Married to PTSD

14 Sep 2017

American Civilians view the return of a veteran as being a happy time. Online videos romanticize the soldier surprising his un-expecting family with the homecoming. But what happens when the cameras quit rolling and the veteran returns to a civilian world as a changed person; one living with PTSD

The Veteran 

A deployed soldier lives a life of high intense emotions. At every second, they are on high alert of enemy forces, staying alive, keeping their fellow soldiers alive, all while completing a mission. This becomes the soldier's new way of living. When the soldier returns home, it is hard for them to turn this mindset off.   

Returning to family/civilian life is completely different from what they have lived for months. Often times, all the burdens of taking care of the family are still left up to the spouse of the veteran. 

The Spouse  

In addition to the soldier suffering from PTSD, the VA is now recognizing the effects of secondary PTSD on family members.   

One of the biggest changes a spouse may endure is caregiver burden.  Although the veteran is home with the family, they are still detached, leaving all the family decisions to the spouse. The spouse not only takes care of the "normal" household burdens but now they have to learn how to adapt to the veteran being a part of the family.  The spouses learn to watch for the PTSD triggers in an attempt to prevent the veteran from disrupting the flow of family living. Sooner or later, the spouse loses a sense of self and becomes like the person they are trying so hard to protect.   

Help is all you need 

It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD before things get out of control. While PTSD is not curable, it is treatable.  Life, as it was once known may only be a distant memory, but a new better life is obtainable for those that seek and receive treatment.  For more information about PTSD, please contact us.

The Myth of Veteran Violence

07 Sep 2017

The story unfolds in the popular media with lots of drama and noise: a disturbed veteran has taken a weapon and turned it on Americans. On American soil. The family tells the reporters he came back from the military a changed man. Stories of vets with PTSD and TBI start to circulate. People with media presence take to twitter to talk about veterans, and how they need help. But is this an accurate portrayal of what is happening, or is the media and are the media celebs just perpetuating a myth? A myth that becomes more accepted and ingrained, the longer it is discussed by people who look concerned and intelligent? What is really happening?

Another myth, one that has been around for generations, no, centuries, is the myth of the troubled young man sent off to the military to get "straightened out." Judges gave young men the choice, join the Navy or go to jail. Parents at their wit's end gave ultimatums to teenagers they could no longer understand or control. School counselors and well meaning ministers sent teenaged boys who were having substance abuse issues, showing aggression and poor impulse control, out of society and into the military to get some tough love, some growing up and straightening out.

Since aggression and poor impulse control is the hallmark of adolescence in every culture on the planet, and most young men continue to grow up and become contributing and functioning members of society, the myth of the military providing some sort of crucible for troubled young men to work out their aggression has continued. And we have provided many wars to fuel that crucible.

But there are two factors to consider before those with a media presence should jump on this bandwagon. First, not every young person who exhibits substance abuse, poor impulse control, and aggression is just working out teenaged angst. Some of these young men have mental health problems that will make their lives, and the lives of their families, difficult forever. Sending them off to the military is not going to fix them, though they will get concerned medical treatment. They will continue to have problems with substance abuse, impulse control, and aggression. If they cannot function in society, they will also not function in the society of the military. But it is not the job of America's military to sequester the violent young with mental illness from the rest of America. The military already has enough responsibility. Many, if not most, of these troubled vets who appear in the news after an episode of violent behavior were discharged from the military early, with dishonorables, after a brief enlistment characterized by substance abuse, difficulty with authority, aggression, and poor impulse control.

The second factor that is often not discussed is the effects of a burgeoning world and national population on human behavior. With the population in America topping three hundred and twenty-four million people, the sheer number of those with antisocial behavior problems, substance abuse, and other mental health disorders is also growing. The military is not, by its nature, the place for the treatment of antisocial behavior. The myth of the kid made of soft metal, hardened and honed into a killing machine, is ludicrous to anyone who has served. What the military can teach only works on a person who is willing and able to learn. And those lessons--respect, discipline, pride in self and country, sacrifice for the greater good, and honor, are not the lessons that turn troubled teenagers into troubled adults.

