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I Get a Little Help From My Friends; How Buddy Statements Impact Your VA Claim

When it comes to Veterans Disability, one of the most important aspects of any case is evidence. For the most part, this pertains to medical evidence. For instance, if you’re pursuing a claim for your shoulder, you would likely have medical records from your time in service and from the VA and private doctors after your time in service. However, there is not always medical evidence of an injury in service. This is especially true for combat injuries. If you’re in the middle of a firefight, you can’t call a “timeout” if you fall and hurt your ankle. Most Vets I’ve talked to just get back up and keep fighting. In other words, there’s not always a perfect medical record for every disability claim.

The same is also true for mental disabilities like PTSD, or neurological conditions like Traumatic Brain Injury. These injuries are not always diagnosed in service. Usually, they manifest later in life. So, the traditional means of establishing service connection is not always able to be obtained. So, what is a Veteran to do? There is actually an option for this situation.

Sometimes, when attempting to establish service connection, a Veteran may make use of a “statement in support of claim.” These are also sometimes referred to as “buddy statements.” For the most part, these statements are supplied by individuals who either served with the Veteran filing for benefits, or a friend/family member who knew the Veteran before and after he/she entered the military. In some cases, the Veteran may also make a statement in support of claim, but for the purposes of today’s blog, we will just focus on the statements made by others.

First, let’s look into buddy statements. These make a lot of sense because they almost act as an eyewitness report of something that occurred. For instance, if you were serving in a combat zone and an RPG blew up, knocking you unconscious, one of your fellow Vets was likely there with you. There may not be an official record of this in any log, but if you can have at least one other person, or even multiple people, write statements about it occurring, it will help your chances of establishing service connection.

Another way in which we’ve seen buddy statements be effective pertains to cases of Military Sexual Trauma. If a Veteran was sexually assaulted and he/she knew another Veteran who was sexually assaulted by the same person, they can write a statement explaining their experience.  This is beneficial because so many sexual assaults go unreported in the military. However, it’s not the only way in which a buddy statement can be used to aid an MST case. If a Veteran was sexually assaulted, didn’t report it, but confided in his or her fellow service member, they could then write a statement explaining what happened. This is even true several years after the assault occurred.

Just like buddy statements, a statement from a family member can be beneficial in cases of MST and PTSD. Though in most cases your family and friends didn’t serve with you, they can still speak to how your behavior or mood changed after joining the military. For instance, if you were outgoing before, loved going out and had a lot of friends before you were in the military, but after discharge, you were more withdrawn, alone and rarely left your house, this would be a way a family member could explain how you’ve changed. Even in cases not involving PTSD or MST, statements from family members can be beneficial. We see this often in cases of Sleep Apnea.

Statements are just one of the ways in which we help our clients put together strong cases to help them get the benefits they deserve. If you’d like to know more about what we can do for you, call us today for a free consultation. Our number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form so that we can call you at a better time. Since 2008 we’ve helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve, and we won’t take no for an answer.

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Which Disability is Claimed the Most by Veterans?

I’ve been working with Veterans for more than nearly six years. At this point, there aren’t a lot of things that surprise me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love what I war-1447010_1920do, and if this blog is any evidence of my passion, I don’t see that passion going away anytime soon. When something does come along that surprises me, it has to be pretty major. The last time it happened was earlier this year when the VA released a list of conditions they believed to be associated with water contamination at Camp Lejeune. It was so shocking that many of us in the office just stood around discussing how the eventual presumptive list would help so many Vets. The latest news that blew my mind was found in an NBC news article. While the article was about politics and a bunch of other things I don’t care to discuss in my blog, they asked the answered the following question: Which disability ranks highest amongst Veterans receiving disability benefits? The answer isn’t what I expected.

The first thing that came to mind was PTSD. This seemed like a pretty logical answer. PTSD was the subject of the article and it’s something I encounter often. In fact, most of the blogs I write are about PTSD. However, PTSD was not first on the list. It also wasn’t number two military-662863_1920on the list. It was number three. Currently, there are 813,277 Veterans receiving benefits for PTSD. Trust me; there are a lot more who have PTSD claims pending. Regardless, this was a surprise to me. Not only was it surprising because it was not number one, but also because 800,000 seems like such a low number. Not only was it low in my mind, there are nearly half as many PTSD recipients as the condition what was number one on the list.

