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Does the Way a Veteran Look Impact Their PTSD Claim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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6 Examples of Poor Non-Combat PTSD Stressors

I am actually still surprised sometimes about how many people read this blog each month. Thousands of people view it, click on links, and a few even call the office based on my blog posts. One migraines-vet-disabilityparticular post I wrote recently has gained a lot of traffic and generated a lot of calls. The subject for that blog was examples of non-combat PTSD. I was driven to write that post after speaking to several male Veterans who were sexually assaulted in service and were not aware that they could file for benefits. Further, after speaking with friends of mine who served in different branches of the military, I learned about other things that can occur while not deployed that can be traumatic. That post is easily the most successful writing I’ve completed this year. However, after watching a video posted to YouTube, I thought I should take a moment to clarify a few things about non-combat PTSD.

In my former post I gave four examples of non-combat stressors that I have seen a lot with new clients. Those included: military sexual trauma, physical assault, accidents, and the death of a fellow serviceman.  All of these are examples we see on a regular basis and that can be quite traumatic. With that in mind, I also wanted to shed light on what may not be a good stressor for non-combat PTSD.

When it comes to non-combat PTSD a Veteran must prove their stressor. For those of you who may not be aware, a stressor is defined as: an event, experience, etc., which causes stress. In other words, a stressor is something that you experienced or witnessed that was traumatic and is now disrupting your life. Veterans who served in combat no longer have to prove their stressor. You just have to have the proper information on your DD-214 that shows where you were in combat. (And a diagnosis of PTSD.) The four examples I provided before were all examples that I gathered from actual Vets I’ve talked to over the past several years. Some were from my professional life, and others were from friends and other individuals I met outside of the office. I chose those examples because they are good stressors. However, with good there is always bad too. So, I am going to show some examples of bad non-combat stressors for PTSD.

Before we get too far along, I want to mention that in order for PTSD to get service connected, it has to be diagnosed and you should seek treatment from a medical professional. This blog is just for informational purposes to help illustrate the VA process as a whole and to provide a better understanding of how things work.

  1. Being homesick. Something I have heard a few times in the past few months is a stressor for being away from home. Trust me, culture shock can be intense. I recently went to Dallas for a social media conference. I could not find peperoni rolls or Coke Zero. It was very difficult. However, when it comes to VA Disability, you probably won’t get service connected for PTSD for being homesick. You likely won’t get a diagnosis for PTSD either. This is an example of a weak stressor.
  2. Mean Drill Instructors. I’ve never served in the military. However, when I was 11 I watched a film called “Full Metal Jacket.” I realized then that if I were to join the military, Drill Instructors in boot camp would not be very pleasant. It’s a part of the culture. It’s one of the ways in which they teach discipline etc. It’s not like dealing with Kate from Human Resources. I know I am making light of this, but there is a big difference between getting yelled at for not having your bunk made properly and getting physically assaulted in the military. Keep that in mind while reading this blog. Having a drill instructor yell at you is one thing, getting beat up by several people is completely different. That is why we ask so many questions when we screen our clients.
  3. Secondhand information. If REO Speedwagon’s “Take it on the Run” taught us anything, it’s that second or third hand information is not very credible. While it can be upsetting to hear that something bad occurred, unless you experienced a traumatic event first hand, you’re not likely to get service connected for non-combat PTSD.
  4. Guilt. There is a bond that individuals who serve in military have in which many can’t explain. It’s more than just loyalty or brotherhood. I personally find myself to be envious of relationships. With that in mind, I understand how one would feel guilty if you had to stay home while your brothers and sisters were deployed. We encounter this on a regular basis. Simply, guilt associated with not being deployed is not a strong stressor for non-combat PTSD. I have also encountered individuals experiencing anger because they wanted to be deployed, but they weren’t able to. Once again, this is not a strong stressor.
  5. Alex bwFear of being deployed/Fear of combat. Something I have encountered often with Veterans who served in the late 80’s and early 90’s are claims for PTSD that are a result of anxiety relating to being deployed. In these cases, these individuals were never actually deployed. That is not a good stressor for PTSD.
  6. Anything that can’t be verified. Overall, any non-combat PTSD stressor has to be verified. Verification takes place by way of reports in your admin records, physical treatment, buddy statements/statements in support of claim, and so on. If there are no records of this, then it will be difficult to prove an incident occurred. For instance, let’s say you claim a physical assault occurred. If the incident was not reported, if you did not seek medical treatment after, or if you don’t have statements in support of your claim from witnesses, you’re not likely to get service connected for PTSD. However, that is not always the case. When it comes to cases involving Military Sexual Trauma things are a little different on how we approach these claims. We realize that many individuals who have been sexually assaulted aren’t able to report it, and don’t have statements or medical records. In those instances we look through your records to find other evidence that may verify an assault occurred.

