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Who is Considered a Veteran?

There are a lot of questions you must ask yourself when you are applying for VA Disability Compensation. What conditions are related to my time in service? Which doctors have I treated with for these injuries? Will my family be taken care of if something happens to me? However, one simple question you may forget to ask yourself is; am I a Veteran?

It may seem like a simple question to answer. However, it’s not that black and white. I joined this firm in March of 2011. In that time, I’ve met a lot of people who thought they were Veterans who weren’t, and a lot who thought they weren’t Veterans but were.

Before we get too far down the rabbit hole, let’s look at how the VA defines who a Veteran is. Essentially, a Veteran is a person who served in active military, naval, or air service, and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The latter part of this condition is met if you received a general, medical, or entry level discharge. If you received any other type of discharge, the VA must determine that your discharge was other than dishonorable.

One area in which many men and women get confused falls under length of time. Too often people think that they must serve a specific time to be considered a Veteran. That’s not true. Many Veterans enter the military for a set period, but they must be discharged early for several reasons. Here is a common example we witness. An individual joins the military on a 4 year enlistment. Near the end of the 2nd year, they injure their ankle and are no longer found fit for duty. In this case, that individual will likely receive a general discharge because of medical reasons. When he recovered, he’d likely be assigned a general discharge, and he’d be sent home.  Keep in mind that this person has done nothing wrong, he was found unfit for duty. The military can’t really punish a person for that, especially if the injury was not intentional. This also doesn’t mean that this person should lose their Veteran status. Though our firm does not deal with education benefits, we’ve heard that a general discharge means that you may have some issues with your education benefits.

We also meet some men and women who think that the only people who can be considered Veterans are those who served in combat, or served overseas. This is also not true. For the most part you have very little control over where the military sends you, or if you are deployed to combat. So, the military and the VA can’t really hold that against you.

What about people who think that they are Veterans, who aren’t? There are a few times in which this can be issue. You may assume that it goes without saying that anyone who didn’t serve in the military isn’t a Veteran. It’s also important to note that the spouse of a Veteran, and the children of a Veteran, are not considered Veterans (unless they also join the military.) Also, individuals who participated in ROTC programs in high school or college, but never entered the armed forces, are not considered Veterans. Finally, anyone who received a dishonorable discharge is .

If you are a Veteran and would like to know more about the services we provide, call us today for a free consultation. Our Number is toll -free 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk right now, fill out this form, and we will call you at a better time.

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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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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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Why some law firms won’t help Veterans with their initial application for disability benefits

I take a lot of pride in the work I do, especially working with Veterans. In fact, I’d feel safe saying that I really enjoy it. However, I am not perfect.  It’s hard for me to admit, but yes, I am flawed. I find that I get a little worked up when I see people being disrespectful towards Veterans. In fact, about 10 years ago my actions led to a regional fast food chain removing a disrespectful radio advertisement about Vets from the airwaves. This 089character flaw of mine comes up from time to time at work when I encounter another law firm or organization doing things poorly. Our goal at this firm is to help Veterans. Granted, we are a business and we need to make money to be successful, but we really enjoy working with Veterans. We want to help them. That is why you might see that we do things a little different than others.

Recently a young Vet who had been discharged a few years ago called for a free consultation. He had a great case for VA Disability. It was so solid that even Steve Harvey couldn’t mess it up. We talked in detail about his time in service. I then answered his questions and set him up for an appointment. Before we hung up he thanked me for my kindness and knowledge. He then told me that his previous encounters with two other law firms had not been as pleasant. He said that they were rude to him and would not help him at all. I recalled thinking that was odd with such a good case, so I asked if he knew why. He said they told him they would not help him because he hadn’t filed for benefits yet. Then it clicked. The other firm would not get paid if he was granted off of his initial filing. While I can’t say without a doubt this is why these other firms didn’t take this Veteran, I’d say there is a good chance that this is the reason why.  

FeeAgreementsnipThis is pretty common knowledge for anyone who works on VA disability claims. Essentially, an attorney can’t collect fees on a grant from the initial application. We are only entitled to fees once an appeal (Notice of Disagreement)  has been filed. In other words, if you come to an attorney without filing your initial application for benefits, they take your case on, and you are granted without an appeal, that firm will not receive compensation for it, and thus will have worked for free. We do realize that, and we still help Vets with their initial application for benefits.

A lot of people will jump to conclusions when they hear this statement. They say that we will try to get a Vet denied on purpose so that we will get our 20 percent guaranteed. That is nowhere near the truth. Let me instead give you a little behind the scenes information about how the VA does things. Almost everyone, no matter how great your case is, gets denied or approved for a small amount from the initial application. Even Captain America would get denied the first time around because of how the VA is set up. So, we try hard to get a Veteran approved off of his or her initial application for benefits. However, we know that most of these Veterans are not going to get everything they deserve after the first filing. This will also help us be better prepared if the Veteran gets denied. It generally takes 8-12 months for a Veteran to receive a decision. So, if we wait until the Veteran gets denied to help them out, we will lose nearly a year of time that we could have been working on their case. We won’t get paid if you don’t get service connected, so we have a vested interest in getting you a favorable decision. You can read more about our fee agreement here.

It is also important to note that we will only pursue a claim if we believe a Veteran can get service connected for it. So, if you call us wanting to file for an ankle injury, and there is not enough evidence to support a service connected ankle injury, we won’t help you file that claim. We like being up front with Vets and we don’t think it is right to give anyone false hopes regarding a VA Disability Claim.

So, regardless if you have filed a claim for VA Disability in the past or not, give me a call today for a free consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, you can use our chat feature or fill out this form to schedule a time for a call.

 

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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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