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This blog is approaching its 5th birthday. In November, on Veterans Day, it turns 5. I must say that I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish with this blog. It started out with just about 20 readers per month, and it has since exploded to several thousand. Veterans often tell me how much the content I write has helped them better understand the process, and it means a lot to help veterans with topics like PTSD, MST, and the process as a whole. Since I’ve written so much content over the years, I want to share a few things I’ve learned along the way. Here are the top 6 things Veterans need to remember about the VA Disability process.
- That backlog didn’t vanish. According to a recent Military Times article, there are still 70,000 VA Disability claims backlogged. That number was supposed to be 0 about 7 months ago. Even with a generous grace period, the VA is way off on this goal. However, we are not here to bash the VA. They did get that number down from 610,000 a few years ago. So they did some good work. Or did they? As I reported last year, the backlog is essentially just moving. Claims start out in the initial stage, get denied, and then they go into the appeals process. There were over 400,000 claims on appeal in November of 2015.
- Be proactive. Regardless if you have filed a claim with the VA, or if you need to get an appointment for health care, you have to be proactive. The VA is kind of like a two-year-old…a disrespectful two-year-old that needs to be disciplined. If you don’t watch it constantly or remind it to behave, it will just wander off and forget about you. Keep an eye on the VA, and if they haven’t rescheduled an appointment for you, remind them about it regularly.
- Get treatment. I’ve never seen a claim get denied because a Veteran had too much evidence supporting his claim. I get it, though, I hate going to the doctor too. I could do other stuff with that time like complain about celebrities on the internet, or act like it’s ok to be in my 30’s and still buy action figures. The good news is that you don’t have to go to the doctor excessively. For some conditions, once every few months or at least twice a year will suffice. For something like PTSD though, even going to group counseling sessions will help you get approved. I also understand that most people in the military, regardless of branch, have an unspoken rule about getting medical treatment in service. They see it as weakness. Often that mindset will continue after you are discharged. Just look at how many claims are pending and you will realize that you are not alone. A lot of the people you served with are going through a similar experience now, and no one will think less of you if you get treatment.
- Prepare for denials. I try not to be too pessimistic these days, but the sad truth is that you’re likely going to get denied on your first claim. Practically every Veteran gets denied the first time. Often it does not matter how good your claim is, or how much evidence you have to support it, you’re probably getting denied. It’s a fundamental flaw with the VA. One of the reasons for this has to do with what we mentioned above, the backlog. It’s been speculated that the VA was not reviewing initial applications very well, and denying claims just to get them out of the system. Once again, that is speculation, not fact. I think we can all agree that a denial isn’t helping any Vets.
- Be careful who you trust. The beauty and the downfall, of the internet, is that anyone can use it, and practically anyone can make a website. That means that there are a lot of websites with false information out there. Further, certain organizations hire volunteers to represent Veterans for their claims. While everyone means well, a lot of their information can be correct, and they can hurt your claim. This holds true for some lawyers. For instance, I once talked to a Veteran who was represented by another individual before coming to us. He had claims for every single gulf war presumptive condition. Normally that would be fine, except this Veteran didn’t serve in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere outside the US. But his representative wanted to pursue it. Simply, Veterans who haven’t served in parts of the Middle East are not eligible for Gulf War presumptive conditions. That would be like me taking my 10-year-old Chevy Malibu to a Lexus dealer for warranty work solely because I saw other cars getting warranty work performed there. The Veteran then told me that he did not really want to pursue the claims but the representative filed them anyway.
- Don’t go quietly into the night. Or, to be less dramatic, don’t give up. We like to be upfront with everyone about their cases. If we see that you have enough evidence to get connected, we will fight for you. We’ve seen Veterans who started their cases long before we represented Vets get approved after many years. So, you can’t give up. While it’s worth fighting for a claim that should be connected, it’s not worth pursuing a claim that’s not worth pursuing. For instance, that frivolous Gulf War Illness claim that we discussed in point 5. We would not pursue that because there is no evidence to support it. Or, let’s say that you want to get your knee service connected, but you had no injuries in service, no treatment, and did not have any issues with your knee until you hurt in a car wreck 15 years after discharge. While we can’t pursue that as a VA Claim, you might have a good personal injury claim instead.