So if PTSD wasn’t number one, then something else major had to be first. My first thought turned to physical conditions. A lot of Veterans have issues with their feet. Everyone in the military is on their feet a lot and they have to wear boots that aren’t exactly comfortable. Add to that all of the marching, the harsh terrain, and for the brave souls who jump out of planes, the consistent harsh impacts, and it would make sense that the conditions involving the foot would be number one. Conditions involving the foot were not even the top 10. By this time I started wondering if I even knew what I was talking about half the time. Was this blog just full of lies?

By this time panic was starting to set in. What could be number one? Was it a back condition? Nope, they were at number 10! And actually, that was just arthritis of the spine, which is not the kind of back condition I am used to seeing. I started frantically guessing.

Shoulders?  Nope, not even close.

Diabetes? Not quite, this condition is at number nine.

Knees? Surely knees are at number 1. They have to be. It’s a major joint. No, knees are not number one. They’re not even in the top 5.

Heart? No.

Lungs? Nope!

Legs? Nope, this is embarrassing.

Time to start swinging for the fences. This is my only shot now.black and white twitter

Bilateral Fingers? Come on Jon, you know better.

Nose?

Vampiris?

MacGregor’s Syndrome?

Bieber Fever?

No matter how hard I tried, the number one condition would not come to mind. I finally gave up and just looked at the condition. It was Tinnitus. I was disappointed by this result. It actually made me a little sad that so many Veterans have this condition. To understand why you have to know more about Tinnitus.

Before I worked in VA disability compensation, I had no idea what Tinnitus was, or how it affected people. Within the first week of working for a law firm that helps Veterans, I knew exactly what Tinnitus was and why it was such an issue. For those of you who don’t know, Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in the ears. No, this isn’t an especially painful condition, and it’s not going to keep you from doing most things, but Tinnitus, in its smallest form is a mild buzzing or ringing. It might just be noticeable when it’s quiet. However, in severe cases, it can be so bad that it nearly drives a Veteran insane.

photos 4 054There is a good chance that, even if you’re not a Vet, you’ve experienced Tinnitus. For a lot of us, it’s not a permanent condition. If you’re near and explosion or at a loud concert, you may experience some ringing for a short time after. Those who serve in the military are exposed to loud noises every day. Some detractors might say that it’s a bit of an exaggeration because most people who serve aren’t around explosions every day. That is true, but it’s not just explosions that cause the issue. If you worked as a mechanic, you were around a lot of equipment, which produces a lot of noise. This is also true for Vets who worked as heavy equipment operators. If you were a pilot of planes or helicopters, worked on the flight crew, or really worked anywhere near an aircraft, then you were around constant noise. This is also true for individuals who worked in the kitchen, with any type of radio equipment, or even had a role in the marching band. Don’t forget every Veteran, regardless of MOS, had to learn had to shoot a weapon. This involves countless hours on a firing range. It’s no wonder so many Veterans have Tinnitus.

One of the worst aspects of Tinnitus is that can last forever. There isn’t a lot anyone can do if the condition is permanent. To an individual who hasn’t been diagnosed with this condition, it may not seem like a big deal. It’s just a ringing or buzzing in the ears, right? Well yes, it is, and most people who have Tinnitus are able to function like everyone else. However, Tinnitus is worst when there is no noise. If you have Tinnitus, and you are in a silent room, the ringing can be deafening. Often, the Veterans I talk to have trouble sleeping because the Tinnitus is so bad. I always suggest using a fan or white noise app to drown out the ringing. This can help, but it’s no sure.

Tinnitus, no matter how severe it is, is normally only rated at 10%. I’ve personally never seen it higher, and this is the assigned rating per the CFR. It’s important to note that Tinnitus is not the same as Meniere’s disease. Some of the symptoms of Tinnitus can mimic the symptoms of Meniere’s disease, but Tinnitus is not as severe. Further, Tinnitus is a symptom of Meniere’s disease, but it also includes vertigo, hearing loss, and sometimes pressure in the ear. Meniere’s disease can often be rated higher than Tinnitus.

Tinnitus may not be the most physically painful, and it’s not as severe as PTSD, but it definitely impacts a Veteran’s quality of life.  That’s why we encourage Veterans to pursue it if they have the symptoms. It’s also important to note that though Tinnitus is claimed the most; a lot of Veterans claim multiple disabilities in addition to Tinnitus.

If need a hand with your claim, give us a call for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you don’t have time to talk now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.

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Does the Way a Veteran Look Impact Their PTSD Claim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Examples of Poor Non-Combat PTSD Stressors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Helping Veterans Prepare for Independence Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Open Discussion Regarding Military Sexual Trauma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Truth About How Gun Ownership Impacts Veterans with PTSD

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

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

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

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