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From time to time I like to share my personal experiences in this blog. It’s rare for me to relate to my clients often, mainly because I’ve never served in the military. However, on occasion, there are some experiences in which we have common ground. Before I’ve written about the negative side effects of taking anti-depressants and experiencing what a lot of Veterans have described to me. In all honesty, I know my conversations with Vets helped me to realize the issues I was having with the medication I was prescribed. Just like that instance, I felt similarly when I started to have problems with my sleep. I wrote about sleep apnea before. This blog turns six in November. Our firm has a lot of VA clients with Sleep Apnea, so I knew early on it was a topic I needed to cover. When I wrote about this topic in the past I wasn’t having the issues that I have now. I simply couldn’t sleep. It was more like I had insomnia. Fast forward a few years, and things have changed. So, I want to use my experience to hopefully shed some light on this issue that thousands of Veterans are currently suffering from. Join me on this journey.
I’ve had a pretty rough couple of years involving a sick parent, and a substantial weight gain. I am single and sleep alone. However, about two years ago I had to share a hotel room with my sister while my mother was in a hospital out of town. She stated that I snored quite a bit, and it lasted nearly all night. For the most part, I ignored it. Honestly, there were more important things going on, and I wasn’t too concerned about my own health. Eventually, mom was released from the hospital. I went back to work like normal and didn’t think about the snoring problem much. That was until last summer when my friend Shawn and I took a trip to Philadelphia to participate in their Comic-Con. Once again, I was sharing a hotel with someone. I fell asleep first. Shawn stated that he noticed my snoring and thought I quit breathing a few times. Once again I brushed it off.
Symptoms Getting Worse
As summer became fall, and fall became winter, there were a few more personal setbacks in my life. I noticed that I would often wake up with a dry mouth, which never occurred before in my life. I also started to notice headaches occurring often in the morning. Further, I was getting tired easily and electing not to associate with people outside of work. I really just wanted to go home and be by myself. Once again, I ignored all of the signs and just went on about my work.
Nine months ago is when I noticed that things were getting severe. I started getting very tired at work, almost to the point of falling asleep at my desk. I had no energy at all d uring the day. I would also pass out in a recliner when I got home. I didn’t want to do much. As I travel for work and pleasure often, I knew it would only be a matter of time before my driving would be impacted. For some reason, I often fell asleep sitting up in my bed. On more than one occasion I woke up because I fell out of bed. Once I actually hit my head on a dresser. I had to stop ignoring this problem and talk to a medical professional.
I made an appointment to see my doctor. She agreed that it sounded as if I had Sleep Apnea, but I had to see a specialist first. It took more than a month for me to see the specialist. I must admit that this was a little annoying because the problem kept getting worse. The specialist asked me a lot of questions about my symptoms and my sleep habits. She also believed that I had sleep apnea, but she then had to determine how severe it was. I was then told that I’d be scheduled for a sleep study at a later time.
Watching me sleep
It was nearly another month before I was able to actually have a sleep study. So, at that point, it had been nearly three months since I talked to my medical
professional about this issue. So, the wait has been a big issue. The problem had gotten worse. I was hoping to have some answers by then. Regardless though, I wanted to share my experience with the sleep study.
I will admit that I was extremely nervous before going to the sleep study. I was to arrive at a local medical facility at 8:00 pm. I recall being really on edge on the drive to the office that evening. Upon arriving at the medical complex, I was asked to sit in a waiting room with several other people waiting for their sleep studies. There were 5 other people there that evening other than myself. I was easily the youngest person there, and everyone else was talking as if they had been friends for years. I’m an extroverted introvert. This means I can be the life of the party when I want to be, and a shut-in when I don’t. This evening I preferred the latter. I didn’t feel like sharing my life story with this group. I am lucky because I have an expressive face. This evening my face told the world not to talk to me. Luckily everyone left me alone. I scrolled through my Twitter feed and Snapchat Stories so that no one would bother me. I am not normally like this, but once again, I was nervous.