I am sad that the backlog has not really decreased in nearly a year. However, I know Veterans do get approved. I like Veterans, and several of my friends have used our services and gotten approved. I even keep track of Vets I’ve met here just to see how their claims are going, and they’ve gotten approved too. It just takes time. So, call us today for a free consultation. Our Toll-Free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk right now, fill out this form so that we may call you at a better time.
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.
Who else likes putting things off? I know I do. In fact, to illustrate how much I procrastinate, I was intending on writing this blog two weeks ago. Full disclosure, I was in undergrad for 6 years because I did not take the proper classes the first time they were available for my major. It really held me up and created a lot more problems for me down the road. So, it’s safe to say that I know the consequences of putting things off. One area in which an individual really shouldn’t procrastinate is the area of VA Disability.
I know what you are thinking. The VA takes their sweet time when making decisions, why should I be in a hurry to get back to them? I agree, the VA is slower than a person from Ohio in the passing lane on the interstate. However, they don’t mess around when it comes to your deadlines for your decisions. If you are even one day late past the deadline your claim will close. This can mean a total loss of back pay for your claim and you will likely have to start over from the beginning. No one wants that. So here are some helpful reminders for filing your appeals in a timely manner.
1. The appeal deadlines aren’t the same for every decision. It would be awesome if every decision had a time limit of 120 days, but that is not the VA way. Every type of decision is different when it comes to response times. Here is a quick way to remember the time limit for each decision.
Proposals to sever or decrease your benefits: 30 days to appeal.
Rating Decision: One year to appeal.
DRO Decision: One year to appeal.
Statement of the Case: 60 days to appeal.
Supplemental Statement of the Case: 30 days to appeal.
BVA decision: 120 days to appeal.
2. The clock starts ticking the on the date posted on the decision. We’ve seen a lot of Veterans get confused by this before coming to our firm. A lot of people think that it starts when they receive the decision. That is not the case. I’ve heard too many stories of Vets getting their decisions weeks or months after they were sent out. So, the date on the decision is the one you go by.
3. Speaking of mail, don’t wait until the last minute to file your appeal. In fact, if you can avoid using regular mail, please do so. The reason is that if you mail your appeal in, there is no way to guarantee the VA received it. Some people will send it certified, other will submit it electronically, but we find that faxing works well because you receive a confirmation from the receiving fax machine. If the VA tries to say that they did not receive your appeal prior to the deadline, a confirmation can be used to argue the effective date.
4. Beware of multiple timelines. The easiest thing to do in VA disability is file for all of your claims at once. If you do this, you are more likely to have all of your claims decided at the same time. That is not a 100% guarantee, but it is more likely to happen. Dealing with one timeline is much simpler than dealing with several. Granted, you may have to add claims on at later times. If so, make sure you appeal every decision you want to pursue. You could possibly file an appeal for one decision thinking it covered everything, when in reality; it only covered a few of your claims.
5. Keep it simple. People often ask us why they should hire an attorney. Among all of the other services we provide, we also have the people in place to keep claims from closing. We have protocols to file appeals in a timely manner. We also have dedicated computer software that helps our case managers stay on track. Hiring an attorney can greatly reduce the stress associated with the VA process. I know it may seem like a sales pitch, but we have helped thousands of Veterans get the benefits they deserve. It gives me great joy to tell a Veteran we are helping them with their case, and then hear the relief in their voice after. No one should have to fight the VA alone.
If you would like to know more about VA Disability, or if you’d like to schedule a free consultation, give us a call today. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t talk today, fill out this form, and we’ll give you a call at a later date.
I honestly love watching The Daily Show with John Stewart. I have watched it since I was a young kid and can’t sleep now without my daily dose of political satire. I have to admit that it’s odd to hear The Daily Show discusssomething I work with every day on their program. Over the past several months John Stewart and crew have looked into the issues facing the VA in an honest and humorous way. While I enjoy watching Stewart make jokes about what I do, this really means the problems are actually quite worse than we may realize. The problem is that if programs like The Daily Show are covering the VA backlog, then it is a mainstream issue, and thus pretty bad. So, you have to ask, who is looking out for you?
Some may say that I am a chronic pessimist, but I have been working with VA Disability claims for more than three years now. I have watched this problem get steadily worse over the past 36 months. I honestly don’t see an end in sight. VA disability was a mess already, but in recent months things have become far worse. The backlog is still an issue, and there are even reports surfacing that some information about the reduction is not true. Further, unless you have taken residence under a rock, you know that the VA healthcare system is a mess. What is a Veteran to do?
