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Archive for Corra’s Posts – Page 2

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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Camp Lejeune Presumptive List May Soon be a Reality for Thousands of Veterans

If you enter Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, you’ll notice a big sign that reads: “Home of Expeditionary Forces in Readiness.” That slogan is Camp Lejeune Wateractually prominent throughout the base, as well as in publications associated with the base. This name is due in large part to the fact that the base occupies 14 miles of beaches and houses a lot of amphibious assault training. Plus, the United States Marines are Also the “first to fight.” The access to the water makes it easier for the Marines in this location deploy quickly. There is a bit of irony here. Camp Lejeune was founded because of its location relative to a body of water, but its water supply is why so many people of it now.

From 1953 to 1987, many residents of Camp Lejeune were exposed to contaminated water, and they are suffering the effects now. For more than three decades residents of this base drank and bathed in water that was apparently contaminated by a nearby fuel supply. Not all water sources on the base were impacted, and not everyone who served at this base, or lived there, was exposed.  Many of the people who were exposed have cancer and other types of diseases too. This has been public knowledge for most of my life, and yet the VA does not allow Veterans to file for presumptive conditions as a result of Camp Lejeune water contamination. But, that may actually be changing.

First of all, what is a presumptive condition? Veterans familiar with Agent Orange exposure or Gulf War Illness already have a good understanding of what a presumptive condition entails. For the rest of us, though, a presumptive condition is one that the VA claims a Veteran could have if he or she were in specific place during a specific time. For Vets who served in Vietnam, Diabetes is a presumptive condition. In other words, if you’re a Veteran who served in Vietnam, and have been diagnosed with diabetes, then you don’t have to prove that the condition came from your time in service. The VA assumes that your exposure to Agent Orange is what caused your diabetes. The same is true for certain conditions for Veterans who served in Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East. The VA has an established list of conditions that Veterans may have as a result of their time in country.

 I started working for this firm in 2011. Back then there were talks of the VA creating a Camp Lejeune presumptive list. However, we’re dealing with the government, and they move slower than I do when it comes to an unexpected flight of stairs. Granted, there have been a ton of lawsuits, but not much came of that. Congress got involved a few times, but they’re like the Kim Kardashian of the Government…they’re famous for doing nothing.  Then, it kind of went on the backburner for a while. Camp Lejeune talks pretty much stopped. Up until this spring, I worked in our Intake department, and we even started getting fewer calls from Veterans inquiring about Camp Lejeune. Honestly, I had forgotten about Camp Lejeune. I mean, I was still aware of it, and I knew it was an issue, but I didn’t think about it as much Agent Orange or Gulf War Illness. That was until last week.

close ups 016Friday was a long day for me. I had just returned from Vacation earlier in the week, and I was eagerly anticipating my evening of XBOX playing and celebrity bashing on Twitter. While I was a little zoned out at my desk, my coworker Kris Fluharty approached me. His presence made me jump a little. Kris is a VA savant. In fact, he recently passed the VA non-attorney rep test. He knows his stuff. “Jon, I think this would be good for the blog.” He handed me a press release from the VA titled “VA Proposes Rule to Consider Certain Diseases Associated with Exposure to Contaminants in the Water Supply at Camp Lejeune.” Though the title was long I knew it was good news. For one, Kris actually seemed happy about it, and he is normally void of emotion. We were once together when we found out that we were going to have a self-serve chocolate candy bar at our company Christmas party. I squealed with delight, while Kris just said “that’s cool,” and went back to work. So, for Kris to be excited, it was a big deal.

When he handed me the press release, I read it over and asked him what his take on it was. He said that it was good news because the VA is another step closer to making a presumptive list for Camp Lejeune. In fact, they actually have a list of conditions they believe are associated with the water contamination. According to the press release, the following list applies to active duty, reserve, and National Guard members who served no less than 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1st, 1953 and December 31st, 1987. (Marines aren’t the only ones who served at Camp Lejeune.)

  • Adult Leukemia
  • Aplastic Anemia and other Myelodysplastic Syndromes
  • Bladder Cancer
  • Kidney Cancer
  • Liver Cancer
  • Multiple Myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Parkinson’s Disease

It’s important to note that this is not an official presumptive list. If you were a millennial you might say that this is not “Facebook Official” yet. In language adults will understand, it’s not the law yet. It does, however, mean that we are closer than ever before to getting this list established, though. It also means that the official list is probably just around the corner. If you served at Camp Lejeune during the periods listed above and have one of the aforementioned conditions, it’s time to get your ducks in a row.

If you haven’t filed a VA disability claim before, this might be the time to do so. To learn more about the possible presumptive conditions, or to schedule a free evaluation, call us today. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form now to schedule a consult at a different time.

