Yesterday I was attacked for being the "problem" with the service officers normally known as (SO's) they are the representatives that are entrusted to process the veterans and widows compensation claims thru the Veteran Affairs Regional Office (VARO's) and if necessary thru the appeals process to the Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) and if ultimately necessary to the Court of Veteran Appeals (COVA).
These organizations are many and they have federal charters, the major groups are well known, the American Legion (AL) the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Military order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) they can NOT charge for their services in representing veterans in their attempts to obtain benefits, all assistance is supposed to be free of charge, but many of these groups use contacts to push for membership applications to be filled out, many veterans are under the idea that if they "join" the group or become life members at costs of several hundreds of dollars they will get "better service" which is misleading to say the least.
I was told that I should join one of the groups after I was granted 100% service connection for my PTSD, regardless of the fact that they had nothing to do with the award being granted, nothing they had done enabled the award, in fact their SO had refused to file the claim for PTSD as it was not "combat related" and he refused to file PTSD claims for non combat related causes.
What many people and especially veterans do not realize, that there is nothing in all of their years in military service that prepares them to file a claim for benefits with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs when they go to one of these various service organizations for assistance they are throwing themselves at the mercy of the SO that they happen to run into, the so called professional claims rep.
The fallacy of this, is that some of the SOs are very talented people and are well trained in what they do, in many cases however the SO knows about as much at filing a claim as does the veteran, this is a case of the blind leading the blind, literally.
In my case I was referred to the "best" Service Officer in the Augusta VAMC hospital in October 2002 after the cardiac doctors told me that I was medically incapable of returning to work of any type due to the severity of my heart problems.
A heart cath on October 22, 2002 showed that my ejection fraction was 25% and that 2 of my bypasses had closed off and could not be surgically repaired and that the 2 previous stents that had installed in August 1997 and Nov 1997 had also closed off and could not be re-opened. For all intent and purposes I was medically retired on this basis, and under the "grids" or SSA the ejection fraction or the failure of the stents and the fact they could not be repaired I was automatically eligible for SSD, which they did grant in four months after they obtained the VA hospital records from October 2002.
The VA claim process was an education in itself, the fantastic SO from the AL, filed my claim, he however did not properly fill out the 28 page request for benefits, rather than include the proper diagnostic codes that all insurance companies and SSA and anyone else who deals with medical paperwork utilizes, he was rushed and put down "heart problems" and submitted my paperwork. It took him from October 22 2002 until December 19, 2002 to accomplish this. In January 2003 my primary care doctor sent me to mental health for help, I was having a meltdown after learning the details of the Edgewood Arsenal Human experiments to learn what really happened in 1974 was a shock to my system.
In April 2003 after extensive interviews by a 3 doctor team of VA doctors I was diagnosed with PTSD based on this and several other incidents the military calls "stressors" that were verified by courts martials and hospital and military police reports.
In July 2003 the VARO denied my claim for "heart problems" due to a lack of diagnostic codes, and a nexus letter from physcisians. I wanted the SO to file a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) and to file a claim for PTSD now that I had been diagnosed with it, and it was verified that it happened while I was in the Army with the first stressor being in Feb 1975, with many others over the next 20 years. The AL SO made the comment that "he would not file a claim for PTSD that was not combat related" my wife pulled me off his desk. He also stated that he does not file multiple issue claims, he handles claims one issue at a time and as long as I had the "heart problems" on appeal there was nothing he could do.
In Dec 2003 we were in the VAMC and went by his office to check on the status of the claim, his secretary opened my folder and there lay the "heart" appeal it had never been filed and the claim for PTSD was also laying there. I wrote out a revocation of the power of attorney and his secretary said she could not give me my paperwork. My wife took me to 1801 Assembly Street on Monday of the following week and after talking to a service rep at the service desk, we learned the truth, veterans can file multiple claims at once from 1- 25 issues if they could justify them, my wife and I filled out a NOD on the denial of the heart issues, filed new claims for PTSD, hypertension, GERD, skin rash's, scars, tinnitus, hemmeroids, psoraisis, CVA, CAD this was done on the 22nd of Dec.