The military needs our best. The complicated jobs given to military leadership and military service members demand our very best people doing their very best under difficult and challenging circumstances. Are we really still asking the military to finish the job of raising troubled teenagers, or giving them the job of sequestering antisocial, violent adults with substance abuse problems?

Appealing a Board Decision: Making Sure Your VSO or Attorney is Properly Accredited

24 Aug 2017

After a long wait and even longer appeal process, you finally received a decision from the Board of Veterans Appeals (Board) and you have been denied veterans disability benefits. This denial can be incredibly disappointing, but you still have options. For some veterans, appealing their decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) is the right choice.

What is the CAVC?

The CAVC was established in 1988 to review any decision issued by the Board. The CAVC is completely separate from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and is actually a part of the federal court system. The judges in this court have the ability to reverse the Board’s decision; uphold the Board’s decision; or remand the case (send it back to the Board) for  a new decision, further development or correct the VA’s failures in procedure in determining your case.

How Do I Appeal?

Once you receive a decision  from the Board, you have 120 days to file a Notice of Appeal with the CAVC. Because this appeal is being filed in a federal court, the process is more formal and certain rules must be followed. Use this form to file the Notice of Appeal. There is a fee to file the Notice of Appeal; if you need help paying the fee and you meet certain income guidelines, you can apply for a fee waiver using the Declaration of Financial Hardship form. You can submit the Notice of Appeal and the Declaration of Financial Hardship by mail, fax, or email to:

Clerk of Court
United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
625 Indiana Ave., NW, Suite 900
Washington DC, 20004-2950

Fax: (202) 501-5848

Keep in mind that the CAVC cannot review new evidence; the Court is only reviewing your case to determine if the VA followed all of the appropriate laws, regulations  and guidelines when making your decision. This means that they cannot accept updated medical records or information about new impairments or problems.

Should I Use a VSO or Attorney to Help Me with My Appeal?

If you are appealing to the CAVC, it is not mandatory that you have an attorney or representative. Technically, you have every right to carry out the appeal yourself. However, keep in mind that there will be an experienced attorney on the other side of the case who does this type of work every day, and who will be making legal arguments against your appeal.

A lack of representation or support in a CAVC appeal could put you at a real disadvantage, primarily because most people are not accustomed to writing legal briefs or making legal arguments. If you do decide to represent yourself, the judge will hold you to the same standards as an accredited representative or attorney, which can be overwhelming for many people.

Selecting a Qualified Representative

When selecting an attorney or representative to assist you with a CAVC appeal, make sure that they are accredited to handle this type of appeal. The court will not appoint an attorney for you, so you will need to research the representatives in your area and find one that you trust and that you believe will act in your best interest.

The CAVC provides a list of attorneys/representatives that are accredited to handle appeals here. Many attorneys/representatives will handle payment for this type of case on a contingent basis (only if they win) or will not charge a fee.

Even if you decide not to hire an attorney/representative, you should contact your veteran service officer (VSO) as soon as you receive your denial from the BVA. The VSO can review the decision with you, answer your questions, and help you make the strongest case for your benefits.

Finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources:

Notice of Appeal form

Declaration of Financial Hardship form

CAVC Website

Service Dogs for Disabled Vets

10 Aug 2017

The VA recognizes three types of service dogs for disabled veterans. For blind and vision impaired vets, guide dogs are trained to lead in walking and to navigate around hazards. Service dogs are trained to do things regular dogs can't, and specifically to perform a task that the veteran cannot perform because of the disability. Emotional support dogs provide emotional support and companionship for those vets with mental health conditions. 

Guide dogs and service dogs are obtained through a provider's recommendation and from nationally recognized training programs. The VA does not cover the usual costs of dog ownership, such as food, but does pay for vet care and equipment through the Va's prosthetic program.

