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Camp Lejeune Presumptive Benefits Approved for Veterans

Over the past year, there has been a lot of discussion regarding VA Disability Service Connection and Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. We’re happy to say that the final rule to make the presumptive conditions official came through yesterday.

This rule establishes presumptive service connection for former service members, to include veterans, reservists, and National Guard members, who served at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.

The following presumptive conditions are approved:

  • Adult leukemia
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and
  • Parkinson’s disease

According to the Military Times, as many as 900,000 Veterans could be impacted by this news. Many Veterans have fought tirelessly over the years to get service connected for the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, and we are happy to say that for some, that fight may well be over soon.

To review, the VA has listed the following requirements to establish service connection:

Be an active duty, reserve or National Guard member who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Have served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days (cumulative), between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.

Have a current disease on the list of presumptive conditions related to Camp Lejeune.

The VA lists the following Evidence Requirements:

Records that show you served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days (cumulative), between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, in an active duty, reserve, or National Guard capacity.

The medical evidence must show you have a current disease on the list of presumptive conditions related to Camp Lejeune.

If you’d like to know more about what we can do for you, call us today for a free consultation. Our number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we can call you at a better time. Since 2008 we’ve helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve, and we won’t take no for an answer.

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I Get a Little Help From My Friends; How Buddy Statements Impact Your VA Claim

When it comes to Veterans Disability, one of the most important aspects of any case is evidence. For the most part, this pertains to medical evidence. For instance, if you’re pursuing a claim for your shoulder, you would likely have medical records from your time in service and from the VA and private doctors after your time in service. However, there is not always medical evidence of an injury in service. This is especially true for combat injuries. If you’re in the middle of a firefight, you can’t call a “timeout” if you fall and hurt your ankle. Most Vets I’ve talked to just get back up and keep fighting. In other words, there’s not always a perfect medical record for every disability claim.

The same is also true for mental disabilities like PTSD, or neurological conditions like Traumatic Brain Injury. These injuries are not always diagnosed in service. Usually, they manifest later in life. So, the traditional means of establishing service connection is not always able to be obtained. So, what is a Veteran to do? There is actually an option for this situation.

Sometimes, when attempting to establish service connection, a Veteran may make use of a “statement in support of claim.” These are also sometimes referred to as “buddy statements.” For the most part, these statements are supplied by individuals who either served with the Veteran filing for benefits, or a friend/family member who knew the Veteran before and after he/she entered the military. In some cases, the Veteran may also make a statement in support of claim, but for the purposes of today’s blog, we will just focus on the statements made by others.

First, let’s look into buddy statements. These make a lot of sense because they almost act as an eyewitness report of something that occurred. For instance, if you were serving in a combat zone and an RPG blew up, knocking you unconscious, one of your fellow Vets was likely there with you. There may not be an official record of this in any log, but if you can have at least one other person, or even multiple people, write statements about it occurring, it will help your chances of establishing service connection.

Another way in which we’ve seen buddy statements be effective pertains to cases of Military Sexual Trauma. If a Veteran was sexually assaulted and he/she knew another Veteran who was sexually assaulted by the same person, they can write a statement explaining their experience.  This is beneficial because so many sexual assaults go unreported in the military. However, it’s not the only way in which a buddy statement can be used to aid an MST case. If a Veteran was sexually assaulted, didn’t report it, but confided in his or her fellow service member, they could then write a statement explaining what happened. This is even true several years after the assault occurred.

Just like buddy statements, a statement from a family member can be beneficial in cases of MST and PTSD. Though in most cases your family and friends didn’t serve with you, they can still speak to how your behavior or mood changed after joining the military. For instance, if you were outgoing before, loved going out and had a lot of friends before you were in the military, but after discharge, you were more withdrawn, alone and rarely left your house, this would be a way a family member could explain how you’ve changed. Even in cases not involving PTSD or MST, statements from family members can be beneficial. We see this often in cases of Sleep Apnea.

Statements are just one of the ways in which we help our clients put together strong cases to help them get the benefits they deserve. If you’d like to know more about what we can do for you, call us today for a free consultation. Our number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we can call you at a better time. Since 2008 we’ve helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve, and we won’t take no for an answer.

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How Veterans Service Connect for Headaches and Migraines

While doing our ‘end of the year countdown,” we realized that for the second year in a row, our most popular blog was about Veterans with headaches. That blog post was written way back in 2014 when the world was more innocent. The hit TV show Parks and Recreation were still on the air, and Justin Bieber’s new album was still months away. They were good times. That blog has held up well over time, but it won’t hurt to revisit the topic. So, let’s take another look at headaches and your VA disability claims.

Pertaining to headaches, one of the biggest misconceptions Veterans believe is that their headaches are normal, and thus not service connected. I’m not judging because this makes sense to me. When I was in 1st grade I started having severe migraines on a regular basis. They were so bad that I would become sick, then I would become nauseous and eventually vomit. As I got older, the migraines became less frequent and I eventually “grew out of them.” I still get headaches now. Most of my headaches are brought on by stress. Headaches can be difficult because of there so many people who haven’t served who have issues with headaches too. The major difference between what I experienced, and what a Veteran experience are that my headaches are preexisting. Most Veterans who have a headache condition do not have a preexisting condition. However, a preexisting condition would not necessarily keep them from getting service connected. The important thing to remember about headaches and any condition for that matter is that it must either be caused by your time in service or made worse by your time in service.