We aren’t the type of law firm that will take every case and hope for the best. We are very thorough. We don’t think it’s fair to Veterans if we drag a case out for a long period of time if we know we can’t get them a favorable decision. We use a lot of discretion when screening individuals claiming non-combat PTSD. However, we also won’t simply dismiss someone’s claim if they didn’t serve in combat.  Some people claim that PTSD is ubiquitous now. While it is very mainstream, there is still a lot of confusion about this disability and a lot of Veterans are suffering because they don’t know where to turn or how to get help.

If you would like to know more about non-combat PTSD, or if you would like to tell me about your case, give me a call today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form if you’d rather someone call you at a more convenient time.

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Helping Veterans Prepare for Independence Day

When I realized that Independence Day was only a few weeks away I decided to re-share the blog I wrote last year pertaining to Veterans and fireworks. In that particular post I wrote in detail about John Smith Firework signhow Combat Veterans struggle with this holiday and shared tips for the holiday. As I shared this post to Facebook, two things triggered in my memory. First was the hit 2010 song “Firework” by Katy Perry.  While I on occasion do feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, Katy’s soulful lyrics pale in comparison to the other thing this blog triggered in my memory; an organization that is providing yard signs to Veterans on Independence Day this year.

We are 15 months away from our next presidential election and yard signs are already starting to pop up everywhere. However, amongst those signs this year you might also see yard signs explaining that a Combat Veteran lives in the house, and a reminder to be courteous with fireworks.

When you work with Veterans as much as I do, you know that unexpected loud noises can often trigger reactions. Some reactions may be internal, others may be more obvious, but overall, it is an issue for a lot of Vets. This is most prevalent during holidays with fireworks. While New Year’s Eve and Memorial Day will often contain firework celebrations, Independence Day is easily the biggest outdoor celebration involving fireworks.

The issue for most Vets is not with the large public displays. It is easier for them to prepare for those because most communities announce when they are occurring and where they will be ignited. The issues come from the use of personal fireworks that are set off without warning. Its one thing to go to a park and expect to see a big firework display, but it’s completely different to be resting in your home at night and suddenly hear an unexpected explosion. This is especially the case when it involves small fire crackers that sound like gun shots. Also, at personal gatherings, there is not a set day or time for celebrations. This year the 4th of July is on a Saturday. It’s safe to say that a lot of people will celebrate Saturday. But some people might celebrate on Sunday, or Monday if they have the day off from work. Further, if you live in rural West Virginia like I do, these celebrations can last for hours. Imagine how difficult that can be if every explosion reminds you of gunfire from combat, or bombs going off in the distance.

Recently I noticed that a buddy of mine posted a picture of himself with one of the yard signs provided by the organization, “Military with PTSD.” I wrote about this group in the past and the great work they are doing in general, but especially when it comes to the Independence Day holiday. I asked John if he would answer a few questions about the yard sign and some tips for Veterans and civilians on this holiday.

John Smith is a combat Veteran who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. We’ve bonded a lot over the past few years and he is always open to providing insight for my blogs. He’s also a great fan and supporter of the blog. I asked him how he heard about the signs and he stated that it was from a Facebook post that someone shared recently. I was then curious as to why he requested one and he gave me an interesting response: “I am all about the education of PTSD. The more people know about PTSD the more accepting it will become, at least that is my hope.” Since John is so well versed in PTSD education and is always researching the healing process, I asked him to provide some tips for Veterans with PTSD for July 4th. “Try to enjoy the day. Spend time with those you love. Educate those who do not know why fireworks bother us and just enjoy the day.”

Lastly, I asked John what advice he would give for civilians this holiday season or for people who might be curious about the sign. His advice here is actually quite helpful: “I expect things to go “boom” on the 4th of July. I build myself up to it. No, it is not easy but it is something I do every year. Having young children I usually take them to see the(public) fireworks. The build up is rough but coming down from said build up is even harder. I would just like neighbors to either wait till the 4th of July to set off fireworks or let me know that they are going to set off a few. That way I am expecting something and I’m not having a heart attack as I hear things (explode) close to me as I’m relaxing in my bed.”

