Veteran struggles with constant pain

Some push to have little-known debilitating syndrome given VA rating system code

(Lisa Black)   When Kevin Shear falls asleep, the pain barrels into his dreams, sometimes as an animal ravaging his right leg or shattered glass tearing at the limb.

The former Marine from Crystal Lake suffers from an unusual condition that attacks the central nervous system and leaves him in constant anguish, much like amputees who feel pain in their “phantom limb.”

The illness, complex regional pain syndrome, can cause lifelong medical nightmares for some adults and even children, usually after a mild trauma inflames the nerves, causing pain that never shuts off — even after the original injury heals.

Today, more veterans are complaining about the condition, which they believe derived from injuries suffered in the service — in Shear’s case, an ankle sprain during a training exercise. Because the malady isn’t formally recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Shear and others say they find it difficult to get benefits from the government.

The veterans say they have lived in silence for too long and believe the military will see more of these cases as injured soldiers seek medical care. Although there is no way to know how many vets suffer from the pain syndrome, the number of appeals for disability compensation that cite the illness rose to nearly 600 in 2009, up from 330 in 2005, according to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. The board lists about 500 cases related to the syndrome for 2010.

“It’s hard for people like us to mobilize,” said Shear, 34, who added that he has passed out from the burning pain and can no longer work or care for his 2-year-old son. “It’s hard to do anything. That’s why they call it the silent suffering.”

Shear has joined a campaign to raise public awareness and push for the VA to update its coded list of disabilities. An Air Force Reserve colonel suffering from the syndrome has led the charge in seeking compensation for hundreds of other military personnel returning from service. Many complain they have found little support from a federal agency already besieged with head injuries and post traumatic stress syndrome.

The VA compensates veterans for injuries related to complex regional pain syndrome, said Thomas Pamperin, the agency’s deputy undersecretary for disability assistance, based in Washington.

But he doesn’t believe it is necessary to assign a code to every disability, saying “our ratings schedule is flexible enough to evaluate any recognized condition.”

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