There are many ways in which a Veteran can have issues with headaches because of service. Any type of head injury can lead to headaches later in life. For instance, if a Veteran suffered from a TBI while serving he or she may have headaches after service. Even if a Veteran doesn’t have a head injury they can still pursue a headache claim. This is especially true if you sought treatment in service.

One thing we must consider when pursuing a claim for headaches is; “What exactly is a headache?” In my previous blog, I explain the process in detail. You can read that here. However, I want to make things a little simpler today.

The following is an example of a Veteran who likely wouldn’t get service connected for their headaches: The Veteran seldom has headaches. When they do, they are not very severe, and they are easily alleviated by taking over the counter medicine like Tylenol.  On average, the type of a headache occurs once every six weeks.

The following is an example that would likely result in a Veteran receiving service connection for headaches. This Veteran has headaches at least three times per week, and they are prostrating. Prostrating sort of means debilitating. In other words, the pain from your headache is so severe that the Vet is unable to function. Generally, this means they must retreat to a bedroom with no light, no sound, and sleep until your headache is resolved, often hours later. There is a good chance the Veteran misses work often because of their condition.

Once again, if you want to read the full explanation, please see my previous blog post.

I was surprised by the number of people who turned to my old blog post for help. Obviously, this means that there are a lot of Veterans still suffering from headaches, and many still need help. If you think you may have a headache condition that should be service connected, give us a call today. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form, and we’ll be happy to talk to you at a better time. Our consultations are Free, and we’ve helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve.

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How Disabled Veterans Can Receive Student Loan Forgiveness

Student Loan debt impacts millions of recent graduates every year. Most of you are already aware of that as it’s in the mainstream news quite often. However, what you are likely not aware of is the number of Veterans who struggle with student loan debt also. I was surprised at first to learn that so many Veterans struggled with student loan debt. If you’re like me, you simply assumed that all veterans qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill and thus their college was paid for by the government. That’s not true.

Did you know that a Veterans who was discharged with a general under honorable condition discharge is not eligible for the GI Bill? If you’re reading that and you don’t have much knowledge of military discharges, you might think that a General Under Honorable is a bad discharge. It’s not. To be honest, a lot of Veterans are discharged with this type of discharge. It does not mean they did anything wrong. Traditionally it means that they were not able to fulfill their entire commitment. In other words, if a Veterans enlisted for four years, but only served three due to an injury, he or she may receive a general under honorable discharge. Further, a lot of Vets who are injured receive General Under Honorable discharges. On the surface, a General Under Honorable Discharge resembles an Honorable Discharge. It’s not just the character of a Veterans discharge that may have led them to student loans. In some cases, the GI Bill may not have been enough to cover all fees. This could be the case if the Veteran attended graduate school, an out of state school, or even went to college or university for an extended period. So, now it makes sense that a Veteran could have debt from higher education. Now we have to ask what they have to do to eliminate that debt.

This reminds me of a story. When I was in college I met this fella who served in the Navy. I can’t tell you his name or many details because he eventually became a client. Regardless, the first year we had classes together I didn’t like him very well. The next year we had another class together and the professor forced us to work together. We realized that we had some similar interests and, as any coming of age teen comedy will tell you, we became friends. And, just like in that same teen comedy, after college, we lost touch. As I was completing graduate school I started working here. I discovered this thing called Facebook. Naturally, I looked up my old friend. As I was working in Veterans Disability at the time, and he was a disabled Veteran, I thought it would make sense for him to become a client. Eventually, my friend became a client, we got him a well-deserved rating of 100%, and all was well.

One day, while reading through my Facebook timeline, I noticed that my friend mentioned that he had all his debt from college eradicated. If I’m honest, he was bragging about it in a way he shouldn’t have been, but it peaked my interest none the less. Due to injuries, he was not able to fulfill his contract with the military. He received a general discharge, and thus, didn’t receive the full GI Bill. Prior to this Facebook post, I was not aware of any Student Debt forgiveness for Veterans. So, I did what we all do when we something unfamiliar on the internet, I Googled it.

My search results were quite helpful. According to my research, Veterans who receive a 100% Total and Permanent Disability from the VA may also have their Federal Student Loans discharged. In this context, the word discharge means forgiven. Granted, there are a lot of details to this program and a lot about finance that I really can’t interpret. My source for this information is a government website. If you are interested in this program I suggest checking it out.

I don’t believe enough Veterans are aware that they may be able to have their student debt forgiven. Like I mentioned earlier, we assume that every person who served in the military and went to college was able to attend for free. It turns out that it’s not true, and a lot of Veterans are missing out on this program. If you know of a Veteran who may benefit from Student Loan forgiveness, please share the link above with them.

Further, many Veterans are rated too low for their disability ratings. If you believe your ratings are too low, call us today for a Free Consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. You can contact us using this form as well. Thanks so much for reading.