Around 8:15 the team of doctors and nurses met us for the study. They brought all of us back together. As I was nervous, I was not thinking straight. Thoughts crossed my mind that a normal person wouldn’t think of. The most prevalent intrusive thought was: “Are we all sleeping in the same room?” The answer to that was no. Everyone would have their own rooms. I then thought
I’d be in a hospital bed. That too was not true. We were given very comfortable Full-Size beds. I normally sleep alone in a King size bed, so this was a big change for me, but it was not bad. As I was placed in my room I was told that I had some paperwork to fill out, and then I’d be hooked up. By this time my nerves began to settle, and I gave myself a pep talk. (The actual pep talk included many swears, so this has been edited for a family audience.) I said: “Darn it, Jon, you will get through this sleep study just fine. You invented Snapchat (inside joke) and this will not break you. Now get off your butt and take some selfies.” It was at this point that I decided to document my experience for this blog. So, as you can tell, I took a lot of photos. The room was quite nice. It had its own en suite bathroom and was very clean. There was a TV and the bed was comfortable. It was just like being at a hotel. Well, a hotel that had a camera on the wall to watch you sleep.
It was approaching 9:00 when my nurse returned. She stated that it was time to hook me up. This part was a little more intense
than I expected. They applied sensors to my legs, stomach, chest, and a bunch on my head. The head is the 2nd worst part. In order to get the sensors to stick to my head, they used some sort of gel. It was not super easy to get out of my hair the next day when I showered. I mentioned the head/hair sensors were the 2md worst. The goo in hair my paled in comparison to electrodes that were attached to my chest. I wish I would have known ahead of time to shave my chest. The pain was extremely intense when the nurses ripped off most of the hair from my chest. Honestly, though, this was the worst part of the night. Most of the evening was pretty laid back. Yes, I had sensors all of my body, but other than my chest hair being removed, the rest of the night was pretty simple.
It was a little odd to know that there was a camera watching me the whole time. However, the staff brought me a fan to block out the noise. There was a PA system in the room. The staff went through a few procedures with me, they informed me to clap if I needed to go to the bathroom, and then I was left alone. I had trouble falling asleep, but I eventually did.
A few hours into the evening the nurse entered the room and said that I sleep apnea. I asked her how bad it was and she couldn’t say an exact number. I was made to believe that it was pretty bad. They fitted me with a mask. I was given a choice between a full-face mask and the nose mask. Since I am a nose breather, I was told to try a nose mask. It took me a few minutes to adjust to the mask. It was odd to breathe through this because when I would open my mouth it would choke me. But after a few minutes, I adjusted, and created a rhythm, and quickly fell asleep. When I woke up in the morning I felt good. I unhooked from the monitors and went home.
The Follow Up
One of the worst parts of this entire experience involved waiting. I had my sleep study in May. I wasn’t able to do my follow up with the doctor until mid-July. That eventually got bumped up to late June. Then it was two weeks to get my CPAP machine from the medical supply store. From the time I went to my doctor for the first time to the time that I received my CPAP machine, it was nearly six months. The follow up with the Sleep Specialist was short. She essentially said “Well, you have Sleep Apnea,” and then she mentioned that I would need a CPAP machine. I could have told her that. One thing of interest pertained to my results. I had 70 instances per hour during the night. That’s bad. Essentially, I quit breathing at more than once a minute.
I wanted to share my experience because so many Veterans I speak to have sleep apnea or other disorders. I couldn’t find much info about what a sleep study is, or what to expect online. I believe that most Vets have the same questions I do. I wanted to shed some light on what it’s like. I think that this can make a lot more people at ease going into a sleep study.
If you’re a Veteran with sleep apnea, give us a call to discuss your claim. 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 better time.
Anyone who has read this blog before knows that I am a huge fan of the US Coast Guard. Just last week I returned to Cleveland, Ohio and took just as many pics of the ships at the Coast Guard base as I did at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. My friends who served in other branches of the military give me a hard time for being such a Coast Guard fan. At the end of the day, the Coast Guard is a branch of the military and Coast Guard Veterans are entitled to VA disability compensation just like someone who served in the Navy, Army, Air Force, or the Marines. However, I still hear from Coast Guard Veterans who aren’t aware that they can service connect for PTSD. Today, we will discuss how Coast Guard Veterans can service connect for PTSD in more detail.
