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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.
Yes, 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 the 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.
One thing that separates my blog apart from all of the other VA disability blogs is that I’m a fan of Veterans first, and it’s my job second. It’s no secret that my favorite branch is the Coast Guard, but I think all five branches are pretty cool. I am not pandering when I say I get excited when I get to meet someone who served. Everyone who serves is pretty brave in my mind. However, there are different jobs in the military that are, arguably, more dangerous than others. I met someone who served as an Army Ranger last you and you would have thought I was a teenage girl meeting one of the Backstreet Boys. (I realize that is a dated reference, but I have no idea what young people listen to today.) Every job in the military is important; some are just more difficult than others. No judgement, but a 44C Finance Specialist Accounting Specialist, isn’t going to have the same experience as a 31B, Military Police. Simply stated, a Veteran who was a Military Policeman will likely have a more physical job than an accountant.
Your MOS can actually play a big part in establishing service connection for your claim. We can assume that an MP had to do a lot of physical training, and physical work every day. In the same regard, a Veteran who was a 44C will likely get service connection for something like carpel tunnel easier than a Veteran who didn’t work with as much data entry.
While my title is trying to be cute, and play off a popular meme, a lot of Veterans have multiple Military Occupations in service. Also, a lot of Veterans have told me that they may have been assigned a specific MOS, but did a different job entirely. From what I’ve been told, no one in the military ever really just does their MOS.
You have to work hard no matter what job you do in the military, but what if you were an accountant, and chose to go to Airborne School? Well, that plays a part in your case too. Veterans, who passed Airborne, or really any school or classification in any branch that required you to jump from a plane, are really tough. I know this because I’ve researched cases of Veterans who did jumps in service. They almost always have severe joint and back pain. The reason is that jumping in the military is far different than what a civilian does when the go skydiving. The landings are much tougher, and the frequency to which they jump is much higher than a civilian. So, we look at cases for Veterans who did multiple air jumps in service much differently than Veterans who didn’t have any jumps. This really only pertains to joint issues though.
When discussing Military Occupations one MOS that is often overlooked is mechanics. First of all, I am staggered by how many Veterans are a mechanic in the military. Every branch of service has a lot of equipment, and that equipment has to be worked on. In turn, every branch of the military has a lot of mechanics. Mechanical work is also very physical and this causes a lot of joint pain. If a Veteran approached me with back issues, but didn’t treat for it in service, I’d consider his case if he served as a mechanic.
Finally, a lot of Veterans have Military Occupations dealing with Infantry. Infantrymen, Combat Engineer, and Calvary Scout are just some of the occupations in which a Veteran may have if he or she served in combat. These occupations are more likely to have physical disabilities and mental disabilities.
Keep in mind that this is just an outline of what disabilities a certain occupation may have. Of course an accountant can have PTSD or a Combat Engineer can have carpel tunnel. Every Veteran has a different experience and every VA Disability claim is different.
If you’d like to discuss your VA disability claim, call me today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form now to schedule your consultation at a later time.
When most people think of lawyers images of Matlock, Elle Woods, or even that fella from TMZ come to mind. When you are in search of an attorney to handle your VA disability claim, who are you going to hire? Where do you start? Are all attorneys the same? Should I just go with a VSO? Most Veterans are faced with these questions when they first consider pursuing a disability claim. Unfortunately, there aren’t many guides out there for selecting an attorney and there are surprisingly few good options. So, what is a Veteran to do? I’ve compiled this list of 10 tips all Veterans need to know when searching for a VA disability attorney.
Before we get into the tips, you are probably wondering; do you even need an attorney? Well, as an employee of a law firm you may think that I am biased, and truth be told, I am. But I am also a man of reason, and love logic. Consider this thought though. If you’re a Vet there is a good chance you’ve been dealing with the Government for years. As you are already aware, the only thing that government organizations hate more than efficiency is simplicity. VA cases are extremely complicated. Even filling out the initial application can make a strong man weak. If you call the VA for help, you are probably going to be put on hold long enough to watch a Christopher Nolan film. So, an attorney can be a great guide through the complicated process. It’s also safe to assume that anyone who has a vested interest in your case will work harder to get you the benefits you deserve. So, and Attorney is much better than fighting alone. Here are the things you need to know before you search for the person to represent you.
