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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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You Had One Job…and here is how it impacts your VA Disability Claim

One thing that separates my blog apart from all of the other VA disability blogs is that I’m a fan of Veterans first, and it’s my job second. It’s no secret that my favorite branch is the Coast Guard, but IJason Watkins 056 think all five branches are pretty cool. I am not pandering when I say I get excited when I get to meet someone who served. Everyone who serves is pretty brave in my mind. However, there are different jobs in the military that are, arguably, more dangerous than others. I met someone who served as an Army Ranger last you and you would have thought I was a teenage girl meeting one of the Backstreet Boys. (I realize that is a dated reference, but I have no idea what young people listen to today.) Every job in the military is important; some are just more difficult than others. No judgement, but a 44C Finance Specialist Accounting Specialist, isn’t going to have the same experience as a 31B, Military Police. Simply stated, a Veteran who was a Military Policeman will likely have a more physical job than an accountant.

Your MOS can actually play a big part in establishing service connection for your claim. We can assume that an MP had to do a lot of physical training, and physical work every day. In the same regard, a Veteran who was a 44C will likely get service connection for something like carpel tunnel easier than a Veteran who didn’t work with as much data entry.

While my title is trying to be cute, and play off a popular meme, a lot of Veterans have multiple Military Occupations in service. Also, a lot of Veterans have told me that they may have been assigned a specific MOS, but did a different job entirely. From what I’ve been told, no one in the military ever really just does their MOS.

work gifYou have to work hard no matter what job you do in the military, but what if you were an accountant, and chose to go to Airborne School? Well, that plays a part in your case too. Veterans, who passed Airborne, or really any school or classification in any branch that required you to jump from a plane, are really tough. I know this because I’ve researched cases of Veterans who did jumps in service. They almost always have severe joint and back pain. The reason is that jumping in the military is far different than what a civilian does when the go skydiving. The landings are much tougher, and the frequency to which they jump is much higher than a civilian. So, we look at cases for Veterans who did multiple air jumps in service much differently than Veterans who didn’t have any jumps. This really only pertains to joint issues though.

When discussing Military Occupations one MOS that is often overlooked is mechanics. First of all, I am staggered by how many Veterans are a mechanic in the military. Every branch of service has a lot of equipment, and that equipment has to be worked on. In turn, every branch of the military has a lot of mechanics. Mechanical work is also very physical and this causes a lot of joint pain. If a Veteran approached me with back issues, but didn’t treat for it in service, I’d consider his case if he served as a mechanic.

Finally, a lot of Veterans have Military Occupations dealing with Infantry. Infantrymen, Combat Engineer, and Calvary Scout are just some of the occupations in which a Veteran may have if he or she served in combat. These occupations are more likely to have physical disabilities and mental disabilities.

Keep in mind that this is just an outline of what disabilities a certain occupation may have. Of course an accountant can have PTSD or a Combat Engineer can have carpel tunnel. Every Veteran has a different experience and every VA Disability claim is different.

If you’d like to discuss your VA disability claim, call me today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form now to schedule your consultation at a later time.

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Better Call Jan: 10 Things Veterans Need to Know About Hiring a VA Disability Attorney

When most people think of lawyers images of Matlock, Elle Woods, or even that fella from TMZ come to mind. When you are in search of an attorney to handle your VA disability claim, who are you elle woodsgoing to hire? Where do you start? Are all attorneys the same? Should I just go with a VSO? Most Veterans are faced with these questions when they first consider pursuing a disability claim. Unfortunately, there aren’t many guides out there for selecting an attorney and there are surprisingly few good options. So, what is a Veteran to do? I’ve compiled this list of 10 tips all Veterans need to know when searching for a VA disability attorney.

Before we get into the tips, you are probably wondering; do you even need an attorney? Well, as an employee of a law firm you may think that I am biased, and truth be told, I am. But I am also a man of reason, and love logic. Consider this thought though. If you’re a Vet there is a good chance you’ve been dealing with the Government for years. As you are already aware, the only thing that government organizations hate more than efficiency is simplicity. VA cases are extremely complicated. Even filling out the initial application can make a strong man weak. If you call the VA for help, you are probably going to be put on hold long enough to watch a Christopher Nolan film. So, an attorney can be a great guide through the complicated process. It’s also safe to assume that anyone who has a vested interest in your case will work harder to get you the benefits you deserve. So, and Attorney is much better than fighting alone. Here are the things you need to know before you search for the person to represent you.

