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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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4 Examples of Non-Combat PTSD

After nearly four years of working with Veterans, and writing this blog for a majority of that time, I can openly say that I know at least a little bit about VA Disability. If you've read my blogs in the past I have often discussed how much misinformation is out there, and how so much of it is believed to be truth. One thing I keep coming back to is the notion that non-combat Veterans can’t service connect for PTSD. If for any reason this were to be the last thing I ever write, I want it to be known that a Veteran does not have to serve in combat to get service connected for PTSD.

It’s obvious that PTSD is pretty mainstream. With stories airing everywhere from your local news to one of my favorite shows, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, PTSD is getting coverage. However, the general public only sees PTSD as a result of being in a war zone. This is the furthest thing from the truth. While a lot of Veterans with PTSD did serve in combat, not all have. Also, not everyone who serves in combat has PTSD. It may sound cliché, but every case is different. Even civilians can have PTSD. Simply defined, PTSD can be the result of witnessing a traumatic event.

I personally learn best from examples. I am sharing 4 real life examples of situations in which a Veteran was non-combat and granted service connection.

  1. Military Sexual Trauma. Sadly, the most common non-combat PTSD stressor I have encountered is MST. Common in both males and females who served in the military. The VA defines MST as sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred while the Veteran was in the military. This is often filed as a PTSD to include “Military Sexual Trauma.”
  2. Accidents. Non-combat related vehicle accidents are actually very common when it comes to PTSD claims. Regardless if accidents occurred on base, or when a Veteran was on leave, it can be a stressor for PTSD. I want to clarify the type of accident though. A simple “fender bender” like I had a couple of years ago wouldn't likely be a good stressor for a PTSD claim. However a serious accident in which individuals had life threatening injuries, witnessed death, or became paralyzed as a result of the accident, would be a better example of how an accident can cause PTSD.
  3. Physical Assault. Something I have seen more recently in non-combat related PTSD claims are Veterans who were involved in some sort of physical, yet non-sexual assault while serving. The Veterans I have encountered who file this type of claim are almost always male. Traditionally it is a superior officer who is either bullying a lower ranking individual or an assault by several of your fellow servicemen at once.
  4. Death of a fellow soldier. It’s no secret that suicide is one of the biggest issues facing our nation’s military today. I've heard countless Veterans tell me that they have witnessed another soldier commit suicide. This is obviously traumatic. However, this does not just apply to suicide. Many other Veterans have told me about individuals who were killed in training exercises or while in boot camp. 

While there are other stressors for a Veteran to claim non-combat PTSD, these are the most common ones I have encountered while working in VA Disability. PTSD as a whole can be difficult to deal with. Too often the Veterans I speak with who didn't serve in combat didn't feel shame about filing a PTSD claim. This is unnecessary. Traumatic events affect everyone differently. A Veteran who served in combat may not have any symptoms of what he or she encountered during that time, but may be bothered by an assault that occurred while living on base in the US. It’s a serious issue and it affects everyone differently. We simply can’t group every Veteran who has PTSD together. That is why the VA rates it at different percentages.

If you have questions about filing a claim for PTSD, feel free to give me a call. Ill be more than happy to tell you what our firm can do for you. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t call now, feel free to fill out this form, and I will contact you at a more convenient time. 

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Finding the right PTSD treatment can make a big difference for Veterans

This past weekend I flew to Dallas for an internet marketing conference. I don’t fly often, so this trip made me feel a little nostalgic. I actually recalled the first time I flew, and that nervous feeling I had leading up to the flight. My fear of flying had nothing to do with safety. I was flying American Airlines so I knew I would be safe. My fear was rooted in the fact that I am neurotic. Logistics scare me. I was worried about checking in, going through security, finding the right gate, and all of the other stress that goes along with travel.

How did I get past this fear? Well, I did what always works for me, research. The first and most helpful thing I did was get the official American Airlines App. This was a huge lifesaver for a neurotic person like me. I could check the status of my flight 20 times an hour, which is not really an exaggeration. Second, I went to the TSA website, and learned about the procedures for security. Finally, the most helpful thing I did was watch the hit 2009 film “Up in the Air,” starring Batman. (George Clooney.) Kidding aside, Clooney’s character in the film offers a bunch of travel tips disguised as exposition.