Emotional support dogs can be regular pets. They provide the companionship and emotional benefits of pet ownership, which can be comforting for people with and without emotional health conditions. The VA does not, at this time, recognize emotional support animals as an evidence-based therapy for PTSD and other mental health conditions. They do not offer any financial support for animals in these roles or allow extended access to areas pets are usually forbidden, such as airplanes and restaurants.

While the evidence-based medical therapies do not support dogs as emotional support animals, particularly for those with PTSD, many veterans groups, animal groups, and lawmakers disagree. State and national organizations that offer support and assistance with emotional support animals continue to grow. With a number of these organizations actively soliciting participation from veterans, it is worth noting that several international and national training programs for service animals exist, but there is not at this time a national training or register for emotional support animals. Veterans groups and individual veterans recommendations may be the safest way to navigate through these new organizations.

Emotional support animals must comply with the rules and restrictions of regular pets. They, for instance, have to live in a pet-approved apartment or housing. Owners have to be able to care for the animals normally, such as affording food and being able to walk dogs. Many multi-family housing areas have breed restrictions; guide and service dogs can qualify for an exemption for breed restrictions and pet fees, but emotional support pets do not.

For more information about psychiatric disability & veterans, please contact us.

Requesting a VA Appeal Hearing (DRO & BVA)

10 Aug 2017

You selflessly completed your military service, but you have been left with a life-altering injury or condition. You disagree with the VA’s decision on your case and  you have decided to appeal the decision and continue fighting for the benefits that you deserve. In addition to filing the appeal paperwork and submitting additional evidence, you have the right to request a VA appeal hearing.

Requesting a VA Appeal Hearing

DRO vs. BVA Appeal: What is the Difference?

The VA gives you the option of choosing a de novo review with a Decision Review Officer (DRO) appeal or a Traditional Review with the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). Both options give you the opportunity to request a hearing.

If you choose the DRO appeal, DRO will perform another review of your application and supporting evidence and make a new determination without giving any deference to the original decision.  You do have the right to request a hearing with the DRO. This hearing will generally take place at your local regional VA office.

Once the DRO makes their decision, the VA will send you a rating decision, if they grant an increase or service connection and/or a Statement of the Case on those issues which they deny service connection or a rating increase. If you disagree with the rating decision, you can file an appeal and go before a different DRO.  To file this appeal, you must complete a Notice of Disagreement within one year of the date on the rating decision.  If you disagree with any portion of the Statement of the Case, you have the option of filing a substantive appeal with the BVA. To file this appeal, you must complete VA Form 9 within 60 days of the date of the Statement of the Case. You have the right to request a formal hearing before the BVA. You may request a hearing with the BVA via videoconference, travel board (when a judge from the BVA comes to your regional office, or in Washington (you travel to Washington D.C. for the hearing).  

Should I Request a VA Appeal Hearing?

Most cases benefit from an appeal hearing because it gives you the opportunity to speak with the person who is making the decision on your case. This can be helpful for many reasons.

  1. Human Element: The VA deals with many cases each day, countless applications for benefits, and thousands of pages of medical records. A face-to-face conversation allows the decision maker to see you as a human and gives you the opportunity to describe your impairments in detail and explain how these impairments affect your daily life. It is much easier for a decision maker to understand the extent of your impairments and limitations when they can see and speak with you, instead of just reviewing a pile of paperwork and medical records.

  2. Opportunity to Answer Specific Questions: You’ll have the opportunity to answer the reviewer’s questions about gaps in the evidence or your medical record in real time. Many veterans are injured while serving, but they may not seek substantial medical treatment because they have other priorities or lack medical insurance. After 5 or 10 years, the injury gets progressively worse and now requires extensive medical treatment. If the decision maker were to rely only on the medical records, it is likely that your claim would be denied because it would be difficult to show service-connection. However, during the hearing, you have the opportunity to explain why you did not seek extensive medical treatment during your service. This information is invaluable to your claim and can often mean the difference between approval and denial.