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Knee Issues and Your Veterans Disability Claim

I often like to write about the unique cases we see at the law firm. Some of my favorite memories of helping Veterans pertains to very specific conditions. Sometimes we must work hard to prove that a Vietnam Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, or we must go the extra mile to show how a Veteran who was not in combat has a stressor related to their time in service. Those cases stick out because they aren’t very common, and we usually learn a lot from those favorable decisions. Though those cases really peak our interests, it’s the more common cases that we see the most, and that impact the highest number of Veterans. One such condition involves disabilities impacting the knees. So, let’s talk about your knee conditions in more detail today.

If I oversaw the VA, and hopefully someday I will be, I would automatically grant all Veterans service connection on their knees. Unfortunately, I am not in charge of the VA, and knee conditions are sometimes difficult to prove. Some may wonder why I think most Veterans should get granted service connection on their knees. It’s quite simple. If you served, take a moment to think about all the abuse your knees went through while you were in service. All Vets must go through PT, ruck marches, and a lot of physical work every day. Further, a lot of MOS’s are very physical. It’s hard to think of many occupations in the military that aren’t physical. The most common ones we encounter are mechanics, infantrymen, Calvary Scouts, truck driver and so on. All of those are very physical. Most of the Veterans I’ve talked to with MOS’s like these have moderate to severe knee issues when they leave the military. Then you have Veterans who have MOS’s associated with jumping from a plane. Veterans who have a parachutist badge, or those who are Rangers, Airborne, and so on, are among the most likely to have knee issues. If you’ve even completed one Jump from a plane with a landing that is less than ideal, then it’s very likely that you’ll have a knee condition.

While it may seem simple for Veterans with the previously mentioned backgrounds in service to get granted for their knees, the opposite is true. Knee conditions are difficult to get service connected. It’s not a black and white issue, though, there are several reasons why a Veterans may struggle to get service connected for their knees.

One of the biggest reasons that Vets have issues getting service connected for their knees involves a lack of treatment in service. This isn’t specific to knee conditions, though, it’s a problem across the board. However, with knee issues, many Vets will simply purchase an OTC knee brace, or treat with Motrin. They don’t seek specific care for their knees in service, and thus establishing service connecting for the condition is difficult. It’s not a deal-breaker, though. For many of our clients, we argue that your MOS or length of service contributed to your knee condition. We also use buddy statements. So, if a fellow Vet witnessed your injury, he or she may be able to write a statement to help you get connected.

Another import thing to remember is to get treatment on your knees after you’re discharged. The will deny your claim if you don’t have current treatment.

 

While treatment is a big issue, it’s not the only thing that makes service connecting for knees difficult. A more complex issue arises when we look at how the VA evaluates knee conditions. Your pain is not paramount when a medical professional evaluates you for your knees. Knee conditions are based on a range of motion, not pain. In other words, you may be in a lot of pain, but if you can flex your knee so far in either direction, your’ likely to get denied. Most Veterans aren’t aware of this when they travel to their C&P exam.

 

Traditionally, a knee is rated at 0%, 10%, or 20%. On the other hand, some Vets can get rated at 30% for each knee. This is traditionally the result of a Veterans needing knee replacements. It’s rare for younger Veterans to be given knee replacements, mainly because doctors advise against it for individuals under a certain age. One of the main reasons for this involves the amount of pains associated with knee replacement surgery. Overall, the only way to get rated above 20% on a knee is to have a replacement. Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule, but this is the norm.

 

Some Veterans, who have issues with their knees, also have issues with falling or instability. It’s important to note that this condition is rated separately from a knee condition. Once again, most Veterans aren’t aware that they can file this claim separately from their knees. Let’s be clear, though, not every Veteran who has a knee condition will also have issues with instability. Also, just because you’ve been granted on a knee issue, it does not mean the VA will grant you on instability quickly. You will have to prove that separately.

 

The most important thing I want you to know if you’re a Veteran reading this blog is to get treatment on your knees if you have pain in one or both knees. If you believe your pain is a result of your time in service, call us. We’d be happy to talk to you about your condition and give you a free case evaluation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you would rather have us give you a call later, fill out this form, and we’ll call you at a more convenient time.

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5 Tips for Veterans this Holiday Season

The holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier each year. I saw Christmas trees for sale in September at a local retailer. Not only does the season startblog photos 046 earlier, it seems as if we have more to do. I am single without kids, and I have no fewer than six Holiday parties to attend. Plus I have to buy Christmas presents and plan a lot of activities around the holidays. It’s easy to get distracted and not pay attention to important things. During the holiday season, a lot of Veterans neglect their disability cases and that can be recipe for disaster. But there are some simple things that you can do to keep your disability claim focuses and to manage stress this holiday season.