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How a Conversation with a Veteran 5 Years Ago Helped Me Realize I Was in the Right Career Field

Today I am going to share the story of the moment I knew working with Veterans Disability was the right career path for me.

On Veterans Day this blog turns Five, and in March of 2017, I’ll celebrate my 6th anniversary with Jan Dils Attorneys at Law. However, before I wrote this blog Jason Watkins 061before social media was a part of my job title, and well before I knew anything about VA Disability, I was just a 27-year-old guy who was a little lost. I was finishing graduate school and working part time at a small retail outlet selling satellite dishes. In January of 2011, it was announced that the retail part of the company would be shutting down. In fact, my birthday would be the last day that I would be employed. Two months later I was working for a well-known law firm in Parkersburg, WV called Jan Dils Attorneys at Law. My new job required me to talk to Veterans and give them updates on their case. I was also supposed to screen potential new clients for representation. Learning a new job is tough, but add on top of that the entire VA disability process and I were overwhelmed, to say the least. For a while, I did not think that this was for me. I questioned a lot about my abilities at the time, and several times I thought about quitting. I liked my coworkers a lot, and the company was definitely a great place, but I thought I couldn’t do the job. However, one day, after talking to a young Veteran about becoming a client, I knew I was in the right place.

Please keep in mind that we are a law firm and I can’t give out personal or detailed information about our clients, so this may seem vague at times, but I am simply protecting the Identity of our client.

A few months after I started, I received a call from a young man asking about benefits. He was only a few months younger than me. At the time, most of the Vets I encountered were much older. Traditionally they were Vietnam Veterans who had great cases. It’s not that I didn’t care for these individuals; it was just difficult for me to relate. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to serve in Vietnam, and it’s difficult to get this generation of Veterans to really speak openly about their experiences. The young man I spoke to served in Afghanistan. I wish I knew why, but for some reason, he really opened up to me about his experience. He was a young father of many and was married to a supportive wife, but couldn’t seem to adjust to civilian life. He had been through several jobs since returning home and he could not find anything stable. Worst of all, he kept getting denied for VA disability compensation. The specific claim he was denied for that really made no sense was PTSD. This fella had a severe case of PTSD and was diagnosed and treated by a civilian doctor and by a VA doctor. Not only did the VA deny his claim for PTSD, they tried to say that he was malingering. For anyone who may not know, malingering is a fancy way of saying that the person is pretending to have symptoms. In this case, they said that the Veteran was pretending to have PTSD symptoms.

The malingering part bothered me a lot. First of all, this client served 4 tours in Afghanistan. He was in combat, and he witnessed gunfire, explosions, and the death of friends. He was obviously lost now, and he was having issues with anger, sleeping disorders, anxiety and many more of the core symptoms of PTSD. In fact, I’ll even go as far to say that his PTSD was so obvious, Ray Charles could see it. But they said he was faking.

When lead VA attorney Heather Vanhoose found out about the malingering statement, she couldn’t believe it. Heather loves all Veterans, but this case truly upset her because the VA was so blatantly wrong.

This was a tough case, but our firm was able to get the Veteran 70% on his PTSD claim, and he is connected on several other issues. He was awarded back pay to his original file date. It just goes to show that persistence pays off. We believed in this young man’s case when few others would. We got him the benefits he deserved.

Interacting with this client helped me realize that I had found my home. When he would talk, he would often get upset about how the VA would treat him. He had a distinct voice. He had a southern accent though I am not positive he ever lived in the south. I could tell there was a lot of pain in his voice. I took pride in the fact that I was able to make him laugh a few times. For a few seconds, I was able to help him forget his worries.

It’s nearly six years later and I still check up on this person from time to time. It’s interesting to see how much has changed in this period of time. He seems to be under less stress now, and I like to think that we had some small part in that.

This was the first client I truly felt a connection to, and there have been a lot more to follow. For five years I screened new clients for the firm and did intake appointments. It was great to get to know so many men and women who have done so much for this country. My current position with the firm has me working on social media and community outreach. I don’t get to know our clients as well now, but I still love what I do. Plus I still get to interact with Veterans; I just do it in the community now instead.

We’re not like other law firms. We really are passionate about what we do. I’m not alone here either. I know we’re different because our lead attorney shouts with joy when she receives a decision for a Veteran she’s worked with for years. I doubt other law firms have employees like case manager Meg, who holds back tears when she shares stories with new employees about the clients she’s helped. Most law firms don’t have non-attorney reps like Kris, who could easily be successful in any field, but he chooses VA disability.

I am so glad I was able to interact with this client. Without him, I may have gone off and done something boring, like accounting.

If you want to experience our firm for yourself, call us today for a FREE consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather contact us after hours, fill out this form now, so that someone may contact you at a better time.

