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6 things Veterans Need to Remember About the VA Disability Process

This blog is approaching its 5th birthday. In November, on Veterans Day, it turns 5. I must say that I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish with this blog. migraines-vet-disabilityIt started out with just about 20 readers per month, and it has since exploded to several thousand. Veterans often tell me how much the content I write has helped them better understand the process, and it means a lot to help veterans with topics like PTSD, MST, and the process as a whole. Since I’ve written so much content over the years, I want to share a few things I’ve learned along the way. Here are the top 6 things Veterans need to remember about the VA Disability process.

  1. That backlog didn’t vanish. According to a recent Military Times article, there are still 70,000 VA Disability claims backlogged. That number was supposed to be 0 about 7 months ago. Even with a generous grace period, the VA is way off on this goal. However, we are not here to bash the VA. They did get that number down from 610,000 a few years ago. So they did some good work. Or did they? As I reported last year, the backlog is essentially just moving. Claims start out in the initial stage, get denied, and then they go into the appeals process. There were over 400,000 claims on appeal in November of 2015.
  2. Be proactive. Regardless if you have filed a claim with the VA, or if you need to get an appointment for health care, you have to be proactive. The VA is kind of like a two-year-old…a disrespectful two-year-old that needs to be disciplined. If you don’t watch it constantly or remind it to behave, it will just wander off and forget about you. Keep an eye on the VA, and if they haven’t rescheduled an appointment for you, remind them about it regularly.
  3. Get treatment. I’ve never seen a claim get denied because a Veteran had too much evidence supporting his claim. I get it, though, I hate going to the doctor too. I could do other stuff with that time like complain about celebrities on the internet, or act like it’s ok to be in my 30’s and still buy action figures. The good news is that you don’t have to go to the doctor excessively. For some conditions, once every few months or at least twice a year will suffice. For something like PTSD though, even going to group counseling sessions will help you get approved. I also understand that most people in the military, regardless of branch, have an unspoken rule about getting medical treatment in service. They see it as weakness. Often that mindset will continue after you are discharged. Just look at how many claims are pending and you will realize that you are not alone. A lot of the people you served with are going through a similar experience now, and no one will think less of you if you get treatment.
  4. Prepare for denials. I try not to be too pessimistic these days, but the sad truth is that you’re likely going to get denied on your first claim. Practically every Veteran gets denied the first time. Often it does not matter how good your claim is, or how much evidence you have to support it, you’re probably getting denied. It’s a fundamental flaw with the VA. One of the reasons for this has to do with what we mentioned above, the backlog. It’s been speculated that the VA was not reviewing initial applications very well, and denying claims just to get them out of the system. Once again, that is speculation, not fact. I think we can all agree that a denial isn’t helping any Vets.
  5. Be careful who you trust. The beauty and the downfall, of the internet, is that anyone can use it, and practically anyone can make a website. That means that there are a lot of websites with false information out there. Further, certain organizations hire volunteers to represent Veterans for their claims. While everyone means well, a lot of their information can be correct, and they can hurt your claim. This holds true for some lawyers. For instance, I once talked to a Veteran who was represented by another individual before coming to us. He had claims for every single gulf war presumptive condition. Normally that would be fine, except this Veteran didn’t serve in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere outside the US. But his representative wanted to pursue it. Simply, Veterans who haven’t served in parts of the Middle East are not eligible for Gulf War presumptive conditions. That would be like me taking my 10-year-old Chevy Malibu to a Lexus dealer for warranty work solely because I saw other cars getting warranty work performed there. The Veteran then told me that he did not really want to pursue the claims but the representative filed them anyway.
  6. Don’t go quietly into the night. Or, to be less dramatic, don’t give up. We like to be upfront with everyone about their cases. If we see that you have enough evidence to get connected, we will fight for you. We’ve seen Veterans who started their cases long before we represented Vets get approved after many years. So, you can’t give up. While it’s worth fighting for a claim that should be connected, it’s not worth pursuing a claim that’s not worth pursuing. For instance, that frivolous Gulf War Illness claim that we discussed in point 5. We would not pursue that because there is no evidence to support it. Or, let’s say that you want to get your knee service connected, but you had no injuries in service, no treatment, and did not have any issues with your knee until you hurt in a car wreck 15 years after discharge. While we can’t pursue that as a VA Claim, you might have a good personal injury claim instead.