  1. Schedule appointments thoughtfully. You still need to go the doctor even though the snow is falling and there’s Christmas spirit in the air. Now, this can be tricky during the holiday season. However, it can be done. Let’s say you are working parent with two Children and your spouse is also employed. Well, you’re likely going to have a bunch of parties and activities to attend. You and your spouse will probably both have a work related holiday party to attend. You will also likely have a few functions to attend with your kids at their schools. If you have a bunch of friends, you will likely have to do something with them. So, November and December can get busy. However, you likely know well in advance when you’re going to have these events, so it can be easy to plan things ahead. Just make sure to sync up your schedule with that of your doctor’s office, and I am sure they can work you in at a convenient time. Just stick to your appointment. Don’t cancel it last minute unless you have to.
  2. Take advantage of special days that aren’t very busy. Every doctor’s office is different. However, in our area, it seems like a lot are open on days like Black Friday and Christmas Eve. (If it falls on a weekday.) Schedule appointments for these days because they aren’t likely to be very busy. I had to help my mother get blood work last year. We went to the lab on Christmas Eve. We didn’t have to park far from the building, we waited for two minutes, and then we had the blood work drawn. We were in and out in 10 minutes.
  3. Manage stress like a champion. Holiday shopping is the worst, and I say that as a fella who does not mind spending the day at the mall. However, holiday elfshopping leaves me wanting to pull my remaining hair out. I’ve never gone shopping on Black Friday, and this year will be no different. I am going to buy a record number of gifts online this year. With Amazon Prime, I really can’t go wrong buying online now. I get free two-day shipping on most of the things I buy and they have everything. If you’re a Veteran with PTSD, the mall on Black Friday is not a great place to be. Plus you have to deal with traffic, cold weather, and all around nastiness. Stay home, grab your smartphone, and you’ll be good to go.
  4. Spend time with your friends. This may sound odd, and I am not a psychologist, but spending so much extra time with coworkers and family can drive you crazy. It’s not that you don’t love these people, but a lot of extra time around them can have it’s moments. So, find time to hang with your friends this holiday season. Especially your true friends. In many cases, these people may your fellow Veterans. If it’s not, just make time for the people who you have the most fun with no matter what time of year it is. I do this with my oldest friend Shawn every year. We hang out, just the two of us. We have a gift exchange in which we buy gifts for each other that our family won’t. This usually means Hot Wheels cars and Action figures. Then we normally head to Athens, OH, see a movie, and just have a great time being ourselves. I highly recommend it for everyone.
  5. Have fun. I am so glad I live in a time when odd Christmas celebrations are embraced. I live for a Yankee Swap, Ugly Christmas Sweater party, and even a Festivus Celebration. They are the most fun you can have at Christmas. Stuffy parties are so 1996. Take some time to celebrate something that is just supposed to be fun.

Well, I wish you a Happy Holiday Season. Remember to have fun this Christmas. However, don’t let your case go by the wayside. If you would like some help with your claim, give us a call today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or fill out this form if you’d like to be contacted at a different time.

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Which Disability is Claimed the Most by Veterans?

I’ve been working with Veterans for more than nearly six years. At this point, there aren’t a lot of things that surprise me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love what I war-1447010_1920do, and if this blog is any evidence of my passion, I don’t see that passion going away anytime soon. When something does come along that surprises me, it has to be pretty major. The last time it happened was earlier this year when the VA released a list of conditions they believed to be associated with water contamination at Camp Lejeune. It was so shocking that many of us in the office just stood around discussing how the eventual presumptive list would help so many Vets. The latest news that blew my mind was found in an NBC news article. While the article was about politics and a bunch of other things I don’t care to discuss in my blog, they asked the answered the following question: Which disability ranks highest amongst Veterans receiving disability benefits? The answer isn’t what I expected.

The first thing that came to mind was PTSD. This seemed like a pretty logical answer. PTSD was the subject of the article and it’s something I encounter often. In fact, most of the blogs I write are about PTSD. However, PTSD was not first on the list. It also wasn’t number two military-662863_1920on the list. It was number three. Currently, there are 813,277 Veterans receiving benefits for PTSD. Trust me; there are a lot more who have PTSD claims pending. Regardless, this was a surprise to me. Not only was it surprising because it was not number one, but also because 800,000 seems like such a low number. Not only was it low in my mind, there are nearly half as many PTSD recipients as the condition what was number one on the list.

So if PTSD wasn’t number one, then something else major had to be first. My first thought turned to physical conditions. A lot of Veterans have issues with their feet. Everyone in the military is on their feet a lot and they have to wear boots that aren’t exactly comfortable. Add to that all of the marching, the harsh terrain, and for the brave souls who jump out of planes, the consistent harsh impacts, and it would make sense that the conditions involving the foot would be number one. Conditions involving the foot were not even the top 10. By this time I started wondering if I even knew what I was talking about half the time. Was this blog just full of lies?

By this time panic was starting to set in. What could be number one? Was it a back condition? Nope, they were at number 10! And actually, that was just arthritis of the spine, which is not the kind of back condition I am used to seeing. I started frantically guessing.

Shoulders?  Nope, not even close.

Diabetes? Not quite, this condition is at number nine.

Knees? Surely knees are at number 1. They have to be. It’s a major joint. No, knees are not number one. They’re not even in the top 5.

Heart? No.

Lungs? Nope!

Legs? Nope, this is embarrassing.

