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Veteran to fight for benefits in DC on behalf of RSD sufferers

Posted Oct 22 2010 12:00am
Veteran to fight for benefits in DC on behalf of RSD sufferersBy Chad Thornburg
News staff writer,

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series in which The Daily Illini investigates veterans and their fights to obtain benefits for rare and specific injuries.

Jason Wheeler, Champaign resident and veteran of the United States Navy and Army, was injured jumping out of a helicopter in 2002 when his parachute collapsed. He was not diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome, or RSD, until 2007 and said he has since then had difficulty receiving benefits to help with his condition.

This could all change for future veterans when U.S. Air Force Col. Doug Strand testifies before a Department of Veteran Affairs committee in the nation's capital on Oct. 25. Strand will be testifying to get rating criteria for RSD in the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities, which would provide specific benefits for veterans with the condition.

Like Wheeler, Strand suffers from RSD as a result of a motorcycle accident in 2008.

"We're both struggling to get some basic entitlements," Strand said of he and Wheeler.

Strand said when he goes to Washington D.C., he will be representing the entire RSD community.

Strand will also be bringing two others with him to speak: Barby Ingle, executive director of the nonprofit organization Power of Pain Foundation, and Peter Moskovitz, an orthopedic surgeon who serves on the board of directors for the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association.

He said the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation is the only way to get a disability rating for the condition.

"I've got to go in a wheelchair. I'm on oxygen, but by God I'm going," Strand said. "I don't expect we're going to win the war in one shot. I have no idea what the steps would be after this, but that's the committee's job."

Strand added that he envisions finances to be an obstacle for his cause.

"There are going to be tens of thousands of veterans lining up at that door to get disability compensation that they never got," he said. "For that reason alone, I suspect that they're not going to want to take my recommendation."

Ingle, who has had RSD since an automobile accident in 2002, said it took almost three years to get diagnosed.

"Doctors don't learn about it in medical school," she said. "They would have to specifically see a medical field like neurology to even be exposed to it. Even at that point, they get maybe four hours training."

Ingle wrote a guide to living with RSD titled "RSD in Me!" She said the condition has been around for over 150 years, and a military doctor first discovered it.

"It's kind of weird that the military has been diagnosing it for 150 years, yet they've given no ranking to it for disability," she said. Ingle said she speaks all over the nation about RSD and tries to promote awareness of the condition.

"What happened to me shouldn't happen to anybody especially, a soldier who's willing to give up their life for us," she said.

Jim Broatch, executive director of the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association, said there are between 50,000 to 78,000 new cases of RSD each year. He added that about one-third of cases can become severe if not identified and treated early.

There is very little time devoted to the condition in medical school curricula, he said.

"We believe that it's under-diagnosed in the military as it is in the civilian world, because it's considered to be rare," he said. "We do not believe it's rare."

The disease, also known as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome, is a chronic pain condition Strand calls "the king of all disabilities." The pain associated with RSD, causalgia, is rated highest on the McGill pain scale index - higher than childbirth and amputation of a digit - Strand added.

Strand said he ended up in intensive care with a collapsed lung due to his RSD.

"I swore when I was in there that I was going to fix this," he said.

Strand said he will be dedicated to this cause for the remainder of his life.

"My mortality rate is not very good," he said. "Only got another five to 10 years left, and I'm going to go out screaming and kicking."

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