- This isn’t like most other types of law. VA disability is a lot like Lady Gaga, complicated. The closest thing it resembles is Social Security Disability, and those two are as different as the Marines and the Air Force. In VA Disability, you are not suing anyone, you are not going to bring in surprise witnesses, and you’re not going to be seen in front of a jury. The reason why there aren’t hit shows on TV about VA Disability law firms is that it’s actually quite boring…and of course complicated. There is a lot filing, gathering evidence and waiting. While it can be quite frustrating for Veterans, keep in mind that you’re not in trouble for anything and it will seem completely different once you’ve started the process.
- An Attorney, a VSO, and even Captain America can’t speed up your claim. Some people may make promises that they can speed your claim up, but they are wrong. There are only two ways to speed up a VA disability claim. One would be if you’re terminally ill, and the other would be if you’re facing an economic hardship. If I’m honest, the latter does not happen very often. Further, no matter what you may hear from certain organizations, it’s still a very long wait.
- Most Veterans haven’t hired an attorney before. A lot of the Veterans we talk to now are quite young. In fact, recently I talked to a fella who was born in 1995. That’s the same year that Toy Story came out. So they’re not likely to have a lot of experience dealing with the legal process. Granted, you don’t have to be a millennial to be unfamiliar with lawyers. The biggest thing we see from this fact is a lot of Veterans, regardless of age, have communication apprehension when dealing with a law firm. It’s kind of like when you have to the doctor. We are aware of this and we work hard to make our firm very approachable. We let you get to know us online, we have friendly case managers to answer your questions, we give books out that explain the process, and our firm even has a really cool employee who writes amazing blogs on practically every VA subject.
- What’s it going to cost? Attorney fees can be scary, especially if you consider how much a criminal defense attorney charges, or how much it can cost to get a divorce. Once again though, VA Disability attorneys are different. Most of them work on a contingency fee, meaning that you don’t pay any cost up front, and only pay a percentage of your back pay if you are approved. It is important to question an attorney about any additional fees besides the back pay. A lot of Veterans come to us from other law firms. We have seen a wide variety of additional fees from other law firms. This includes travel expenses, postage, and even the cost of the food they ate when they went to a hearing. Our firm does not charge those types of fees, but others do. The only thing we charge in addition to your attorney fees are costs associated with charges for medical records or Independent medical exams. Essentially it’s a reimbursement. Regardless of who you go with, make sure you are aware of all of their fees.
- A lot of the information about your case comes from one big file. From the time you join the military, and until many years after you pass away, there are paper files about you from the military and the VA. This includes entrance exams, admin records, VA health records, disability filings, and much, much more about you in this file. It’s commonly referred to as a Claim File. A claim file, or c-file as it is commonly known, is one of the most important aspects of your case. This will tell us a majority of the information we need to know about your claim. We can see if you were physically injured in service, if you had any behavioral issues, and even if you served in combat.
- You may have to go to a hearing or two. But don’t worry, they are very informal. If your claim is denied you may have to go to a hearing down the road. There are actually three separate types of hearings in a VA disability claim. These include a Decision Review Officer Hearing, a Board of Veterans appeals hearing, and finally, the rarest of them all, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. These are also often called DRO, BVA, and CAVC.
- A DRO hearing is the most informal of all of the hearings, and it comes first. Essentially in this hearing your attorney will represent you in front of a Decision Review Officer. That is it. There is no jury, no judge, and no objections. They are very relaxed.
- The second hearing is the BVA Hearing. It is more formal and traditionally follows a denial by a DRO. The BVA is a traveling board who call Washington D.C. home. However these hearings can be done in person in Washington, but most elect not to travel. In some circumstances, a BVA hearing is completed via video. The end result of a BVA hearing will come in one of the following ways: An approval, which is good, a denial which is bad, or a remand, which is somewhere, in the middle. Remands go back to the Regional Office for further evaluation.
- If you are denied at the BVA, your last hope is CAVC. (Sometimes we call it COVA for reasons that are not imperative to this blog.) The hearing you have at the CAVC is the most formal and few Vets actually go that far. Fun Fact, VAVC is not a part of the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to the CAVC website, The Court’s review of Board decisions is based on the record before the agency and arguments of the parties, which are presented in a written brief, with oral argument generally held only in cases presenting new legal issues. In other words, something has to be really wrong with your claim to get that far. It’s rare for our firm to take a case to CAVC because we are very thorough with our reviews.
- You’re going to get frustrated, and probably more than once. The biggest thing most Veterans aren’t aware of prior to pursuing a VA disability claim is how mentally taxing they can be. Frustration is inevitable with a VA disability claim. The frustration comes in many different forms too. Sometimes it will be a result of the VA denying you on a claim in which it’s obvious you should be connected, and other times it’s simply frustration at the timeline. You will be evaluated by the VA for your claims multiple times too. Many Veterans have told me horror stories about evaluations with VA doctors that last fewer than three minutes. That’s barely the length of a good Guns and Roses song.
