Mailroom: Nam Vet – Too Disabled For Work, Not Disabled Enough For 100%
One Vietnam veteran wrote me the other day telling me about his situation. He didn’t have a question but told me a situation I have heard about all too many times. So, I decided it would be a crime not to write about it for this week’s Mailroom.
I’m going to do something taboo and recommend that the veteran seek out a lawyer rather than a traditional veteran service officer for two reasons. Wait, make it three reasons.
First, veterans lawyers have a financial incentive to ensure you get your veterans benefits, but a veteran service officer does not.
Second, veteran service officers lack the training and expertise to deal with complicated cases where the issue is not straightforward. Veteran service officers are better suited for handling straightforward issues that are black and white.
Last, many disabled veterans complain that many veteran service officers have too cozy a relationship with the VA. They work in the VA’s building. VA funds their veteran organization many times. They have VA email addresses – how’s that for a conflict of interest and a lack of confidentiality?
This is not to say there are not great veteran service officers out there. So don’t discount them all. Just know that there are many options available to disabled veterans nowadays that did not exists 25 years ago. One of those is the ability to hire a veterans lawyer who specializes in VA benefits.
I get more into my reasoning below.
Here’s the drill: Each week, I take an email from a veteran that would have broad appeal to many veterans. I then analyze it for a week and post my input here in our weekly segment: Mailroom. Basically, I take out all the identifying information from the best emails and post them here with my answer.
If you have a burning question about your veterans benefits, sent me a note selecting the contact tab at the top of this page. If I think your situation will be helpful for other veterans, I will repost it here.
* If you do not want me to write about your situation, please feel free to let me know within the email. I have no problem keeping a lid on the situation, too.
Email from Veteran:
Did two tours in Vietnam, with multiple purple hearts, rated at 90 percent disabled, fired from job for symptoms of PTSD, when I asked for 100 percent, the shrink basically said go find a job. Appealed three years ago, no job, no help.
Email from Benjamin Krause (me):
Dear Nam Vet,
I have some suggestions.
First, request a copy of your disability file through a Freedom of Information Act request. I have a template letter on the website.
Once you get a copy of your disability file, be sure to read through it very carefully. Pay special attention to how the VA is interpreting your military service medical record in relation to the physical examination and psychological examinations you receive. Many times, including my own disability claim, you will catch the VA with its pants down.
Create a time line for each issue as your read through the disability file. Use 3M tabs to notate where your file mentions your injuries. Within your time line, write down on a separate sheet of paper what the injuries are and when they occurred.
Meditate on what had happened the day you were injured. This may help you recollect the experience so that you can write it to the VA adjudicator in the form of a veteran’s lay statement.
Once you worked through your entire disability claims file, look to select either a veteran service officer or veterans lawyer to help.
I would personally go the lawyer route for a few reasons. A veterans lawyer, in my opinion, will have a higher likelihood of getting you the maximum amount of disability to which you are entitled. I have no basis for this opinion other than anecdotal stories since no one seems to track it.
Nonetheless, for every day you do not get your claim, you lose out on the real value of that money. VA does not pay interest on back pay they wrongly keep. With inflation, this means you are actually receiving less money when your payout is delayed than had you received the full amount when you should have. Getting you benefits quicker is vital.
When it comes to psychological claims, many disabled veterans would benefit from getting an outside opinion. VA disability claims evaluators tend to be biased against the veteran. Many of them perceive the veteran as a parasite and would rather “save” the government money. My point here is that getting a second opinion could help swing the burden of proof in your favor and away from a biased psychologist.
For disabled veterans with high regular ratings like 90 percent, and who cannot find work, an extra-schedular rating of Individual Unemployability could be the best solution. These disability ratings can be tricky to get with more complex claims.
Most veterans lawyers would jump at a claim that was wrongly denied because it means they will get paid for their efforts. Say what you want about lawyers, without lawyers fighting for veterans benefits, we would not be as well off as we are today. Many veteran service officers have success in this, too.
Though, in my opinion, a financial incentive needs to be there for people who can help when they sacrifice their own time. Veteran service officers get paid no matter who wins but lawyers don’t get paid without a win. Really, the only difference here is that veterans pay the lawyer directly while your tax dollars pay the salary of most veteran service officers.
Like a carpenter building a house, the lawyer puts in work to craft your claim in a way that the VA cannot deny. For me, I would rather pay 20% of a disability award to be sure that I at least get a fair shake.
Anyway, I did not mean this to become a “rip on veteran service officers email”, but I wanted to give you input in a way that will help you get a fair shake.
In my opinion, hiring a good lawyer from an organization like the National Organization for Veterans Advocates within your area could be a way to go. At least with a lawyer, you are the boss. And, if they screw up, they have malpractice insurance.
In summary, you should start with the file. Get it with a FOIA request. Read it carefully. Find a lawyer or veteran service officer you trust to advocate for you. Once you read through your claim and develop a timeline, you are ready to bring it to the advocate for him/her to file with the VA.
No matter who you pick, always remember that no one will care more about your claim than you. For that reason, always stay on top of your mail and documentation that you receive from the VA during the appeals process.
I am presently being representing by DAV on an appeal , Unemployability claim. My civilian employment aggravated my service connection disability and my treating physician, have stated that I am totally disable and unemployable.. Do I need to hire a lawyer?
15 years trying to get benefits within the American Legion and DAV. There is no question these organizations have a favorable interest to VA and not Vet. Phila RO lost my paperwork twice and legion never helped fix thier mistake. Legion even threatened me to stop assistance since I dropped my membership.
