Veteran Unemployability and Volunteer Work

18 May 2017

The issue of volunteering is an important one for veterans, because vets have always contributed to their communities and the country. After facing the challenges of living with a disabling condition as a result of military service, many veterans find the additional burden of not contributing to the world in a real way extremely disheartening.

But there are several ways vets can volunteer and have a positive impact on their communities without putting their disability rating or benefits in jeopardy. The employability rating is for those who are unable to work full-time. Contributing several hours a week as a volunteer does not imply the ability to work full-time.

It may help any concerns to volunteer in a field that was different from the previous job or occupation. Helping out at the local food bank, delivering supplies or giving elderly people rides to the doctor's office are all needed help that will not imply the ability to return to work. Working as a Foster Grandparent or a Big Brother or Sister is very important volunteer work. Many vets serve on advisory boards or committees, or help with veterans issues on an on-call basis.

The social interaction that comes with volunteering is important, and the feeling of being part of the community, and contributing, is one that many vets have always experienced. The isolation that comes after a disabling injury or illness can be very destructive to self-esteem and family dynamics. Volunteering in the community may be one way to continue to contribute to the world.

For more information on veteran unemployability, please contact us.

Nexus Letter

18 May 2017

You courageously served your country and completed your military service, but you were left with an injury or illness that is limiting your ability to live life to the fullest. If you are a veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and have a current injury or condition that is connected to that service, you may be eligible for disability compensation.

If your service or medical records are incomplete or do not demonstrate the connection between your impairment and your service, you can choose to submit additional materials to support your veterans disability claim. While your Veterans Service Officer (VSO) can help you determine what information you should submit, one of the most common supporting materials is a “nexus” letter.

What Is a “Nexus” Letter?

In order to qualify for veterans’ disability benefits, you must be able to show that your current condition or injury began during your military service or was aggravated by what you experienced during that service. In other words, you need to show that there is a “nexus” or connection between what happened in the military and your current medical condition. A nexus letter is written by a doctor, specialist, or expert and provides insight into your injury to confirm its connection to an event or injury that occurred during your military service.

Why Do I Need a Nexus Letter?

Many injuries or conditions are difficult to connect directly to your military service. Common examples include back and knee injuries, cancer, mental impairments, etc. Since service members are often reluctant to get something treated while they are in the service, or they simply underestimate the severity of an injury when it first occurs, this can pose a challenge for proving a connection at a later date.

Perhaps you hurt your knee performing work during your service and instead of seeking treatment, you bought a knee wrap from the grocery store and took some aspirin. Now your knee is in terrible shape and is limiting your ability to stand, walk, and sit. However, it is likely that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) will not be able to verify the connection between your knee injury and the problems that you are experiencing now because you did not get treatment at the time of your injury. This is where a letter from your doctor, specialist, or psychologist or psychiatrist (depending on the nature of your impairment) can be especially helpful and supportive of your claim.

Another example involves exposure to Agent Orange. The VBA has recognized exposure to Agent Orange as a presumptive cause of several types of cancer and/or disease. While many veterans suffer from the effects of exposure to Agent Orange, they often have difficulty drawing the connection to their military service because their condition is not on the presumptive list of conditions. A nexus letter from an oncologist or other expert can provide additional support to the claim and may establish service connection, resulting in approval for disability benefits.

What Should a Nexus Letter Include?

As stated earlier, a nexus letter should be written by an expert. Most of the time, this will be your treating physician, a specialist (like an oncologist), or a psychologist or psychiatrist; someone who has expertise in your condition or type of injury.

The expert should review all of your related medical records, including service medical records, before drafting a nexus letter. The expert should indicate in the letter which records were reviewed so that the reader understands the history and depth of the expert’s observations and opinions. Additionally, it is always more persuasive if you have been examined recently by the expert that is drafting the letter.

The letter should be clear, concise, and should detail your injury or condition and how it relates to an injury or event that occurred during your military service. Fortunately, the expert does not need to state that he or she is 100% positive that the triggering accident or event caused your current injury or impairment. The expert only needs to express whether “it is more likely than not” that your illness or injury was incurred or aggravated during your active service.