  1. 089This isn’t like most other types of law. VA disability is a lot like Lady Gaga, complicated. The closest thing it resembles is Social Security Disability, and those two are as different as the Marines and the Air Force. In VA Disability, you are not suing anyone, you are not going to bring in surprise witnesses, and you’re not going to be seen in front of a jury. The reason why there aren’t hit shows on TV about VA Disability law firms is that it’s actually quite boring…and of course complicated. There is a lot filing, gathering evidence and waiting. While it can be quite frustrating for Veterans, keep in mind that you’re not in trouble for anything and it will seem completely different once you’ve started the process.
  2. An Attorney, a VSO, and even Captain America can’t speed up your claim. Some people may make promises that they can speed your claim up, but they are wrong. There are only two ways to speed up a VA disability claim. One would be if you’re terminally ill, and the other would be if you’re facing an economic hardship. If I’m honest, the latter does not happen very often. Further, no matter what you may hear from certain organizations, it’s still a very long wait.
  3. Most Veterans haven’t hired an attorney before. A lot of the Veterans we talk to now are quite young. In fact, recently I talked to a fella who was born in 1995. That’s the same year that Toy Story came out. So they’re not likely to have a lot of experience dealing with the legal process. Granted, you don’t have to be a millennial to be unfamiliar with lawyers. The biggest thing we see from this fact is a lot of Veterans, regardless of age, have communication apprehension when dealing with a law firm. It’s kind of like when you have to the doctor. We are aware of this and we work hard to make our firm very approachable. We let you get to know us online, we have friendly case managers to answer your questions, we give books out that explain the process, and our firm even has a really cool employee who writes amazing blogs on practically every VA subject.
  4. What’s it going to cost? Attorney fees can be scary, especially if you consider how much a criminal defense attorney charges, or how much it can cost to get a divorce. Once again though, VA Disability attorneys are different. Most of them work on a contingency fee, meaning that you don’t pay any cost up front, and only pay a percentage of your back pay if you are approved. It is important to question an attorney about any additional fees besides the back pay. A lot of Veterans come to us from other law firms. We have seen a wide variety of additional fees from other law firms. This includes travel expenses, postage, and even the cost of the food they ate when they went to a hearing. Our firm does not charge those types of fees, but others do. The only thing we charge in addition to your attorney fees are costs associated with charges for medical records or Independent medical exams. Essentially it’s a reimbursement. Regardless of who you go with, make sure you are aware of all of their fees.
  5. A lot of the information about your case comes from one big file. From the time you join the military, and until many years after you pass away, there are paper files about you from the military and the VA. This includes entrance exams, admin records, VA health records, disability filings, and much, much more about you in this file. It’s commonly referred to as a Claim File. A claim file, or c-file as it is commonly known, is one of the most important aspects of your case. This will tell us a majority of the information we need to know about your claim. We can see if you were physically injured in service, if you had any behavioral issues, and even if you served in combat.
  6. You may have to go to a hearing or two. But don’t worry, they are very informal. If your claim is denied you may have to go to a hearing down the road. There are actually three separate types of hearings in a VA disability claim. These include a Decision Review Officer Hearing, a Board of Veterans appeals hearing, and finally, the rarest of them all, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. These are also often called DRO, BVA, and CAVC.
    1. A DRO hearing is the most informal of all of the hearings, and it comes first. Essentially in this hearing your attorney will represent you in front of a Decision Review Officer. That is it. There is no jury, no judge, and no objections. They are very relaxed.
    2. The second hearing is the BVA Hearing. It is more formal and traditionally follows a denial by a DRO. The BVA is a traveling board who call Washington D.C. home. However these hearings can be done in person in Washington, but most elect not to travel. In some circumstances, a BVA hearing is completed via video. The end result of a BVA hearing will come in one of the following ways: An approval, which is good, a denial which is bad, or a remand, which is somewhere, in the middle. Remands go back to the Regional Office for further evaluation.
    3. If you are denied at the BVA, your last hope is CAVC. (Sometimes we call it COVA for reasons that are not imperative to this blog.) The hearing you have at the CAVC is the most formal and few Vets actually go that far. Fun Fact, VAVC is not a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the CAVC website, The Court’s review of Board decisions is based on the record before the agency and arguments of the parties, which are presented in a written brief, with oral argument generally held only in cases presenting new legal issues. In other words, something has to be really wrong with your claim to get that far. It’s rare for our firm to take a case to CAVC because we are very thorough with our reviews.
  7. You’re going to get frustrated, and probably more than once. The biggest thing most Veterans aren’t aware of prior to pursuing a VA disability claim is how mentally taxing they can be. Marge hairFrustration is inevitable with a VA disability claim. The frustration comes in many different forms too. Sometimes it will be a result of the VA denying you on a claim in which it’s obvious you should be connected, and other times it’s simply frustration at the timeline. You will be evaluated by the VA for your claims multiple times too. Many Veterans have told me horror stories about evaluations with VA doctors that last fewer than three minutes. That’s barely the length of a good Guns and Roses song.
  8. You have to get treatment. I hate going to the doctor. I hate taking medication. I hate sitting in waiting rooms for 20 minutes just to talk to a doctor for 5 minutes. But, in order to stay healthy, a visit to the doctor every few months is imperative. The same can be said for VA disability compensation too. Except it’s even more important with the VA. The VA uses medical records to determine the severity of your case. Often the VA will rate you lower than you should be for a condition. Our firm can use your medical records to argue against the VA.
  9. You can’t take no for an answer. Yes, you will get mad at some point when dealing with the VA, but you can’t give up. We’ve established that it’s a long wait, and that it’s frustrated, but too many Veterans give up because the system failed them. Our firm won’t let you give up either. I’ve seen approvals for Veterans who had to wait more than ten years for an approval and they were mighty happy when they were approved. I’ve also seen our Lead VA Attorney Heather Vanhoose mount a huge argument against the VA when they tried to say one of clients was malingering with his PTSD claim. It took a while, but that client is now receiving benefits at 100%. You will want to give up, but that isn’t in the vocabulary of most Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Coast Guardsmen.
  10. Maggie and Jake are both actors, but one is better than the other. Comment below if you know who I am talking about. In other words, lots of law firms handle VA disability claims, but they areinternet not equal. Some are better than others. Do your research. The best way to determine if a law firm is good at what they do is via their online presence. Do they have a lot of real google reviews? Are there any client testimonials? Do they offer information to the public free of charge? Are they involved in their community? These are just some ways to determine if the attorney you’re pursuing is any good at what they do. Never hesitate to ask around too.

