Written by: Ashely Eick

On August 6, 2012, the President signed the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012,” which allows up to a one-year retroactive effective date of disability compensation for fully developed original claims received from August 6, 2013 through August 5, 2015. The motive behind this Act is to incentivize veterans to submit fully developed claims by granting an extra year of disability compensation for successful claims.  This fast-track procedure typically cuts down processing time from 254 days to 110 days and significantly lightens the VA workload.

With over 245,175 backlogged claims over two years later, it is clear that the VA still has a problem with processing benefit claims despite the Act. This leads one to ask – why should only original claims be incentivized?

The vast majority of VA disability claims are not initial entitlements but supplemental entitlements, also known as reopened claims, claims for increased compensation, and secondary claims. Therefore, to truly address the backlog of disability claims, the VA should incentivize fully developed claims of supplemental entitlements not just initial entitlements. Without the promise of an earlier retroactive effective date, veterans’ only inducement for filing a fully developed claim is a quicker processing time. Although getting a rating decision a few months earlier may be enough of an incentive for some veterans, for many others, it is not.

In order to submit a fully developed claim, a veteran must identify where all federal military and medical records are located and the dates of treatment for claimed conditions as well submit any medical evidence of current disability, evidence of the in-service event that caused the disability, and evidence of a link between the current disability and the in-service event. For a veteran suffering from a disability, especially a mental one,  this process may be nigh impossible and require so much work that it is not worth the effort to get the expedited treatment. However, the promise of a year of retroactive payment may be enough to encourage veterans to submit fully developed supplemental claims, despite the difficulty in doing so, just as the promise is doing with original claimants.

Finally, in terms of public policy, there is something fundamentally wrong with granting a financial benefit only to those who submit initial claims. By financially incentivizing original claimants, the VA is discriminatorily favoring new veterans. Older veterans most likely have already applied for disability compensation before this policy came into effect and are reopening old claims or are petitioning for increased compensation. This means that they are precluded from the fully developed claims incentive. Consequently, the law is discriminating against veterans based on their service date.

Guest Post: Written by Elizabeth Horn of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia

Jonathan is a veteran who served three deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. During his 4th deployment he experienced the “signature wound” of these wars, a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which results when sudden trauma disrupts the function of the brain. Common causes of TBI in war include exposure to explosive devices, falls, and motor vehicle accidents. Most recently, war-related TBI’s can be traced back to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) commonly used against Coalition Forces. Jonathan’s brain trauma occurred when the vehicle he was in drove over an IED. He sustained a severe TBI.

TBI’s range from mild to severe. The Veterans Affairs (VA) pays disability benefits to qualifying individuals based on severity and can be eligible up to a 100% disability rating. In 2008 the VA increased the disability rating for Vets with TBI.

If you are a military veteran with a service-related TBI you may qualify for compensation ranging from $100 to more than $3,000 in monthly benefits. Jonathan’s benefit is on the high end of the range due to a 100% P&T rating.

What Jonathan didn’t know is that a veteran may also qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits though the program and criteria are different from the VA’s. You may be eligible for disability benefits from Social Security if you have worked at least five years out of the last ten years which includes your earnings from military service. Unlike the VA that can grant partial disability, SSDI requires a veteran to prove that he or she is unable to perform any full time work for at least one year. This includes simple, sedentary jobs.

In 2014 the Social Security Administration (SSA) began expediting disability claims filed by veterans who have a 100% Permanent & Total (P&T) disability rating. SSA recognizes that a person with a 100% P&T rating, particularly from a TBI related injury, is likely to automatically meet the qualifications for SSDI. Normally, it can take up to a year or more for SSDI to be approved. Jonathan’s benefits came through in 3 months! He benefited from his case being fast tracked as his family depended on him for income.

The disAbility Law Center of Virginia (dLCV) handles benefit denials for people appealing social security claims. To avoid the lengthy appeals dLCV instructed

Jonathan on how to apply for these benefits. Disability Rights Advocate Elizabeth Horn explains: “When you apply in person or over the phone identify yourself or the individual you are assisting as a veteran rated 100% P&T, or, if you file online simply state this in the “Remarks” section of the application. You should also supply Social Security with your VA notification letter which verifies your rating”.

You can find more information at: www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/EN-US-10017.pdf

and www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm.