So, by this point you realize that I am more than two paragraphs in, and I haven’t mentioned Veteran’s Disability yet. I promise I’ll get there, just stick with me. My fear of flying was pretty much eliminated by doing the proper research, fining a method that worked for me, and then execution of what I learned when I felt comfortable. When I flew over the weekend I was pretty relaxed. Even when everyone else was fretting about luggage after our flight to DFW, I was as pretty calm.

What is my point here? I overcame my fear of flying because I found a solution that worked best for me. I can’t imagine how distraught I would have been if I would had just shown up to the airport one day and hoped for the best. I share this story with you because I had a conversation with a Veteran yesterday that really made me ponder the treatment methods of some medical professionals.

The Veteran I was speaking with was younger, served in combat in Iraq, and developed PTSD as a result. He was very pleasant to speak with, and we ended up going in depth in our conversation about his PTSD treatment. Like many other Veterans suffering from PTSD, this gentleman did not like being in large crowds. The doctor he was seeing at the time advised him to conquer his fear by simply going to a film and sitting in the first row. I’m too punk rock to be a doctor, but that does not really sound like a practical solution to a fear of crowds. It’s kind of like the video that surfaced recently of a father who attempted to conquer his son’s fear of skateboarding by knocking him down a large ramp.

After talking with the Vet some more, he stated that the one thing that makes him feel comfortable is talking with his buddies who served in Iraq also. They have shared experiences, and can actually talk about what they are going through. Imagine if instead of conquering that fear of crowds by sitting in the front of the theater by himself, that Vet could see a movie with a group of his fellow soldiers who also served, and had shared experiences. I haven’t served, but I personally rely on my friends who are Vets when I am feeling nervous because I know they have my back. I think it’s safe to say that this is a practical method. But, I’m not a doctor, just someone who uses logic.

What’s the point of all of this? We need to find treatment that works best for us. Regardless if it is a fear of flying, being in a crowded theater or even my totally legit fear of driving in Ohio, finding what works best for us to overcome our fears is the best solution. There is no need to waste time in something that does not work. Treatment for PTSD as whole is very important. However, if your treatment isn’t working, or in some cases, making things worse, then it’s time to find something new. I encourage others to tell me what they find works best in this situation. Are you a Veteran who has an issue with crowded places? If so, what have you done to make this situation more comfortable? Feel free to comment below. You can remain anonymous.

If you are a Veteran who needs help filing for benefits, or if you have been denied, give me a call today for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form, and we’ll contact you at a more convenient time. 

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MST, Social Media, and Establishing Service Connection for Veterans

If you read my most recent post on Veterans using the social media application Whisper to discuss PTSD, then you know that it’s not the only condition Veterans are making use of the app for lately. Posts regarding Military Sexual Trauma, which is closely associated with PTSD, have been appearing a lot more often. A lot of Veterans who have been sexually assaulted or raped while serving are taking to Whisper to discuss these situations. In my post regarding Whisper and PTSD I stated that I believed using this platform to discuss traumatic events was a great first step in seeking treatment. The same holds true for MST. For men and women who have been involved in a sexual assault or rape, using this platform can be a great start because the Veteran remains anonymous. Unlike the PTSD blog post though, I want to address the next steps in pursuing an MST claim, and how social media can play a part in that process. 

Please Note: MST is a claim that is filed with PTSD. Usually the claim will read “PTSD to include Military Sexual Trauma.” Though PTSD and MST go together, we want to address them separately for the purpose of the blog. The end result will make it easier for individuals searching for MST information to find what they need.

In order to get more accurate information I had a discussion with Heather Vanhoose, our lead VA Attorney, to discuss what steps a Veteran pursuing MST needs to do for a successful claim. Heather is very passionate about MST cases. She has a lot of experience in arguing such cases, as well as evaluating them for representation.

Heather said one of the most important things any Veteran can do to service connect for MST is to seek treatment. Counseling through the VA or private doctor will help provide evidence for the VA. This will also help illustrate how the event or events are affecting you now. This needs to be established in order to show that your claim is chronic.