Overall this organization is doing great things to help Vets with PTSD. If you would like to know more about what they do, feel free to check out their website. If you would like to know more about service connecting for PTSD feel free to give me a call today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or you can fill out this form so that we may contact you at a better time.

Have a great Independence Day, and take some advice from Ms. Perry: “Just own the night like the 4th of July.”

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Veterans Make Use of Social Media to Reconnect

I’ve spent some time this year looking at alternative forms of treatment for Veterans who are struggling with PTSD. Through my work with Vets over the past few years I’ve encountered a few trends when it comes to those individuals who are the most at risk. The main trend I see is isolation from other Veterans who have similar experiences. Whenever I am talking to a Veteran who is filing for PTSD I ask several questions. The last question I always ask is: “How often do you interact with other Veterans?” The answer is often never.

I of all people know how easy it is to lose touch with people. But, with Veterans, especially those who served in combat, there is a brotherhood that is strong and everlasting. As a civilian I often find myself envious of my friends who are Veterans because of this brotherhood. However, when you join the military you are meeting people from all across the country. You’re not likely to enter with a bunch of people from your same neighborhood. Once you’re discharged, you’re not likely to be geographically close to those who served with you.

photos 4 049This brings us to social media. We live in a time now in which we are more connected to those we know, and those we wish we knew. I am personally on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and I have an awesome YouTube channel. Not to mention one of the top VA Disability blogs in the country.  So, we could easily say that Veterans could connect with each other on entities like Facebook, but… Facebook is toxic. I’m being blunt, but in its current form, Facebook is really not helpful for anyone wanting to get help with anything. I won’t go on and on about this, but I think it would be a little difficult for any Veteran to discuss their issues with PTSD in the same arena in which people are posting pictures of their dogs and recipes of food no one intends to make.

Not all social media is bad. Late last year I looked at how Veterans were using the service Whisper to discuss PTSD and the positive outcomes it had. One individual even sent me a message that my blog entry helped him realize he had PTSD. So social media can be used for good. But what we really need is a social media outlet geared for Veterans, by Veterans. Actually, we don’t need that. The reason; one already exists. If you’ve read this blog before then you know that I am a big supporter of a group called the Steel City Vets. Ben Keen, one of their founders, was interviewed by People magazine recently and mentioned a social media outlet called RallyPoint. He informed me that it is a social media site for Veterans and he uses it quite often. I trust Ben as he is a very motivated individual and often provides me great insight for my blogs from a Veteran’s perspective. I decided to see what I could find out.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to get past the metaphoric front door. After all, I haven’t served in the military, and this site is intended for those who are Veterans or currently serving in the Armed Forces. I was surprised though. They actually allow civilian supporters to sign up for the site too. I think it’s safe to say that I fit into that category. In just a few clicks I was able to sign up as a civilian. My first thought when accessing the main part of the site is that this is a lot like LinkedIn. It turns out that my initial thoughts were warranted because my research found that the site is intended to be like LinkedIn for Veterans. So, keen observational skills on my point. Speaking as someone who has studied social media for a long time, I actually found it to be like LinkedIn, but much more interesting. I quickly found a lot of great topics about military issues, current events, and general topics. As we were approaching Memorial Day there were a lot of great topics about remembering fellow servicemen who had been killed in action as well as discussions about the film “American Sniper,” and a lot of other personal posts.

My only annoyance with RallyPoint was that some members were trying to turn it into a Facebook clone. I saw a few instances of the things that annoy me on Facebook showing up on this site too. Examples of this are posts by individuals just trying to troll others, and other random nonsense. But you will have that with any social media site.

Overall though, this is something I’d recommend for the Veterans I speak to on a regular basis. You can search for people by branch, location, and by more specific criteria too. It’s a great way to reconnect with those you served with as well as making new friends from within the military community. Plus it appears to be a great way to make connections in the business world and to find a new job for Vets.

In my mind, the greatest aspect of a site like this is that it can help you find people you served with and possibly open a dialogue about PTSD. Most of us feel better when we know we aren’t going through a tough time alone.

If you’d like to find out more about VA Disability give us a call via our toll free number: 1-877-526-3457. If you aren’t able to talk now, be sure to fill out our contact form so that we can call you at a better time.

