Is VA Healthcare Worth It?

16 Feb 2017

The Veterans Health Administration is the largest healthcare organization in the country if not the world. According to the VA:

The mission of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is "to serve the needs of America's veterans by providing primary care, specialized care, and related medical and social support services."

The VHA does not have another mission. There is no other agency or organization with that mission. Can the VA be trusted with veteran’s healthcare?

We hear of scandal after scandal at one VA facility after another. Veterans wait months for an appointment. We hear about veterans dying waiting to get care. We even hear about veterans dying on VA property and not being found for hours. The veteran suicide rate is reported to be through the roof. Veterans have killed themselves on VA property. What’s going on?

Some veterans and politicians have asked to privatize the VA or to allow veterans to get their wherever they want. Veteran’s organizations fight back and support the VA system of care. All our nation’s veteran’s organizations support the continued availability of VA provided healthcare. They argue that privatizing veteran’s healthcare will dilute it and not provide the expertise of many treatment programs available only in VA facilities. The consistency of access to experts in veteran’s care would be lost. The VA is a significant provider of training for virtually every medical specialty. Our entire nation would suffer without it. 

The decision about using the VA as a sole or primary source of healthcare is each veteran’s decision. Many veterans do not have a choice. Many veterans don’t have the financial option to get their healthcare anywhere else. Veterans must continue to depend on the VA to provide the best healthcare available and the government and veteran’s organizations to hold them accountable. There are many individuals, organizations, and political advocates fighting every day to insure the VA is there to provide the best care for our veterans. Should you have difficulty accessing your benefits or getting the healthcare or services you have earned, contact our experienced legal team for assistance.

Evidence Based Treatment for PTSD

09 Feb 2017

Evidence based treatments are those that have been studied, researched, and developed over time. Clinicians that use these treatments are trained and certified to practice them. These treatments have been used successfully on many veterans and civilians who have experienced a traumatic event and are diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

All the listed treatment protocols include an educational component. The treating clinician will also provide relaxation training and help their client learn processes and utilize resources to remain safe during the treatment process and beyond. 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Eye movement and focus help clients address specific traumatic incidents. EMDR uses desensitizing and reprocessing techniques while simultaneously using eye movement and focusing while the client is telling their trauma story.

Stress Inoculation Training (SIT)

This treatment focuses on help with coping skills. Relaxation training is an important component to address anxiety and fear. Breathing exercises are also learned as an important part of relaxation. Assertiveness training is used to help clients learn how to practically express emotions

Prolonged Exposure (PE)

One of the symptoms of PTSD is avoidance. PE involves telling one’s trauma story repeatedly over time. Part of the treatment also includes learning how and practicing reintroduction into those places and events which are triggering even though not traumatic. 

Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT)

CPT focuses on writing about one’s traumatic experience. Often those who have a traumatic experience become focused on beliefs about the trauma and its meaning that become distorted when experiencing life after the trauma. This treatment helps challenge assumptions and helps the client recognize and correct distorted thoughts and feelings.

It’s important to remember that each of these treatment programs requires intensive training for the clinicians who provide it. Veterans seeking and/or receiving these treatments should only seek treatment from providers who are trained in these practices.

Contact our experienced firm to help with your VA claim for disability and/or access to the treatment you earned and need.

New PTSD Treatment Studies -- Transcendental Meditation, Sleep, and Ecstasy

02 Feb 2017

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is experienced by a large percentage of military veterans. Its symptoms include flashbacks of traumatic experiences, stress, anxiety, depression, and more.

A new study, as reported by Medical News Today, shows that transcendental meditation can reduce the symptoms of PTSD. The study involved 181 male prisoners from the Oregon State Correctional Institution and Oregon State Penitentiary. These prisoners had undergone traumatic experiences and were considered a high risk for PTSD. The study compared those from the group who underwent a four-month transcendental meditation program of 20-minute sessions twice a day to those who hadn’t.

Symptoms were evaluated by using the Trauma Symptoms Checklist and the Perceived Stress Scale. The results? The meditation sessions reduced trauma and stress by 47 percent.

In another recent study, also reported by Medical News Today, it was found that sleep can help reduce flashbacks of traumatic experiences.

In related news, the FDA studies of how the MDMA drug, commonly known as Ecstasy, can help treat PTSD are nearing completion. They have been going on since 2000 and are now in Phase 3 of the studies, which is the last step before a drug can be approved for pharmaceutical uses. All research until now points to the drug being approved when the studies are completed. Ecstasy saturates the brain with serotonin, which helps calm a person down and make them feel at peace with experiences they have gone through.

For more information on PTSD, and for help with receiving benefits for disability claims, just contact us.