During the next few months I learned a lot from veterans boards called Hadit.com and American Gulf War Veterans and Veterans Benefit Network there are decades of knowledge on how to deal with the claims process and is tremendous assistance to veterans and their families that are trying to learn about the benefits avaiable thru the VA.
In the next few months of going to Assembly street about my claims I met a nice guy, it turns out he worked for the DAV, he was amazed about the story of me being used as a human test subject at Edgewood Arsenal, and he found it interesting that the VA would not officially recognize my use in the "med vol" program or the fact that I was exposed to LSD and other chemical weapons and drugs while at Edgewood. I signed a new POA that allowed him to deal with my claim, and he was doing good as we were able to get at first a 50% award for PTSD, and then after I wrote VP Cheney the letter about his knowing about the human experiments in 1974 and 1975, that I was raised to 100% P&T, yet the VARO would still not address the human experimentation at Edgewood Arsenal in 1974.
The DAV then terminated my reps employment, he went to work for the VFW, I revoked the DAV's POA after the replacement for my rep insisted I drop the appeal for heart problems and start all over and file for a 10% hypertension claim and then after that was granted we could start a new claim for CAD, I declined his advice and revoked his POA. I went to the VFW and the rep that knew my claim and what I wanted to accomplish, it wasn't but 4-5 months and my favorite rep up and quit and went to Washington State, and I was again left with a rep that wanted me to drop my claim and the request for back pay to the date I had originally filed my claim in Dec 2002. That did not make sense.
Since I am a member of PVA due to my power chair and my heart failure, I took my case across the hall to the PVA SO, he looked at my case and told me that he had never seen anyone ever win a CAD and hypertension claim secondary to PTSD and he was not going to waste his time.
I then asked around since the VA had just approved the use of attornies to handle appeals of veterans compensation claim. The lawyer I found told me that due to the denial date of my claim I could not "hire" a lawyer under the new rules, but that they could see I needed the help of a good lawyer and they would take the case "pro bono", with that stress off of me, I did not have to deal with fighting with the VA by myself any more.
In less than 18 months, the lawyer had a meeting with the DRO where he denied the claim again, the lawyer filed the form 9 and asked for a BVA hearing in August 2008, the BVA hearing was held on Feb 4, 2009, the BVA Judge granted the claim for CAD and hypertension on April 7, 2009 and the VARO was forced to issue the award letter and back pay on 4 June 2009, which raised me to a level called SMC S and guarantees my wife and son the DIC and CHAMPVA benefits if I die from cardiac problems, which without that SC grant they would have been left with no government benefits other than SSD widow benefits when she turns 60.
The Army nor the Service Organizations do a "good" job of educating veterans or their families of the process, what can and can't be done, the PROMISE is a mystery to most veterans and most widows and kids do not have a clue to what they should be getting in help from the military let alone the service groups.
I wish I had a higher opinion of veterans groups but from what I have seen in the past decade, nothing has changed to make me even want to join any of these groups except the PVA, the work they do is worthwhile and I paid for my membership in body parts, the other groups want several hundreds of dollars for lifetime memberships or annual memberships of 20-50 bucks a year and then you can buy hats, vests and donate to their causes.
May be I am jaded but I think they should try and educate the veterans they claim to be serving.....they should also spend more time training the people that the veteran depend on to properly handle their claims. When veterans write to the national officers to complain about lousy service, some one should pay attention, not send your complaint letter back to the person you are complaining about. Nothing gets done and you still have nothing more than a chair warmer occupying the chair just waiting to screw over the next unsuspecting veteran or widow.
To the veteran service officers that do know what you are doing, I am sorry you are tarnished by these chair warmers