Archive for the ‘Veterans' Disability’ Category

Military Personnel Files Destroyed Decades Ago Still Causing Challenges for Vets Seeking Disability

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Current troubles facing Veterans Administration (VA) has cast a shadow over a much older problem. More than 40 years ago, a fire at the National Personnel Records Center destroyed between 16 and 18 million military personnel files. The effects are still felt today, reports Fox News, with many vets struggling to get the benefits they deserve.

Because electronic record keeping didn’t exist, the VA has been unable to reconstruct some of those files. As a result, some vets who sustained injuries in previous wars have had trouble collecting disability benefits.

The National Archives reports that the fire destroyed 75 percent of Air Force personnel discharged between September 25, 1947 and January 1, 1964, and 80 percent of Army personnel discharged between November 1, 1912 and January 1, 1960, according to the Fox News article.

Record keeping has apparently been an issue that’s plagued the VA for decades. They didn’t create indexes for the files, microfilm copies or duplicates.

However, archivists have been able to recover some of those records. In fact, their efforts to restore them continues today. As a result, some vets have finally received approval for benefits. This includes those who served during WWII and Vietnam.

In light of the VA’s current problems involving secret waiting lists and poor scheduling, it’s clear the VA still has a major problem with record keeping and serving vets. Fraud and improper claims handling are a couple of the biggest issues faced today, but so is waiting. Today’s vets may not have had to wait as long as those whose files were destroyed in a fire four decades ago to get benefits, but it’s still an ongoing issue as the VA works to address the claims backlog.

Qualifying for disability benefits is just the first step. Next is to file the paperwork and submit the appropriate type of evidence. Because of the backlog of claims, it’s important to do this correctly the first time. For help filing an initial claim, or to appeal a denied claim, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. at 888-234-5758 or via our online contact form.

Lost and Misplaced Records a Problem at St. Petersburg Veterans Regional Office

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

An investigation of the Veterans Benefits Administration Office in St. Petersburg reveals a chaotic and disorganized system. This may account for some of the more than 21,000 disability claims pending at this particular office.

Conducted by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General in March, the investigation found an assortment of problems with paperwork and files. Some of the issues included misfiled and lost records, along with files stacked in piles.

The mailroom was just one of the areas experiencing difficulties. This included delays in sorting and preparing evidence mail that helps claim processors make decisions on a claim. According to employees, it’s about a three-week delay.

Failure to stamp certain records was another problem. This included copies of Official Military Personnel and Service Treatment Records files. Without identifying this documentation, it’s difficult to process a claim.

The file room was another source of disarray. Some claims had to be rebuilt because of lost documents. The office was keeping a log of these files but some of the records were mistakenly overwritten by an employee.

Officials from Veterans Benefits Administration acknowledge the St. Petersburg office has resolved two of three recommendations. They are still working on the other. It’s also reported that since March 2013, the number of backlogged claims (those older than 125 days) has dropped by 41 percent. Yet, the numbers still show a significant problem exists. Of the 36,622 rating claims pending at the St. Petersburg office, 21,222 have been pending longer than 125 days.

Eliminating paper files will address many of the issues found in this (and other) regional offices. But that effort is still in the works, with about 87 percent of the VA’s files now available electronically.

Veterans can help reduce delays by submitting paperwork on time and making sure it’s completed properly and including the appropriate documentation, such as evidence of military service or disability. For help with filing an initial claim or appealing a denied claim, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758.

Veterans Sue Government for Failing to Act on Petition to Reduce Burden of Proof for PTSD Caused by Sexual Assault

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Veterans’ disability compensation may be available for those who have suffered military sexual trauma. One of the factors that determines eligibility is proving that sexual assault caused post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

But now veterans are suing the U.S. government for failing to act on a petition filed months ago. The petition seeks a reduction in the burden of proof for PTSD stemming from sexual assault.

In general, veterans must show their disabling mental and/or physical injuries are service-related. Certain conditions don’t require this proof, though, such as injuries related to exposure to Agent Orange.

For a victim of sexual assault to receive disability payments, it requires a generous amount of evidence. But veterans would like to see nothing more than testimony from a healthcare provider that a veteran suffers from PTSD.

Currently, evidence must include proof of both the sexual trauma and that it caused changes in behavior. This is oftentimes difficult to establish, not to mention that claims for military sexual trauma deal with an especially sensitive issue.

It’s a bigger problem than many people think. According to a VA national screening program, one in four women experience sexual assault while serving. But they aren’t the only victims; one in every 100 men experience the sexual assault while in the service.

It’s not uncommon to receive a denial for this type of disability claim. As if the trauma itself wasn’t enough to deal with, a victim may have to do provide ample proof that it happened. It’s important to consult with an attorney who can help file an appeal. Don’t hesitate to contact The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. for assistance: 888-234-5758.