Health Insurance and the VA

26 Jan 2017

Health insurance does not play a role in eligibility for health care at a Veterans Administration facility. 

The VA will ask if a veteran has insurance to provide the information. Providing insurance information does not impact eligibility for benefits at the VA nor does it impact your insurance benefits. The VA is required by law to bill your insurance company for the cost of non-service connected care provided by them. Your insurance company will not penalize you for services paid for at a VA facility. The VA will not refuse care because you have insurance. Having insurance will restrict your ability to receive emergency care outside the VA for a non-service connected illness or injury however.

Providing health insurance information may offset some of your costs for VA health care including copays. The requirement to pay copays is determined by the veteran’s enrollment priority and service connected status for the care being received.

Veterans may continue to utilize VA health care once eligible for Medicare. VA health care is considered credible coverage for Part D. Veterans do need to enroll in Part B coverage to prevent a penalty as the VA is not credible coverage for Part B. 

The Affordable Health Care Act (ACA), commonly called Obama Care, requires that everyone has insurance coverage to prevent a penalty. The VA is considered credible coverage under the ACA. Veterans who are registered in the VA health care system do not need to purchase health insurance to be in compliance with the law.

Veterans or caregivers having difficulty accessing VA health care benefits can call our experienced firm for assistance.

Emergency Care at Non-VA Health Care Facilities

19 Jan 2017

Getting emergency health care in a non-VA health care facility paid for by the Veterans Administration is allowed but often difficult for veterans to succeed at.  There are very strict guidelines to this benefit.  A veteran trying to get their non-VA emergency room visit paid for must meet ALL the requirements.

The first requirement is the ER visit must meet the definition of an emergency.  The definition of an emergency is based on the “prudent layperson” standard that a delay in care would be hazardous to life or health.  This is often a difficult test for a veteran to argue with a VA administrator.

Veterans must use the VA for healthcare and be registered as a VA patient.  It is not an exclusive requirement that the veteran receive all their health care at the VA but the veteran must have accessed health care at a VA facility within 24 months prior to the emergency room visit.

The veteran cannot have any other insurance nor can a third-party have any liability for the illness or injury which the veteran is seeking care.  This could include workman comp and other situations when a third-party caused the illness or injury.

There can be no VA health care facility reasonably accessible when treatment for the condition is received. 

The VA also wants to be notified in advance.  This is not always reasonably possible but usually expected.  Veterans are advised to contact the VA as soon as possible after receiving emergency care.  A recommended way to meet this requirement is to have the ER physician contact the closest VA facility to consult with the VA ER physician on a treatment plan.  The VA may want to transfer the veteran to the VA facility for further treatment and/or assessment. 

Once the VA receives the bills for care, they will either pay the bills or notify the veteran of a denial.  The denial can be appealed.  The appeal must be made with one year of the denial letter. Get legal assistance as soon as possible in the event of a denial.  Experienced attorneys can help process this important appeal increasing your chances of an approved payment for your emergency care.

Finding Meaning in a Life Without a Job: A Disabled Vet's Perspective

12 Jan 2017

How to find meaning in life, when our sense of ourselves, our identity, our place in the world is destroyed in an instance? We have to remake our identity as a person who cannot hold down a full-time job, who needs disability, who is unemployable. How does this strange new identity change how we find meaning in our lives? Do our lives have any meaning if we can't work?

On the pathway at the entrance to Disney World, there is a tile that says, "What is your gift to the world?" For many of us, that gift is our work, the job or career we planned to build a life around. A life with meaning. The first way we need to think about this is to separate work from job. Having a full-time job is not the only way to work, and our work is how we contribute to the world.

Working through the system, we seem to focus exclusively on what we can't do, what we've lost. In ourselves, though, in the privacy of our homes, we need to change that thinking to what we can still do, what we can still contribute to the world, and how.

Maybe you never thought of yourself as being particularly skilled at writing, at creative work like painting, at counseling others or just being a friend. Now you have the time to develop those new skills. We can all learn new skills. Talent is a myth, but perseverance and hard work is real. Perseverance and hard work is the lesson that our kids learn from watching us.

When we look around the world, even the world of our own small place, we can usually find something that needs to be done. The hard part is accepting that what we would really prefer to be doing is off the table. There is still work to be done, and if we think of that work as our gift to the world, and not the hell-on-earth to which we are consigned, even doing laundry takes on the unexpected charm of a fist full of flowers.

Some people like to volunteer--an hour at the Food Bank, or helping out with the repairs on an elderly neighbor's house, or driving the van to get people to their medical appointment or groceries, or knitting scarfs for people who are cold. Everyone can contribute something, and maybe if we all contribute what we can, the whole of us will function like an old patchwork quilt, stitched together with frayed scraps and pieces, and we will keep the world, and ourselves, warm.