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6 Things You Probably Don’t Know About The United States Coast Guard

Ask individuals who haven’t served what their favorite branch of the military is, and the Army will likely come in first. The Marines and Navy will probably battle ithelicopter-615168_1920 out for a second, and a distant fourth will be the United States Air Force. Most people will associate their favorite with a friend or family members, who served in a specific branch. The Army has the most individuals enlisted, so it makes sense that it is first. The Marines are very tough, and the Navy defends our seas, so it makes sense that they are popular too. Oh, have you seen some of the equipment the Air Force has? It’s no wonder they’re popular. Honestly, every branch is cool for different reasons, and they all do so much to keep us safe. I also believe that any individual who signs up for any branch is quite brave. I also want to mention that I have close friends who have served in the Army and the Marines, so I can be a little biased there. Then again, I also have friends who served in the Navy and in the Air Force, so I guess were back at square one. So, which branch is my favorite?

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned the United States Coast Guard yet. If you did notice, you are my kind of person. Too often the Coast Guard gets overlooked ad forgotten. Full disclosure, the Coast Guard is my favorite branch of the military, and I have my reasons. In honor of Coast Guard Day, here are 6 things you probably don’t know about The United States Coast Guard.

  1. The Coast Guard is not actually a part of the Department of Defense. All of the other branches of the military are a part of the Department of Defense, but the Coast Guard is actually a part of the Department of Homeland Security. What’s even more interesting is that the Coast Guard has been transferred quite a few times. In their 226 year history, The Coast Guard has been a part of several different agencies. Before it was called the United States Coast Guard, they were a part of the Department of the Treasury, and they were simply known as “The Cutters.” The year was 1790 and the Secretary of the Treasury decided to create a fleet of ships to enforce tariff laws. Do you know who the Secretary of the Treasury was back then? Well, he’s more popular in 2016 than any previous time in history. You may know him as “…the ten dollar founding father, who got a lot father by working a lot harder by working a lot smarter…” Alexander Hamilton. Since its founding, the Coast Guard has also been a part of the Depart of Transportation, Department of The Navy, and currently, the Department of Homeland Security.
  2. They aren’t just seaworthy, they fly too. The Coast Guard may have a small fleet of aircraft, but they do fly. Currently, there are 221 aircraft in the Coast Guard’s Inventory. They are used for search and rescue, personnel transport, Law Enforcement, Ice Cutting Services, and much more.
  3. The Coast Guard isn’t just on the coast; they patrol lakes and rivers too. For instance, last spring I took a trip to Cleveland. Right next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the Ninth Coast Guard District. They’re responsible for patrolling all five of the Great Lakes. Through the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Coast Guard operates in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Guam, and America Samoa. Through the Auxiliary everything from boating safety to fishing vessel inspection is performed.
  4. The Dude abides. Jeff and Beau Bridges served in the US Coast Guard, as did Arnold Palmer. In the film, Ashton Kutcher, Chris Pine, and Kevin giphyCostner have all played Coast Guardsmen. The 2016 film The Finest Hours is based on actualevents that occurred in 1952.
  5. Despite what some people will tell you, the Coast Guard does serve in combat missions. A full list of the Coast Guard’s involvement in combat can be read here. An expert from the official Coast Guard Website explains their involvement in recent conflicts. As a prominent member of the new department, (Department of Homeland Security) US Coast Guard units deployed to Southwest Asia in support of the US-led coalition engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom early in 2003. At the height of operations, there was 1,250 Coast Guard personnel deployed, including about 500 reservists. This included two large cutters, a buoy tender, eight patrol boats, four port security units, law enforcement detachments and support staff to the Central (CENTCOM) and European (EUCOM) Command theaters of operation.
  6. Coast Guard Veterans are eligible for VA Disability Compensation. Though we don’t hear from a lot of Coast Guard Veterans, they are just like every other branch of the military when it comes to physical disabilities. Coasties have military occupations too, and a lot are very physical. If a Coast Guard Veteran was injured while on active duty, then they can file a claim for disability compensation. One area where there seems to be some confusion has to do with mental disabilities like PTSD. Though most Coast Guard Vets don’t serve in combat, PTSD is a very real possibility for many Guardsmen. I’ve talked to thousands of Veterans about their PTSD symptoms, and one of the worst stressors I recall came from a Coast Guard Vet. He was on a search and rescue team that had to respond to areas affected by hurricanes. The amount of death and destruction he witnessed was simply staggering. Though he was not in combat, his non-combat stressor was more than sufficient to get him service connected for PTSD. There’s not always a lot of information out there for Coast Guard Vets regarding disability compensation. If you served in the Coast Guard and have questions about compensation, call us, and we’ll be happy to help. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather be contacted by a member of our team at a different time, fill out this form now.

