Members of the National Guard who were mobilized in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico may be eligible for medical benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a result of duty in the Gulf. And filing a medical benefits claim with the Deepwater Horizon settlement program will not affect potential VA benefits, according to VA officials.
VA benefits may be granted if there were service related injuries, including long term illnesses. However, eligibility to receive those benefits will be determined on a case-by-case basis, VA officials said. “The determination as to whether activation of Reservists and members of the National Guard confers ‘veteran’ status for VA benefit purposes depends upon the statutes used to activate them and other factors, which VA must adjudicate on a case-by-case basis,” said David J. Barrans, assistant general counsel with the VA.
However, state active duty status, or similar status outside of federal active duty status, is not eligible for VA benefits, according to Barrans. “Generally (it) may confer eligibility if the member was disabled or died during the period of service from an injury or disease incurred or aggravated in the line of duty,” he said. However, a formal review of the claimed injury or illness would be needed before the extent of VA benefits would be determined, said Randy Noller, a spokesman with the VA, adding that other possible contributing factors would be reviewed as well. “Because of all this, it’s impossible to provide one clear-cut answer, thus the case-by-case evaluations,” he said.
Guard members who were activated for Operation Deepwater Horizon may have received notification of a medical settlement as part of a court-supervised settlement program for all who participated in the clean-up efforts. If Guard members chose to take advantage of the settlement program, their VA benefits would not be affected. “The potential results of monetary awards from a (settlement) would not have an impact either way on potential VA benefits,” said Noller.
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