As you may already know, the Coast Guard is not a part of the Department of Defense like the other branches. Instead, the Coast Guard is a part of the Department of Homeland Security. Further, except for rare instances, the Coast Guard isn’t deployed into combat zones. Because most Coast Guard Veterans aren’t combat Veterans, many don’t believe they are eligible to service connect for PTSD. It’s not true, though. We actually see this problem across the board. Veterans from every branch feel the same way. Regardless if you served in the Coast Guard, Marines etc., serving in combat is not required pursue a claim for PTSD. The biggest difference for Veterans who served in combat versus those who haven’t involves proving a stressor. For combat Veterans, simply being in combat will serve as the stressor. However, all non-combat Veterans must prove their stressor.
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What are some stressors for Coast Guard Veterans? One of the first instances I think of pertains to any Coast Guard Vet who worked in search and rescue. Often time these individuals are exposed to a lot of death and tragedy. The Coast Guard is often dispatched in cases of missing persons or when ships and boats go missing near our shores or rivers. These search and rescue missions happen quite often, and they don’t always end well. Repeated exposure to the death of civilians can lead to PTSD.
One area that must be considered also is any type of severe physical injury. With the type of work that the Coast Guard does, injuries can occur quite often. A few Coast Guard Veterans I’ve spoken to have described near drowning events in their stressors. Any situation in which you are fearful of your life can result in a traumatic experience.
Another area in which a stressor can exist would be if a member of the Coast Guard was physically or sexually assaulted. This occurs often in all branches of the military, and the Coast Guard is no different. It’s quite common for this type of experience to lead to PTSD symptoms, especially if the Veteran fails to report the assault.
Some individuals in the Coast Guard have to enforce maritime law. They are essentially performing the same duties as police officers, only in a different capacity. These Vets are often exposed to a lot of criminals and can be involved in physical altercations, just like police officers. However, unlike typical police officers, these Veterans often encounter many foreign and domestic terrorists, drug dealers, and criminals.
If you are a Coast Guard Vet and are curious about your PTSD claim, call us today for a free consultation. We’d be happy to talk to you about the services we offer. 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 better time.
Over the past year, there has been a lot of discussion regarding VA Disability Service Connection and Veterans who served at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. We’re happy to say that the final rule to make the presumptive conditions official came through yesterday.
This rule establishes presumptive service connection for former service members, to include veterans, reservists, and National Guard members, who served at least 30 days at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
The following presumptive conditions are approved:
- Adult leukemia
- Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and
- Parkinson’s disease
According to the Military Times, as many as 900,000 Veterans could be impacted by this news. Many Veterans have fought tirelessly over the years to get service connected for the water contamination at Camp Lejeune, and we are happy to say that for some, that fight may well be over soon.
To review, the VA has listed the following requirements to establish service connection:
Be an active duty, reserve or National Guard member who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
Have served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days (cumulative), between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
Have a current disease on the list of presumptive conditions related to Camp Lejeune.
The VA lists the following Evidence Requirements:
Records that show you served at Camp Lejeune or MCAS New River for at least 30 days (cumulative), between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987, in an active duty, reserve, or National Guard capacity.
The medical evidence must show you have a current disease on the list of presumptive conditions related to Camp Lejeune.
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.
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.
While doing our ‘end of the year countdown,” we realized that for the second year in a row, our most popular blog was about Veterans with headaches. That blog post was written way back in 2014 when the world was more innocent. The hit TV show Parks and Recreation were still on the air, and Justin Bieber’s new album was still months away. They were good times. That blog has held up well over time, but it won’t hurt to revisit the topic. So, let’s take another look at headaches and your VA disability claims.
Pertaining to headaches, one of the biggest misconceptions Veterans believe is that their headaches are normal, and thus not service connected. I’m not judging because this makes sense to me. When I was in 1st grade I started having severe migraines on a regular basis. They were so bad that I would become sick, then I would become nauseous and eventually vomit. As I got older, the migraines became less frequent and I eventually “grew out of them.” I still get headaches now. Most of my headaches are brought on by stress. Headaches can be difficult because of there so many people who haven’t served who have issues with headaches too. The major difference between what I experienced, and what a Veteran experience are that my headaches are preexisting. Most Veterans who have a headache condition do not have a preexisting condition. However, a preexisting condition would not necessarily keep them from getting service connected. The important thing to remember about headaches and any condition for that matter is that it must either be caused by your time in service or made worse by your time in service.