Time to start swinging for the fences. This is my only shot now.black and white twitter

Bilateral Fingers? Come on Jon, you know better.

Nose?

Vampiris?

MacGregor’s Syndrome?

Bieber Fever?

No matter how hard I tried, the number one condition would not come to mind. I finally gave up and just looked at the condition. It was Tinnitus. I was disappointed by this result. It actually made me a little sad that so many Veterans have this condition. To understand why you have to know more about Tinnitus.

Before I worked in VA disability compensation, I had no idea what Tinnitus was, or how it affected people. Within the first week of working for a law firm that helps Veterans, I knew exactly what Tinnitus was and why it was such an issue. For those of you who don’t know, Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in the ears. No, this isn’t an especially painful condition, and it’s not going to keep you from doing most things, but Tinnitus, in its smallest form is a mild buzzing or ringing. It might just be noticeable when it’s quiet. However, in severe cases, it can be so bad that it nearly drives a Veteran insane.

photos 4 054There is a good chance that, even if you’re not a Vet, you’ve experienced Tinnitus. For a lot of us, it’s not a permanent condition. If you’re near and explosion or at a loud concert, you may experience some ringing for a short time after. Those who serve in the military are exposed to loud noises every day. Some detractors might say that it’s a bit of an exaggeration because most people who serve aren’t around explosions every day. That is true, but it’s not just explosions that cause the issue. If you worked as a mechanic, you were around a lot of equipment, which produces a lot of noise. This is also true for Vets who worked as heavy equipment operators. If you were a pilot of planes or helicopters, worked on the flight crew, or really worked anywhere near an aircraft, then you were around constant noise. This is also true for individuals who worked in the kitchen, with any type of radio equipment, or even had a role in the marching band. Don’t forget every Veteran, regardless of MOS, had to learn had to shoot a weapon. This involves countless hours on a firing range. It’s no wonder so many Veterans have Tinnitus.

One of the worst aspects of Tinnitus is that can last forever. There isn’t a lot anyone can do if the condition is permanent. To an individual who hasn’t been diagnosed with this condition, it may not seem like a big deal. It’s just a ringing or buzzing in the ears, right? Well yes, it is, and most people who have Tinnitus are able to function like everyone else. However, Tinnitus is worst when there is no noise. If you have Tinnitus, and you are in a silent room, the ringing can be deafening. Often, the Veterans I talk to have trouble sleeping because the Tinnitus is so bad. I always suggest using a fan or white noise app to drown out the ringing. This can help, but it’s no sure.

Tinnitus, no matter how severe it is, is normally only rated at 10%. I’ve personally never seen it higher, and this is the assigned rating per the CFR. It’s important to note that Tinnitus is not the same as Meniere’s disease. Some of the symptoms of Tinnitus can mimic the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, but Tinnitus is not as severe. Further, Tinnitus is a symptom of Meniere’s disease, but it also includes vertigo, hearing loss, and sometimes pressure in the ear. Meniere’s disease can often be rated higher than Tinnitus.

Tinnitus may not be the most physically painful, and it’s not as severe as PTSD, but it definitely impacts a Veteran’s quality of life.  That’s why we encourage Veterans to pursue it if they have the symptoms. It’s also important to note that though Tinnitus is claimed the most; a lot of Veterans claim multiple disabilities in addition to Tinnitus.

If need a hand with your claim, give us a call for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you don’t have time to talk now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.

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What I Learned from Attending Two Large Veteran’s Stand Downs

Earlier this week I attended a Veterans Stand Down in Columbus. It was an amazing event full of great vendors, healthcare providers, and service organizations. I’ve been attending these types of events a lot this year. In the past month, I’ve been to Pittsburgh and Columbus, and these cities do not mess around. Their stand downs are huge! Columbus had over 500 Vets, Pittsburgh slightly more than that, but overall they were great events to attend and to meet Vets. The event in Pittsburgh was in a concert venue. I made a joke andpitt-1 said that it was like Coachella, but for people who make the world better. Meeting and helping Veterans is always great. However, the events have been more eye-opening than I would have imagined. Here is a recap of all of the Stand Downs I’ve attended this year.

The Numbers Are Staggering

pitt-2Since April, I’ve attended 5-6 Stand Downs or Resource Fairs. The first few were in smaller cities, but they had pretty good turnouts. While most Stand Downs are aimed at homeless Veterans, the first few events I attended were more like resource fairs, and they were attended by a lot of individuals who were not homeless, but rather in search for everyday resources. They were great to talk to. In New Castle, PA, I met a few individuals who were still in the active National Guard. I was able to talk to them about what they would need to do after discharge to get their disability benefits. I even made some friends at these early events because there was so much downtime. Those early events may not have introduced me to many new clients, but they got my foot in the door and helped prep me for the bigger events.

