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When Navy Veteran Al Kovach woke up after spinal surgery, he asked the nurse if he was still alive. She answered affirmatively, and he immediately began to plan for his future as a paralyzed Veteran.
Kovach, a former Navy SEAL, Paralympian and two-time LA Marathon champion, joins Borne the Battle to discuss his career as a disabled athlete, his time as President of the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the impact and challenges of PVA.
The SEALs recruited Kovach out of nuclear power school due to his swimming career at Indiana University under legendary swim coach Doc Counsilman.
A parachute jump in 1991 went wrong, ending with Kovach undergoing surgery but never walking again. A member of PVA came to the hospital after he woke up to help him with his paperwork and transition to life as a paralyzed Veteran.
Living as a paralyzed Veteran allowed Kovach to return to competitive sports. He trained and competed in marathons, winning the LA Marathon twice and representing the USA in the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta. He also completed a transcontinental triathlon.
Kovach found a new community within PVA and became actively involved in the VSO. Paralyzed Veterans of America is a congressionally chartered Veteran Service Organization (VSO). There are many Veteran nonprofits, but a Congressional Charter recognizes VSOs that are experts in their field. Congress and VA recognized PVA’s expertise as leaders in medicine and care for paralyzed Veterans. PVA was founded in 1946 when, as Kovach explains, medicine advanced enough to save paralyzed Veterans’ lives.
In this episode, Kovach discusses his athletic career, PVA’s congressional advocacy, and the changes he and other members of the PVA fight to improve quality of life for all disabled Americans.
Borne the Battle Veteran of the Week:
- Army Veteran Ben Kuroki
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
- Borne The Battle #160: Benefits Breakdown – Assistive Technology Program.
- Borne The Battle #157: Ursula Draper, Army Veteran, Occupational Therapist, Assistive Technology Professional.
- Former Navy SEALAl Kovach: Lessons I Learned From My Military Experience about How To Survive And Thrive During A Time Of Crisis.
- Veteran eligibility and access to VA home loans expanded
- VA launches Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program
- VA and SBA jointly support restaurant recovery
- Join ‘Fans in the Stands’ to virtually cheer on Veteran athletes
- VA accepting walk-ins for COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide
- VA releases report detailing efforts to address COVID-19 pandemic
- VA stands up commission to recommend new Under Secretary for Benefits
- Single Judge Application; Spellers v. Wilkie; the Court held in Spellers v. Wilkie, with respect to the diagnostic code for incomplete paralysis of the sciatic nerve, which also rates the condition based solely on the level of severity (i.e., mild, moderate, severe), the “lack of objective criteria for differentiating between the specified severity levels means that any evidence indicating severity of incomplete paralysis of the sciatic nerve is necessarily relevant to the schedular rating level.” 30 Vet.App. 211, 219 (2018) (emphasis omitted);
- Single Judge Application; tinnitus; Murphy v. Wilkie, 983 F.3d 1313, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (endorsing Clemons and explaining that “VA shall afford lenity to a veteran’s filings; evidence developed in processing that claim; claimant’s description of the claim; the symptoms the claimant describes; and the information the claimant submits or that the Secretary obtains in support of the claim; The Board did not, however, address the reasonably raised issue of whether the veteran’s specific claim for tinnitus encompassed a claim for a vestibular condition manifesting in dizziness, as required by Clemons. In Clemons, the Court explained that, because lay claimants generally lack the medical knowledge to narrow the universe of a claim to a particular diagnosis, VA “should construe a claim based on the reasonable expectations of the non-expert, self-represented claimant and the evidence developed in processing that claim.” 23 Vet.App. at 5. “[T]he claimant’s intent in filing a claim is paramount to construing its breadth,” and factors relevant to that inquiry include “the claimant’s description of the claim; the symptoms the claimant describes; and the information the claimant submits or that the Secretary obtains in support of the claim.” Id. The Court ultimately held that the Board may not deny a claim because a lay claimant’s hypothesized diagnosis proves incorrect; rather, the Board must “confront the difficult questions of what current condition actually exist[s] and whether it was incurred in or aggravated by service.” Id. at 6. In so doing, the Board must make “affirmative finding[s] as to the nature of the [claimant’s] condition.” Id. In short, “the fact that the [claimant] may be wrong about the nature of his [or her] condition does not relieve the Secretary of his duty to properly adjudicate the claim.” Id.; see generally Murphy v. Wilkie, 983 F.3d 1313, 1318 (Fed. Cir. 2020) (endorsing Clemons and explaining that “VA shall afford lenity to a veteran’s filings that fail to enumerate precisely the disabilities included within the bounds of a claim,” which “is best accomplished by looking to the veteran’s reasonable expectations in filing the claim and the evidence developed in processing that claim”).;
- Single Judge Application; the ultimate “lesson of our cases is that, while a pro se claimant’s ‘claim must identify the benefit sought,’ the identification need not be explicit in the claim-stating documents, but can also be found indirectly through examination of evidence to which those documents themselves point when sympathetically read.” Shea v. Wilkie, 926 F.3d 1362, 1368–69 (Fed. Cir. 2019). Here, the claim-stating documents pointed, when sympathetically viewed, to a history of symptoms of abdominal pain that yielded a diagnosis of gastritis. And that’s not all. The veteran’s gastritis was expressly linked to service by VA’s own medical examiner—in the context of an examination sought by the Agency as part of the development of Mr. Martinelli’s other claims.; The Secretary says the veteran is out of his depth in suggesting to the Court that melatonin use indicates sleep issues. But even if that were true, the veteran retorts, the Secretary forgets the Court’s ability to take judicial notice of facts generally known. See Tagupa v. McDonald, 27 Vet.App. 95, 100-01 (2014). Indeed, one need look no further than a basic medical dictionary to conclude that his in-service prescription was favorable, material evidence. Melatonin is “a hormone . . . implicated in the regulation of sleep, mood, puberty, and ovarian cycles. It has been tried therapeutically for a number of conditions, including insomnia and jet lag.” DORLAND’S ILLUSTRATED MEDICAL DICTIONARY 1110 (33d ed. 2020). The Board has a responsibility to explain why it rejects favorable, material evidence. Garner v. Tran, 33 Vet.App. 241, 250 (2021).;
- Tinnitus may occur following a single exposure to high-intensity impulse noise, long-term exposure to repetitive impulses, long-term exposure to continuous noise, or exposure to a combination of impulses and continuous noise (Loeb and Smith, 1967; Chermak and Dengerink, 1987; Metternich and Brusis, 1999; Temmel et al., 1999; Stankiewicz et al., 2000; Mrena et al., 2002).”