I am sad that the backlog has not really decreased in nearly a year. However, I know Veterans do get approved. I like Veterans, and several of my friends have used our services and gotten approved. I even keep track of Vets I’ve met here just to see how their claims are going, and they’ve gotten approved too. It just takes time. So, call us today for a free consultation. Our Toll-Free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk right now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.

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5 Real Issues All Veterans Need to Know About the VA Disability Timeline

When you have been involved in VA disability for as long as I have, your start to hear the same questions repeated consistently. The most common question we get from new clients involves the Jason Watkins 066timeline. “How long will my VA Disability claim take?” I don’t blame Vets for asking this question. Most people filing for VA disability aren’t having a great time in life, and they need their compensation to help alleviate some of the stress of working with a disability. Honestly, in almost every instance, the answer to “how long will my claim take,” is answered with the following response: “a long time.”

Veterans are frustrated with this process, and they have every right to be upset. I talk to dozens of Veterans every week. Most of us who have never served will never experience anything close to what a majority of the Vets I talk to have described to me. One would think these people wouldn’t have to wait two to four years for their final decisions. But, our country is focused on other things right now, and fixing the VA is only a talking point. Since I am not wealthy enough to run for public office, I will instead share my knowledge about the VA disability timeline. These are 5 actual issues all Veterans should know about the timeline.

  1. It’s not improving. Our government is doing a good job of spinning the numbers pertaining to the VA Disability backlog. The VA states that the backlog is being reduced. Honestly, the way they present that information makes me want to believe it’s true too. However, as I reported back in November of 2015, the backlog reduction only pertains to new applications, not the claims that are on appeal. So yes, they may have reduced initial backlog, but the appeals process still takes just as long. If there is one thing I want a Veteran to take away from this list, it’s the appeals process, and the disability process as a whole, is not going to be quick.
  2. Active Duty Military Personnel approaching discharge have an advantage. There is actually a program in place for active members called Benefits Delivery at Discharge. This is often referred to as BDD. You have to apply between 60 and 180 days before your discharge date. The VA expedites these claims and BDD participants are supposed to receive their decision within 60 days of applying. However, the VA does not always meet those deadlines. This plan is far superior to waiting until you receive your discharge. If you wait until discharge, you will have to wait 8-12 months before a decision is made.
  3. Your location matters. As you may already be aware, each state has its own VA Regional Office. The Regional Office houses the individuals who work on all of the disability claims for the state. Fancy states like Texas have more than one regional office. The Regional Offices process all claims and they decide who gets benefits and who doesn’t. It’s also the place in which hearings are held. So, when our attorneys venture to a regional office to represent a Veteran, it’s reminiscent of the scene in “The Hunger Games” where Katniss breaks into the capital. However, President Snow is a saint compared to the pure evil that exists in the VA. Nerdy references aside, your location makes a huge difference in your case. There are a lot of factors that determine why a state has more Veterans than others. Generally speaking, if you are a Veteran who lives in the North East, or the West (excluding California,) you’re going to have a shorter wait than Veterans who live in the south or the Mid-West. Because of our firms experience with VA Disability, and the fact that we do represent Veterans in all 50 states, we know which Regional Offices have the worst backlog. I don’t really want to bash any office because there are great people working for the VA, and many of them are actually Vets. However, if you live in the city that forgave Lebron James, you’re wait time will not “rock.”
  4. The further along your case is, the longer the wait is for the next step. This is especially true when you get to the BVA level. I have witnessed a few Veterans wait more than two years for a BVA hearing. Granted, not everyone will have to wait that long, but a BVA wait is often quite lengthy. There are ways to alleviate this. On average, if you request a video hearing over a traveling board or in person hearing, you likely won’t wait as long.
  5. Do not wait to file an appeal. Here is a situation we see far too often when Veterans come to us for representation. After you file your initial claim, you will receive a decision. You have migraines-vet-disabilityone year to file that appeal. Do not wait until week 50 to file an appeal. So many Vets come to us just a few weeks before their decision expires. While that May not seem like a big deal, think about this scenario. (Be patient, I am about to do math for the first time since undergrad.) Lets say that you filed your first claim in March of 2013. The VA then decided your case in March of 2014, and you were of course denied. You then have until March of 2015 to file an appeal. If you wait until March of 2015 to file the appeal, you likely won’t receive a decision again until March of 2016. I am going to try to make this a little less convoluted. If you wait the full year to file the appeal, you will only be at the third step of the process, and you’re now already three years into the claim. If you file your appeal in March of 2014 (When you received your initial decision) you will save one whole year. I get it though. I love putting things off, that’s what I have so many cavities. But when someone who procrastinates as much as I do tells you to “get on it,” take my advice.