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An Open Discussion Regarding Military Sexual Trauma

Most of the blogs I write are light hearted and informative. However, there is something that has been on my mind a lot lately that I want to discuss. It’s no secret that Military Sexual Trauma affects Alex bwmany individuals who serve in the military. While I have blogged about this subject in the past, I did not have a one on one experience with many Veterans who were sexually assaulted in service. However, nearly a year ago my position in the firm changed. In my new position I do what we refer to as Intake Appointments.  In an Intake I ask detailed questions about what a Veteran wants service connected for, their treatment history, and their experience in the service. For a lot of the Vets I talk to, this is their first time talking with someone about their experience outside of medical professionals. We don’t take these conversations lightly, especially when it comes to MST. We know how difficult it can be for anyone to share an experience about sexual assault, especially someone who served in the military.

Normally in a given month I may speak to one or two Veterans with MST claims. In a good month, I will talk with about 100 Vets regarding VA disability claims, so one or two MST cases only account for a very small percentage of my overall case load. March was different. Specifically the last two weeks of March were really surprising. Over a two week period of time I talked to ten Veterans who experienced sexual assault, and thus were filing military sexual trauma claims. In other words, 10% of my clients in March were affected by MST.

I take what I do very seriously. I have fun, but I state that there is no greater feeling in the world than meeting and interacting with Veterans. I honestly enjoy speaking with Vets about every aspect of service. I mostly enjoy hearing about the comradery and brotherhood most people who serve in the military develop with their fellow Soldiers, Marines, and Airmen and so on. I think this is why I am so stunned when I talk to any Veteran who is a victim of sexual assault, rape, or any other form of unwanted sexual attention.

So, why am I writing about my experience with these Vets? The answer is simple. I noticed something…no two stories were the same. I know MST is a big problem facing our military and many more vets are affected by MST who aren’t ready to come forward. So, my plan is to show how MST affects many different types of Veterans.

(I want to preface the rest of this blog by stating that I am not sharing any names, locations, or personal information about any of the Veterans I talked with over the past few weeks.)

There is still a stigma about MST even in 2015. One misconception is that only women get sexually assaulted or raped in service. That is simply not true. The 10 Veterans I talked to were all men. Now, some will state that the reason for this is that there are a lot more men in the military then women, and that skews that statistics, but I’m not here to discuss stats. The bottom line is that men and women are both assaulted far too often.

There is no specific type of Veteran that is affected by MST. I have talked to Veterans who served during peacetime who were assaulted as well as individuals who were deployed when it occurred. Some of the Veterans who file for MST are younger, others are older. Regardless, MST has been an issue for the military for a while. In my time with the firm I’ve talked to men who were assaulted in every era dating back to World War II.

Some may wonder why I am only discussing the men I deal with who are affected by MST. Simply, I do not often talk to women who were sexually assaulted in service. As a courtesy for our clients, I will talk to males who have MST cases, and my fellow Intake Specialist Shawna will speak with any woman filing for MST.

Another misconception about MST is that it has to be reported in order for you to get service connected. That is not true. While reporting the assault will increase your chances of getting service connected for MST, it is not definitive. There are other elements we can search for if we are representing you for your claim. This includes behavior changes, loss of rank, buddy statements, and even statements from your family or friends. Like everything else with VA disability treatment is essential. We strongly encourage you seek at treatment at the VA or civilian doctors for cases involving MST.

Personally I could never imagine what it must be like to be assaulted by another individually. However, I understand that it is difficult to speak with others about this subject. I decided to ask one of the individuals I spoke with over the last few weeks what worked for him. He stated that the two things that helped him the most were group therapy with other male Vets who were sexually assaulted in service, and speaking with his wife about it. This will not work for everyone, but it works for him. I’m no psychologist, but I tend to pick up on a few things. I know that more often than not finding others with shared experiences can be helpful.

I want to end this on a positive note. I’ve been doing social media with the firm for over four years now. In 2015 we have more national media attention on MST, and the military is making big strides to reduce the number of sexual assaults. Last month I saw video produced by the Army National Guard and the USMC regarding this subject and how to report it if it does occur.

If you would like to learn more about service connecting for MST, or if you’d like to set up a free consultation, give me a call today. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you are not available now but still want to talk with someone about your case, fill out this form, and we will give you a call back at a more desired time.