 

I really can’t pinpoint why I have such affection for the Coast Guard. I don’t have any friends who served in the Coast Guard, and, full disclosure, I’ve never seen any of the movies that Hollywood has made about them either. It honestly comes down to the work I do. While I don’t often get to talk to Veterans who have served in the Coast Guard, and when I do, it’s always an enjoyable experience. I’ve had a few Coasties tell me that my blog really helped them understand the disability process a lot more and that always makes me smile. I also feel that the Coast Guard is the forgotten branch of the military, and they don’t always get the accolades they deserve. I’ve seen countless military tributes that forgot to include the Coast Guard. Just last week I walked by the military recruitment center in our local mall and noticed that there was not an office for the Coast Guard there. Granted, we are in West Virginia, and there’s not a lot of demand for the Coast Guard here, so I understand.

Simply, the Coast Guard is pretty awesome. I enjoy every chance I get to talk to a Coast Guard Vet, and hopefully, this blog will help a few more of you realize you can get benefits.

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What if You Didn’t Treat in Service?

How does a Veteran get service connected for VA disability compensation? It’s a pretty common question, and we teach all of our new employees that a Veteran hasPi Photo Shoot 1 085 to have a disability that was either diagnosed in service or made worse by their time in service. However, all of our employees will also tell you that it’s not always true. The first thing that comes to mind is a mental disability like PTSD. More often than not, a mental disability like PTSD does not have to be diagnosed in service. Instead, you have to have a stressor from your time in service that would cause PTSD to manifest later in life. This rule is also true for presumptive conditions. If a Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange in service, he or she would not likely show symptoms until after they were discharged. For instance, if a Veteran served in Vietnam and was later diagnosed with Diabetes, they would be excluded from the rule. So, what about physical conditions that are not a part of the presumptive list, do they always have to be diagnosed in service? The answer to that question is yes, no and maybe.

What a surprise, the VA disability process is confusing. For the most part, yes, a physical condition needs to be diagnosed in service. There are some exceptions to the rule, though. This is where hiring an attorney really comes in handy. Sometimes we have to prove that a physical injury is a result of time in service even if a Veteran did not receive a diagnosis.  The best example of this I can provide involves Veterans who jump out of planes. Vets who went to Airborne School, became Rangers, have a Parachutist badges and so on.

Now, I can’t speak from experience because I can barely jump out of the bed of a pickup truck, but I’ve done some research. I actually found a website that explained the physics of parachuting…but I studied communications, and I am pretty sure even Janitor Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting would struggle with those equations. If you would like to see how the math works, click here. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that falling from the sky and landing on the hard ground can mess up your joints. Actually, I am Snapchat friends with a gentleman who is currently going through Ranger School. He is in great shape and works out multiple times a day. He’s the type of fella who lives every day like it’s leg day. When he first started the jumps, he would complain about how sore his body was after each jump. Since I’ve been in an attorney’s office for so long my first thought was; save those Snaps! Yes, they could be used as evidence later. Simply, this is a young man, who is in great shape, but is experiencing pain because he’s jumping out of a plane and landing on the ground with incredible force. This fella has only done it a few times; just imagine how bad it is for a Vet who has 40-50 jumps. In this case, you may not have a diagnosis of a knee problem in service, but if one developed shortly after, it wouldn’t take a lot to connect the dots.

photos 4 050What about someone who didn’t jump, but a had a physical MOS. I have a buddy who was an airplane mechanic for 20 years in the Air Force, but he never jumped out of a plane. First of all, being a mechanic on a jet is not the same as being a car mechanics. But, it’s safe to say that both are very physical. 20 years of turning wrenches alone would be enough to cause arthritis and joint pain, but think about all of the lifting an individual has to go through as a mechanic. Take that, and then multiply it by 20 years, and it’s easy to see how someone might have a back issue though they were never formally diagnosed.

I want to be clear, though. It still helps to get treatment in service, and it still really helps to get diagnosed. Let’s say you only served two years in the military, but worked 30 years as a coal miner. In that situation, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to prove that an injury is a result of your time in service as opposed to your civilian job if you didn’t get diagnosed or treated in service. It’s also very important to get treatment after you are discharged. A gap treatment can hurt your claim severely.

As a firm, we know that the people who join the military are pretty tough, and don’t often get treatment in service. They fight hurt if you will. That is why we try to find alternatives to get Veterans service-connected. One way we do this is through secondary opinions. A doctor or medical professional can look at your medical records, and do additional testing to determine if your injuries are related to your time in service. This is commonly referred to as a nexus letter.

Overall, while treating in service really helps, it’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t. Just remember to get treatment now, and don’t put off pursuing a claim too long.

If you’d like to know more about our services, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can talk right now, fill out this form to be contacted at a better time.