Study: Distress Greater for Male Victims of Military Sexual Harassment

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Results from a new study found that the adverse effects of sexual harassment in the military may be worse for men than women. The research involved 19,000 servicemembers, more than 9,000 of which were men. Of all the servicemembers, more than 6,300 men and women experienced sexual harassment in the past year.

Of these 6,300 service members, 28 percent were men. And in 52 percent of the cases for men, sexual harassment involved another man. For women, 86 percent of the sexual harassment involved a man.

The participants answered questions about the incident through a survey. One of the topics addressed was how frightened he/she was by the experience and its impact afterward. Women described feeling frightened more often than men. But the men felt more distress, which affected job performance and caused physical and/or emotional problems.

For both genders, when sexual harassment involved a higher-ranking officer it caused the most distress. This was the situation for women in 68 percent of the cases and in 46 percent for men.

Researchers suggest two reasons that men may have more difficulty dealing with sexual harassment. One is that it’s not expected to happen, which could trigger an intense reaction. The other is that women know the possibility of sexual harassment exists. As a result, they are better prepared for it when it does occur.

The VA defines Military Sexual Trauma (MST) as repetitive, threatening sexual harassment or sexual assault. Disability benefits aren’t available for the trauma itself. But they could be if it results in a serious health problem. Anxiety disorders, substance abuse, depression and post-traumatic stress disorders are examples.

Contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. to learn about eligibility. We can assist with gathering evidence that proves injuries or can assist with filing an appeal for a denied claim.

Caregivers of Post-9/11 Vets Could Be Putting Their Own Health at Risk

Monday, April 21st, 2014

A new study from RAND Corp found more than 1.1 million people in the United States are serving as caregivers for a disabled or injured post-9/11 veterans. And many of them are doing it without help from a formal program.

This is important because one of the findings from the study is that many of the caregivers are younger. These include spouses, friends and parents. Any programs offered to military caregivers tend to gear toward older caregivers. Even then, the majority of programs focus on the veteran and not those who take care of them.

Other key findings are that caregivers often care for vets with emotional and/or behavioral problems. And they have jobs outside the home. The benefit is that they save the nation billions of dollars in costs for long-term care. But they could be putting their own health at risk.

For instance, depression is four times higher for caregivers of post-9/11 veterans than non-caregivers. And with 30 percent of caregivers lacking health insurance, they may not receive treatment. Also, caregivers deal with more work problems and strained family relationships than non-caregivers.

The amount of time spent taking care of a vet is another issue. About 10 percent of pre-9/11 caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week giving care. But 12 percent of post-9/11 caregivers spend more than 40 hours a week providing care.

Some caregiving tasks may include:

  • making medical appointments;
  • assisting with bathing and eating;
  • caring for children; and
  • managing finances.

Post-9/11 caregivers miss an average of 3.5 days of work every month. These lost earnings only add to the stress and struggle they may experience.

In the decades ahead, it’s expected that the number of people caring for a disabled or injured vet will grow. Help may be available through disability benefits or other government programs. To learn about qualifying for disability benefits for a disabled vet, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758.

Veterans Disability Claims Backlog Reduced By 44 Percent Since 2013

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki was proud to announce that his department had effectively reduced the claims backlog by 44 percent since March 2013. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which handles veterans’ disability claim processing, had been under a backlog of more than 600,000 claims last year.

Thanks to new processing initiatives, mandatory overtime, and encouraging Fully Developed Claims (FDC), the VA has reduced its queue of claims to be process down to 344,000, a reduction of 267,000 claims in a single year. During this period, accuracy of claim processing also improved, reducing the average wait time for a claim decision by 119 days.

The claim backlog is created when veterans have to wait more than 125 days for a decision on their disability benefits claim. The backlog was created in large part from the need to reevaluate 150,000 previously decided cases from Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange. In addition to these reevaluated cases, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and certain leukemias were added to the list of diseases associated with Agent Orange, adding a new batch of Vietnam veterans to apply for service-connected disability.

In 2010 the VA established a goal of eliminating the backlog and reaching a 98 percent accuracy rate by 2015. This would mean that all new claims would have a decision within 125 days of submission and there would be little need for reevaluation or appeal of decisions due to errors. The current processing methods have improved in the last few years with a new sorting procedure helping separate Fully Developed Claims (FDC) from claims that need additional documentation and information to be processed.

As the VA prioritizes the FDCs and claims from veterans in need such as homeless or terminally ill veterans, claim processors are able to issue decisions on claims faster than before. This is partially thanks to the new paperless systems that have replaced traditional paper filing, reducing waste and making file transmission almost instantaneous. The VA has also increased the amount of staff processing claims and implemented mandatory overtime with priority given to the oldest claims in the queue.

The best way to help prevent your claim from falling into the backlog is to have it fully developed the first time you submit your files. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. is here to help disabled veterans fully develop their claims and appeal an unfavorable decision should their claim be denied or under-funded. Contact us today for more information about how we can help 1-888-234-5758.