 

For more information on veteran unemployability, please contact us.

The FDA Approves Ecstasy for Clinical Trials for the Treatment of PTSD

05 Jan 2017

Ecstasy, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, is a synthetic drug that alters mood and perception. Because the drug, also called MDMA, causes a feeling of euphoria as well as very damaging side effects and addiction, it has been classified by the government as illegal since 1985. This decision was made despite the fact that MDMA was used as a tool for psychotherapy in the 1970s.

Now, MDMA is getting the go-ahead for clinical studies by the FDA for the treatment of PTSD, a debilitating mental disorder suffered by combat veterans, victims of violent crime, and first responders, such as police and fire fighters, according to the New York Times. Some initial studies show that the drug, when administered under the guidance of a mental health professional, has had some good effects for PTSD patients who have not responded to conventional medication and therapy. If the clinical trials pan out, MDMA may be available in a clinical setting as early as 2021.

However, some doctors worry that the use of a hitherto illegal recreational drug to treat a debilitating condition may lead to an increase in its abuse. They cite the experience with opioids, widely prescribed for the management of chronic pain. Opioid abuse has become a widespread problem, especially among people who have become accidentally addicted because of a legitimate medical use. MDMA may become addictive if used for too long, resulting in side effects including uncontrolled mood changes and impairment in the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Still, the use of MDMA may be a boon for people struggling with PTSD who have no other options, if prescribed with care and used in combination with other therapies.

For more information contact us.

Am I Eligible for Veterans Disability Benefits?

04 Jan 2017

You were injured during your military service and it is keeping you from living a full and productive life. If you have served in the military and have a current injury or condition that is connected to that service, you may be eligible for disability benefits. 

The entire process can be confusing and overwhelming, but here are a few answers to common questions that can help you determine if you qualify for disability benefits.

Veterans Disability Claims

What Kind of Discharge Did You Receive?

In general, to receive veterans disability benefits, you must have received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge. If you were discharged due to bad conduct, typically through a dishonorable discharge, you may be barred from receiving disability benefits.

If you did not receive an honorable or general discharge, there is a procedure for requesting that your discharge be “upgraded.” If there were circumstances that, upon additional review, could excuse the conduct that led to the dishonorable discharge, you can apply to the Discharge Review Board to get your discharge upgraded.

Although an upgrade is not impossible, it is a difficult process and you should contact your Veterans Services Officer (VSO) for assistance. Together with your VSO, you can complete the application online or by mail. You will need to request your military records and any medical records that may support your claim. It is also helpful to submit:

  • A personal statement
  • Statements from others you served with (“buddy statements”)
  • References from your employer
  • Credit reports
  • Any other information relevant to your character

Your VSO will help you determine which information is appropriate and helpful to your claim. Just remember that, while your VSO will help you with the process, it is your responsibility to gather the supporting materials for your claim.

If the VA decides that an upgrade is appropriate, you will be notified of your eligibility for benefits and then you can continue with an application for veterans disability benefits. 

Did the injury occur during active duty or training for active duty?

An injury or disability that occurred during active duty is presumably covered, including injuries that occurred during travel to and from active duty. This question becomes a little more difficult to answer for those who served in the National Guard or Reserve. In this case, it is important to talk to your VSO in order for them to help you determine the best course of action. Often, injuries that occurred during a period of training for active duty or inactive duty are covered, but it depends on the specific circumstances. 

Is your injury or condition “Service-Connected”? 

You must show a “nexus” or connection between your physical or mental disability and an injury, disease, or event that occurred during your military service. To demonstrate this connection, you can provide medical records or you can request an opinion from your doctor or medical care provider.

It is helpful to get an opinion from a doctor (often called a “nexus letter”) that is familiar with the VA and its requirements for determining service connection. Your doctor should use VA-recognized language when describing your condition, stating that it is “at least as likely as not” that your current condition is a result of your “in-service” injury. You can also use statements from other veterans (“buddy statements”) who may have witnessed the injury or disease to help prove your claim. 

Severity of Disability

Although your disability is affecting your life and your ability to function, the VA may determine that your symptoms are not severe enough to warrant disability compensation or a higher benefit rate. 

It is important to consistently document your disabilities and resulting limitations. When you are discussing your conditions with your doctor, you should report ALL issues that you are experiencing on a regular basis. The medical records are the best support for your claim, so make sure that they tell the right story.

The most important thing is to not get discouraged. The VA Disability Benefits 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
General information about Discharge Upgrade
Application for Discharge Upgrade
Directory of Veterans Service Organizations
U.S. Department of Veterans Appeals

Treatment and Compensation for Psychiatric Disability

29 Dec 2016

Veteran disability applications can take months.  If the application is for a psychiatric disability, the process can take much longer and include multiple appeals.