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The 5 Most Common Issues Veterans Have with Dependents

It takes a long time for a VA Disability claim to get approved. It’s safe to say that everyone knows that by now. When you finally start getting compensated for dependents.  While it may seem like being compensated for your dependents should be easy, you can’t forget that we’re dealing with the VA. They’re not known for being user-friendly. In this blog, we will examine the 5 most common issues with dependents.

  1. Right from the start, the VA makes it difficult. Veterans who are only rated at 20% overall or below will not be compensated for VA disability. The VA states that you have to be rated at 30% overall or higher in order to be compensated for dependents. Nine out of 10 Veterans will tell you that they were not compensated at their highest level right off the bat. They’re generally rated low at first, and then later get an increase. So one reason that many Veterans aren’t getting compensated for their benefits is due to the fact they were originally rated at a lower percentage, and then later moved above the 30% threshold, but the VA neglected to add their dependents. This happens quite often. Here’s a tip: if you do move above the threshold, make sure you are being compensated for the right amount. Checking is actually quite easy. Just compare the amount you are receiving with the rate table found here.
  2. Think about all of the changes you’ve been through in the past four years. Personally, I’ve changed jobs, had a couple of different cars, and went from loving The Bing Bang Theory to thinking that the show is really condescending and preachy. There’s a pretty good chance that your life had more meaningful changes than mine did. Maybe you married the love of your life or brought a new person into this world. Regardless of what happened, there’s a good chance that your life is much different now than it was in 2012. The reason I’m being nostalgic has to do with your application for benefits. Everyone fills out the same thing when they apply. The form has a section where you list your dependents. If you applied when you were discharged, there’s a strong chance you weren’t married yet and didn’t have kids. If you applied later in life, maybe you divorced your spouse or had another child. It generally takes 2-4 years for a Veteran’s final decision to process. When that happens, the VA will use information from your original application to determine your dependents. If you’re not being compensated by the VA, you really wouldn’t have any need to notify them of a life change. If you do get approved a long time after you applied, take a few moments to review everything. Make sure you are getting everything you are entitled too.
  3. The next thing we have to talk about is children. For the record, talking about children is one of my least favorite subjects in the world, but I care so much about Veterans that I am going to talk about them anyway. All kidding aside, it’s really important to keep information about your children up to date. For instance, if I were to ask you; “How long can you claim a child as a dependent,” you’d likely reply “18.” While that is true in a lot of instances, it’s not true if your child is attending college. In that instance, you can actually claim your child until he or she is 22. You will just have to make sure that you provide proper documentation to prove that your child is still in school. Speaking of documentation, it’s important to note that you may have to provide a birth certificate, marriage certificates, or even proof of a divorce. Keep in mind that this is VA, so there is a good chance that you will have to provide this documentation more than once. Switching gears just a little bit here, we have to discuss who you can actually claim as a child. Currently, a Veteran can only claim a biological child, adopted child, or stepchild as a dependent child. Once again, just have the proper documentation to show proof.
  4. Did you know that children and spouses aren’t the only individuals that you can claim as a dependent? You can also claim a parent as a dependent. For instance, if your parent lives with you, and they are dependent upon you for their income, then you can claim them as a dependent. Actually, you can claim both parents as dependents if they are dependent upon you.
  5. Lastly, Veterans with helpless children can also claim them as dependents too. We need to clarify this a little bit, When we discuss this with some of our clients, confusion occasionally sets in. A helpless child is defined by the VA as the following:
  • the extent to which the child is physically or mentally deficient, such as the
  • the ability of the child to perform self-care functions, and
  • ordinary tasks expected of a child of that age
  • whether or not the child attended school and the maximum grade attended
  • if any material improvement in the child’s condition has occurred
  • if the child has ever been employed and, if so, the
  • nature and dates of such employment, and
  • the amount of pay received
  • whether or not the child has ever married,

A lot of people seem to think that taking care of an unemployed adult child makes them a helpless child. This is simply not true. If your adult child does not meet the above criteria, then they can’t be considered a dependent.

Why is all of this so important? Your monthly compensation can be much greater if you properly claim all of your dependants. However, failing to report a divorce or a child graduating college could also cost you. Keeping up with your dependents is actually easy now. You can actually update your dependent status by way of a premium e-benefits account. Remember, a premium account does not actually cost any money, it just requires more information to set up. However, if you’re working with an attorney, they can also make sure your information gets sent to the VA properly, and we can even argue effective dates for dependents too. For instance, if your child was born in May, but the VA didn’t start to compensate you until December, we can argue to get your back pay back to the proper month.

Thanks for reading, but we’d love to hear from you. Call us today to talk about your case. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457, or fill out this form so that a representative can call you at a more convenient time.