- You have to get treatment. I hate going to the doctor. I hate taking medication. I hate sitting in waiting rooms for 20 minutes just to talk to a doctor for 5 minutes. But, in order to stay healthy, a visit to the doctor every few months is imperative. The same can be said for VA disability compensation too. Except it’s even more important with the VA. The VA uses medical records to determine the severity of your case. Often the VA will rate you lower than you should be for a condition. Our firm can use your medical records to argue against the VA.
- You can’t take no for an answer. Yes, you will get mad at some point when dealing with the VA, but you can’t give up. We’ve established that it’s a long wait, and that it’s frustrated, but too many Veterans give up because the system failed them. Our firm won’t let you give up either. I’ve seen approvals for Veterans who had to wait more than ten years for an approval and they were mighty happy when they were approved. I’ve also seen our Lead VA Attorney Heather Vanhoose mount a huge argument against the VA when they tried to say one of clients was malingering with his PTSD claim. It took a while, but that client is now receiving benefits at 100%. You will want to give up, but that isn’t in the vocabulary of most Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Coast Guardsmen.
- Maggie and Jake are both actors, but one is better than the other. Comment below if you know who I am talking about. In other words, lots of law firms handle VA disability claims, but they are not equal. Some are better than others. Do your research. The best way to determine if a law firm is good at what they do is via their online presence. Do they have a lot of real google reviews? Are there any client testimonials? Do they offer information to the public free of charge? Are they involved in their community? These are just some ways to determine if the attorney you’re pursuing is any good at what they do. Never hesitate to ask around too.
By now you should have some understanding of what it’s like to hire an attorney for a VA disability claim. However, if you need more information, just give us a call. We’ll be happy to answer your questions. If we can’t help you we’ll even tell you where to go to get the help you need. Fill out this form for a free consultation, or give me a call today. 1-877-526-3457.
When you have been involved in VA disability for as long as I have, your start to hear the same questions repeated consistently. The most common question we get from new clients involves the timeline. “How long will my VA Disability claim take?” I don’t blame Vets for asking this question. Most people filing for VA disability aren’t having a great time in life, and they need their compensation to help alleviate some of the stress of working with a disability. Honestly, in almost every instance, the answer to “how long will my claim take,” is answered with the following response: “a long time.”
Veterans are frustrated with this process, and they have every right to be upset. I talk to dozens of Veterans every week. Most of us who have never served will never experience anything close to what a majority of the Vets I talk to have described to me. One would think these people wouldn’t have to wait two to four years for their final decisions. But, our country is focused on other things right now, and fixing the VA is only a talking point. Since I am not wealthy enough to run for public office, I will instead share my knowledge about the VA disability timeline. These are 5 actual issues all Veterans should know about the timeline.
- It’s not improving. Our government is doing a good job of spinning the numbers pertaining to the VA Disability backlog. The VA states that the backlog is being reduced. Honestly, the way they present that information makes me want to believe it’s true too. However, as I reported back in November of 2015, the backlog reduction only pertains to new applications, not the claims that are on appeal. So yes, they may have reduced initial backlog, but the appeals process still takes just as long. If there is one thing I want a Veteran to take away from this list, it’s the appeals process, and the disability process as a whole, is not going to be quick.
- Active Duty Military Personnel approaching discharge have an advantage. There is actually a program in place for active members called Benefits Delivery at Discharge. This is often referred to as BDD. You have to apply between 60 and 180 days before your discharge date. The VA expedites these claims and BDD participants are supposed to receive their decision within 60 days of applying. However, the VA does not always meet those deadlines. This plan is far superior to waiting until you receive your discharge. If you wait until discharge, you will have to wait 8-12 months before a decision is made.
- Your location matters. As you may already be aware, each state has its own VA Regional Office. The Regional Office houses the individuals who work on all of the disability claims for the state. Fancy states like Texas have more than one regional office. The Regional Offices process all claims and they decide who gets benefits and who doesn’t. It’s also the place in which hearings are held. So, when our attorneys venture to a regional office to represent a Veteran, it’s reminiscent of the scene in “The Hunger Games” where Katniss breaks into the capital. However, President Snow is a saint compared to the pure evil that exists in the VA. Nerdy references aside, your location makes a huge difference in your case. There are a lot of factors that determine why a state has more Veterans than others. Generally speaking, if you are a Veteran who lives in the North East, or the West (excluding California,) you’re going to have a shorter wait than Veterans who live in the south or the Mid-West. Because of our firms experience with VA Disability, and the fact that we do represent Veterans in all 50 states, we know which Regional Offices have the worst backlog. I don’t really want to bash any office because there are great people working for the VA, and many of them are actually Vets. However, if you live in the city that forgave Lebron James, you’re wait time will not “rock.”