Pittsburgh was eye opening. I arrived at Stage AE next to Heinz Field on a balmy September morning. The air conditioning in my rented Hyundai Tucson was on full blast. I learned so much on this day. The first thing I learned was that I don’t want to own a Hyundai Tucson. The motor was anemic. It had such little power that overtaking cars on the interstate was hazardous. I hated this car so much that I wanted to leave it parked next to Heinz Field with a note proclaiming: “I found the only thing worse at passing than your quarterback.” To be fair, the car did get me to my destination. I quickly gathered my items, took a quick Snapchat photo, and raced over to the American Eagle stage. I quickly learned that I was not in Parkersburg anymore. Outside the concert venue, there were four to five rows of tents that were at least 20 feet long. They were covering tables full of donated clothing. “This is major league,” I thought as I crossed the road.

As I entered the venue, I had one of the volunteers help me find my table. I was near an entrance, and we were crammed together tightly. There were pitt-3far more vendors here than I was used to. But, that was a good thing. It was so refreshing to see so many other organizations interested in helping our Vets. Around 9:00, the doors opened, and within moments I was talking to Veterans non-stop for over an hour. When there was a break in the action I took a look around. The area was packed. I took a few moments to walk outside around lunchtime. It was during this time, when everyone was in a central location, that I understood how many people were actually there. Hundreds of people lined up for the free lunch provided by one of the vendors. It was a bit overwhelming.

Those aren’t yoga mats.

Earlier in the day in Pittsburgh, I noticed a man off in the distance carrying what looked like a yoga mat. This really excited me because yoga is a topic of discussion often in this office. Lauren Ward, our Operations Manager, is a certified yoga nut. She’s also certified as a yoga instructor. We have discussed the benefits of yoga more times than I can remember. We worked together to actually present a free class for Veterans Day last year. She even managed to get me to try it. Turns out that it’s not for me. However, a lot of Veterans find yoga very beneficial. This is especially true for Veterans suffering from PTSD. There are countless articles outlining the benefits, and there has been a lot of research to back up all of the claims. I wanted to meet these people and get them in touch with Lauren because she is a part of a charity that brings yoga to those in need, including Vets.  I looked around to see if there was a yoga studio there giving out mats. I didn’t see any. I couldn’t look too hard because I didn’t want to leave my table unattended too long. As things started winding down I took another opportunity to look for this mythical yoga booth. I looked all over and found nothing. As I was walking back to my table I passed an older man who I had spoken to earlier. I noticed that under his arms he had one of the things I thought to be yoga mats. I was about to ask him where he acquired it…then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I may not be a yoga enthusiast, but I’ve seen and used the mats before. What he had was far too long and thick to be used for yoga. Instead, it was actually a mat for sleeping. The health department or someone similar was handing these thick foam mats out so that these Veterans could have a portable place to sleep…on the ground.

I felt so stupid that I didn’t realize this sooner. Of course, a privileged person from rural West Virginia would think that they were giving out yoga mats to homeless people. I love what I do. I am not pandering when I say I get excited to go to events and meet Vets. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of meeting people you regard as heroes, and forget the reason you are there.

By this time, the event was over, and I didn’t want to leave right away. I packed up the Tucson and pitt-7decided to go for a walk. In the distance, I saw the football field sponsored by ketchup and decided that a lap around that might clear my head before the long drive home in the uncomfortable Korean crossover. I wanted to reflect on all of the people I met that day and what kind of struggles they must face every day. I was walking around a stadium that cost the taxpayers in Pittsburgh millions that sit vacant most of the time. On 8 Sundays a year, people pay $5 for sodas and watch their team lose to the Patriots. At the same time there are people in the parking lot struggling to stay warm. I am not saying that we shouldn’t have football. I know how much money can be generated for the city because of the Steelers. Further, the Pittsburgh Pirates were one of the sponsors of the Stand Down.  It was just hard seeing so much wealth in the presence of so much poverty. I also have incredible respect for the city of Pittsburgh and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania after attending so many events in this area this year. They have a huge respect for Veterans. I walked back to Stage AE. I noticed all of the people in yellow shirts cleaning up. These were the volunteers that signed up to help with the event. It was at this point that I noticed how many of them came to the event. There were well over 100 people there to help out for the day. That was really refreshing.

Some may wonder why I was so surprised by this; especially because I’ve been doing what I have for so long. It’s actually simple. Most of the Veterans I’ve met in my time with the firm are not homeless. Most are fully employed, have a home, and are able to afford a vehicle. That’s not to say that they aren’t in need, it’s just that they’ve had different circumstances.

Too much misinformation.

pitt-8When I started this blog back in 2011 my goal was to get accurate information to as many Veterans as possible. While in Columbus I was reminded of how much misinformation there is out there. At one point a Veteran came up to me and said he was told that he couldn’t get both social security and VA disability. That’s not true. You can get both. Read more about this subject here. Another Veteran said that he was told that was not in the military long enough to get benefits. He explained to me that he served for two years and had an honorable discharge. That was also untrue. I had the opportunity to answer a lot of questions while in Columbus. It gave me a lot of pride. In my years here I’ve learned that a lot of Veterans haven’t applied because they were told false information. During the hours I was in Columbus, I was able to answer questions for over 50 Veterans. Many of them weren’t even aware that they could file a claim or hire an attorney.