Hired lawyer and had 100% within 1 year.
If you do send any time sensitive letters to RO ie… appeals, be sure to send certified mail. Lawyer proved certified copy of my delivery when RO stated they never received it.
It would be interesting to see how many others had RO (regional office) “misplace” critical documents.
The decision review officers are paid by how many cases they get off thier desk. Guess a lost claim is still one less claim.
Thanks Dawn. It was where I was headed but kept my nose to the grindstone while just trying to make ends meet with a screwed up life due to the US Army.
Yeah, ALL the Service organizations suck out loud!
DROs do not get paid by the number of cases they get off their desk.
I can see where these things can (and do) happen. However, in my region (Philadelphia, PA), all the VSO I have used ever since 1974, were excellent in representing me and my cases. I have used a couple of service organizations and ended up with Disabled American I can see where these things can (and do) happen. However, in my region ( Phildelphia, PA), all the VSO I have used ever since 1974, were excellent in representing me and my cases. I have used a couple of service organizations and ended up with Disabled American Veterans (DAV). About a year ago, I was in their office (located in the VA regional office building) to ask about my disabled son’s payments in have been getting – then stopped abruptly with no explanation. While there, we discussed my entire claim and found some of my disabilities have gotten worse. He suggested that I may be untitled to a higher rating and an additional rating due to secondary conditions that now existed that did not exist years ago. I got all the correct medical documentation and presented my case via the DAV. Much to my surprise, the claim was approved and my son’s money was reinstated the back pay in under a year. There is no way I could have gotten what I deserved from the Va if it were not for the concerned and dedicated VSO from the DAV. No lawyer could have gotten me all this and in record time. No lawyer would know to explore my existing conditions and what secondary issues I may have gotten – unless I brought it up to them. They may be of great value, but I had the best service and sincere assistance from my DAV VSO.
I am a life member DAV. I have begged the DAV for help with my A/O Spina Bifida daughter’s problems with VA. Dav doesn’t respond. I also recently saw an article about the DAV having a lot of high paid executives on stall. Millions per year in staff salary at the DAV as I understand it. If I am going to PAY someone I want it to be a LAWYER and I want them to be on MY SIDE, not the VA’s side.
I was recently “awarded” a 90% permanent” disability service-connected on my claim….the problem was I was already at 70% and they rated my PTSD at 70% and unemployable. So 70% + 70% just doesn’t add up to 90% in any math class it ever took.
They “Zeroed Out” some of my issues that they had been paying on for years, stating “they didn’t see where it was getting any worst”, even though no one ever look into them since the first exam.
They use Fuzzy Math to calculate the percentage rating to throw off anyone trying to understand just what and how did they arrive at their conclusion.
I second the idea of getting a outside psychologist to off set the bias that the VA evaluator might have. I found a local Christian Organization that has psychologist on staff that has experience with the VA process and what is needed to make a successful claim for PTSD. Very little “donation was needed” to achieve what I needed. Later I took a copy of the outside psychologist statement to the VA with me to meet the VA consultant psychologist, this was the nail needed to get the claim done.
P.S. it still took 9 months to process even though all required data and records where provided with the claim.
I emailed Benjamin last week on a simlar issue. I now have a lawyer rather than a VSO rep. The last straw occurred when I was sitting in the DAV office one day and the VSO rep apologized for “bothering” the rater.
Here’s the thing. 80% of something is better than 100% of nothing. I won’t begrudge my lawyer a penny if he can get my rating to 100%
I think I may have stumbled on to something, though, that may help other vets if they are just getting ready to file a claim. When I filed my claim initially, I also filed for pension. When I got my initial decision, they granted it, but made only 20% of my “total and permanent” disability service-connected.
Since then, I’ve used the pension determination as a road map. The ratings are already done; I just need to show service connection now. I’ve gotten two more pieces of this approved, and am not up to 50%. I have another 50% rating for mental health issues, which my lawyer immediately told me to have reevaluted as PTSD. I went through the screening, got the diagnosis, and the lawyer now tells me I should be golden on my upcoming de novo review.
When I first got my rating, the VSO told me that I had already had all my disabilities evaluated for service-connection, even though I hadn’t mentioned them on my claim. That was BS. I’ve handled my appeal pretty much on my own up until now. Like anything else, you get what you pay for with your advocacy, and the VSO was worth every dime I paid them.
VSO’s play golf with the VA guys and their kids are classmates of the VA guy’s kids. The VSO has an office right across the hall from the VA guy and they refer to each other as friends, sometimes as BEST friends. How can you expect the VSO to take the side of the veteran and go against their “best friend?” I is NOT going to happen. The bread of the VSO’s is buttered by the VA, and everyone involved knows it.
Great advice and I hope people share it with their fellow veterans
I couldn’t agree more ! The Veterans service organizations are not capable of dealing with a recalcitrant VA whose primary modus operendi is to allow attrition to eliminate the “problem” posed by the under-rated Vietnam Veteran. Benjamin is correct, Once you receive the refusal from the VA (and you will within a four to five year time span) take that immediately to the closest Legal group that represents the Veteran against the “enemy” and get them to represent you ! If you do not, you will be wasting your valuable lifetime relying on a “Veterans Service” organization which by the way, is what the V.A. hopes you will do. That is not unlike the experience of attempting to blow cigar smoke into your hat !
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