- The further along your case is, the longer the wait is for the next step. This is especially true when you get to the BVA level. I have witnessed a few Veterans wait more than two years for a BVA hearing. Granted, not everyone will have to wait that long, but a BVA wait is often quite lengthy. There are ways to alleviate this. On average, if you request a video hearing over a traveling board or in person hearing, you likely won’t wait as long.
- Do not wait to file an appeal. Here is a situation we see far too often when Veterans come to us for representation. After you file your initial claim, you will receive a decision. You have one year to file that appeal. Do not wait until week 50 to file an appeal. So many Vets come to us just a few weeks before their decision expires. While that May not seem like a big deal, think about this scenario. (Be patient, I am about to do math for the first time since undergrad.) Lets say that you filed your first claim in March of 2013. The VA then decided your case in March of 2014, and you were of course denied. You then have until March of 2015 to file an appeal. If you wait until March of 2015 to file the appeal, you likely won’t receive a decision again until March of 2016. I am going to try to make this a little less convoluted. If you wait the full year to file the appeal, you will only be at the third step of the process, and you’re now already three years into the claim. If you file your appeal in March of 2014 (When you received your initial decision) you will save one whole year. I get it though. I love putting things off, that’s what I have so many cavities. But when someone who procrastinates as much as I do tells you to “get on it,” take my advice.
After all of those negatives, let’s end on a positive note. Stick with your claim. Do not let the frustration get the best of you. I have seen people wait for years and finally get approved. On rare occasions we’ve gotten individuals connected up to 10 years after they filed their initial claim. In fact, I’ve worked in this industry for 5 years now. People I talked to way back in 2011 have received their final decisions. If you feel like this is overwhelming, ask for help. I know this may be hard to believe, but I work with a bunch of people who actually like VA Disability Law. Well, maybe not the law per se. We like working with Veterans. We are passionate about helping Vets. If I’m honest, I personally enjoy talking to those who have served. You won’t find that level of commitment other places. In other words, call me. Tell me your story, and I will let you know what we can do to help. If we can’t help, we’ll be honest with you.
If you like what you read today, call us for a free consultation. Our number is 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form, and I’ll call you instead
One of our goals in 2016 was to do a “makeover” to our online presence for our VA disability outlets. This includes this blog, and our main website, fight4vets.com. One of the crucial aspects of this redesign involved having more of a military presence. This meant we needed imagery of a person in uniform. Most places will simply go to a stock photography website, purchase some generic pics of a person in uniform, and blend into the background like so many other websites. We didn’t create one of the best VA disability blogs just to look like everyone else. In fact, it is extremely rare that we use any stock photography in any post. It’s not authentic, and it takes away from the story we are trying to tell. In the past our firm’s IT Specialist stepped up to help us out. Alex is a former Marine who loves to get his picture taken. He’s always done a great job for us, but Alex recently started an intensive workout routine that made him much healthier, but unfortunately for us, meant he couldn’t fit in his uniform now. We have another Veteran on staff, John Hicks, who served in the Army recently. However, he recently moved from his home state of Mississippi, and left his uniforms with his mother for safe keeping. So, my favorite Marine and Soldier were both unavailable…I had to turn to the Air Force.
Luckily, many of our employees are passionate about the military, and several team members married people who are serving in the military. The first person who came to mind was one of our social security staff members, Tricia Watkins. I remembered from one of our Veterans Day tributes that she had mentioned her husband was in the Air Force, and still serving. I approached her and had her ask her husband to participate. He said yes, and now he’s all over our website, blog and miscellaneous promotions. I am not quite sure he knew what he was getting himself into when he agreed to be my “model,” but I am glad he did.
I wanted to take an opportunity to give you some information about the person most of you will see when you read one of our blog posts. First of all, his name is Jason Watkins, and he is a member of the Air Force Reserves. Jason and Tricia recently transferred from Parkersburg, WV to Charlotte, NC. I asked Tricia to tell me a little about Jason for our blog. She first stated that he was originally from Marietta, Ohio. Honestly, if I would have known that beforehand, I would have found someone else. I am of course kidding, but the West Virginia/Ohio rivalry is well established, and I couldn’t resist a jab at a “Buckeye.” Tricia also told me that Jason is 29 years old and has an associate’s degree in business administration. He hopes to return to school to get his bachelor’s degree once things settle down. Together Jason and Tricia have two sons, Kaleb who is 4 and Ian who is 2. Tricia stated that they are actually approaching their 6 year wedding anniversary in October.
