Menu

Archive for Helpful Hints and Advice

Learn How Our C-File Review Team Better Serves Veterans

Filing for VA disability can be very difficult, especially if you do it alone. So, many Veterans turn to attorneys for help with their claims. But, how does an attorney help with a VA disability claim? Attorneys will, of course, represent you at a trial, help you with medical record requests, and more. However, one of the most important aspects of any VA disability case is your C-File Review. Our law firm recently created a department dedicated to Claims File Reviews to better serve our clients. Why is your Claims file so important, and why would a law firm invest so many resources into developing a special department just for the review of these files? Let’s discuss that today.

First, let’s talk about C-Files. Other than general medical evidence a claim file is probably the single most important aspect of any case. For the most part, a claim file is massive. Depending upon how long the Veteran served, the C-file can be anywhere from a couple hundred pages long to several inches thick. Your c-file is the physical record of your time in service. It includes your entrance exams, medical evaluations, administration records, service treatment records, VA medical records after discharge. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that you can learn nearly all there is to know about someone after reading their C-file. At the C-file review, we can see the true strength or weakness of a case.

The Review

I will be blunt, not everyone can be a c-file reviewer. I know that I can’t do it. It requires concentration, discipline, and an attention to detail that I simply don’t have. When one does a review, they are looking for evidence to support each of the Veteran’s claims. Granted, if he or she only has one claim, and a short file, this isn’t too difficult. That’s a rarity, though. Most Veterans have multiple claims and their c-files are thick. Keep in mind that sometimes a person reviewing the file may have to search through thousands of pages of records to find small pieces of evidence to support a claim. It’s not just military medical records in these files too. Sometimes we have to look through admin records, or ship logs to prove a Veteran was in a certain location at a specific time.

We even find mistakes made by the VA. During the review, if the Veteran has filed a previous claim, we review the decisions made by the VA to see if any mistakes were made. We do find mistakes from time to time. We pride ourselves on this level of commitment and attention to detail. Finding mistakes can make a huge difference for our clients.

Why a Team?

In the past, we only had a few people who could properly evaluate a c-file. However, because the review is so crucial, and the information can be so intricate, we decided to develop a special team to better evaluate our client’s C-files. As you know, so many important pieces of information come from this file. With that in mind, we wanted to be more thorough with our reviews and also evaluate them quicker. So, we assembled a team of people to review them. This team includes a mix of existing veteran employees and new team members. All the c-file reviewers went through a tough training program in order to make it on the team. The strength in numbers is helpful too when we receive the files from the VA. Sometimes they arrive in paper form and have to be sorted.

Once again, the C-file is one of the most important aspects of any VA Disability Claim. We pride ourselves on the hard work of all of our team members, and this C-File team is an exciting new way to better serve our clients. We are dedicated to helping Veterans get the benefits they deserve.

If you’d like to know more about the VA Disability services we provide, or if you’d like to become a client, call us today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form, and we will be happy to call you at a more convenient time.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

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.

Share Button

How finding the right VA attorney is like finding the right car dealer

I’m car shopping right now, and it is becoming rather difficult for me because I change my mind three times per day regarding what kind of car I want to buy. I’m not joking when I say that I’ve considered everything from large pickup trucks to small hybrids, and everything in-between. While the kind of car I desire has changed often, the type of listing I’m searching for has not. I will not be purchasing a new car or a used one, but rather a certified pre-owned car. I really don’t see the point of buying a new version of a car when I can get the same model, just two years older, for much cheaper. However, I am not about to buy a Mercedes-Benz C-Class from a dealer that is not authorized to sell that brand of car. A Certified Pre-Owned car has to go through multiple inspections and has to be up to certain standards in order for it to be marked as “certified.” For most manufactures, this means new tires, brakes and several other safety and mileage requirements. A two year old C-Class with 100,000 miles will not be certified by Mercedes. Essentially, when you buy a CPO car, you are paying a little more for some piece of mind, and the people you are purchasing your car from have a vested interest in you purchasing from them. If I buy a CPO Mercedes today, there is a good chance I will go back to their dealer when it’s time to purchase a new Mercedes. That is what I try to explain to individuals when they ask why they should hire our law firm instead of going with a volunteer organization. It’s not like buying a car; it’s more like trying to find the right car dealer.

089Yes, there are some ways to have people represent you in which it won’t cost you anything. But while these may seem enticing, the fact of the matter remains that they don’t have a vested interest in your case. Essentially, a vested interest means that we have a stake in your case. In this situation it will benefit us financially to get you approved as quickly as possible. We have a contingency fee for our representation. Our fee is 20% of whatever back you receive. In other words, if we don’t get you service connected higher than you were before coming to us, then you won’t be charged an attorney fee. This is in contrast to a divorce attorney for instance which charges a retainer fee that they keep regardless if you win or loose. The quicker we get a Veteran their benefits, the quicker we are paid for our services.

Another aspect that comes in to play when you hire a moderately sized law firm like ours is resources. Small law firms and certain volunteer organizations may only have one or two people working on your case. Our firm has over 20 staff members and 3 dedicated attorneys who specialize in VA Disability Claims. Because our staff specializes in different aspects of a VA Disability case, we are more efficient across the board. Kris is a C-file review expert while Andrea schedules hearings and Bobbie reviews records. Having a support staff like this also frees up our attorneys to better represent our clients at hearings. I often use the comparison of lawyers to doctors. If you walked into the emergency room, you’d be a little put off if the head of neurology was doing triage, mopping the floor, changing the bed sheets, writing your bill, and on top of all of that, performing your brain surgery. When we go to the ER, we accept that the doctor does one part of the medical process, and the other people support him or her. Our firm works in the same way. Our attorneys are like the head of neuro. They are usually meeting with clients to prepare them for hearings, or representing our clients in a courtroom. Because of our large staff, the attorneys don’t have to worry about filing appeals, or requesting medical records. They can focus on the most important aspects of the case instead of paperwork that is very tedious and time consuming.

Most organizations who offer free representation usually have one, or just a handful of individuals working on cases. So, that is one person who has to do all of thecfilex2_w640 following; evaluate Veterans to see if they’re eligible for benefits, request and review medical records from private doctors and VA facilities, file appeals, file new claims, request and review claim files, not to mention keeping all of their clients informed about updates. That is a lot for one person to handle. Now multiply that number by however many people they are representing and the workload becomes even more overwhelming. So, in an office like ours, we have are able to share the work load and keep our clients informed. We even have policies in place for our employees to return calls in a timely manner, and we have safeguards in place so that appeals get filed before they expire, and to make sure we get records from providers on a regular basis.

Another reason why I wanted to buy a certified Mercedes from an authorized dealer is that they have mechanics that are specially trained to work on this specific brand of vehicles. I know that the people who have certified this car have special training from Mercedes-Benz to work on their cars. The same is true when you go with a law firm as opposed to a volunteer organization too. Our lawyers have law degrees and they are passionate about law. It’s not just something they do on their spare time, it is their career.

Overall, I am not trying to bash any volunteer organization. They do great work, and they do a lot to help Veterans as a whole. These groups often give Veterans a sense of community, and that’s really important. However, when it comes to something like a disability claim, it’s often better to let experts represent you.

If you’d like to know more about hiring an attorney, or if you’d like to speak to someone about your case, call now for a FREE consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather be contacted by one of our specialists, fill out this form, and we will be happy to call you at a better time.

 

Share Button