I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet so many Veterans this year. Interacting with these individuals gave me a sense of energy I haven’t had in a while. It was humbling yet uplifting at the same time. The most rewarding part was when people became excited to work with us. Our organization isn’t like many others out there. We really do have a passion for helping Veterans, and it shows.

If you would like to know more about our services, feel free to give us a call today for a consultation. It’s completely free. If you can’t talk right now, don’t hesitate to fill out this form f. Just let us know a good time to contact you.

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Does the Way a Veteran Look Impact Their PTSD Claim

I know, it’s absurd to think that the way a Veteran looks could impact his or her VA Disability claim. Before I worked for a law firm I would have laughed it off blog-photos-045and said that it could never happen. I mean it’s a claim for disability, not a beauty contest. It turns out that I was wrong. So, I want to tell you about the time I learned how a Veteran’s appearance could impact their claim. However, before we get there, we have to learn a little about how PTSD is diagnosed, and how the VA rates this condition.

PTSD is a big issue facing a lot of Veterans. As you may be aware there are different ratings for PTSD according to the VA. PTSD is rated from 0% to 100% through the VA. In other words, it’s not something you simply have or don’t. With this knowledge, we can assume that a Veteran who is rated at 0% has a very mild case of PTSD and a Veteran rated at 100% has a very severe condition. The ratings in-between are where there are some issues.

So, the problem lies in several areas. One of the main problems is that PTSD does not have 10% increments. Actually, the ratings for PTSD are 0, 10, 30, 50, 70, and 100. The lower ratings don’t prove to be much of an issue, but the higher ratings are. The gap from 50 to 70, and then the gap from 70 to 100 leave huge holes in the process.

Here are the rating criteria for a Veteran who is 70% for PTSD. I apologize, but this is a bit of a read.

Occupational and social impairment, with deficiencies in most areas, such as work, school, family relations, judgment, thinking, or mood, due to such symptoms as: suicidal ideation; obsessional rituals which interfere with routine activities; speech intermittently illogical, obscure, or irrelevant; near-continuous panic or depression affecting the ability to function independently, appropriately and effectively; impaired impulse control (such as unprovoked irritability with periods of violence); spatial disorientation; neglect of personal appearance and hygiene; difficulty in adapting to stressful circumstances (including work or a worklike setting); inability to establish and maintain effective relationships

Vet week Blog FeaturedOk, now that you have an idea of how the VA rates PTSD at 70%, I’d like to share with you a story about a client of mine. Now, to protect his identity I won’t be sharing his name, his branch, or much about his personal case, or even where he is from. This client had at least three tours in combat, he was in infantry and he was clearly not the same person he was when he left to join the military. His case for PTSD was strong. He had a diagnosis, he had regular treatment, and he had almost everything listed above. He had severe panic attacks on a regular basis; he couldn’t keep a job and was not able to go to school. He was extremely irritable and he would have emotional outbursts on the phone with us often. His PTSD should have been rated at the 70% rating easily. However, there was an issue with his appearance.

So, what was the issue? If this Veteran had all of the issues listed above, why was he turned down? Well, this young man was cursed with being very attractive. Now, before you start to write hate comments, please note that his appearance was noted as being one of the reasons why he was denied. I reviewed his medical records, and two different medical professionals noted his appearance as one of the reasons they thought he was malingering. In other words, because he was visually appealing, he was faking his condition. This is not just my opinion. So, he was a good-looking young man, who, even if he let himself go, would look better than me on my best day. Also, most people would agree that he was above average in attractiveness. I am not trying to say that he was movie star attractive, though. On a grid from Maggie Gyllenhaal to Jake Gyllenhaal, he was somewhere in the middle. Kidding aside, this Vet also kept up his appearance. Which, let’s face it, for most men, it’s not that hard to do. He kept his hair short, he shaved regularly, and he always wore clean clothes when he went in for his appointments, and he bathed regularly. This client also had a spouse who would make sure that he kept his appearance neat. So, in the mind of the VA, or more specifically, this medical professional, this client was not suffering the effects of PTSD at the 70% rating, partially because of the way he looked. That is absurd.

I know this may be hard to believe, but hot people get sad too. Trust me; there is nothing more heartbreaking then sad Jennifer Lawrence in the film Silver j-law-slpLinings Playbook. I once saw Amy Schumer cry, and I couldn’t leave my bed for three days. As a society, we often think that just because someone looks nice, they couldn’t be sad. Or in this case, this Veteran has a nice shirt and a pretty smile, so there’s no way he could have PTSD. In all honesty, his PTSD was among the worst of any Veteran I’ve talked to in my six years with the firm.

This problem reflects a bigger issue with the way many people view Veterans with PTSD. I believe many people think someone who suffers from PTSD has to be strung out on drugs, homeless, totally unkempt, unable to work, and overall, non-functioning.  That is simply not true. PTSD takes on many forms. I’ve met a lot of Vets who are incredibly functional. They would remind you of everyone else you encounter when they are in public, but at night, they have night terrors or drink themselves to sleep. PTSD is not a black and white issue.

mean-girl-1Luckily we were able to get this Veteran a second opinion and he did get to the 70% rating. I said that this Veteran was cursed with being attractive, but he was actually cursed with some bad medical opinions. I’m not a psychologist, but I studied some psychology in undergrad. Even I could tell this Veteran wasn’t faking his conditions and should have been rated at the 70% level for PTSD. Please note that not all examiners are as obtuse as the individuals this Veteran had to deal with at the VA. In fact, I can’t think of many other cases I’ve seen in which a Veteran was denied based on their appearance. But, the fact that it occurred even once is tough to take.