I asked what Jason likes to do on his spare time, and what I found almost made me hire another person to the face of our VA business. She said that he is a Cleveland Browns fan. That was incredibly disappointing. As a Texans fan, I could not believe I had photographed a Browns fan for my blog. Jason is lucky that he is photogenic and everything had already been published. (Always do your research.) Once again, I am kidding. I care more about the uniform he wears then the one he is a fan of. Jason also enjoys fishing and spending time with his family.
When it comes to his military service, Jason joined the Air Force to not only serve our country but to get the training and experience he needs for his military job as a fire fighter. Jason would love to be a civilian fire fighter too.
Using a real Veteran or active duty service member brings some authenticity to our blog. This log is successful because we tell stories, real stories, about VA disability. It just makes the most sense to me to have a real Veteran, in this case, an Airman, be the face of the blog.
Since our photo shoot last October, Jason’s image has been use in a bunch of posters and Facebook ads to promote our Veterans Week, he is on the homepage of our blog and fight4vets.com, and he’s even the current header on our Twitter page. I doubt if Jason thought about being a model when he joined the Air Force, but now he has an interesting story to tell his friends.
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 character 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.
This 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.
It’s safe to say that I’m not the only one who hates New Year’s Eve. It’s pointless. Who wants to stay up just to watch a ball of light drop 40 feet? I’ll even go as far as saying that New Year’s was just made up to sell more calendars. Kidding aside, it seems like more and more people aren’t fans of this holiday, and that is fine by me. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals for the New Year, especially when it pertains to your VA Disability Claim. Setting goals will keep you on track, and can possibly get you service connected quicker. So, here are 7 goals to set for your VA disability claim in 2016.
1. Stay Positive. There’s nothing worse than going through a difficult situation and then having someone who’s not going through it tell you to stay positive. No, I’m not a Veteran and I’ll never be able to file a VA disability claim, but I do know a lot about them. Staying positive in 2016 will help you with the remainder of your goals. Further, our law firm is up front with every Veteran we talk to. If we don’t believe that we can get you service connected, we will tell you why. We don’t believe it’s fair to give someone false hope.
2. Get Treatment. Like many Veterans I hate making trips to see the doctor. It can be expensive, the people in the waiting rooms are annoying and they never get my Grey’s Anatomy jokes. But, as I’ve been preaching for the past 5 years, treatment is what wins cases. So, if you are pursuing a VA disability claim, set a goal to get regular treatment in 2016. Keep in mind that treatment does not always mean going to the doctor. For instance, if you have headaches, keep a journal detailing the pain and duration of each headache. Or, if you are struggling with PTSD, look into yoga or joining a Veterans organization as alternative treatments.
3. Don’t compare yourself to other Veterans. Too often I hear Veterans get upset when talking about how another Veteran got his benefits in 6 months while he has had been waiting for three years. I’ll be the first to admit that it completely sucks when your peers are further along than you are and they don’t have to put in the effort. I deal with it too. However, that is just the way the system is and there isn’t much we can do change it. Every case is different and every regional office operates at different speeds. Focus on your own case. Perhaps there are reasons why your friend was connected so quickly. It’s possible they aren’t being upfront with you too.
4. Don’t wait to file appeals. This is one of those times when I really need to practice what I preach. I love putting things off. For instance, I was intending on writing this blog in December. But, in the world of VA Disability, putting things off is extremely counterproductive. Here is a good example: When you file your initial claim for benefits you have 365 days from the time the VA makes a decision to file an appeal. More often than not I speak to Veterans who wait until day 352 to file their appeal. Or they come to us the day before it expires and need it appealed as soon as possible. The VA is already going to delay your claim a lot on their own. On average it still takes about 2-4 years for your final decision to come through. In the meantime, anything you can do to keep your claim from getting delayed can make a big difference.