We realize that a lot of sexual assaults take place, but are not reported. Heather was quick to point out that this does not mean that you can’t service connect for MST. Instead you simply have to show how this affected you while serving. Heather stated that this can be done by showing markers from your time in service. For instance, if you had no disciplinary actions taken against you prior to the assault, and then had multiple write ups after, then this would be a marker. You were on one path prior to the assault, and then after you went a different direction. Heather went on to say that a lot of these assaults happen when someone is new to military service. In this case you can show what you were like in high school compared to your time in the military. An example would be if you were an honor student in high school but then had a lot of issues with your superiors in the military, it could be a sign of an assault.

Another marker described by Heather was MOS changes. If a Veteran served for a while, had one MOS, and then changed to another later on, it could be a sign of MST. A better example of this is if the Veteran had one MOS for a long period of time, and then changed several times after that first period, it would be a sign that something may have occurred.

When I said to Heather that I was writing this blog because of something I found in social media, she talked about how she has heard of Veterans using Facebook to find others who have been sexually assaulted. She pointed out one case in particular in which a Veteran used Facebook to find someone who served with him and was able to write about the assault. This in turn led to the favorable decision. Regardless if you find a community for your former unit, or simply find someone who served with you, their statements can make a world of difference in your case. Taking this a step further, finding other individuals who were sexually assaulted or raped by the same individual will not only be beneficial for your case, it can likely do a lot to help you cope with the Military Sexual Trauma.

Sexual assault, rape, and unwanted sexual attention occur for too often in today’s military. Too often it goes unreported and the perpetrators often don’t face disciplinary action. When I first started working for this firm I was shocked by the number of Veterans I spoke to who were involved in a Military Sexual Trauma. I was especially surprised by the amount of men who were either assaulted or raped while serving. Heather told me that this actually has to do with the fact that there are simply more men serving as a whole. It’s the reason why we personally see more men with claims than women. As whole though, when you adjust the numbers per capita, women are actually assaulted more often. Really the point I want to make is that it happens too much. There is a lot of national attention getting focused on MST now, and hopefully this will become a thing of the past very soon. 

If you want to learn more about what our firm can do to assist you with a MST claim, give us a call for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form to be contacted by a member of our staff. 

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PTSD: From a “Whisper,” to a Roar

As a person working in social media I often try to stay connected to current trends. A relatively new social networking site called Whisper is becoming quite popular. Whisper is a place in which you can confess thoughts or life events anonymously. Simply, you create text that is posted over an image of your choosing. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, you don’t have to use your real name. The application takes great lengths to make sure your real identity remains hidden. (If you want it to be.)  Personally I am not a fan of anonymity, but this service isn’t really geared towards me. While a lot of what you will see on Whisper is complaints about significant others, not to mention all of the disturbing confessions from individuals in the service industry, there might be some good coming from this tool. Something new showing up on Whisper pertains to Veterans. There are a lot of confessions/posts from individuals who serve. Both active duty military personnel and Veterans are taking to Whisper to discuss PTSD and Military Sexual Trauma.

This will be the first of two blogs profiling PTSD and MST through the Whisper posts. 

I first became aware of this trend because of a recent BuzzFeed post profiling some Whisper updates by Veterans discussing PTSD. It was quite eye opening to say the least. One post was from a soldier who stated that he wished he had died in an attack. Another was from an individual who stated that he cried himself to sleep every night. However, last night while scrolling around BuzzFeed I saw another post regarding those who have served posting to Whisper. This time the subject matter was Military Sexual Trauma. MST is something that we hold close to our hearts in this firm. Since PTSD and MST are becoming recognized more on a national level, I decided to look into the use of Whisper as a coping tool a little deeper. Throughout this post you will see some real whisper posts created by Veterans. Please note these can be quite graphic.

While I mentioned earlier that I am personally not a fan of posting anonymously online, I think in a situation like this it’s completely different. I have worked with Veterans for many years now. When it comes to PTSD, admitting that you may have it is very difficult. Talking about incidents can be even harder. The benefit of something like Whisper is that it can’t really be traced back to you. Granted, nothing you post online is ever truly anonymous, this is far more secure than something like Twitter or Facebook. Also, on a site like Facebook in which you have to use your real name, there is a good chance that you have a lot of “friends” on the site that you don’t actually want to see certain posts. In a situation like this you may not want to post something about having PTSD because of who happens to be on your friends list.You likely have Facebook friends who are aunts, cousins, or other acquaintances who simply won’t understand. If you have a family like mine, they may even use what you post against you. On traditional sites individuals are less likely to post something about PTSD because of the lack of understanding. Plus, if you are just realizing that you have PTSD, or just starting to seek treatment, you probably don’t want a bunch of people to “Like” it.