Nexus letters can be a powerful resource and provide valuable support to your claim for disability benefits. It is helpful to first discuss with your VSO the potential experts that could write your nexus letter(s) before deciding who to ask. Your VSO may be able to suggest a doctor or specialist who is familiar with the veterans’ disability claims process and who may have written successful nexus letters for other veterans.

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:

eBenefits

Presumptive Conditions caused by Agent Orange



Category: Disability Claims Information

The Tangled Threads of Service-Connected Disability, Incarceration, and Immigration Status

11 May 2017

Service-connected psychiatric disability and traumatic brain injury are commonalities among veterans with substance abuse challenges and involvement with the criminal justice system. While these facts may point to a failure of the system to support service members who are injured in the line of duty, and the generalized failure to provide adequate treatment and support for substance abuse, the system is a catastrophic failure when the veteran faces deportation because of immigration status.

Many enlistees assume that serving in the military, and receiving an honorable discharge, entitles them to citizenship. It does not. There is a procedure for applying, and a timeline, but there is no automatic entitlement. Veterans who served honorably, and who do not apply for the expedited citizenship and residency while on active duty, can be, and are, being deported regularly. They will be allowed back in the US when they die, to be buried in a veterans' cemetery.

While deportation of undocumented veterans has become common, the real challenge is for those veterans who are eligible for VA health care and are deported. VA eligibility still exists, though there are no VA treatment centers in Mexico or Central America. With no assistance for working through the system, that eligibility for services is often lost and veterans go without care.

The most common deportation practice with veterans who are undocumented are for those with a criminal justice conviction. The VA can stop pensions for veterans incarcerated in federal facilities, and families do not automatically receive the stopped pensions. Many families, afraid of becoming known to the system and being deported, never apply for benefits or assistance due to families.

Veterans and their families who are undocumented are facing challenging times. Many are afraid to access the system that has been put into place for their service connected injuries, because of the threat of deportation if they become identified by the system. Legal counsel can assist veterans and family members to access the VA system, and provide advice and assistance with issues of immigration status and threatened deportation.

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

The Meaning of the Monk Case: Monk v. Shulkin Case Class Actions

11 May 2017

Recently, the Federal Circuit overturned years of precedent in the case of Monk v. Shulkin, F.3d (April 26, 2017). The decision allows the CAVC (U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims) to approve class actions in cases pending before the Veterans Court.

Class actions come into play when many litigants/claimants are in a similar situation. That is, they allow a large number of claimants, who share the same or similar issue(s), to join together in one representative action. Typically, the class picks a lead claimant, who will represent the entire class. If the lead claimant wins the action, so does the entire class; and, of course, if the lead claimant loses, so does the entire class.

One benefit of a class action is to avoid the problem of a case becoming moot. A case becomes moot when there no longer remains a dispute between the parties.

EXAMPLE: The VA has unreasonably delayed, perhaps for two years, the scheduling of a VA examination for your client, without disputing the client's right to a VA examination. In this circumstance, an attorney files an individual petition for a writ of mandamus (WRIT) before the Veterans Court, alleging the VA's unreasonable delay of scheduling the examination. Following the petition, the Veterans Court orders the Secretary to respond to the allegations in the petition. Faced with this order, the VA schedules the client for a VA examination and informs the Veterans Court. At this point, the case is moot because there no longer remains a dispute - i.e,. the client received what he requested, the scheduling of a VA examination.

Consider now another scenario. A VSO office has noticed that many of its clients, say, as many as 100, have waited over two years to have their VA examinations scheduled. Instead of filing individual petitions before the Veterans Court for each and every affected client, your office can now group all the clients (claimants) in one class action petition.

With a chosen lead claimant, the petition will allege that two years is an unreasonable delay for all members of the class. Even if the VA agrees to schedule a VA examination for the lead claimant, the class action is not moot. To render the class action moot, the VA would have to schedule examinations for all the class members.

The Veterans Law Group would be happy to assist any VSO office in preparing a class action.