It’s always good to have help. Though I work for a law firm, and have 3 years’ experience working with VA Disability Compensation, I personally would not feel comfortable filing a claim on my own. The disability process is so complex and frustrating that I would not be able to keep up with the paperwork alone. Further, the process as whole is convoluted. If you look at the VA timeline you will see that the steps don’t make sense. For instance, when you are denied the first time you file a Notice of Disagreement. When you are denied the second time you file VA form 9. Now, these two things are very different, but one would think that they are the same because they are both appeals. Having an attorney, like the ones at Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law, can help guide you through the VA process. We are also able to find mistakes that may be made by the VA through our comprehensive review process.
It’s a shame our nations veterans have to go through so much to get the VA Disability benefits they deserve. We are happy to speak to any Veteran about their case and offer a free case evaluation. Call us toll free at 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form so that we may call you.
I like to be blunt as well as very honest in my everyday interaction with people. It’s what people love and fear about me. The reason I am this way is far too long and complicated to discuss in this blog. However, I find that it is very effective when communicating with Veterans regarding their VA disability claims. Generally, the Veterans I speak to want to be communicated with honestly about their cases.They have often lost trust with the VA, and just want to be told honestly what to expect. If we can’t help a client get service connected, I prefer to let them know right away rather then throw it all at the wall and see what sticks. Not all representatives are like that.
My ability to be blunt really applies to the VA backlog. Granted, a lot of people are paying attention to the VA right now, and so many people want you to believe that clearing up the backlog will change everything, but that is not likely going to happen. Just because your claim is no longer in a “backlog” doesn’t mean you are getting approved. It simply means that they made a decision. If you have to appeal your decision, request a hearing, or even go to the Court of Veterans Appeals, you are still in for a long wait. This backlog isn't necessarily going away so much as it is moving.
Now, I am not here to blast the VA. Despite recent reports of some very disheartening practices, I believe they are mostly great people, many of which are former Veterans themselves. I just want to make it clear that no matter how many times the backlog is reported on CNN, or my personal favorite, The Daily Show, most Veterans still have a long wait ahead of them. This is especially evident with our Veterans who live in Kentucky, Ohio and North Carolina. I selected these three states as we work with them quite a bit. Simply put, it’s still taking them a while to release decisions. Those decisions that are coming out are not always favorable.
There are a lot people in the media trying to spin this story in either direction. All media is based on ratings. The better the story the higher ratings are, and the more they profit. I hate to quote The Hunger Games, but you have to “remember who the real enemy is.” In other words, be careful who you trust. We work with the VA every day, and we know what to expect. We represent a lot of Veterans and want what is best for them.
If you would like to know more about what we can do for your claim, or to discuss your VA disability claim, give me a call today for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. If you can’t make it to a phone right now, fill this form out and I’ll call you.
While the VA has made big strides in the backlog, it is still an issue for hundreds of thousands of Veterans. As of November, the VA backlog was 392,473. That number alone may not seem significant. However, we decided to compare the backlog with a few other things from around the world to put it in perspective. The VA considers a claim to be backlogged if it is more than 125 days old.
We know comparing the backlog to album sales isn’t oranges to oranges. We are just showing how it compares to some other statistics.
It should be noted that our graphic was completed using the information from VA report dated November 25th, 2013. The VA does release these reports every Monday. Two weeks later, that number has increased to 395,358 claims backlogged. To learn more about how the backlog is affecting claims, read this blog about preliminary decisions. If you would like to learn more about the services we provide, give us a call for a free consultation. Our toll free number is 1-877-526-3457. You can also fill out this form, and we will give you call. We have also written a book about the VA Disability process. To request a free copy (including shipping) click here.
Don't feel bad, I didn't know about them until a recent meeting about changes in the VA. Do you remember how there was a story on every station about the VA backlog a few months ago? It appeared as if it was on everyone’s mind, but then Kim Kardashian gave birth to a child she named after a compass, and everyone seemed to forget? Well, we never forgot. As the VA tries to end the backlog, you may notice a change in the type of decision you receive.