  3. Additional Supporting Testimony: At a hearing, you can bring in testimony from a spouse or family member, which can be helpful to your claim. Many times, it is difficult to remember all of the details of your service, injuries, and treatment for your injuries, especially in a slightly stressful situation like a hearing. A family member that witnessed your obstacles and treatment can provide details that you may overlook or not feel are important. It is helpful to discuss this testimony with your family member before the hearing to refresh your memory and to make sure that your information is consistent with your family member’s recollection of events.

The appeal process can be overwhelming. If you are undecided about requesting a hearing or would like assistance in preparing your appeal or getting ready for a VA appeal hearing, your representative (veteran service officer (VSO) or attorney) is an excellent resource.

In particular, your representative can help outline the critical issues and legal principles of your case during the hearing to ensure that the decision maker has all of the necessary information to make a decision about your claim. Additionally, your representative can help you determine if a hearing is appropriate for your case.

The VA disability benefits claim process can be lengthy and frustrating, but finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources:

BVA Handout: Your Rights to Appeal Our Decision

Veterans Appeals Process Briefing

BVA Handout on Video Hearings

Category: Disability Claims Information

New Study on Young Veterans, PTSD, and Fight or Flight Response

03 Aug 2017

A recent study found that young veterans with PTSD have an increased fight or flight response during mental stress. The research provides important insights into how to protect veterans with PTSD from the effects of high blood pressure and heart disease.

Medical experts have long suspected that over activity in the sympathetic nervous system was a factor in treating veterans experiencing PTSD. This study led by a team at Emory University was the first to measure the activity directly and analyze the potential mechanisms behind it.

Participants were tested for their reaction to two types of mental stress, mental arithmetic unrelated to PTSD and first person war images and sounds recreated through virtual reality goggles. Sympathetic nerve activity was recorded using techniques including microneurography whereby electrodes are placed inside a nerve. The researchers found that post-9/11 veterans with combat-related PTSD had an increased fight or flight response during mental stress, higher adrenaline levels, and less control of their heart rate in response to blood pressure changes.

The findings are significant given that an estimated 14% of post-9/11 veterans experience PTSD, and related increased risks for high blood pressure and heart disease. The researchers hope to use the findings to improve diagnosis and treatment. Currently, most doctors recommend controlling high blood pressure through lifestyle changes such as eating a low-salt healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and losing weight. Drugs such as Thiazide diuretics and beta blockers may also be prescribed.

Stay up to date on disability benefits and other issues affecting veterans. Contact us at the Veterans Law Group to learn more.

How to File an Appeal

27 Jul 2017

After serving your country selflessly and completing your military service, you were left with a life-altering injury or condition. You completed an application for veterans’ disability compensation for your service-related injury, but you just received a denial or lower rating than expected. This can be incredibly disappointing, but it does not mean that you should give up! You can appeal the decision and continue to fight for the benefits that you deserve.

Reasons for Filing an Appeal

A denial or unfavourably low rating can seem like the end of the road, but there are many reasons that your claim could have been denied or under rated: missing information or evidence; incomplete forms; or the claim examiner may have missed something important. Do not take the VA’s decision as personal. Instead, read through the letter carefully and take note of the following:

  • Date: The date of the decision is very important! You have 12 months from the date on the letter to submit an appeal.

  • Reason for Denial: This part of the decision can help you determine the reason that the VA denied your claim. Often, the VA just puts standard language in this section, but there may be details about information that should have been included or evidence that was missing.

  • Effective Date and Rating: The date your benefits go into effect and the rating of your injury will determine the amount of benefits you receive. Take some time to review this information to make sure that it aligns with the date and severity of your impairments.

If you disagree with the VA’s decision or you believe that the effective date or the rating of your impairments is incorrect, you can appeal the decision. If you become overwhelmed as you are reading through the paperwork, or you are confused by the VA’s decision, make sure to contact your representative (i.e. veterans service officer (VSO) or an attorney); they will be happy to review the decision with you. Your representataive can also help you determine if an appeal is appropriate and assist you with filing a Notice of Disagreement.  

How Do You File a Notice of Disagreement?

