staff neglected a patient after he suffered from a stroke, causing irreversible damage. And in the third case, family members allege that staff ignored signs of pneumonia until it became deadly. In two of the cases, the VA has already admitted fault and paid settlements to the families, while an investigation continues into the third incident. Meanwhile, the the physician’s assistant who was responsible for the veterans has been charged with two counts of murder in their deaths. You can watch the full story above, or by clicking here.

Editor’s Note: Due to round-the-clock election coverage, it’s been a slow week for VA and veterans’ news. For that reason, we have not been posting our regular “headlines” feature each morning. We hope to return to posting headlines soon. If you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news, let us know by sending us an email ( or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Headlines.

Former U.S. Army Ranger Cole Schuler had fallen into a cycle of addiction. Last fall, when Schuler told his sister that he wanted to seek treatment for heroin abuse, she took him straight to the VA in Milwaukee where he was admitted for in-patient treatment. A few weeks later, a police officer knocked on her door to tell her that her brother was dead. He had overdosed on heroin in his room at the VA domiciliary at the Wisconsin VA where he was receiving treatment. Now, Schuler’s family is seeking answers as to how their son could have obtained and use drugs within the walls of a VA-run drug treatment facility.

David Slagger is a disabled veteran in Maine who suffers from PTSD and a Traumatic Brain Injury. When he sought help at a VA clinic due to feelings of hopelessness, he was immediately transferred to an emergency room where he sat for eight hours before once again being transferred to a locked ward at the Togus VA. It was there that he says he was verbally assaulted an intimidated by a VA staff member. But when Slagger tried to lodge a formal complaint with hospital administrators, his allegations were dismissed. After that he requested a copy of security camera footage of the incident under the Freedom of Information Act, only to have that request denied. It was not until over a year later, after getting the media involved, that Slagger received a formal letter for apology from the VA, admitting that the employee had acted inappropriately.