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Agent Orange Ship List Updated Again

Veterans who served in Vietnam have something referred to as Presumptive Conditions. There is a list of conditions Veterans can service connect for as long as they served in Vietnam and were Boots on Ground. Essentially, a Veteran who is boots on ground is one who stepped foot in country. Meaning you had a stay in the country for at least a few hours. Veterans who served on ships during the Vietnam conflict aren’t subject to the same rules. These Veterans must have served on a ship that is on the official ship list released by the VA. The ship list does change from time to time, and it was just updated again last month. In total, 19 new ships were added and changes were made to nine existing ships.

Here the new ships and the changes:

NEW SHIPS

USS Arnold J. Isbell (DD-869) sent small boat ashore while anchored in Da Nang Harbor on April 12, 1970.

USNS Barrett (T-AP-196) carried US Army 2nd Transportation Company to Qui Nhon during August 1965 and transported additional troops to Vietnam from April to December 1968 and January to May 1969.

USS Bennington (CVS-20) [Anti-Submarine Aircraft Carrier] entered Qui Nhon Bay Harbor to pick up Bob Hope for onboard Christmas show on December 26, 1966.

USS Berkeley (DDG-15) sent small boats ashore at Da Nang and elsewhere for gunfire support missions during May-June 1970.

USS Brinkley Brass (DD-887) conducted fire support mission in Rung Sat Special Zone during February 9-11, 1970; sent crew ashore for work details and liberty leave while anchored at Da Nang, Cam Ranh Bay, and Vung Tau during April-May, 1970.

USS Carpenter (DD-825) sent medical team ashore at Song Tra Village on December 20, 1968.

USS Fox (DLG-33) sent small boat ashore from Da Nang Harbor with Captain for mission briefings on October 24, 1967.

USS Kennebec (AO-36) provided fuel to vessels while in Ganh Rai Bay during August 1969.

USS Mobile (LKA-115) docked to pier at Da Nang on April 16, 1971; transported troops and cargo to/from Da Nang and elsewhere July-September 1970, during April 1971, October-November 1971, and January-July 1972.

USS Persistence (MSO-491) docked to piers at Da Nang and Cam Ranh Bay during October 1970.

USS Pyro (AE-24) [Auxiliary Explosive, Ammunition Ship] sent small boat ashore from Da Nang Harbor with injured crew member for medical tx on September 29, 1972.

USS Quapaw (ATF-110) provided tow on Saigon River with deliveries to inland river base at Nha Be during June 1966.

USS Stoddard (DD-566) operated on Saigon River during September 1965.

USS Taylor (DD-468) operated on Ganh Rai Bay during August 1967 and November-December 1968.

USS Truxtun (DLGN-35) sent small boats ashore from Da Nang Harbor on June 2, 1968 and October 25, 1969.

USS Vescole (DD-878) operated on Saigon River during December 1965-February 1966.

USS Walker (DD-517) operated on Saigon River during December 1968.

USS Welch (PG-93)

USS Wilhoite (DER-397) sent crew members onto enemy vessel in De Sey Ky River during July 16, 1965 and sent landing party ashore from Vung Tau Harbor on September 28, 1968.

UPDATES TO EXISTING SHIPS

USS Catamount (LSD-17): ADD: travelled up Saigon River to Saigon during November 1962.

USS Firm (MSO-444) ADD: docked to piers at Cam Ranh Bay February-April, 1971.

USNS Geiger (T-AP-197): ADD: transported troops to Qui Nhon and Vung Tau from September to December 1965 and additional troops to Vietnam January to February 1967 and July 1969.

USS James E. Kyes (DD-787): ADD: provided naval gunfire support on Song Ca River during October 1967.

USS John W. Thomason (DD-760): ADD: operated on Mekong River Delta for Operation Deck House III during August 1966.

USS Procyon (AF-61) docked to Pier #1 at Da Nang Harbor on August 18-19, 1967.

USS Renville (APA-227): ADD: May-August 1965, and March-October 1966.

USS Rupertus (DD-851) ADD: sent motorized whaleboats ashore while in Da Nang Harbor on January 4, 1973.

USS Shelton (DD-790): ADD: conducted small boat inland waterborne logistics craft (WBLC) surveillance of Cua Viet River on August 16, 1972.

Please keep in mind, the ships listed above are just the ones that were added or were changed. To see the complete list of ships, check here. We know that a lot of Vietnam Veterans aren’t aware of the changes, so please help us spread the word.

If you’re a Veteran who served in Vietnam and would like more information about our services, call us toll free, 1-877-526-3457. Or, if you’re not available now, fill out this form, and a specialist will call you at a better time.

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Taking another look at the VA Disability Timeline

For many Veterans, getting your VA disability compensation can seem overwhelming. Through my experience, most individuals aren’t aware if the timeline and thisphotos 4 018 can cause frustration. Today, I want to spend a few moments to explain what you should expect when you’re pursuing a VA disability claim.