It’s a lot easier to talk to a computer than it is to talk to people in real life. This is not really earth shattering news. Honestly it is why social media became so popular a decade ago. This form of mediated communication really altered the way in which a generation communicates. This is why you see so many negative comments on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. In our minds we aren’t really talking to our friends, we are just typing something in a computer program. This means we don’t have to deal with the consequences. If i were to walk up to someone in Pittsburgh and proclaim that his favorite football squadron, the Steelers, are the worst group of Arena League rejects I’ve ever had the displeasure of witnessing an attempt at football, there is a good chance he would physically harm me.However, if I do that on a Facebook post he created, there is less likely a chance he will punch me. Granted we are talking about Steelers fans here, and they tend to not be the best at decision making. Kidding aside, the absences of consequences can be a good thing. This is why dating sites are popular. Your guard is down because you aren’t interacting with an actual person. The same can be said for using a service like Whisper to talk about your problems with PTSD. You can say something like “My PTSD makes me cry myself to sleep” without worrying about how another person will react. It’s really what we learned in communications 101; when barriers come down, communication apprehension also goes away.  

I look at something like Whisper as a wonderful first step. Sometimes just saying “I have this condition,” or “I feel this way,” is a great start to seeking treatment. While long term anonymous confessions may do little to help you fully embrace PTSD, it can be help get you used to talking about it with others.

Another great aspect of Whisper is that you get to interact with others via your post or theirs. This can create a great dialogue to help you open up about what you have experienced, and to find others with shared experiences. From my experience in communications, and then again with working with Veterans, seeking others with shared experiences can help relieve anxiety and lead to a sense of belonging. For instance, I have a very different life view when it comes to having children. In the area in which I live that can be very isolating. I recently found another individual who shared these same thoughts. It really put me at ease because it’s great to know you aren’t alone. We can see this on a more superficial level too. For instance, I live in West Virginia and am a fan of The Columbus Blue Jackets. They are a hockey team. About 97% of the population here is not aware that the team exists. When I find another individual who happens to be a fan of the team, I tend to enjoy my hobby a little more. Regardless if it is something as unimportant as hockey, or something serious like PTSD, finding others who are like you can be very beneficial.

I will be the first to admit that there is a lot of stuff on Whisper I don’t like. Posting mean comments online without sharing your name is pretty cowardly. This is not like that. If a combat Vet can take the first steps in getting treatment by making use of something like Whisper, then I am a supporter. I am interested to see how this site evolves in the future and if more Veterans take to it to talk about PTSD.

If you are struggling with PTSD, or are curious about treatment options, give us a call today for a free consultation. Our Toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you would rather receive a call from one of our representatives, fill out this form now.

Look for our second part coming soon.

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Modern Veterans’ Organizations offer Alternative to alcohol-based socialization.

Full disclosure, I am not much into drinking. It’s never really been a hobby of mine. I remember celebrating pretty heavily when I turned 21, then revisiting some nachos I had consumed earlier that evening, and not too much after that. I am now nine years removed from that day and I can’t really recall any other time in which I was intoxicated. Honestly I saw a lot of cautionary tales growing up that have really stuck with me. Also, I simply can’t stand the taste of most forms of alcohol. Before we get too far along, I want to make it clear that this is not the judgment express. I am flawed. If I were brave enough to post a full body photo of myself you would quickly see that my vice is food. Overeating can be as dangerous as consuming too much alcohol. The reason I am bringing the subject of alcohol up is a recent hashtag search I did on twitter. This led me down a rabbit hole to some pretty interesting numbers.