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The Truth About How Gun Ownership Impacts Veterans with PTSD

When I started this blog back in 2011 I kicked around the idea of writing about PTSD and guns. It was a subject that I steered away from simply because this subject is so polarizing. I would say to Veterans Corps at WVUP gun photomyself that this is not really what this blog is about, or, my readers need to learn about other aspects of the process first. Recently I had a conversation with a Veteran though, and after speaking with him, I decided it was time to put this out there. The Veteran I spoke to recently repeated the words I had heard too many times before. He was a very nice man who served in Desert Storm. As I spoke to him about his case I realized that his claims were strong, but I could tell there was something he wasn’t telling me. Since he served in Desert Storm, and was a Marine, I simply asked him if he had ever considered filing for PTSD. He stated that he believed that he had it, but he didn’t want to pursue it because he was afraid that they would take his guns away. Honestly I hadn’t heard that from a Vet in a while and it took me a little by surprise. I decided to simply tell him the facts as I know it, advised him on how to get evaluated for PTSD, and sent him paperwork to become a client of ours. I decided that I need to explain to my readers what I explained to him. However, before I do that, I want to throw in a small disclaimer. This blog post is not a political discussion. I do not care what your political views are, just like I’m sure you don’t care about mine. My goal is to simply educate Veterans on PTSD, and how it may affect their gun ownership. The reason I am writing this post is due to the fact that there is a ton of misinformation circulating the internet, and I don’t want to see any Veteran suffer because someone told them something based off of opinion rather than fact. blog_photos_084_w1024Simply put, a diagnosis of PTSD alone will not make you lose your gun rights. No, this is not my opinion, but rather information based off research I acquired from several credible sources, a discussion with our lead VA attorney, Heather Vanhoose, and my personal experience from dealing with thousands of Veterans over the past 4 years. The first thing I am likely to hear after putting this out there is the classic: “My friend knew a guy who had his guns taken away because he had PTSD.” Well, if that is true, your friend’s friend likely had something else going on. He was likely found to be mentally incompetent. This is different than being diagnosed with PTSD.

According to lawdictionary.org, In the United States, competency involves the mental capacity of an individual in order to participate in a legal proceeding or his ability to exercise his liberty and pursue his interest. Competence also pertains to the capability of an individual’s state of mind to make decisions that involve his interests.

PTSD is not mental incompetence. Now, it is important to note that an individual who is rated at 100% on PTSD could be found incompetent. That rating is very severe. I don’t often encounter Veterans who are rated that high. However, when you research what the criteria is for a 100% rating for PTSD, you’d likely agree that individual with that rating probably shouldn’t own guns. Those individuals could have homicidal and suicidal tendencies. They also may suffer from hallucinations and delusions, among other symptoms. This is not the same for all of the other ratings of PTSD. In fact, you can be rated for PTSD at 0%, 10%, 30%, 50%, 70% or 100%. Most of the Veterans I encounter with PTSD fall anywhere from 30%089-70%. These ratings tend to be in the moderate to heavy range. I’ve been doing this for a while. In my time I’ve never had an issue in which I talked to a Veteran about service connecting for PTSD; they were later connected, and then lost their guns. Once again, I don’t often encounter Veterans who need to be rated at the 100% level for PTSD. Those people aren’t likely to call an attorney for help. I want to be clear on another aspect of this topic. It’s important to check with your individual state laws pertaining to gun ownership, concealed carry laws, and how it pertains to mental incompetency. We represent Veterans from all across the United States, and this blog is viewed by people in every state too. As many gun owners will tell you, there is not universal gun law. Certain things vary from state to state. I live in West Virginia; the laws here will likely be different that they are in most states. An example of this is evident when it comes to concealed handgun laws. According to the website of the West Virginia attorney general, permits issued in West Virginia are not universally recognized. West Virginia has full reciprocity in several states. However, since August of 2014, Nevada no longer recognizes our concealed handgun laws. This is just one example of how gun laws differ from state. So, what are you to do in your state? The simplest thing to do is research your local and state laws. I say this with a word of caution though. Be very careful of where you obtain your information. Anyone can make a website. Anyone can post words as fact, and there is a lot of bad information out there that will show up quickly in search results. Pay close attention to who is posting the information. My bio explains who I am, what my education is, how long I have been working in VA Disability, and even a link to my Twitter profile so that you can read my opinion on such pressing matters as Jennifer Lawrence films and how Brad Keselowski is such a nuanced yet necessary part of the current culture of NASCAR. In the end, PTSD is easily one of the biggest issues facing our Veterans. I have Veterans in my own life that suffer from PTSD, and don’t seek treatment. I want every Vet who is having issues with PTSD to get the help they need. I’d hate to think that any Veteran had to suffer because someone misinformed them about their gun ownership. Thanks for taking some time to read my blog. If you have questions about PTSD, service connecting, or VA Disability, call me toll free. Our Number here is 1-877-526-3457. Just ask for Jon. If this isn’t a great time to talk, fill out this form, and I’ll be happy to call you at a later date.