Traditionally, if you receive a decision it comes back as either approved or denied. There are always exceptions to this, but most decisions either come back approved or denied. However, if you are one of the 300,000 claims that are still backlogged, it’s possible to receive a provisional decision.
You are probably wondering what this means. Provisional decisions are not final decisions. This may be the most important thing to keep in mind. The VA states via their website the following: Provisional decisions will be based on all evidence provided to date by the Veteran or obtained on their behalf by VA. If a VA medical examination is needed to decide the claim, it will be ordered and expedited.
So, let’s say this decision is unfavorable. Well, it’s not the end of the world. You have a couple of options. You can accept it as a final decision, or you can submit more evidence. If you choose to submit more evidence, you actually have up to one year after the provisional decision is rendered to submit that evidence. After that year is up, a decision will be made.
Please note that you can’t actually appeal a provisional decision. You have to ask for a final decision first, and you may then appeal the final decision.
This information may be a bit confusing. It’s yet another reason so many people turn to Jan Dils Attorneys at Law to handle their VA claim. We have attorneys and an experienced staff that can represent you. Call us today for a free consultation. 1-877526-3457 You can also fill out this form and we’ll give you a call.
It is over! I want to shout it from the mountain top! However, if you are a Veteran, you might be wondering about what is going to happen to your VA disability claim? The good news for many Veterans is that we, as a law firm, did not see many issues for our clients during the Government Shutdown. The only issues we had with the VA were minor. Through the relationships we have developed with the great employees at the VA, we were able to stay in contact with the Regional Offices during the shutdown. In fact, we only had a handful of hearings that were canceled due to the shutdown, and those came the day prior to everything being resolved. In fact, the VA is treating the shutdown as such a non-issue, that there is nothing about it on the front page of their website.
According to the VA website, “During the government shutdown, VA medical centers, clinics, and other health services remained open. Due to the shutdown, VA claims processors were unable to continue working 20 hours of overtime per month to reduce the backlog of claims, overtime that has helped VA significantly reduce the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the last six months. Mandatory overtime will resume immediately and will continue as planned through Nov. 16, at a minimum.”
With all of this being said, there will be one issue that Veterans are all too used to, delays. With only essential employees remaining in the Regional Offices; it’s safe to say a lot of stuff piled up. How long the shutdown will delay a claim is yet to be seen, but with the backlog already so far out, it may not even make a noticeable difference in the amount of time passed since a claim was filed, appealed, reopened, etc. It’s kind of like adding a power sunroof to your new car. If you are already in debt for $30,000, a $1,000 option will only cause a $4 bump in your payments per month.
The good news is that since the shutdown was resolved before the end of the month, there will be no interruption in disability payments for Veterans. If you were waiting until the shutdown ended to file benefits, give me a call today to see what our firm can do to help: 1-877-526-3457, or, fill out this form, and I will give you a call.
Everywhere you look today you can see information on the VA Backlog. Not all of that information is accurate. In order to better educate our readers, our clients, and the public as a whole, we are starting a two part series on the backlog. Part 1 will look at the problem. Part 2 will examine the plan the VA has implemented to dissolve the backlog. News organizations simply report about the backlog, we deal with it every day.
Part 1, the problem. I first want to applaud the VA for taking action and admitting there is a problem with the system as a whole. It is easy to place blame solely on the VA for this issue, but there are so many factors contributing, that signaling one entity would be unfair. The VA, in a move to educate everyone about the backlog, has released their plan. Like any government action, it has a name that sounds grander than it is: VA Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation Claims Backlog. The “Plan,” as we call it, mentions several contributing factors to the backlog.
The first thing the VA mentions is the amount of claims processed vs. the number of new claims coming into the VA. Here are their exact words:
VBA completed a record-breaking 1M claims per year in fiscal years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Yet the number of claims received continues to exceed the number processed. In 2010 VBA received 1.2M claims. In 2011, VBA received another 1.3M claims, including claims from Veterans made eligible for benefits as a result of the Secretary’s decision to add three new presumptive conditions for Veterans exposed to Agent Orange. In 2012, VBA received 1.08M claims. Over the last three years, the claims backlog has grown from 180K to 594K claims as of the end of December 2012.