For anyone who does not know, a hashtag is something used on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites to link common stories. For instances, if I tweet about JJ Watt, and I want other Houston Texans fans to see what I have typed, I will use the hashtag “#WeAreTexans.” (Even though I am from West Virginia, I cheer for the Texans. It’s a complicated story.) When it comes to social media posts regarding this blog, I will use the hashtag #Veterans.  Obviously I want Veterans to read this blog, so this is a great way to spread the word. Today I needed some inspiration for a new blog. I had to get through a bunch of posts in which people were using the hashtag for politics, but then came across post with a photo. The photo grabbed my attention because it was from a recent national brewing corporation that used a returning Vet in a recent campaign. The tweet mentioned that returning combat Veterans are at a higher risk of binge drinking than their civilian counter parts. This post led me to an interesting blog that analyzed alcohol manufactures using Veterans in their marketing campaigns and brought up the topic of responsibility in advertising. An interesting topic and something that I had not thought of before. I would love to expand on this thought, but that is not what this blog is about. This blog however led me to a study in which alcohol consumption rates of returning Vets were compared to that of civilians, and the numbers were somewhat surprising.

Now, I need to point out that recent information on this subject tends to be a little scarce. Most of the info I found on this subject pointed to a survey conducted in 2008. Even though this information is about 6 years old, I doubt if things have improved that much. Honestly the opposite is most likely. So, according to this study, Combat Veterans were 31 percent more likely to have started binge drinking than those not exposed to combat. Six percent of returning combat Veterans started a new habit of heavy weekly drinking and 5 percent developed a drinking-related problem.

I just realized that it has taken a long time to get to the heart of this blog post. I’m not here to say that drinking is bad. If you are an adult and don’t know the negative effects of heavy alcohol consumption then you must have some prime real estate under a rock. However, as an individual who talks to about 150-200 new Veterans every month, I know that alcohol consumption among Veterans is an issue. I have also experienced this first hand with some Veterans I know personally. It’s not really something we can ignore.

Too often the Veterans I speak to daily feel isolated. They have returned home from combat to a bunch of people who can’t relate to what they have been through. If you are dealing with PTSD, or a TBI, then family life and a full time job can be overwhelming. It makes sense that so many Veterans use alcohol as a coping mechanism or as a way to self-medicate. I have talked to so many Vets who use it as a way to escape. There are alternatives out there. There are groups for Veterans returning from recent conflicts that help address the issues facing younger Veterans and offer an alternative to traditional service organizations.

The first organization is one that was established just a few years ago and is quite impressive. They are called the Steel City Vets, and I have personally had the pleasure of working with them in the past. The group as a whole does so much in the Western PA area that I wish I could personally join. They are involved in community projects, organize social gatherings and even do such fun things as golf tournaments and even have famous Veterans and civilian guest speakers. They also attend sporting events like Pittsburgh Steelers games, but I think our Veterans deserve better than that. Football humor aside, the Steel City Vets is a group that I have experienced first-hand, and I highly recommend them for any Veteran who may be living in the western PA area. In fact, they have a great golf tournament coming up on August 10th which would be a great introduction to the group and their members.

Another group that I have worked with quite a bit more is the Veterans Corps at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. This happens to be the school in which I attended while pursuing my undergraduate degrees. In my tenure with the firm I have worked with them for many projects, including our Walk4Vets. This Veterans group is open to student Veterans, and much like the Steel City Vets, they focus on keeping Vets engaged in community activities/outreach, team building trips, and social gatherings. The Veterans corps had some fun activities recently. They had a day at the gun range that also involved a hike and a picnic, and a white water rafting trip just a few weeks ago. I was invited to go on the trip but had to decline because of my fear of death. In the spring they had a great fundraising and a supply drive for our local homeless Veterans.

When I was in high school, and more recently in college, I personally found myself lost at times. It was not until I found a group of individuals with similar experiences that I could relate to that I started finding meaning in what I was doing. In no way am I comparing anything in my life to serving in the military or being in combat. However, I think relating to others who know what you have been through is universal. Groups like these can be very beneficial for transitioning back to civilian life. At the end of the day I want Veterans to know there are several options out there to socialize with other Vets.

If you would like more information about service connecting for alcoholism, or would like to discuss your VA disability claim, give us a call. 1-877-526-3457. Also, if you happen to be part of a group like the ones listed above, please share the information in the comments section.