If you have decided to appeal the VA’s decision, you will need to complete a Notice of Disagreement (VA Form 21-0958). The Notice of Disagreement does not need to be a detailed list of all of the errors made in the decision. Use the form and answer the questions they ask as to why you disagree.  You will also need to indicate if you would like a Decision Review Officer (DRO) appeal or a Traditional Review.

What is the Difference Between a Decision Review Officer and a Traditional Review?

The VA gives you the option of choosing a DRO appeal or a Traditional Review. The DRO option is generally a quicker process than the Traditional Appeal. Your VSO can help you determine which is the best option for you.

If you choose the DRO appeal the DRO will perform new review of your claim and supporting evidence and issue an independent decision.  If requested by you, a hearing will be held prior to a decision. After review of all the evidence and information, the DRO will issue a Rating Decision on any benefits changed from the appealed decision and a Statement of the Case on any benefits in which the DRO agreed with the previous decision.

You again have the option to appeal the Rating Decision with a Notice of Disagreement. If you disagree with any portion of the Statement of the Case, you have the option to file a substantive appeal by completing VA Form 9.  This will then send your appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) in Washington D.C.

Additionally, the VA allows the submission of new or relevant evidence during the appeal with a DRO and BVA,  so you may submit new medical records or other supporting information. If you find the Notice of Disagreement or VA Form 9 difficult to complete, so feel free to ask your representative for assistance with this portion of the appeals process.

If you determine that it may be useful, at this appeal level you may also request a formal hearing in front of the BVA to explain your case. Once the BVA has reviewed all the information, a decision will be issued.

The VA disability benefits claims process can be lengthy, overwhelming, and frustrating, but finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz today to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources:

VA Intent to File a Disagreement

VA Guide on How to Appeal a Decision

Category: Disability Claims Information

V-Wise: Sustainable Business Ventures for Female Vets and Spouses

13 Jul 2017

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, supported by funding from the Small Business Administration, is helping military families across a wide spectrum. One of the most interesting programs is V-Wise. This program is specifically designed for female veterans, female active duty members, and female spouses or partners; the program helps women develop and grow sustainable business ventures.

The program provides help from basic business education and development through information on entrepreneurship, and most importantly, provides ongoing mentorship. This level of support throughout the course of developing and launching a new business is critical for long-term success.

The V-Wise Program starts with a 15-day online course, followed by an in-person 3-day entrepreneurship training course, located across the nation at various locales. This year, the in person three-day training is going to be held in Louisville, Ky on August 11-13. A class will be held in DC in October 2017, and in Pittsburgh, summer of 2018.

The ability to start and nurture a small business, especially one which can move with the family, is critically important to the long-term financial stability of veterans facing challenges in the traditional workplace. When veterans start their own businesses, especially those that involve making things by hand, the quiet and solitude, the nature of the work, and some small degree of financial security may give veterans more peace and independence than currently offered job and employment help.

Many veterans still long to contribute to the world, the country, their communities and their families. When the support and structure of the military is lost, many vets face the challenges of service connected injury and illness alone, and without the support to successfully navigate a bureaucracy-heavy system. Beginning the journey toward small or micro-business ownership may let veterans build a new future.

What It Means to Accept a VA Disability Rating

13 Jul 2017

Veterans who suffer from an injury that was caused or made worse during their active military service can make a claim to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. These benefits are tax-free, paid to veterans on a monthly basis, and known as VA disability compensation. 

The VA disability compensation process can be a challenging undertaking for veterans and their families, especially for those who have never gone through the process. That’s why having a veterans service officer (VSO) on your side can be extremely helpful.

VA Disability Ratings

VA Disability Compensation Decision

After you have applied for benefits, submitted paperwork to support your veteran’s disability claim, and completed your C&P exam, the VA must decide two things: 

  1. Was your disability caused or made worse by your service?

  2. How does the disability affect your ability to obtain employment?

If the VA determines that your condition was not caused or made worse during your time in the military, then your claim will be denied. However, you can appeal the denial of your claim. See the section below on Appealing a Disability Claim Rating for more details.