There are many ways in which a Veteran can have issues with headaches because of service. Any type of head injury can lead to headaches later in life. For instance, if a Veteran suffered from a TBI while serving he or she may have headaches after service. Even if a Veteran doesn’t have a head injury they can still pursue a headache claim. This is especially true if you sought treatment in service.
One thing we must consider when pursuing a claim for headaches is; “What exactly is a headache?” In my previous blog, I explain the process in detail. You can read that here. However, I want to make things a little simpler today.
The following is an example of a Veteran who likely wouldn’t get service connected for their headaches: The Veteran seldom has headaches. When they do, they are not very severe, and they are easily alleviated by taking over the counter medicine like Tylenol. On average, the type of a headache occurs once every six weeks.
The following is an example that would likely result in a Veteran receiving service connection for headaches. This Veteran has headaches at least three times per week, and they are prostrating. Prostrating sort of means debilitating. In other words, the pain from your headache is so severe that the Vet is unable to function. Generally, this means they must retreat to a bedroom with no light, no sound, and sleep until your headache is resolved, often hours later. There is a good chance the Veteran misses work often because of their condition.
Once again, if you want to read the full explanation, please see my previous blog post.
I was surprised by the number of people who turned to my old blog post for help. Obviously, this means that there are a lot of Veterans still suffering from headaches, and many still need help. If you think you may have a headache condition that should be service connected, give us a call today. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk now, fill out this form, and we’ll be happy to talk to you at a better time. Our consultations are Free, and we’ve helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve.
Student Loan debt impacts millions of recent graduates every year. Most of you are already aware because it’s in the mainstream news quite often. However, what you’re likely not aware of is the number of Veterans who struggle with student loan debt. I was surprised to learn that so many Veterans struggled with student loan debt. If you’re like me, you simply assumed that all Veterans qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill and thus their college was paid for by the government. That’s not true.
Did you know that a Veteran who was discharged with a general under honorable condition discharge is not eligible for the GI Bill? If you’re reading this, and you don’t have much knowledge of military discharges, you might think that a General Under Honorable is a bad discharge. It’s not. To be honest, a lot of Veterans are discharged with this type of discharge. It does not mean they did anything wrong. Traditionally it means that they were not able to fulfill their entire commitment. In other words, if a Veteran enlisted for four years, but only served three due to an injury, he or she may receive a general under honorable discharge. A lot of Vets who are injured in service receive General Under Honorable Conditions discharges.
It’s not just the character of a Veteran’s discharge that may have led them to student loans. In some cases, the GI Bill may not have been enough to cover all fees. This could be the case if the Veteran attended graduate school, an out of state school, or even went to a college or university for an extended period
When I was in college I met this fella who served in the Navy. I can’t tell you his name or many details because he eventually became a client. Regardless, the first year we had classes together I didn’t like him very well. The next year we had another class together and the professor forced us to work together. We realized that we had some similar interests and, as any coming of age teen comedy will tell you, we became friends. And, just like in that same teen comedy, after college, we lost touch. As I was completing graduate school I started helping Veterans get their VA Disability Benefits. I discovered this thing called Facebook. Naturally, I looked up my old friend. Since I was working with Veterans, and he is a disabled Veteran, I thought it would make sense for him to become a client. Eventually, he did, and we got him a well-deserved rating of 100%.
One day, while reading through my Facebook timeline, I noticed that he mentioned he had all his debt from college eradicated. If I’m honest, he was bragging about it in a way he shouldn’t have been, but it peaked my interest none the less. Due to injuries, he was not able to fulfill his contract with the military. He received a general discharge, and thus, didn’t receive the full GI Bill. Prior to this Facebook post, I was not aware of any Student Debt forgiveness for Veterans. So, I did what we all do when we something unfamiliar on the internet, I Googled it.
My search results were quite helpful. According to my research, Veterans who receive a 100% Total and Permanent Disability from the VA may also have their Federal Student Loans discharged. In this context, the word discharge means forgiven. My source for this information is a government website. If you are interested in this program I suggest checking it out.
I don’t believe enough Veterans are aware that they may be able to have their student debt forgiven. Like I mentioned earlier, we assume that every person who served in the military and went to college was able to attend for free. It turns out that it’s not true, and a lot of Veterans are missing out on this program. If you know of a Veteran who may benefit from Student Loan forgiveness, please share the link above with them.