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Tips for Combat Veterans regarding Fireworks on Independence Day

With Independence Day coming up I am reminded of how much I don’t like fireworks. I can recall two situations that led me to dread public firework displays. When I was sixteen I was a part of a youth program to prepare kids for the workforce. One of my jobs involved cleaning the local city park. It happens to be where they set off the fireworks for our annual celebration. One cold and wet July morning 15 years ago led to 8 hours of picking up cardboard casings on my hands and knees. The 2nd incident happened more recently. I was driving home from Athens during the evening on Independence Day. While I was traveling on the highway around 10:00 p.m. that night I looked to my left and noticed that the fireworks display had started. “How quaint,” I thought to myself. Moments later all of the cars in front of me starting braking erratically to catch a glimpse of the display. I nearly had several collisions because people thought it was ok to stop suddenly on the highway to watch the sky.

Just like so many other things in my life, the reasons I don’t like fireworks are superficial. However, for Veterans, not liking fireworks comes from a much deeper place; combat.

Newsflash: I am not the first person to write about Veterans struggling with fireworks on Independence Day. However, most of the information you will find via a Google search on this topic is not helpful. What I have compiled here is advice from Veterans I’ve spoken to over the past few years regarding this subject. Let’s get started:

  1. Don’t go. Now this may seem like one of the simplest ways to deal with fireworks, but sometimes the simplest answer is the best. The most consistent answer I have received from Veterans on this subject is avoiding the public displays. This does not mean you can’t enjoy the holiday though. I live in a rural area far from the public displays. We still have a cookout, enjoy swimming and so on, just without the use of fireworks.
  2. Go see a movie. Some of the Vets I have talked to have told me about this for avoiding firework displays. Most cities announce when their fireworks will be set off. Plan to see a film during this time. Usually the audio of the film will cancel out anything going on outside. Just try to avoid anything by Michael Bay because that man seems to love explosions almost as much as he loves himself.
  3. Hang out with man’s best friend. One of the best stories I have heard on this subject involved a combat Veteran and his dog. He explained to me that whenever people started letting fireworks off, he and his dog would head to his basement to avoid the noise. Many Veterans I have spoken to with PTSD find comfort in pet dogs, and in these situations a dog can be very helpful.
  4. White Noise. I have actually written an entire blog to how much I love my white noise app on my phone. If you have a smart phone, regardless of the operating system, there are many free versions available. I recommend the version offered by TM Soft. It’s great. I have used it for three years. You can choose from dozens of sounds and even add new ones for free. If you have a set of head phones this is a great way to cancel out the sound of fireworks in the distance. On a personal note, I like to pretend like I’m Colin Kapernick in the Beats by Dre commercial when I put my headphones on. Doing that may not help much, but I tend to do things a little different. On a side note. I personally use this strategy to avoid other unpleasant noises, like a nagging spouse, or whenever a Dallas Cowboy’s fan starts to speak.
  5. Talk to your neighbors. Everything we have discussed so far has involved planning ahead, but most Veterans have issues with fireworks going off suddenly. For instance if you live in a neighborhood that has a bunch of teenagers, they might set off firecrackers randomly. Or another family might be celebrating on Saturday instead of Friday. One thing Veterans can do is just inform their neighbors of the issue. Just ask them when they are planning to set off fireworks so that you can prepare ahead of time, or just not set them off near your house. In fact, if you have pets, this is probably a good idea regardless. This way you can prepare your animals too.
  6. Go camping for the weekend. Some Veterans have told me that they will take their families camping during the Fourth of July weekend. This is a great alternative to staying home anyway. You get to celebrate the holiday with loved ones and create great memories in the process.

Independence Day is a great holiday in which we get to celebrate our freedom and those who keep us free. This holiday is so much more than firework displays and barbecues. The team here at Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law appreciate those who serve this great country and want to help in any way possible. We encourage any Veteran who reads this blog to share their strategies for dealing with fireworks. Just leave a comment, and we will be sure to add it to the suggestions.

Happy Independence Day.

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Recent Poll Profiles Soldiers Returning Home From Conflict

I’ll be honest; I really don’t like the Family Feud. This may be an unpopular opinion, but it is mine, and I have the right to have it. My displeasure with the show is not with the host, the families on it, or the format; it’s with the survey they use for the answers. They only Survey 100 people for these questions! Are you really trying to tell me that 100 people can really represent the entire country when it comes to something as important as naming something you bring on a picnic? This is really the problem with surveys and polls as a whole, at least in my opinion. As a country, we are far too diverse to believe that 100 people can really speak for everyone. (By the way, check out the video below of a Marine and a civilian giving the greatest response ever to a Family Feud question. It's worth a view.)