If you are a veteran and have questions about social security disability benefits you can contact the disAbility Law Center of Virginia at 804-225-2042 or (800)552-3962 (TTY/VOICE) or email: info@dLCV.org

Written By: Jennifer Kahl 

Last week, the Department of Defense (DOD) agreed to reevaluate the less-than-honorable discharges of Vietnam veterans whose behavior may have been a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD was not identified as a mental illness until 1980, so the behavior that warranted these less-favorable discharges may have been symptoms of the untreated illness. The new guidelines set out by the DOD will give these veterans the opportunity to appeal their discharges, opening up new opportunities for education, disability and housing benefits, and veteran’s health care.

The decision by the DOD indicates that the Department is acknowledging, at least to a certain degree, the “Catch-22” in which victims of PTSD are often caught. Though PTSD is often a service-related disease that should qualify the individual for benefits, when misunderstood, its symptoms may disqualify the veteran by resulting in a less-than-honorable discharge. The veteran is then caught in a vicious cycle: he cannot qualify for benefits because of his PTSD, and he cannot get treatment for his PTSD because he has no benefits. However, this risk of being caught in this cycle is not limited to Vietnam veterans. Just because the diagnosis was recognized in 1980 does not mean that all veterans suffering from PTSD after that date were correctly diagnosed. Even today, service men and women who are facing discipline for misconduct and behavioral problems are only given a medical evaluation if they claim PTSD as a mitigating factor. If they are discharged for bad conduct and are later diagnosed, they will find themselves caught in the same trap as their Vietnam comrades.

Though last week’s decision does not address the full scope of the problem, it will hopefully initiate progress for all affected veterans.

Sources:

 

Philipps, Dave. New Rules May Allow Benefits Long Denied to Vietnam-Era Veterans. The New York Times, Sept 3, 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/04/us/va-rules-may-enable-benefits-long-denied-to-vietnam-era-veterans.html?_r=0>.

 

Tilghman, Andrew. DoD Willing to Reconsider Discharges of Vietnam Vets With PTSD. Military Times, September 3, 2014. <http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140903/ NEWS05/309030039/DoD-willing-reconsider-discharges-Vietnam-vets-PTSD>.

 

Zoroya, Gregg. Forced-Out Vets Get Chance to Argue PTSD Claims. USA Today, September 3, 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/03/vietnam-veterans-discharge-ptsd-upgrade/15043781/>.

 

By: Michael Althouse

For those of us who have not served in the military, it may be difficult to fully understand the experiences of combat.  There are extremely few circumstances in civilian life that mirror a solider in a combat zone.  When a civilian like myself is working with combat veterans, it is therefore useful to try to increase our understanding of the combat experience.  While it will be impossible to entirely comprehend what the veteran has gone through, a deeper understanding can help us better relate to the veteran’s struggles, their activities post-deployment, and possibly more easily recognize actions as symptomatic of PTSD and other combat-related disabilities.    One simple tool to gain this deeper understanding is to view films that accurately portray the combat experience.  The following is a short list of recommended viewing, with notes explaining their selection.

Restrepo

            This documentary follows a group of soldiers during 2007 in the Korangal Valley of Afghanistan.  The film intersperses the footage from Afghanistan with post-deployment interviews of the soldiers involved.  This technique allows the viewer to both see the events a soldier experienced in combat while simultaneously learning how that experience effected them physically and emotionally.  The film does not hold back any punches: some of the soldiers in the film die.  For those of us who have no reference point for military combat in our lives, the experience of watching this film can be and incredibly jarring introduction to the realities of combat life.

Now, After[1]

            Now, After is a short film made by SSG Kyle Hausmann-Stokes after he returned from Iraq.  The story is told from a returning soldier’s point of view, and graphically depicts how the effects of combat can interfere with daily civilian life.  This film is particularly useful for those seeking to better understand the often times confusing actions from sufferers of PTSD.  It may be surprising to see how routine moments in daily life can trigger flashbacks to a veteran’s time in service.

 

60 Minutes Presents: Honoring Our Troops[2]

            On May 24, 2012, the news program 60 Minutes dedicated an entire episode to stories from veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq.  The film contains some on-the-ground footage, but it is mostly told through interviews of the veterans recounting their experiences in combat and returning home.  The second segment of the episode in particular recounts the difficulties many combat veterans face returning to civilian life and coping with disabilities.

 

These films are a useful starting point for anyone wishing to better understand the experience of combat veterans.  While it will not give the viewer a complete understanding of the experience, the films will impart a sense of what combat veterans have faced, and how it has affected their lives.

 



[1] Viewable at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NkWwZ9ZtPEI.

[2] Viewable at http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7409672n.