Further, many Veterans are rated too low for their disability ratings. If you believe your ratings are too low, call us today for a Free Consultation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. You can contact us using this form as well. Thanks so much for reading.
I often like to write about the unique cases we see at the law firm. Some of my favorite memories of helping Veterans pertains to very specific conditions. Sometimes we must work hard to prove that a Vietnam Veteran was exposed to Agent Orange, or we must go the extra mile to show how a Veteran who was not in combat has a stressor related to their time in service. Those cases stick out because they aren’t very common, and we usually learn a lot from those favorable decisions. Though those cases really peak our interests, it’s the more common cases that we see the most, and that impact the highest number of Veterans. One such condition involves disabilities impacting the knees. So, let’s talk about your knee conditions in more detail today.
If I oversaw the VA, and hopefully someday I will be, I would automatically grant all Veterans service connection on their knees. Unfortunately, I am not in charge of the VA, and knee conditions are sometimes difficult to prove. Some may wonder why I think most Veterans should get granted service connection on their knees. It’s quite simple. If you served, take a moment to think about all the abuse your knees went through while you were in service. All Vets must go through PT, ruck marches, and a lot of physical work every day. Further, a lot of MOS’s are very physical. It’s hard to think of many occupations in the military that aren’t physical. The most common ones we encounter are mechanics, infantrymen, Calvary Scouts, truck driver and so on. All of those are very physical. Most of the Veterans I’ve talked to with MOS’s like these have moderate to severe knee issues when they leave the military. Then you have Veterans who have MOS’s associated with jumping from a plane. Veterans who have a parachutist badge, or those who are Rangers, Airborne, and so on, are among the most likely to have knee issues. If you’ve even completed one Jump from a plane with a landing that is less than ideal, then it’s very likely that you’ll have a knee condition.
While it may seem simple for Veterans with the previously mentioned backgrounds in service to get granted for their knees, the opposite is true. Knee conditions are difficult to get service connected. It’s not a black and white issue, though, there are several reasons why a Veterans may struggle to get service connected for their knees.
One of the biggest reasons that Vets have issues getting service connected for their knees involves a lack of treatment in service. This isn’t specific to knee conditions, though, it’s a problem across the board. However, with knee issues, many Vets will simply purchase an OTC knee brace, or treat with Motrin. They don’t seek specific care for their knees in service, and thus establishing service connecting for the condition is difficult. It’s not a deal-breaker, though. For many of our clients, we argue that your MOS or length of service contributed to your knee condition. We also use buddy statements. So, if a fellow Vet witnessed your injury, he or she may be able to write a statement to help you get connected.
Another import thing to remember is to get treatment on your knees after you’re discharged. The will deny your claim if you don’t have current treatment.
While treatment is a big issue, it’s not the only thing that makes service connecting for knees difficult. A more complex issue arises when we look at how the VA evaluates knee conditions. Your pain is not paramount when a medical professional evaluates you for your knees. Knee conditions are based on a range of motion, not pain. In other words, you may be in a lot of pain, but if you can flex your knee so far in either direction, your’ likely to get denied. Most Veterans aren’t aware of this when they travel to their C&P exam.
Traditionally, a knee is rated at 0%, 10%, or 20%. On the other hand, some Vets can get rated at 30% for each knee. This is traditionally the result of a Veterans needing knee replacements. It’s rare for younger Veterans to be given knee replacements, mainly because doctors advise against it for individuals under a certain age. One of the main reasons for this involves the amount of pains associated with knee replacement surgery. Overall, the only way to get rated above 20% on a knee is to have a replacement. Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule, but this is the norm.
Some Veterans, who have issues with their knees, also have issues with falling or instability. It’s important to note that this condition is rated separately from a knee condition. Once again, most Veterans aren’t aware that they can file this claim separately from their knees. Let’s be clear, though, not every Veteran who has a knee condition will also have issues with instability. Also, just because you’ve been granted on a knee issue, it does not mean the VA will grant you on instability quickly. You will have to prove that separately.
The most important thing I want you to know if you’re a Veteran reading this blog is to get treatment on your knees if you have pain in one or both knees. If you believe your pain is a result of your time in service, call us. We’d be happy to talk to you about your condition and give you a free case evaluation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you would rather have us give you a call later, fill out this form, and we’ll call you at a more convenient time.