5. Educate yourself on the process. There is too much hearsay in the world of VA Disability. Sometimes I feel like I am talking to members of REO Speedwagon when discussing the process. They heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend, who heard it from another that you can’t service connect for non-combat PTSD. Well, this is simply not the case. I’ve even seen other VA attorneys aren’t accurate when it comes to VA disability. Coming to this blog is a great first step. However, there are other ways to educate yourself. The VA website is a great first step. They actually have a lot of good information. Set up a Google Alert for VA Disability or even speak with your representative. I am always happy to answer any questions for Veterans.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. While I never served in the military, I am well aware of the lack of information out there for individuals as they approach discharge regarding disability. Many Vets are not aware that they can even file for benefits. So they definitely aren’t aware that this process is difficult. If you find yourself struggling with appeals or with submitting evidence, you can get help. Talk to a service officer or better yet, contact an attorney for a free consultation today. One thing I hear often that brings a smile to my face is when a Veteran says he or she wished they had talked to me sooner. It means they trust me and they are often relived to have talked to me. It’s free. The worst thing that will happen is that we won’t take you on as a client. If that happens, we will still try to help by providing more information about other services.
7. Talk to other Veterans. While this is not exactly related to VA Disability, too often Vets isolate themselves from other Veterans. There are a lot of great Veteran Based Organizations out there and you can probably find one that will help you out a lot. It can be a motorcycle club, a Student Veteran organization at college, or even a group who is involved politically, like the IAVA. It’s important to know you’re not alone in this world.
The New Year is only a few days old. It’s not too late to set some goals. Veterans who are active in their claims stand a better chance to get service connected. While it may seem time consuming or pointless at times to set goals, it works. If you would like to know more about the process, or would like to talk to me about your claim, call me toll free: 1-877-526-3457. You may also fill out this form if you’d rather we call you at a later time.
As I get older I’ve noticed that I’m becoming more aware of the way people and organizations try to spin things. Perhaps I’m just becoming more jaded as I approach the third year of my “flirty thirties.” For instance, when I am at a hockey game and they show some fella propose to his girlfriend on the jumbo Tron, I immediately boo them. I mean, that’s not romantic, that’s just a ploy to get attention. This is especially true because I am a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. They’ve only made the playoffs twice. Do you really want to tell your kids that their father asked you to marry him at the arena of the worst hockey team ever in the NHL?
There is a lot of smoke and mirrors out there in the world today. This is especially true when it comes to the VA Disability Backlog. 2016 will mark my fifth year working with VA disability. Claims have been backlogged since I started in 2011. So, the news reports state that backlog is dwindling, but what does that really mean?
To better understand this, let’s first examine what a backlogged claim really is in the mind of the VA. They consider a claim backlogged if it is waiting for more than 125 days for a decision. That is the equivalent to four months or so. Here in the real world I know that it really still takes about 8-12 months to get a decision, appeal, or really any other type of decision, back from the VA. Here is where the smoke and mirrors come into play. And trust me, the VA has more smoke and mirrors than Lindsay Lohan’s apartment after her father has upset her again.
So, these backlog numbers you hear about going down on the news are quite deceptive. Did you know that this number only pertains to new applications, not the claims that are on appeal? So, what the VA is saying is that they use to have over 600,000 claims backlogged and now that number is 73,000. It’s a miracle and the VA has done such a great job. But have they? First of all, 73,000 Veterans who have not received an initial decision yet is still pretty bad. Let’s put that in perspective. In West Virginia, most of us are fans of the West Virginia University Mountaineers. This excludes people in Huntington who went to Marshall or the few individuals who think Matthew McConaughey is a good actor. The Mountaineers play football at Milan Puskar Stadium. This stadium seats 60,000 people. That is quite a lot of individuals. However, you could not seat every Veteran who has a new claim for benefits backlogged in that stadium.
The VA magic show continues because they just make a decision on these claims. They aren’t necessarily approving benefits. They can deny a Veteran service connection on the initial application and that claim then goes away from their queue. So, they can say that the backlog is being decreased, but it does not mean Veterans are getting their benefits.
Here is a staggering fact…there are currently 425,480 VA disability claims on appeal. That’s like 6 mediocre football team stadiums. So, if there are 425,000 claims on appeal, and 73,000 backlogged at the initial level, doesn’t that mean that nearly 500,000 claims are pending? Well, the VA won’t advertise that. It’s much more sensational to say that most of the backlogged claims are gone.
Here is the truth about why we aren’t fans of this spin. We represent Veterans for their disability cases. A lot of people see these news stories about the backlog being diminished, and they get upset that their claim is still pending. They assume something is wrong, or that the person representing them is purposely dragging their case out. This is simply not the truth. But, because the VA came under more fire then General Motors in the past few years, they are doing a lot to make themselves look good. Most Veterans simply aren’t aware that these reduced backlog numbers only apply to new applicants.