PTSD and Sleep Deprivation

04 May 2017

Surveys suggest that 70 to 90% of people with PTSD suffer from sleep deprivation, with veterans falling in the higher numbers. This inability to fall asleep or stay asleep often leads to difficulty dealing with daily life. The major causes of lack of sleep include hyper-vigilance, nightmares, fear of going to sleep, guilt, substance abuse, stress and physical as well as emotional pain.

Hyper-vigilance appears due to the need to stay alert against potential danger.  In the case of combat veterans, both training and experience underscore the necessity of being alert to stay alive. Once ingrained for several months or years, the habit of being constantly on one's guard causes major difficulty in falling asleep.  Add to that, the fact that the brain activated certain chemicals to assist alertness makes it not only difficult to go to sleep but remain so.

Nightmares and flashbacks are major complaints of those suffering from PTSD. Combat veterans, of course, are subject to many horrific events leading to nightmares and flashbacks, both of which not only interfere with sound sleep, but cause the sufferer to postpone sleep in order to avoid bad dreams or experiencing another flashback.

Many veterans have suffered injuries while in combat and the residual pain from those injuries keep them from sleeping well. They may also have guilt that they lived while friends in their unit died or that they are a burden to their loved ones.

The results of sleep deprivation are not surprising.  They not only include fatigue, but increased panic attacks, depression, substance abuse, smoking, memory problems, impairment of judgement and suicidal thoughts. In other words, those who suffer from sleep deprivation are at more risk for medical problems and damaging behavior.

Health professionals are trying many kinds of treatment, not only for the disorder itself, but for the loss of sleep connected with it.  Most of these treatments involve both medicine and counseling.  One new medicine, for instance, Prazosin, has proved to help prevent nightmares for patients with PTSD.

In addition, two interesting studies are being further examined for validity.  One showed that subjects given a sense of safety slept better than those given techniques to simply to reduce fear.  From that study, researchers concluded that sleep loss was less about fear and more about feeling safe. The second study showed that PTSD and subsequent sleep deprivation produced a vicious circle in which the lack of sleep either produced PTSD or made the existing problem worse. As a result of these two studies, counselors and physicians are concentrating on finding more ways to help their patients reduce stress and create personal environments that feel safer to them.

If you are a veteran experiencing symptoms of PTSD that are causing difficulties in your life, contact us.  We may have the answers you need.


Why Might I Need a Buddy Statement for My VA Disability Claim?

04 May 2017

Injuries that occur during your service in the military can impact your ability to function for the rest of your life. You may have decided to file an application for veterans disability compensation for your service-related injury. However, you may find that your medical records are missing, incomplete, or do not properly document your injuries or the incidents that relate to your impairments. “Buddy Statements” can be an excellent way to verify and provide support to your disability claim.

What Is a "Buddy Statement"?

A “Buddy Statement” is exactly what it sounds like – a statement from one of your fellow service members, a spouse, or other family members that can help connect your injury to your service, provide insight into your behaviors and abilities before and after the injury or incident, and confirm dates, locations, and stressful events. 

Buddy statements from your fellow service members are extremely helpful and should be written by the people that were with you when the injury or incident happened. These individuals can provide insight into lengthy periods of combat, difficult incidents (fellow soldiers wounded or killed, explosions, etc.), working conditions, and equipment used. 

Buddy statements can also be written by your family and friends. These letters are helpful because they can shed light on your current situation and how your impairments are affecting your life and (potentially) the lives of your family today.  

Often, without the information provided by a buddy statement, it is difficult to prove that conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are connected to your service in the military. Another common use is to prove exposure to Agent Orange for veterans that may not have served in the presumed areas, but still handled materials that were exposed to the dangerous chemicals. 

How Do I Get a “Buddy Statement”?

If you have remained in contact with other service members, you can begin the process by asking them if they would be willing to write a statement. If you have not remained in contact with your fellow soldiers, it may be a little more difficult to track someone down. Your local veterans service organization can provide you with some resources and suggestions for locating other veterans, including searching the internet, your local library, etc. If your entire claim is dependent on verification or input from another veteran, The National Personnel Records Center may be able to forward information to the veteran that you are searching for. 