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Motorcycle clubs can make a difference for Veterans with PTSD

I’ve decided that in 2015 one of my goals will be writing more blogs regarding the subject of alternative PTSD treatments. It was something I started writing about late in 2014. I found that it was actually quite intriguing.motorcycle_clubs_veterans Something I discovered last year that works well for some Veterans is yoga. However, there are other options. What I want to discuss today is something that is on the opposite end of the spectrum…motorcycle clubs.

Before I get into the bulk of this blog I have to start with a little bit of controversy. I really don’t like motorcycles in any capacity. I don’t like dirt bikes, I don’t like “choppers,” I don’t even like those really fast bikes with the crass nickname. When I saw that Chris Pratt would be riding a variety of motorcycles in the new “Jurassic World” movie, I immediately took to Twitter to express my distain. Words like “cliche” and “basic” were flying left and right. I’m a car guy. I’ll take a Toyota Highlander over a Triumph Speedmaster any day. I really don’t have time to get into all the reasons why I am not a motorcycle fan right now…though I am sure it started when I wrecked one as a kid. Regardless, something made my opinion of motorcycles change recently, and that is what I want to talk about today.

I have a friend who is a Veteran. He is one of the coolest people I know. He’s genuine, really into cars, and has a great personality. He likes me, so obviously he has good taste. When he returned home from serving in our recent conflicts he had issues with PTSD. I won’t get in to the details, but it was severe at times. He happens to be a big motorcycle guy. He has the whole look: leather attire, unique helmets, boots…I’m talking full “Sons of Anarchy” mode. When he was searching for an outlet he found a motorcycle group, and that helped him tremendously with his recovery. When I asked him what the appeal of the motorcycle group was, he said: “I get a sense of freedom while riding especially with my brothers. Being a part of a club has helped me open up since I came back home.” When he elaborated on this my mind was truly open to how much a motorcycle club makes sense for a Veteran.

 “I am an Iraq Veteran and I can sit and talk to a Vietnam Veteran with no issues. We may have a lot of years between us and a different war, but we still have a bond. It helps me talk to someone and get things off my chest because I know they have been there and understand where I am coming from. In a club you have a rank structure just as we did in the military.  You ride in formation, you must prove yourself, and you also have a brotherhood that is just like the military.  It is a great stress release to many Veterans and it is rewarding helping others in need even if it is just a handshake. Wearing my vest covered in all my veteran patches, I get respect and thanked everywhere I go.”

Read More: Veterans Make Use of Yoga to Reduce PTSD Symptoms

This is why I am so supportive of groups like this. I made the “Sons of Anarchy” reference earlier, and I think that is what so many people have in mind when it comes to any motorcycle club. However, my experience with the Veteran’s Motorcycle groups has been positive. For instance, during our annual Walk4Vets, the West Virginia Patriot Guard Riders are present. They have been at all of our events, and they put on an awesome display. To see a long line of motorcycles complete with American Flags traveling down the road is an emotional experience for me. While this group isn’t a dedicated club for Vets with PTSD, nor is it exclusive to Veterans, it’s a great example of how these groups make a difference in their communities. This particular group is present at funerals of service members killed in action. They do so much more than that though. They welcome everyone and participate in parades, community events, and even charitable endeavors.

motor_club_3_w1024Other groups are more exclusive and serve a different purpose. A group exclusive to Veterans with PTSD exists in Illinois. You can read more about this organization in the article I found, but the story is pretty straight forward: finding individuals with shared experiences can be beneficial.  This article describes how these Veterans found a sense of camaraderie.

Many of the Veterans I speak with are 30 years of age or younger. When they return home from serving they often get married, have kids, and aren’t around many other Veterans. It can be difficult for them discuss their PTSD symptoms. Finding a group like a motorcycle club can be very therapeutic. It’s not just a group of individuals who have similar experiences; it’s a group of people who share your passion. That is what stands out for me.

For instance, I like some pretty random stuff. This can be isolating at times because I don’t know a lot of people who share my passion. When I find someone who does it’s magical. You start out by discussing your passion, but then your guard comes down and you can share more important aspects of life.

While I may not be a big motorcycle fan, I am a huge fan of these clubs, and an even bigger fan of what they do for Vets with PTSD. Sometimes just proving that you aren’t alone in this world can make the biggest difference in someone’s life.