One last thing. Letting your appearance go will not help you get approved quickly either. Though the CFR notes that lack of oral hygiene and physical appearance are contributing factors for the rating code, letting your appearance slip does not guarantee that you will get approved. I’ve seen a lot of Veterans who have let their hygiene go have the same difficulty as the Veteran in this blog.  VA Disability as a whole, but especially PTSD claims, is nuanced. Claims can get complicated and each one has to be approached differently.

If you’re not happy with your rating decision, call us. We’d love to talk to you about your case and even give you a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t chat now, fill out this form so that we can call you at a better time.

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5 Ways the VA Has Made Improvements Over the Past 5 Years

Five years ago I walked through the doors of this law firm and I had no idea what I was doing. I was told I’d be working with Veterans to help them get the benefitsblog-photos-045 they deserved. “Heck yeah,” I thought. Veterans are really awesome and I am sure that getting them their benefits would be easy. I was young, naïve, and wrong. When I say wrong, I mean Ashley Judd in Dolphin Tale 2 wrong. I was right about Veterans being awesome, though, and I can honestly say that I love working with Vets. They are really awesome, and I’ve made some friends from my work here. But the part about the disability process being easy was very untrue. However, I am not a pessimist. I believe in looking at the good in life, and I try to focus on the positives. When dealing with something as complicated as VA Disability, it’s not easy to think about positives. In fact, I might say that this is one of the hardest blogs I’ve ever written. It wasn’t easy to find positives, but there are some, and that is what matters.

Full disclosure: I don’t work for the VA. I am not paid by the VA. I am not some undercover propaganda machine either. I work for a West Virginia-based law firm that focuses on Veterans Disability, Social Security, and Personal Injury. To prove that I am indeed a real boy, here is a link to my Twitter profile. It’s been active since 2011. I usually go on rants about race cars and Ashley Judd. I love JJ Watt and you’ll often see me talk about cars, product placement and food. I am real. Enjoy the list.

  1. Electronic records. When I first started working here, an electronic medical record or claim file was unheard of. In fact, we would get so many records on paper only, that I seriously considered making a fort out of them at one time. A claim file can be thousands of pages long. Imagine getting those every day by mail. And then we would have to take those files and sort them. The records were thrown to together haphazardly. Admin records would be mixed with VA medical recs, Entrance exams were thrown in with private records, and it was what most people would call a hot mess. More care and planning went into the remake of Fantastic Four than the VA used to put into these records, and that’s not saying much.
  2. Initial Application turn-around. Way back in 2011, after Instagram but before Snapchat, Initial applications for disability benefits used to take at least 12-18 months before the VA would make a decision. That process has improved in many ways. Initial applications for most Veterans are able to come back within a year. However, Veterans who apply as a part of their discharge process can get decisions back in as little as three months. Also, Veterans with fully developed claims can get their initial applications back quickly too.
  3. BVA Hearings. Another area in which the VA has improved vastly is in the BVA or Board of Veterans Appeals. Heather Vanhoose, our lead VA attorney, has witnessed this firsthand. She mentioned that she’s seen the turnaround time for BVA hearings decrease steadily over the past five years. The VA has hired more people to deal with the backlog and they’ve actually done a good job to get these hearings scheduled quicker.
  4. Public Awareness. If I were to give the VA an “A” in one area, it would be Social Media. I guess that is kind of ironic considering I work in social media too. However, maybe it’s because I do work in social media that I notice this, but it’s worth noting. First of all, every Regional Office and most VA Medical Facilities have Twitter handles. That is pretty impressive for an organization that didn’t make use of scanners until 2015. The VA also makes use of social media to have question and answer sessions, live video chats, and even behind the scenes info. It really appears as if they are making a valent effort to reach young Veterans. Their accounts are also pretty interactive. They actually take the time to answer questions.
  5. E-Benefits. The E-Benefits  sites by far one of the most helpful tools a Veteran can use. The E-Benefits sight helps Veterans sign up for benefits, gets copies of documents and even lets them know where their case is at in the process. It’s a very helpful way to keep Veterans informed. It was not always this way, though. When I started it was not very interactive, and it really didn’t do much to help a Veteran with his or her case.

Overall, I am not trying to say that this process is perfect now. In fact, it’s actually far from it. I just wanted to shed some light on a few things that the VA is doing well. Also, I understand the fact that the VA has a good Twitter account means very little to you if you’ve been waiting years for a claim to get approved. But, the VA is making some moves in the right direction.

If you feel as if you are stuck with your claim and would like to know what our firm can do fo you, call us for a free case evaluation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. However, if you can’t talk right now, fill out this form  so that we can contact you at a better time.

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