When your claim is approved by the VA, it is assigned a disability rating. It is critical that you understand how your rating is calculated to ensure that your benefits are awarded correctly. A VSO can assist you with reading and interpreting your disability rating.

Accepting a Disability Rating

If benefits have been granted, you will receive a Rating Decision. This letter will state your disability rating, compensation amounts, and the date from which your benefits begin.

After carefully reviewing your determination letter, if you agree with the VA’s decision, you do not need to take any action to begin receiving your compensation. Your initial payment, which will include any past due amounts, should be mailed to you or direct deposited into the account number on your application within 15 days after you receive the notification letter. From then forward, your payments will be sent on the first day of each month.

Optional Next Steps After a Disability Claims Award

  1. Sign-up for direct deposit with the VA. This enables you to receive your monthly compensation funds deposited electronically into your checking account, and it helps avoid complications from a lost or stolen paper check.

  2. Consider registering for additional VA benefits. These include VA medical care, dental care, life insurance, and educational benefits, among others.

  3. Research disabled veterans benefits available in your state. Many states also offer their own benefits for disabled veterans, which differ from state to state but may include reduced or exempted property taxes.

Appealing a Disability Rating

You can appeal the denial of your claim or a low rating by filing a Notice of Disagreement (Form 21-0958) with your regional VA office. The notice is a written declaration informing the VA that you disagree with their decision. Submitting this form will open an appeal to your compensation decision with the VA. You have one year from the date that you receive your determination letter to begin the appeals process.

Changing Your Rating at a Later Date

If your disability worsens after the one year appeal time is up, you can request an increase in your VA disability compensation using form 526EZ. You can support this request by enclosing medical evidence of your worsened condition. Generally, the VA will then schedule a new C&P exam to re-evaluate your disability. If the new evaluation increases your disability rating, your monthly compensation will also rise.

A claim for an increased disability rating can be more complicated than one might think. That is why it’s in your best interest to consult with your VSO before moving forward with a request for increased compensation.

The VA also has the right to re-examine your disability rating at any time unless you were deemed permanently and totally disabled in you rating decision. If you receive a letter scheduling you for a re-examination, then it is extremely important for you to attend or reschedule this appointment. If you do not, the VA can reduce or terminate your benefits.

While the VA disability rating system can be complex and hard to understand, finding answers to your disability claims questions doesn’t have to be difficult. Take our free quiz to determine what resources are available for your specific needs.

Additional Resources

VA Disability Award Compensation Attachment 
VA Guide on How to Appeal a Decision

Category: Disability Claims Information

The Latest In PTSD Treatment: An Online Tool, Medical Cannabis, and Service Dogs

07 Jul 2017

PTSD is an issue that many veterans struggle with. Every veteran either has some degree of PTSD themselves or has a close buddy who suffers from it. Here are the latest developments and news about PTSD treatment.

VA Releases Online Tool to Help Deal With PTSD

The Veterans Affairs has recently released a new online tool that is designed to help returning military personnel deal with the effects of PTSD. The tool, called PTSD Treatment Decision Aid, has a lot of information, videos, and presentations about various treatments for PTSD, such as talk therapy. Users can also build charts to compare the various treatments to help them decide which one they prefer.

Colorado Approves PTSD for Medical Cannabis Treatment

Governor John Hickenlooper has recently approved PTSD as a condition that qualifies for treatment with medical cannabis. It is the first condition to be approved for cannabis treatment in Colorado since 2001. Nineteen other states have already approved PTSD as a qualifying condition.

Research Into Effects of Service Dogs on PTSD

Researchers at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Center for the Human Animal Bond are conducting a new clinical research study to find out what effects service dogs have on veterans suffering from PTSD. It’s been suggested that bonding with dogs can produce positive emotional reactions which can help people deal with PTSD. The new study was created to discover exactly how and which PTSD symptoms are affected by service dogs. The study is being done in partnership with K9s for Warriors.

For legal help for veterans, contact us today!

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