If you are a Veteran who would like to know more about service connecting fir PTSD, feel free to give me a call for a free consultation: 1-877-526-3457. Or, if you’d rather be called at a more convenient time, you can fill out this form instead.

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PTSD; It’s not the same for every Veteran

I often like to get up on my high horse and pretend that I know everything about everything. This may explain why I’m so unpopular. Though I pretend to have all of the knowledge in the world, I often get knocked off that high horse when I am proven wrong. One such instance occurred recently when I was talking to a Veteran about his PTSD symptoms. The end result was a valuable lesson about how PTSD is different for everyone.

It’s no secret that I love working with Veterans. I really enjoy getting to know individuals who served for many reasons. However, I will confess that it’s not always easy discussing PTSD with a Vet. When we take a new client on who happens to have a claim for PTSD, I have to discuss how it occurred in service. This is necessary because we have to get a good baseline of information about each individual case. It’s just like if you are claiming a shoulder injury. I have to how your shoulder was injured in service. One can’t simply respond by saying that they were injured in service. I have to know what led up to the shoulder injury. Did you fall? Was it a combat injury? Did it occur because of wear and tear? When it comes to PTSD, things are a little different. You can’t just say “I have PTSD because I was in combat,” and expect to get it service connected right away.

Some might say “Combat Vets don’t need prove their stressors when it comes to PTSD.” Well, yes, that is true. We can argue that combat action is your stressor. However, this goes well beyond proving why you have may or may not have PTSD, we have to look at the severity of PTSD too. This is why we ask individuals to describe what caused their PTSD. We also have to look at non-combat Veterans too. They have to prove their stressors, so we need to know what caused their PTSD.

You might still be asking why this is important. Well, it’s simple. We thoroughly review Claim Files so that we can better represent our clients. Knowing ahead of time what to look for will make our review more efficient, and quicker.

So, the Veteran who reiterated an important lesson to me about individuals with PTSD was a combat Veteran. He explained to me what events led up to his traumatic experiences, and made copious notes. I then had to ask how PTSD affects him now. This will determine severity. Once again, not all combat Veterans have PTSD, and it does affect everyone differently. Two people could have had the same experience in a war zone and one could be mildly affected while the other was severely affected. That is why we ask how it is affecting Veterans now. He mentioned that he was having issues sleeping, issues with his wife, and he couldn’t keep friends, and even struggled at work. This is all pretty common for an individual struggling with PTSD. However, it wasn’t until I asked the following question that I was surprised. “What about large crowds, or public places, do you have issues there?” Keep in mind that almost every Veteran I have asked that question to previously replied by saying yes. They usually tell me that they avoid public places because of their PTSD. Well, this Veteran told me that it was not an issue for him. I was so surprised by this that I asked him again just to make sure. He assured me that it was no problem to go out in public or be in large crowds. While he did have several other symptoms of PTSD, this very common one was not an issue for him. I was surprised.

Read More: Finding the right PTSD Treatment can make a big difference for Veterans 

Too often we want to throw a blanket over everyone who has a condition. Regardless if it’s something like PTSD, or even something physical like a knee injury, we think it affects all individuals the same way. It’s easy to group everyone who has PTSD together. It really does affect everyone differently. While I am aware of that, it’s easy to forget when you see so much of it every day. There are different degrees of PTSD, and that is why the VA has a rating scale. It’s also why they make use of things like the GAF score.

Overall the experience I had with this Veteran was a great reminder that everyone is different. Further, since PTSD affects everyone differently, we can’t assume that one form of treatment will be effective for every Veteran. Because of this, I encourage all Veterans with PTSD to find the type of treatment that works best for them.

If you would like to know more about this topic, or if you’d like a free consultation for your VA Disability Claim, give me a call. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’d rather we call you at another time, feel free to fill out this form so that we may contact you at a later date.

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Veterans Make Use of Yoga to Reduce PTSD Symptoms

I work with a young lady named Lauren who is quite interesting. Lauren is our operations manager and usually comes in the office perky and ready to work. She is so full of energy and spunk that you have to wonder what’s going on with her. I happen to be quite blunt and simply asked Lauren what was going on in her life to make her so full of energy. Was it some sort of pill? Was it gluten? Is it a new energy drink? I was concerned that she was consuming a case of “5 Hour Energy” before she came to work. (That’s nearly 30 hours of energy.) “Oh Jon,” she replied, “don’t be silly.” Lauren happens to be very health conscious and is up to date with all of the new trends in exercise. She informed me that her new source of energy was not from a drink, a pill, or even pumpkin spice…it was yoga.