Ok, as in most of my blogs, we have to ask “how does this pertain to VA disability?” Well, a recent poll by the Washington Post examined Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and let’s just say they didn't take the “Family Feud” approach. The complete story can be found here, but be warned, it’s much longer and doesn't reference the Family Feud once.

There is a ton of great information here, and the information found is valuable and up to date. Over 800 Veterans participated who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or both. Veterans from every branch of the military, with the exception of the Coast Guard, participated, and both men and women were asked questions. There were over 50 questions that ranged from “how long did you plan to serve” to “Do you feel as if President Obama is a good commander in chief for the military.” While I will stray away from politics, it is interesting to note that 47% of the Veterans surveyed consider themselves independent.

The Washington Post article that accompanied this survey has some interesting statistics:

Of the 819 Veterans surveyed,

•18 percent were seriously injured while performing their duties.

•34 percent say they have a service-connected disability.

•52 percent say their physical or mental health is worse than it was before the wars.

•41 percent report experiencing outbursts of anger, at least sometimes.

•51 percent know a service member who has attempted or committed suicide.

See the entire poll with results by clicking here,

What do these numbers really mean though? Well, one thing we can gather from this is that claims for PTSD will likely be on the rise. With over half of the individuals surveyed admitting that their mental health is worse than it was before they were deployed. Also, the 18% who stated that they were seriously injured while serving means there will likely be an influx of physical claims.

Overall, this survey was really informative. I spent a lot of time reading the numbers as well as the report that the Washington Post released with the data. If you are interested in filing for VA disability, or would like a free consultation, give me a call. Our toll free number is 1-877-526 3457. If you’d rather be contacted by us, fill out this form and we will call you. 

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Military Sexual Trauma Information for Veterans

Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, is in the news a lot right now. In fact, the second season of the hit show "House of Cards" dealt with a subplot involving this subject. It's obviously a big issue for the military right now. While it is a big topic in the mainstream media, a lot of Veterans don't know where to turn for help. A look at the VA website actually has some helpful information on the topic. For instance, did you know that a Veteran does not have to be service connected to receive treatment at a VA facility for MST? In fact, there is no need to present evidence in order to receive treatment. We strongly encourage any Veteran to seek treatment for their MST at a VA facility. While you don’t need evidence to get treatment, you do have to evidence in order to get service connected.

There is a lot to discuss on the subject of MST. One thing that happens often is that individuals believe that MST is simply PTSD. When it comes to the rating code, the VA does rate MST the same as PTSD. This actually true of most psychological disorders. The VA for instance uses the same rating code for PTSD as it does depression. You won’t actually be service connected for MST, but rather PTSD due to MST.

It’s also important to note that any physical conditions that are a result of Military Sexual Trauma can be service connected as well. Due to the sensitive nature of those injuries, we won’t go into detail, but it’s something you would definitely want to speak with a healthcare professional about.

If MST results in your inability to have children, then you may be able to file special monthly compensation due to the loss of a creative organ.

While doing research for this blog, I pulled a few of our cases for Veterans, male and female, who have filed for MST. While I can’t go over specifics, I can say that there are a few things that stand out that can help a Military Sexual Trauma Claim.

For one, reporting the incident while serving will provide a lot of help in a MST claim. We understand the struggle most Veterans have when faced with reporting MST, and understand why this can be difficult. 

Providing a detailed statement about the incident, or incidents will provide a lot of valuable evidence for the VA. Once again, we know it’s not easy to recall those times, but it will likely help you get service connected.

Buddy Statements are also a great help for MST cases. Sometimes we see cases in which a Veteran didn’t officially report the MST to a commanding officer, or make a formal report, but did talk to others he or she trusted while serving about what took place. Reconnecting with your fellow Veterans, and asking them to provide statements is not only beneficial for your case, but it can also help you personally. Also, if you know of other Veterans who were sexually assaulted by the same individual, their statements may help your claim.

Like with any other type of VA Disability Claim, every MST claim is different. Even if you have the evidence listed above, there is still a chance you will get denied. These are just some helpful tips from what we have seen over the years.   

Regardless, if this is your first time filing a Military Sexual Trauma claim, or if you have been denied, give us a call for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457, or fill out this form for us to give you a call. 

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