My message for Veterans is simple. There is a pretty good chance that your claim is still going to take a long time. If you are about to face discharge, try to take part in a program called Benefits Delivery at Discharge. It’s a program that allows individuals approaching discharge to get a decision back quickly. You can read more about that here. If you have been discharged already, apply for all of your claims at once, submit evidence early, and be sure to get regular treatment. Of course, it never hurts to hire an attorney. Despite what some people may want you to believe, we actually want to get your claim approved as quickly as possible. While an attorney can’t speed up your case, there is a lot they can do to help you get approved. I’d be happy to tell you all about it too. Just give me a call for a free consultation. You can reach me toll free here: 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form so I can call you later.
As many of you know from reading my blog over the years, I look forward to Veterans Day every year. I truly enjoy working with Vets and Veterans Day is the one time of year that I really get to give a little back to the individuals I hold in such high regard. In previous years, I’ve organized a cookout with my coworkers at Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law. However, after several brisk November afternoons in which food quickly turned cold and many decided to stay away because winter was coming, we decided not to do the cookout this year. While I’d normally be sad that something I enjoyed so much has been canceled, I’m actually much more excited about what we have planned for Veterans this year. The excitement level goes to 11 this year.
What started with a quick conversation with my coworker Lauren Ward, quickly turned into a movement. We suddenly weren’t celebrating Veterans Day; we were instead Celebrating Veterans Week! Instead of just one day of events we’re participating or hosting five events next week. I am psyched. Here is what we have in store:
Monday November 9th: Veterans Resource Fair. We are cohosting a Veterans Resource Fair with our friends from The Veterans Corps at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. You may recall that this group was the recipient of funding raised by the 2014 Walk4Vets. Our relationship continues and we are excited about cohosting this event. Veterans will be able to speak with local representatives from several organizations. There will also be employers in attendance seeking to hire new individuals. Further, several stylists will be on hand to offer Free Haircuts to Veterans in attendance. This event is Free and open to the public. It starts at 5:00 p.m. at the Multi-Purpose Room at WVU-P and will last until 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday November 10th: Veterans and Vinyasa. Honestly, this whole week started because of yoga. You’ve likely read my blog about how yoga can help Veterans with PTSD. We’ve found that more and more Veterans are starting to use yoga in their daily lives to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD. This year, we have partnered with our friends at West Virginia University at Parkersburg to offer a class, free to the public, which explains and demonstrates yoga, especially breathing exercises. This event will be taught by Pam Santer at WVU-P. Veterans may also take advantage of free yoga classes on Veterans Day at the Full Circle Yoga studio in Vienna, WV. We appreciate the joint effort between Full Circle Yoga, WVU-P, and Pam Santer to make this event possible.
Wednesday November 11th: Veterans Day Parade. We will be participating in the annual Parkersburg Veterans Day Parade. Look for us in a classic red Cadillac. We will be handing out lots of great stuff during the parade and we will have lots of fun. We intentionally decided to leave the rest of the day open. So many organizations offer free meals and services to Veterans on Veterans Day only that we decided to just do the parade on the 11th. That being said, the parade is going to be a bunch of fun! We are also proud that our good friend Shawn Healy will be the Master of Ceremonies during the parade. We know he’ll do a great job.
Thursday November 12th: PTSD Awareness Night. This may be my personal favorite for the week. PTSD impacts so many Veterans who don’t even know it’s an issue. So, on Thursday, we are screening the film “That Which I Love Destroys Me.” This documentary chronicles the struggles of several combat Veterans as they transition from military life to the civilian world. After the film we have an expert PTSD panel who will answer any questions our audience has about PTSD. Our expert panel includes VA Disability Attorney, Heather Vanhoose, and Army Veteran/cofounder of the Steel City Vets, Ben Keen. More panelists will be announced at a later date. Due to the serious nature of this film and the subject matter, we recommend this event only for individuals 18 years of age and older. We are also pleased to announce that our friends at The Coffee Bar have agreed to host this event. It’s a great relaxing setting that will make conversation an ease. This event is free and open to the public.
Friday November 13th: Free Spaghetti Dinner for Veterans. We will conclude Veterans Week 2015 with a Free Spaghetti Dinner for Veterans at the Knights of Columbus on Market Street in Parkersburg. This event is Free for All Veterans. Non-Veterans are welcome to attend too. Ticket prices for non-Veterans are as follows: $5 in advance, $6 at the door. Children 5-12 are $4 in advance, $5 at the door. Children under 5 eat free when accompanied by an adult. Tickets can be purchased in advance at our office on Market Street, or at the Veterans Resource Center at WVU-P. The dinner will start at 5:00 p.m. and last until 8:00 p.m.