I won’t lie; I snickered a bit when she told me this was her new source of energy. I thought that yoga was just something for people like Madonna to do when they want to be pretentious. Then when Lauren told me that her yoga studio had decided to team up with our firm for a Veterans Day promotion, I couldn’t believe what I had heard. Our Vets are by far the toughest group of people on this planet; no way they are going to do this activity. As our social media specialist I had to get to work on promotion for the event. I thought I had better do research on this topic if I’m going to post about yoga.

The research I found made me a believer. It turns out yoga isn’t just for Madonna, it is for real people too. Lauren was on to something and I had to dig deeper. I then found a recent article in the Washington Post that stated yoga can be helpful for Veterans with PTSD. If you’ve read my blog in the past few months then you know I’ve been focusing on alternative PTSD treatments. This was suddenly right up my alley.

Generally if a Veteran is seeking treatment for PTSD he or she will be given some sort of prescription for medication. That includes medication for depression, anxiety, and more. I’m looking around my work space right now and I don’t see a medical degree so I really can’t comment on how these types of medications affect people. I do see an expensive piece of paper from West Virginia University that reads “communications,” so I can properly explain that I have talked to a lot of Veterans who don’t like taking mood altering medication because of the way it makes them feel. Many have explained that they feel like a zombie after taking medications for depression or anxiety etc. So, maybe something like yoga could be an alternative to prescription meds or at least used in conjunction with medication. Once again, I don’t have a medical degree from Dartmouth, just and inquiring mind who thinks a study should be done to see how yoga affects Veterans with PTSD.

Luckily for me someone with a medical degree did a study and the results were shared in the Washington Post article I mentioned earlier. The study was published in “The Journal of Traumatic Stress.” One thing I found interesting was that this particular article, and the study as a whole, focused on a type of yoga that was heavily centered on breathing exercises. According to the study, a key component of yoga is moving your mind away from negative thoughts. One of the most common elements of anyone suffering from PTSD involves reoccurring or intrusive thoughts. One can be led to believe that a practice that involves managing your own thoughts can be beneficial to individuals struggling with reoccurring thoughts.

The actual study focused on a group of 21 male Veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan who had also been diagnosed with PTSD. Eleven of the 21 participants took part in a seven day course that involved three hour classes every day. According to article, “The soldiers’ PTSD symptoms were assessed one week before the beginning of the program and then a week, a month and a year after its completion. Seven of the 11 involved in the active group continued practicing yoga after completing the program.” This would be considered a small group for a study, but what I found fascinating were the results of the study. The article went on to mention the findings:

“The study found that the group who had done yoga demonstrated fewer or less intense PTSD symptoms in comparison. Those who took part in the yoga sessions showed lower anxiety and lower respiration rates. They performed better in tests measuring eye-blink and breathing frequency in response to stimuli such as noise bursts, which are used to measure hyper-arousal and how well individuals are regulating emotions. The researchers also found that the sessions helped with intrusive memories: patients reported re-experiencing trauma during the exercises, but felt that the impact of the memories was reduced.”

Let’s keep everything in perspective. Do I believe that this is the miracle cure for PTSD? No. I simply like the idea of Veterans finding treatment for PTSD that works for them. I am personally not big on medication for depression. However, if that is what works for you, then that is great. This alternative from of treatment may be a great supplement for Veterans.

Read More: PTSD, From a Whisper to a roar. 

I asked Lauren how much yoga has changed her life, and she was kind enough to disclose a lot of personal information to me. She stated that she is not only more relaxed now, but she looked at it as more of a lifestyle change. She uses what she learned inside the studio in everyday life. After a stressful morning at work Lauren went into her office and practiced her breathing exercises at lunch. Even those 5 minutes of concentrated breathing helped her for the rest of the day.

I have decided to try yoga for myself. I am going to take a beginners class prior to Veterans Day, and then I am going to pay to take one of the Veterans Day classes offered by our friends at Full Circle Yoga in Vienna, West Virginia. (Classes that day will be free for Veterans.) I am not a Veteran, but I have a lot of friends who are, and I want to be there so that they don’t have to go at it alone. I honestly think this can be beneficial for the Veterans I know. Once complete I will write a blog about my experience.

Overall, we lose too many Veterans and active duty soldiers to PTSD. I am a fan of anything that can bring that number down to zero.

If you would like to know about service connecting for PTSD, or any service related disability, give me a call today for a free consultation: 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form to learn more. 

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