Before we begin, please note that there are several factors that determine the length of a claim. Your location, amount of claims, and evidence can greatly impact the length of time a claim takes to process. This video is simply meant to be a general guide.

The first thing you have to do is file for VA disability compensation. The initial application is called a VA Form 21-526. On average, it takes the VA 8-12 months to respond to your initial application. If you’re granted your benefits, and completely satisfied with the decision, then you’re all done…and pretty lucky because most claims are denied the first time.

If your initial application for benefits is denied, you have one year from the date on the Rating Decision to file an appeal. This appeal is referred to as a notice of disagreement, or a NOD. Once the NOD is filed, the VA will take another 8-12 months, sometimes longer to make a decision. Here is something that a lot of people won’t tell you; DON”T PUT OFF FILING THE NOD! Just because you have 12 months to file it doesn’t mean you should wait that long. If you do wait 12 months, and then it takes the VA another 12 months to make a decision, you’re in for 24 months instead of 12. My best advice is to gather whatever additional evidence you may need, and respond to the decision as quickly as possible. You can save 12 months by being proactive about your claim.

Like I said before, it generally takes 12 months for the VA to get back to you on a decision from the NOD. This next decision is called a Statement of the Case, or SOC. At this point, you have three options for responding. You can choose to schedule a Decision Review Officer Hearing, which is commonly called a DRO hearing, or you can choose to request a Board of Veterans Appeals, or you can choose to do both. Our firm traditionally does both.

At this time, you can request the DRO hearing, and file a Substantive Appeal; it’s referred to as a VA-9 or VA form 9. Each of these will take 8-12 months to process.

If you’re denied at the BVA, or if your claim is remanded, you will also be looking at another 12 month wait.

If you’d like to know more about VA disability, or if you’d like to speak to discuss your case, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather be contacted by one of our claim specialists, fill out this form now.

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The Evolution of Combat: How a New Generation of Pilots Service Connect for PTSD

One of the great things about working for Jan Dils is that we all love to share stories. When you get a group of people together from our VA Jason Watkins 062Department for a meeting, many members of our staff will share stories about unique cases they came across while doing reviews, or interacting with clients. Recently during a meeting, Kris, one of our Claim File Review Specialists, shared something that really surprised me. With June being PTSD awareness month I thought this would be a great time to share.

Though I have been working with VA Disability for over five years, and I know that PTSD stressors can come from many situations, I’m still guilty of thinking of Boots on Ground Combat when I hear a PTSD stressor. It’s because I encounter so many Veterans who have served in combat in person. It never crossed my mind that a Veteran, who never stepped foot in country, could have a combat stressor. However, that is exactly what was brought up during our most recent meeting.

Technology is changing war constantly. Within the past decade we’ve seen the emergence of drones alter the way our troops fight from the sky. Drones can be armed with bombs, and they can be used to combat enemies from half a world away.

Due to the fact that drones don’t have an onboard pilot, we often forget that an individual is actually piloting that aircraft. These aircraft are operated from remote locations, often stateside, and the operator is aware of what he or she is doing. They have a live video feed that helps them navigate the drone. So, the following question was asked at the meeting: Can a drone pilot, who never stepped foot on ground overseas, service connect for PTSD by way of a combat stressor? The answer is yes, and Kris explained how.

It turns out that Kris actually reviewed a case for an Air Force Veteran who was pursuing a claim for PTSD as a drone pilot. Actually, we didn’t just pursue this case, we were able to get the Air Force Vet service connected with a combat stressor though he never left the United States. If I’m honest, I was a little confused about how this would work.

Air Force PatchAs I’ve written before, Veterans in the past had to prove stressors, even in combat situations. Just over 6 years ago, this changed. Veterans who served in combat no longer have to prove their stressor. Now, they may have to prove that they were in combat, but combat alone is a stressor that is acceptable for PTSD. The VA is essentially agreeing that serving in combat can cause PTSD. Now, that may make sense to you and me, but the VA has a history of being difficult. And the fact that they did agree to this back in the day is somewhat surprising. But the good news is that they did.

One thig we have to consider now is; what is considered combat? This brings us back to the drone pilot mentioned earlier. There is a lot of detail in the CFR about what is considered combat, but that really will only resonate with VA attorneys, and that is not who this blog is written for. But, you’re still asking how a Veteran who was not in a combat zone, can service connect under the combat stressor.

In the CFR, traditional combat is considered Engaging in Combat with the Enemy, and non-traditional combat is considered Fear of Hostile Military or Terrorist Activity. The fear of combat can be IED blasts, small arms fire, suspected sniper fire, and so on. But this also applies to the drone pilot. While the drone pilot did not experience gunfire, blasts, or a sniper, they were witnessing explosions, and they were aware that their actions led to the death of individuals. This is why the Veteran was having trouble after discharge. That is how he got service connected.