After all of those negatives, let’s end on a positive note. Stick with your claim. Do not let the frustration get the best of you. I have seen people wait for years and finally get approved. On rare occasions we’ve gotten individuals connected up to 10 years after they filed their initial claim. In fact, I’ve worked in this industry for 5 years now. People I talked to way back in 2011 have received their final decisions. If you feel like this is overwhelming, ask for help. I know this may be hard to believe, but I work with a bunch of people who actually like VA Disability Law. Well, maybe not the law per se. We like working with Veterans. We are passionate about helping Vets. If I’m honest, I personally enjoy talking to those who have served. You won’t find that level of commitment other places. In other words, call me. Tell me your story, and I will let you know what we can do to help. If we can’t help, we’ll be honest with you.

If you like what you read today, call us for a free consultation. Our number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form, and I’ll call you instead

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5 Simple Rules For Filing Your VA Disability Appeal

Who else likes putting things off? I know I do. In fact, to illustrate how much I procrastinate, I was intending on writing this blog two weeks ago.  Full disclosure, I was in undergrad for 6 years Appeals blogbecause I did not take the proper classes the first time they were available for my major. It really held me up and created a lot more problems for me down the road. So, it’s safe to say that I know the consequences of putting things off. One area in which an individual really shouldn’t procrastinate is the area of VA Disability.

I know what you are thinking. The VA takes their sweet time when making decisions, why should I be in a hurry to get back to them? I agree, the VA is slower than a person from Ohio in the passing lane on the interstate. However, they don’t mess around when it comes to your deadlines for your decisions. If you are even one day late past the deadline your claim will close. This can mean a total loss of back pay for your claim and you will likely have to start over from the beginning. No one wants that. So here are some helpful reminders for filing your appeals in a timely manner.

1. The appeal deadlines aren’t the same for every decision. It would be awesome if every decision had a time limit of 120 days, but that is not the VA way. Every type of decision is different when it comes to response times. Here is a quick way to remember the time limit for each decision.

Proposals to sever or decrease your benefits:  30 days to appeal.

Rating Decision: One year to appeal.

DRO Decision: One year to appeal.

Statement of the Case: 60 days to appeal.

Supplemental Statement of the Case: 30 days to appeal.

BVA decision: 120 days to appeal.

2. The clock starts ticking the on the date posted on the decision. We’ve seen a lot of Veterans get confused by this before coming to our firm. A lot of people think that it starts when they receive the decision. That is not the case. I’ve heard too many stories of Vets getting their decisions weeks or months after they were sent out. So, the date on the decision is the one you go by.

3. Speaking of mail, don’t wait until the last minute to file your appeal. In fact, if you can avoid using regular mail, please do so. The reason is that if you mail your appeal in, there is no way to guarantee the VA received it. Some people will send it certified, other will submit it electronically, but we find that faxing works well because you receive a confirmation from the receiving fax machine. If the VA tries to say that they did not receive your appeal prior to the deadline, a confirmation can be used to argue the effective date.

4. Beware of multiple timelines. The easiest thing to do in VA disability is file for all of your claims at once. If you do this, you are more likely to have all of your claims decided at the same time. That is not a 100% guarantee, but it is more likely to happen. Dealing with one timeline is much simpler than dealing with several. Granted, you may have to add claims on at later times. If so, make sure you appeal every decision you want to pursue. You could possibly file an appeal for one decision thinking it covered everything, when in reality; it only covered a few of your claims.

5. Keep it simple. People often ask us why they should hire an attorney. Among all of the other services we provide, we also have the people in place to keep claims from closing. We have protocols to file appeals in a timely manner. We also have dedicated computer software that helps our case managers stay on track. Hiring an attorney can greatly reduce the stress associated with the VA process. I know it may seem like a sales pitch, but we have helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve. It gives me great joy to tell a Veteran we are helping them with their case, and then hear the relief in their voice after. No one should have to fight the VA alone.

If you would like to know more about VA Disability, or if you’d like to schedule a free consultation, give us a call today. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk today, fill out this form, and we’ll give you a call at a later date.

 

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