By now you should have some understanding of what it’s like to hire an attorney for a VA disability claim. However, if you need more information, just give us a call. We’ll be happy to answer your questions. If we can’t help you we’ll even tell you where to go to get the help you need. Fill out this form for a free consultation, or give me a call today. 1-877-526-3457.

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Meet our newest VA Disability Attorney, Lindsey Bailey

The Jan Dils team is proud to announce that Lindsey Bailey is our newest VA Disability Attorney. Well, new isn’t really the proper word to describe Lindsey. She is quick to point out that this is not her first rodeo.Lindsay Attorney Profile Lindsey has been employed with our firm for several years. She represented a lot of social security clients prior to transferring over to the VA. She also informed me that she simply didn’t just start doing VA cases one day. She actually studied for a long time with lead VA attorney Heather Vanhoose. Heather and Lindsey worked well together and Lindsey really developed a passion for working with Veterans. Lindsey is a graduate of the WVU School of Law. Her father and brother are both social security attorneys as well. Recently I sat down with Lindsey to find out why she transitioned to the VA side of the firm. She had some prior knowledge of the VA disability process, but seeing things from our side really opened her eyes. She became fascinated with the law and knew she wanted to get involved.

linds Bar eSelecting Lindsey as the next attorney to represent Veterans at our firm did not occur by picking a name out of a hat. It happened by design. Lead VA Attorney Heather Vanhoose spoke about Lindsey’s passion and her compassion for Veterans. She said the fact that she possesses both of these skills makes her the ideal candidate to represent Veterans. Firm Owner Jan Dils also spoke of Lindsey’s passion for helping Veterans. She went on to say that Lindsey really picked up on the law quickly and that she was happy to have her helping our Veterans.

On a personal note, I have known Lindsey for a couple of years. In the past year I have been able to spend some time with her and other members of the staff outside of the office. The first thing I noticed about her was her distinct voice. It resonates with joy and a unique tone most can’t duplicate. If I had to think of one word to describe her it would simply be genuine. She has a great heart and is extremely intelligent. Our Veterans are fortunate to have Lindsey join the VA legal team along with Heather Vanhoose and Angie Lowe.

If you would like to know more about VA Disability, or the services we provide, be sure to give us a call today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a later time.

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