In addition to all of these events, we will be selling T-shirts and hats with the Veterans Week Logo on them. The Shirts are $15.00 each and the hats are $20.00 each. Proceeds from the dinner and apparel will benefit the Walk4Vets Foundation. The Walk4Vets foundation was started in 2011 by Jan Dils and her husband Chuck Hughes. The mission of the foundation is to support charities that benefit Veterans in the Mid-Ohio Valley. This year, we will donate the proceeds from Veterans Week to our local chapter of the Marine Corps League, and their Toys for the Needy Program.
For more information about Veterans week, click here. You can also stay up to date on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just follow the hashtag #PKBVetsWeek.
If you’re filing a VA Disability claim, there are few things that you must have in order to get service connected for a disability. One of the most important aspects of qualifying for VA disability is that you must have served in the military. I often use humor in my blogs, but I’ve seriously had people ask me if they can qualify for VA disability if they never served. The answer is no. If you did serve, you will need a proper discharge, and of course, medical treatment. Anyone who has even glanced at this blog before will tell you that medical treatment is one of the most important parts of a VA disability claim. Today though, we are going to discuss one specific aspect of medical treatment; the nexus letter.
A few things come to mind when I hear the term “nexus letter.” First of all, it sounds a lot fancier than it actually is, and two, how I have I possibly waited this long to write about nexus letters? Though I may act like it often, I am not perfect, so it’s possible for me to forget to write about a topic for several years. But also, I don’t deal with nexus letters frequently because I mostly interact with Veterans when they are in the beginning stages of their claims. Nexus letters usually come in later in the process.
So, the first question one might be led to ask is “What is a nexus letter?” It is simply a written statement from a medical professional that states that your current medical condition is a result of your time in service. In other words, the medical professional is arguing that, based on their medical opinion, your current injury is impacting your life because of the time you spent in service.
Before I mentioned that I don’t often encounter Veterans with nexus letters because I interact with Veterans who are new to process or new to our firm. That does not mean that you can’t submit a nexus letter early on. In fact, some would argue that submitting a nexus letter early in the process is a positive. This is especially true for Veterans who have limited medical treatment to back up his or her claim. For example, we interact with Veterans who were Airborne Rangers quite often. All Vets are tough, but these individuals are the toughest of the tough. They will often avoid medical treatment because of their training. (Granted, that is true of most Veterans I meet.) So, they aren’t likely to have a long history of medical evidence. However, if an individual has issues with their knees, back and feet, it would be easy for a doctor to write a nexus letter for them if they had a lot of jumps in service. Personally, the only time I’ve ever jumped out of a plane is when it taxied at DFW and we had been delayed for five hours. Even then it was more like a leap onto the terminal. Many Veterans have described the impact jumps have on them in service, and it is surprising anyone would do it more than once. If you had 30 jumps in service, then discharged and started working at a desk job, it would be difficult for a doctor to argue that your joint issues didn’t come from service. This is of course assuming you did not have a car wreck after service or took up kickboxing as a hobby.
Nexus letters are also important if you are denied because of the result of a C&P exam. I always try to be upfront with my readers, and I also try not to bash the VA in my blogs. The latter is becoming increasingly difficult. However, while many C&P examiners are well qualified individuals who are dedicated to their field, we often see reports that don’t support a Veteran’s claim. Let’s just say that if C&P reports were compared to mobile phones, they wouldn’t be iPhones, or Android devices, they’d likely be Blackberry phones instead. A nexus letter can go a long way to negate what a C&P examiner states in their report. Think of it as second opinion in this case.
I don’t personally know any doctors. In fact, most of my knowledge of them is a result of watching Grey’s Anatomy or my time with the firm. This has led me to two conclusions: doctors will disobey the Hippocratic Oath to prove their love, and they are often hesitant to write that one thing is a direct result of another. Seriously though, you might have a difficult time finding a medical professional that will state that your medical condition is a result of your time in service. This is especially true if you have not treated with them for a while. If this is the case, you might see language like: “your injury is at least as likely as not” a result of your time in service. In circumstances like this, it’s important to consult with an attorney or service officer to determine your best course of action.
While a good nexus letter can help your case, it’s no guarantee of approval. That is why I stress medical treatment as a whole for your VA disability case. Going to the gym once isn’t going to make me look like Jake Gyllenhaal, and seeing a doctor once won’t likely make a strong argument for a VA disability.
If you liked what I had to say today, feel free to give me a call to discuss your case. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you’re not free to talk now, fill out this form to schedule an appointment at a later time.