The family was not aware of the new law until 2007, when Estes filed a claim with the VA for benefits for Tara. His claim was denied, and then he appealed.The claim was remanded by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals ( BVA ) for additional evidence, and in 2011, a VA examiner opined that Tara’s condition was not spina bifida.Their claim for VA benefits for Tara was denied. Then NVLSP called him and said, “Estes, we believe you have a case here.” NVLSP appealed the case to the U.S. Court for Veterans Claims. NVLSP ’s research showed that in a 2002 precedential decision, Jones v. Principi , the Court overturned a BVA decision denying benefits to a child of a Vietnam veteran born with encephalocele and sent the case back to the Board to obtain a medical opinion addressing whether encephalocele is a “form or manifestation” of spina bifida under the 1996 statute. NVLSP cited this case in their appeal, and in 2013, the Court invalidated the Board decision and sent the case back for the Board to obtain the same type of medical opinion that it had required in the Jones case.
“I don’t knowwhat we would have done without you all.”
But NVLSP did not stop there. NVLSP sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the VA for a copy of the medical opinion that the VA ultimately obtained in the Jones case.This move struck pay dirt.The medical opinion disclosed to NVLSP by the VA stated that encephalocele is indeed a “form or manifestation” of spina bifida. Moreover, the VA had granted benefits in the Jones case based on that medical opinion. NVLSP turned around and submitted these documents to the Board on behalf of Estes, along with a legal brief and a second favorable medical opinion that NVLSP had obtained. Still, the BVA was not convinced. In January 2014 and again in November 2014, the BVA remanded the case for still more medical opinions. But NVLSP and the Estes family did not give up. Finally, in February 2017, the BVA granted the claim for disability compensation for Tara. A decade after their claim was filed—the Estes family received retroactive disability compensation to the date of their initial claim in 2007 (10 years of back payments of monthly disability checks). Tara qualifies for additional health care and future disability compensation from the VA . Her parents are relieved. “I don’t know what we would have done without you all,” said Estes. H
National Veterans Legal Services Program H
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