The part where they mention the Secretary’s decision to add three new presumptive conditions to the list is very important. We refer to this as the “Nehmer Laws.” Back in 2011, when this blog was fresh and new, we wrote about the Nehmer Laws. The three new conditions, Parkinson’s disease, ischemic heart disease, and B-cell leukemia’s, made for a lot of new claims. Back then we were experiencing the effect of all of these new claims in the firm. We witnessed this backlog grow slowly first hand. We had an influx of new clients from the Vietnam era, and we filed a lot of new claims. The good news is, the Nehmer laws are over. That’s not to say that a Vietnam Veteran can’t still file for these claims, but rather that the review of all old claims has been completed. The VA went back through all of the previous claims in which Veterans had been denied, and reviewed their files to see if they could now be awarded.
— Nancy J Bremar (@timetolive09) August 12, 2013
1. Increased use of technology and social media by Veterans, families, and survivors to self-inform about available benefits and resources
2. Improved access to benefits through the joint VA and DoD Pre-Discharge programs
3. Additional presumptive decisions resulting in more claims for exposure-related disabilities
4. Extensive and successful use of VA outreach programs encouraging more Veterans to submit claims
Under increased demand the following reasons are listed as components:
1. Ten years of war with increased survival rates, resulting in more claims
2. Post-conflict downsizing of the military
3. Impact of a difficult economy
4. Growth in the complexity of claims decisions as of result of the increase in the average number of medical conditions for which each claimant files
This backlog is just awful. We hate dealing with it, and I am sure most of the employees of the VA, a lot of which are Veterans, hate that it’s happening too. It’s going to be around for a while; the plan has a goal of 2015, so it will be a long wait still. Our next blog, Part II will examine the plan the VA has put in place to end the backlog.
If you are frustrated with this process, and would like to learn more about what our firm can do for you, give us a call today for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457. Fill out this form, and we can give you a call at a time that is best for you.
A new batch of employees started with our firm today. As they walked into our training room, a classic Toby Keith song popped into my head. It made me think of the VA Disability process. You are probably wondering what a man’s affinity for a certain brand of red cups has to do VA Disability…it’s not that song! The lyrics I had in my head were: “I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then, I wish I could start this whole thing over again.” While that song pertains to love and more, the lyrics can really pertain to any situation involving an uncertain future. I will actually disagree with Mr. Keith though; I wish I did know it all from the beginning. Any Veteran who has struggled with a VA Disability claim will probably agree that there are a lot of things they wish they knew when they started. They may have been a little naïve at the beginning, and wish they still felt that way about the process, but they are now wiser for going through it. So here are 5 things a Service Connected Veteran would have likely wanted to know when he started.
- “Time heals everything, but I’m still waiting:” It is a long process. Even with all of the national coverage regarding the VA backlog, we still have new VA clients who think that this won’t take very long. It’s unfortunately not true. It’s likely going to be anywhere from 2-5 years.
- “I’m not ready to make nice:” You are likely going to get upset at some point, it that is totally natural. We understand your frustration. If you served your country, were injured in the process and now are getting denials, it makes perfect sense to get upset. In fact, as attorneys and employees who work in this process, it upsets us too.
- “Who doesn't know what I'm talking about?” You will likely feel alone when going through this process. However, you are not. The reason the VA is so backed up is that there are so many Veterans filing for claims. When it comes to mental disabilities especially Veterans tend to feel closed off from society. Seek help for these issues. There are great organizations, like Steel City Vets, that are there to help Veterans connect with other Veterans.
- “I'm gonna be ready this time:” Hiring an attorney will help you with the stress of dealing with a claim. I tend to be a pretty independent person. However, when it comes to really big life events, I like having the help of someone who has been through it before. In a VA claim, there is a ton of confusing paperwork. Also, hearings have to be attended, and deadlines can’t be passed up. With all of this, plus dealing with your disability, you may feel overwhelmed. Most Veterans, who have hired an attorney, will tell you how beneficial it is for their case.
- “I’m ready to run:” Even if you want to give up, don’t. Too often we see Veteran’s claims that have closed because they were just tired of the process. I just spoke with Heather, one of our VA Attorneys, and she spoke of a Veteran who had a claim pending since 2005 was just granted. If he was just granted at 10% for a condition that dated back to 2005 he could possibly get at least $10,000 in back pay.
If you are just starting out, and would like to know more about what an attorney can do for you, or if you find yourself struggling with the VA, give us a call for a free consultation. 1-877-526-3457. Or, fill out this form, and we will give you a call.