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 do, 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 on 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.
Legs? Nope, this is embarrassing.
Bilateral Fingers? Come on Jon, you know better.
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.
There 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.
Five years ago I walked through the doors of this law firm and I had no idea what I was doing. I was told I’d be working with Veterans to help them get the benefits they deserved. “Heck yeah,” I thought. Veterans are really awesome and I am sure that getting them their benefits would be easy. I was young, naïve, and wrong. When I say wrong, I mean Ashley Judd in Dolphin Tale 2 wrong. I was right about Veterans being awesome, though, and I can honestly say that I love working with Vets. They are really awesome, and I’ve made some friends from my work here. But the part about the disability process being easy was very untrue. However, I am not a pessimist. I believe in looking at the good in life, and I try to focus on the positives. When dealing with something as complicated as VA Disability, it’s not easy to think about positives. In fact, I might say that this is one of the hardest blogs I’ve ever written. It wasn’t easy to find positives, but there are some, and that is what matters.
Full disclosure: I don’t work for the VA. I am not paid by the VA. I am not some undercover propaganda machine either. I work for a West Virginia-based law firm that focuses on Veterans Disability, Social Security, and Personal Injury. To prove that I am indeed a real boy, here is a link to my Twitter profile. It’s been active since 2011. I usually go on rants about race cars and Ashley Judd. I love JJ Watt and you’ll often see me talk about cars, product placement and food. I am real. Enjoy the list.
- Electronic records. When I first started working here, an electronic medical record or claim file was unheard of. In fact, we would get so many records on paper only, that I seriously considered making a fort out of them at one time. A claim file can be thousands of pages long. Imagine getting those every day by mail. And then we would have to take those files and sort them. The records were thrown to together haphazardly. Admin records would be mixed with VA medical recs, Entrance exams were thrown in with private records, and it was what most people would call a hot mess. More care and planning went into the remake of Fantastic Four than the VA used to put into these records, and that’s not saying much.
- Initial Application turn-around. Way back in 2011, after Instagram but before Snapchat, Initial applications for disability benefits used to take at least 12-18 months before the VA would make a decision. That process has improved in many ways. Initial applications for most Veterans are able to come back within a year. However, Veterans who apply as a part of their discharge process can get decisions back in as little as three months. Also, Veterans with fully developed claims can get their initial applications back quickly too.
- BVA Hearings. Another area in which the VA has improved vastly is in the BVA or Board of Veterans Appeals. Heather Vanhoose, our lead VA attorney, has witnessed this firsthand. She mentioned that she’s seen the turnaround time for BVA hearings decrease steadily over the past five years. The VA has hired more people to deal with the backlog and they’ve actually done a good job to get these hearings scheduled quicker.
- Public Awareness. If I were to give the VA an “A” in one area, it would be Social Media. I guess that is kind of ironic considering I work in social media too. However, maybe it’s because I do work in social media that I notice this, but it’s worth noting. First of all, every Regional Office and most VA Medical Facilities have Twitter handles. That is pretty impressive for an organization that didn’t make use of scanners until 2015. The VA also makes use of social media to have question and answer sessions, live video chats, and even behind the scenes info. It really appears as if they are making a valent effort to reach young Veterans. Their accounts are also pretty interactive. They actually take the time to answer questions.
- E-Benefits. The E-Benefits sites by far one of the most helpful tools a Veteran can use. The E-Benefits sight helps Veterans sign up for benefits, gets copies of documents and even lets them know where their case is at in the process. It’s a very helpful way to keep Veterans informed. It was not always this way, though. When I started it was not very interactive, and it really didn’t do much to help a Veteran with his or her case.
Overall, I am not trying to say that this process is perfect now. In fact, it’s actually far from it. I just wanted to shed some light on a few things that the VA is doing well. Also, I understand the fact that the VA has a good Twitter account means very little to you if you’ve been waiting years for a claim to get approved. But, the VA is making some moves in the right direction.
If you feel as if you are stuck with your claim and would like to know what our firm can do fo you, call us for a free case evaluation. Our toll-free number is 1-877-526-3457. However, if you can’t talk right now, fill out this form so that we can contact you at a better time.