Once you have found a “buddy” who is willing to put together a statement, it is important that you provide them with some information about your disability and your application for disability benefits. They need to understand the specific injury or incident that you would like them to discuss in their statement. The statement should be direct and to the point and should include:

  • Who: The people involved in the incident or injury

  • What: A detailed description of what took place

  • Where: The location where the incident or injury occurred

  • When: The specific date the incident or injury occurred

  • How: A description of your abilities and behavior before and after the incident or injury

The statement can be written or typed on standard paper or on Form 21-4138 (Statement in Support). If the statement is not on a Form 4138, please include the following language at the bottom of the statement just above the signature “I certify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”  All Buddy Statements should be signed and include address and phone number of the “Buddy”.  It is a good idea to have your veterans service officer (VSO) review the statement before submission to make sure that it is complete and provides the -information necessary to support your claim. 

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:

eBenefits 

Category: Disability Claims Information

Discharge Upgrades

27 Apr 2017

Veterans must have a discharge from military service under honorable conditions to be eligible for benefits from the Veterans Administration.

Many veterans have been discharged dishonorably, even with a Bad Conduct Discharge, unjustly or erroneously. Some veterans have been punished and discharged dishonorably due to undiagnosed psychiatric illness caused by experiences in the service. PTSD is a common psychiatric diagnosis that may not be diagnosed in service but can cause service members much difficulty. PTSD may be responsible for conduct leading to a discharge under other than honorable conditions. Victims of sexual assault, often with PTSD, have been and continue to be discharged dishonorably.  Many victims do not report assault or suffer repercussions from commanders for doing so.

Personality disorders have been diagnosed by some military psychiatrists leading to discharges preventing a veteran from getting benefits as these are considered pervasive and usually existing prior to service. Veterans discharged because of an alleged personality disorder may be able to have their reason for discharge changed if they can substantiate that the personality disorder was improperly or erroneously diagnosed. This can be particularly important if there is another psychiatric diagnosis that is applicable and occurred during or as a result of service.

Thousands of veterans were discharged during the years that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was in force. Those that were discharged dishonorably may be eligible for an upgrade.

The Department of Defense is making a renewed effort to encourage veterans to apply for discharge upgrades.

Reasons for requesting an upgrade must be explained. The veteran will have to justify why their discharge was unjust or erroneous. Medical records may need to be submitted if relevant to the claim.

Veterans who were discharged within the last 15 years should complete DD Form 293. Those that were discharged more than 15 years ago should submit DD Form 149.  Both forms should be submitted to the veteran’s respective service. The address to submit to is listed on the form.

Don’t leave your application to chance. Let our experienced law firm help you get the upgrade you deserve and gain access to the benefits you earned.

Exposure to Agent Orange

20 Apr 2017

For an entire decade, from the early 1960s to the early 1970s, the United States sprayed millions of gallons of the blended herbicide Agent Orange throughout Vietnam and the surrounding regions. Its purpose was to defoliate the land to remove any covering for guerrillas. The herbicide was also used to clear areas around military bases.

At the time, concerns arose about the side effects the herbicide could have on human beings since Agent Orange contains highly toxic compounds called dioxins. These substances, shown as carcinogenic in animal studies, indicated that similar dangers could exist for people. Even so, the use of these chemicals continued until 1971 when the United States Air Force finally conducted the last official spray.

Today, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes many problems as "presumptive diseases" associated with exposure to Agent Orange -- such as various cancers, peripheral neuropathy, chloracne, and heart disease, among others. The VA continues to conduct research on the effects of Agent Orange and its associated health issues.

If you're a veteran and served in Vietnam during the conflict, or near the Korean demilitarized zone, you could have experienced exposure to Agent Orange. For those who served on military bases in Thailand, during the Vietnam War, you also could have suffered exposure. Children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange aren't immune to health problems either. Cases of defects at birth, such as Spina Bifida, are known to have occurred.

For veterans who are suffering the effects of Agent Orange, you're eligible for compensation. If you're concerned about your rights or need representation for any reason, please contact us today. We're here to help veterans throughout the United States with all of their legal issues.