Most veterans getting treatment for a psychiatric disorder are getting that treatment for conditions other than PTSD. Many are also eligible for a disability rating and compensation.

Veterans and those helping them to access services and disability compensation should know that treatment is available for a variety of psychiatric conditions including: depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, schizophrenia and others.  Disability compensation can be awarded for psychiatric conditions which are acquired as a result of service or during service.  There does not have to be a direct link between an actual military related event that caused a particular psychiatric symptom or disorder.  One requirement is only that the symptoms began during military service.  Some conditions, such as schizophrenia, may have occurred whether a person served in the military or not.  If a service member is diagnosed or presented with symptoms of schizophrenia (or other conditions) during military service, they may very well be eligible for a disability rating and compensation because the illness began in the service. 

Veterans who are suffering from a psychiatric condition can benefit from having their case evaluated for a connection to their service.

Treatment for a psychiatric disability can be hard to find.  Access to psychiatric care varies across the country regardless of veteran status.  Getting treatment for psychiatric symptoms is important for quality of life and overall wellbeing.  Treatment can be life-saving.  It is important to get treatment from the VA or elsewhere even while waiting on a claim.  Veterans may be eligible for treatment in VA healthcare facilities without regard to service connected status.

 A record of continuous treatment for a psychiatric condition provides for continuity of care and provides documentation needed to properly adjudicate a claim.  Don’t hesitate to get treatment for any psychiatric symptoms. 

Getting help with a claim for a disability rating for a psychiatric condition can greatly improve your success. Contact us to get expert, professional legal help processing your claim.

Veteran Awareness in Our Society

22 Dec 2016

Supporting veterans is so important and often lacking in citizen morale in the United States. In these troubled times, Americans need to be drawn together to champion common issues. Sometimes, whether you truly agree or truly understand, it's more meaningful to just stand together and believe in something. Like the popular mantra, tis better to give than to receive, this helps everyone, emotionally.

Our country has gone through more than a few ups and downs when it comes to societal treatment of the troops, whether overseas in combat or here in the states. Extending this support is something that flows in ripples throughout a community, lifting the military families and filling civilians with pride in their acts and a sense of stability for their nation.

It isn't hard to pull the community together in support of military neighbors. These few suggestions involve low expense and high rewards.

  • Neighborhood Cookouts on Patriotic Holidays ~ This is a great way to both honor veterans and include the entire community. Everyone celebrates Independence Day and Memorial Day and similar holidays. Everyone loves to eat and laugh and share time together. Implementing a military theme and extending special invites to the families in your area is a small act that goes a long way.
  • Reaching Out to Military Spouses During Deployment ~ Small gestures like a hot meal or a cup of coffee and conversation can mean a great deal to a spouse feeling alone in a new place. Spouses are suddenly parenting alone, managing the household and missing their confidante. Just having that other person to talk to is a meaningful part of someone's day when that person is suddenly gone for a long period of time. This is all compounded by worry. Their spouse is not just gone, but likely in danger.  
  • Being Sensitive to Military Children ~ Sons and daughters missing their serving parent can display this loneliness in many ways, including misbehaving or acting out. Try and think of this before passing judgment. Their parent is not just gone, but it's likely they don't understand the absence or the potential risk.
  • Anonymous Care Packages to Deployed Veterans ~ Those who may not have a lot of family at home will appreciate your surprise packages, which don't need to contain anything special or expensive. These types of acts can truly affect a person's time away and how they feel during those long months.
  • 'Adopting' Disabled Veterans ~ Much like a big brother or sister, we can reach out and make a disabled veteran one of our own. There are so many lonely people who need only reach out to one another to find family. Discover a new parent or grandparent, in the heart of a veteran.

Check out these links on how different communities have found creative ways to reach out and support their military families.

  1. http://www.horsesforheroes.org/#2835 - Read about this organization using equine therapy to both lift up active duty families and treat returning soldiers suffering from PTSD. These animals have a way of touching those in need without words.
  2. http://www.extension.umn.edu/family/supporting-military-families/docs/OMK_LC_handout.pdf - See how this Minnesota University laid the ground work for a lasting connection between military families and their communities.
  3. http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Other-Resources/Family-and-Community-Engagement/Supporting-Ohio-s-Military-Families - The Ohio Department of Education has made it their mission to bring civilians and military families together.

Extending your support to the veterans and military families in your community isn't just easy, but it also benefits you and your family as much as those you are reaching out to. You may not be a military family, but you could easily fall into a situation where you would benefit from the help of others. Imagine this experience and just think of what would provide some relief for you and your family. Contact us for advice on personal and legal struggles for the veterans in our communities.

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