Bill Harding: VFW features new service for media representatives

— New Online VFW Media Room: The VFW has a new service for media representatives and invites you to explore it at www.vfwmediaroom.org. The one-stop source features Washington D.C., news, as well as national leadership quotes and VFW priority goals. It will be updated as needed. A photo archive is planned, and submissions are invited.

Tap vs. Bottled - What should you drink?

Glug, glug, glug - that's the sound a number of us make as we sip bottled water in our cars, at the gym and behind our desks.

The sound you don't hear is the thwack of 60 million bottles a day being tossed into U.S. landfills, where they can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. If that's not enough to turn your conscience a brighter shade of green, add this: Producing those bottles burns through 1.5 million barrels of crude oil annually - enough fuel to keep 100,000 cars running for a year. Recycling helps but reusing is even better. Invest in a couple of portable, dishwasher-safe, stainless steel bottles such as Klean Kanteens that won't leach nasty chemicals into your water. Don't get into the habit of refilling the water bottle you just emptied; the polyethylene terephthalate it's made of breaks down with multiple usage.

Period extension for compensation

The VA issued an interim final rule, effective Dec. 18, 2006, to amend its regulation, 38 C.F.R. ยง 3.317. The interim final rule amends the VA's adjudication regulations regarding compensation for disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses suffered by veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War. The presumptive period was extended from Dec. 31, 2006, until Dec. 31, 2011, for qualifying chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses that must become manifest to a compensable degree in order that entitlement to compensation may be established.

Court decision for Bilateral Tinnitus

On April 5, 2005, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims handed down its decision in Smith v. Nicholson. The DAV had argued on behalf of Mr. Smith that he was entitled to two separate 10-percent disability ratings for service-connected tinnitus, i.e. ringing in his right and left ears. The Department of Veterans Affairs argued in Smith's case, as well as in the large number of other cases, that the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities provided for only one 10-percent rating, regardless of whether the tinnitus was present in only one ear or both ears.

The Court held that: "Based on the plain language of the regulations, the Court holds that the pre-1999 and pre-June 13, 2003 versions of [diagnostic code] 6260 required the assignment of dual ratings for bilateral tinnitus."

Veterans who filed a claim for service connection for tinnitus in both ears, or who claimed an increased rating for that condition, before June 13, 2003, may be entitled to receive combined disability compensation based on two ten-percent ratings for tinnitus. Additionally, that law does not permit any such ratings to be reduced in the future, unless the severity of the tinnitus is shown to have actually improved.

The VA appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Federal Circuit) on June 22, 2005. The Federal Circuit handed down its decision on June 19, 2006. That decision reversed the decision of the CAVC which held that veterans are entitled to two separate 10-percent ratings for service connected tinnitus in the left and right ears.

The Federal Circuit held that before its amendment in June 2003, diagnostic code 6260 was ambiguous as to whether tinnitus was a single disability and that the CAVC erred by failing to defer to the VA's reasonable interpretation of its own regulation.

The DAV filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) on Sept. 19, 2006, on behalf of Mr. Smith. On Dec. 19, 2006, the United States filed its opposition to our petition for a writ of certiorari. The Supreme Court issued a decision on Jan. 22, 2007, in which it declined to hear Mr. Smith's petition.

The result of the Supreme Court's decision is that the Federal Circuit's decision is now final and binding as to all pending claims for separate disability ratings for bilateral tinnitus. The Courts of Appeals for Veterans Claims has no choice. It must follow the precedents of the Federal Circuit. Veterans are therefore not entitled to separate ratings for bilateral tinnitus.

Veteran/national dates this month

Jan 14: Churchill and Roosevelt meet in Casablanca in 1943

Jan 15: Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth observed

Jan. 17: Desert storm Air war began in 1991

Jan. 28: U.S. Coast Guard established in 1915

Viet Nam Peace Accord announced in 1973

Jan. 30 Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive in 1968

For information on programs and/or other veterans' benefits, call or stop in the Moffat County VSO office at 480 Barclay St. (west of the Bank of Colorado parking lot).

Call 970-824-3246 or use the fax 970-824-7108. Our e-mail address is veterans@moffatcounty.net. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Other times can be arranged by appointment only. Bring a copy of your separation papers (DD-214) for application for VA programs and for filing at our office.

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