Obtaining Medical Records​

20 Apr 2017

If you were injured while serving in the armed forces and your injury is keeping you from living a full and productive life, you may be eligible for veterans disability benefits. A strong claim for disability benefits can only be made with relevant and supporting medical records. Medical records can help establish the date of your injury, the cause of the injury, the severity of the injury, and how this injury continues to impact your ability to function today.

Do I Need To Request Copies of My Medical Records?

The short answer is YES!  

When filing a “standard” claim, the VA is responsible for obtaining medical records from the federal agencies and requesting records from private treatment providers that you have identified on your application. As you can imagine, this is a huge undertaking for the VA because of the significant number of veterans filing for disability benefits each year. The VA will make a reasonable effort to get your records; however, this does not mean that all of the requested records will be sent to the VA or that the records will be complete. As a result, the VA may make a decision about your eligibility for benefits that may not be based on all of the facts.

When filing a “Fully Developed Claim,” you are responsible for gathering and providing all of the relevant medical records with your application for benefits. This means that when you submit your application, you will certify that all of the relevant evidence has been included and the VA will use that information to make a decision about your claim. Again, if any records are missing or incomplete, the VA may not be able to see that your current impairment is related to an injury from your military service or they may not understand the severity or impact of the injury.

Whichever option you choose, it is important to make sure that the VA has ALL of the relevant evidence in their possession when reviewing your claim. This can only be done by requesting and submitting the medical records yourself (or with the help of your VSO).

How Do I Request My Medical Records?

Contact your VSO! They have experience handling claims and medical record requests and will make sure that the following types of records are requested:

Service Treatment Records contain details of the outpatient, dental, and mental health treatment received by an individual while in the service; for example, physicals, routine medical care, lab tests, etc. Depending on your separation date, these records are filed in various facilities around the country (See https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/medical-records.html to determine the location of your records).

Clinical Records contain the information from the hospitalizations of active duty members (inpatient stays). These records are held at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) under the name of the treating hospital.

Requests for health and clinical records can be made online; or by mail or fax using Standard Form 180.

VAMC Treatment Records contain the treatment information for eligible veterans after separation from the service at VA medical centers. These records are stored at the facility where treatment was performed. Therefore, you must contact each facility and submit a written request to receive a copy of your VA treatment records.  

Private Medical Records contain medical information from any doctor, therapist, or treatment facility outside of the VA or other military service-related treatment. Similar to the VA records, requests for copies of any private medical records must be submitted to the treating facility or physician. Some physicians charge a fee for your records. Check with your VSO to see if your state requires physicians to offer a discount (sometimes free) for records that are being used to support a disability claim. Please note, if the VA requests private medical records and the provider charges a fee the VA will not pay this fee. You will need to get the records and provide them to the VA.

Preparing your application for VA disability benefits can be 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

Directory of Veterans Service Organizations

VA Treatment Locations

New Research Shows Relationship Between Hormone Levels and PTSD

14 Apr 2017

Can hormones have anything to do with PTSD? For decades, researchers have grappled with the question of whether abnormal cortisol levels have any effect on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Cortisol is a hormone that the body releases when faced with dangerous situations that require a flight-or-fight response.

Although previous studies were inconclusive, new research by the University of Texas at Austin and published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology reveals that cortisol levels do play a role -- but only when testosterone levels are suppressed. The studies suggest that previous research failed to take into account the effect testosterone levels have on cortisol and its relationship with stress levels.

As part of the studies, 120 soldiers were tracked before, during and after their deployment and combat duties overseas in Iraq. Saliva samples were taken to determine hormone levels. Before deployment, soldiers were exposed to stressful situations. The natural response to stressful situations is an increase in cortisol levels. Soldiers who didn’t show such an increase -- in other words, those who had an abnormal cortisol level -- were more likely to develop PTSD after combat.

These studies are part of the Texas Combat PTSD Risk Project, which is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

So, how can such research benefit soldiers and veterans? The answer: By helping researchers develop preventative interventions to reduce the risk of PTSD. With the aid of more research, scientists can analyze soldiers’ hormone levels and reactions to stress before their deployment and help develop preventative measures that will reduce the risk of PTSD later on.

For more help with PTSD, just contact us

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