Yes, it turns out that a Veteran who never left the country can service connect for PTSD due to a combat stressor. I think that as time goes on, we will see a lot more drone pilots file claims for PTSD.

If you would like to know more about PTSD stressors, or if you’d like to talk to us about your claim, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk right now, fill this form out, and a member of our staff will call you at a better time.

 

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How I learned to truly appreciate Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day, and to a lot of people that means a lot of different things. For some, it’s the official kick-off to summer, and for others, it’s a day off from work.sunset-flag-america-fields For most of us though, Memorial Day is not really celebrated the way that it’s intended. At its core, Memorial Day is intended to honor those who served, and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Instead though, Memorial Day is full of sales and cookouts every year. You can blame corporate America for the lack of remembrance, or you can blame the apathetic nature of society, but that really does not make sense. While our country is not perfect, our support for the military and Veterans is still very high. Even Hollywood is making more films based on military service, and issues facing Veterans are often in the zeitgeist. We love our troops, and we love our Veterans, but we often forget those who have fallen. It was not until a trip to Washington DC last year that I realized why I was so prone to this too.

This blog is approaching six years old, and I think I’ve made it clear how much I care about our Vets. I’ve also spoken in the past about how I’m lucky to have so many friends, some very close, who are Veterans. I talk to Veterans on a daily basis, I get to meet them at community outreach events, and I even help Vets get their benefits. For me though, it wasn’t until I visited Arlington National Cemetery last year that I understood the gravity of what it means to die for your country.

We decided to visit Washington D.C. in June of last year. My best friend Jeremy and I were celebrating 10 years of friendships with a guy’s trip to our nation’s capital. I realize that most fellas don’t celebrate friendship anniversaries, but most fellas aren’t as cool as we are. We decided to just go for the weekend to visit the monuments and to see Jurassic World in IMAX. We didn’t really have a plan for the trip. Honestly, if we would have thought about this trip in more detail, we probably wouldn’t have traveled to a city built on a swamp in the middle of June. It was hot there. It was not a normal kind of hot, but rather a type of hot I had never experienced. I work in an office and I could stand to lose a lot of weight. Also, I come from a culture in which we drive most places. So the heat was enough to make me a little upset. (That came in to play later in story.)

Jon EOBOn the first day of the trip we visited places the like The White House, The Lincoln Memorial, The Washington Monument and so on. I was way too excited to see Eisenhower Executive Office Building because I love the show Veep.  On day two, we chose to spend just a few hours in DC before heading out to the Air and Space Museum in Chantilly. Before heading into the city, we decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery. Jeremy served in the National Guard, and he has always wanted to visit. I was there once when I was five, but at 32, the only thing I can remember from age 5 is liking Ninja Turtles and getting in trouble twice in kindergarten. So, another trip would suit me well too. After jumping on the Metro, and then walking for what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived to the cemetery for a lot more walking. But then, after walking away from the visitor’s center, and across the roadway where the lady who worked there yelled at everyone about our pace, I saw the endless rows of white tombstones. The sight of all of those white markers representing individuals who died in service stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t realize how far it reached before visiting.

We first made our way to witness the Changing of the Guard, and then back to the main part of the cemetery. Jeremy wanted to visit an attraction that was up several stairs, and I was not having it. (That’s when the heat was really getting to me.) So I let him go off by himself as I stayed behind. I am actually quite glad that did in hindsight. I had about 20 minutes just to stand there and look out at all of the graves. It was during this time that I realized why Memorial Day isn’t a holiday I fully embrace. It’s because I am lucky. Everyone I’ve ever known who served came home. I don’t have loved ones buried in that cemetery, and I got to visit it with someone I care about a lot who served. While I do have friends who were deployed in combat who have scars from their experience, they are still alive. Also, the Veterans I meet through work are all people who have already served. It was during this time of reflection that I started thinking about how many lives were impacted by the death of each of those men and women. It was a bit overwhelming. Memorial Day has a different meaning for individuals who have lost someone in service. Regardless if you lost a family member, or if you lost the friend who was serving next to you, Memorial Day means something different to you than it does to me. I don’t envy that for one moment.

I don’t want to undermine the sacrifice of individuals I’ve never met. Our world would look a lot different today if it weren’t for the bravery of people I’ll never know. I am so grateful for that. But, as I looked one last time at the row of white monuments, some with coins on top, I came to the conclusion that Memorial Day is a national holiday, but for many, it’s much more personal. To everyone who has lost someone in service, may your holiday be filled with great memories and time to reflect on the individuals you’ve lost. For everyone else, let’s do more than just post the same old tired memes on Facebook about how this isn’t a cookout holiday. Let’s really celebrate those who died protec

I love what I do. And it brings me a lot of joy to help people who have served.

Happy Memorial Day.

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