Ensuring Vets Receive Disability Checks in Event of Another Government Shutdown

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

The effects of the last government shutdown have some in Congress taking steps to protect veterans in the event of another one. During the last shutdown, there were looming fears that vets wouldn’t receive their disability checks.

Recently, members of a House committee requested full funding of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) discretionary budget a year in advance. At this time, the only VA department that receives advanced funding is healthcare services.

There is a lot of support from both sides of the aisle and numerous outside agencies in making sure that should another shutdown occur, benefit payments for veterans won’t stop. However, these efforts have stalled.

Meanwhile, the secretary of the VA indicates advanced funding won’t necessarily eliminate all problems if there is another government shutdown. The VA may still have to validate threshold income levels through the IRS and other disability payments through Social Security.

But government shutdowns aren’t the only concerns regarding veterans receiving a disability paycheck. Even the initial request for benefits could be met with some challenges, shutdown or not.

Many disability claims are denied or the process is delayed for simple mistakes made on the application or when submitting evidence. For instance, there could be missing information or documentation. Or the paperwork wasn’t submitted in a timely manner. It could also be that the VA is arguing the medical condition isn’t service-connected. Even if disability benefits are approved, there could be other complications that arise—such as a dispute regarding the disability rating.

Wherever someone is in the process, beginning the process or appealing a VA disability claim that has been denied, it might be in the vet’s best interest to secure legal counsel. For assistance, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. today at 888-234-5758.

Suicide and Mental Health Illness Rates Higher in Soldiers than Civilians

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Three new studies show there are significant numbers of U.S. soldiers suffering from some type of mental health disorder, and may be at greater risk of suicide. In both areas, the rates are higher amongst soldiers than in the general population.

Researchers at Harvard found that major depression is five times higher for soldiers than civilians and intermittent explosive (anger) disorder is six times higher. Rates were significantly higher when it comes to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with soldiers nearly 15 times more likely to suffer than civilians.

One study focusing on those enlisted in the Army found that 25 percent of active duty, non-deployed soldiers tested positive for at least one psychiatric disorder. And 11 percent had signs of more than one mental illness. But many of these psychiatric conditions existed before enlisting, including panic disorder, PTSD, major depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, alcohol/drug abuse and intermittent explosive disorder.

In a second study, there was evidence linking mental illness prior to enlistment and suicide. In nearly 60 percent of the cases involving a suicide attempt, the soldiers had pre-existing mental disorders.

A third study looked at risk factors for suicide. Those at highest risk were white males, soldiers recently demoted and those with a junior enlisted rank (private, private 2nd class, private 3rd class and army specialist).

While these studies highlighted issues surrounding soldiers enlisting with prior mental health disorders, it continues to be a problem for those who have served—particularly those who are deployed. It’s important to note that if a physical or mental disability is connected to service, servicemembers may be entitled to veterans disability benefits.

If there are concerns about your right to benefits, contact the Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. for assistance. Call us today at 888-234-5758.

Study: Possible Link between Sleep Disturbances and Brain Changes in Gulf War Vets

Friday, March 14th, 2014

New research suggests a possible link between brain changes and sleep problems in Gulf War vets. Previous studies have shown connections between poor sleep and structural changes in certain regions of the frontal lobe, the study authors note. In these findings, there was reduced gray matter throughout the entire frontal lobe. This part of the brain is involved in several different functions—such as impulse control, planning, higher level thinking, reasoning and memory.

The study found the link existed even after considering other potential factors like Gulf War illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, medication to treat mental illness and depression.

Researchers analyzed 144 Gulf War vets using sleep quality assessments and MRI scans. Vets who experienced sleep problems had less gray matter. However, the study doesn’t show if one causes the other. It only suggests a potential link. More research will need to be conducted in order to learn if treatment for sleep disturbances improves functioning in the brain.

VA Disability Benefits for Disabled Vets

Gulf War vets sometimes face challenges establishing a service-connected disability. But one way they may be eligible to receive disability benefits is through what’s called presumptive service connection. There are certain requirements that must be met, which includes proof of being a Gulf War veteran, having a qualifying chronic disability (rated at least 10 percent) and that it arose while in service or afterwards.

Those who served in the Gulf War are just one example of vets who could be entitled to disability compensation. Any veteran who has been diagnosed with a disabling condition connected to military service may be eligible. It’s important to understand the specific requirements that could apply—including location while on active duty and the nature of one’s illness or injury. The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. assists veterans who are filing an initial claim or taking the next step to appeal a denied claim. Call us at 888-234-5758 or contact us online.

New Social Security Process for Veterans with 100% Permanent and Total Disability Rating

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Disabled veterans have the right to seek disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and from the Social Security Administration (SSA). In recent years, the VA has worked to streamline the processing of veterans’ disability claims with a significantly high disability rating and full supporting documentation. Now the SSA is following in the VA’s footsteps by enforcing expedited processing on benefit claims for veterans who have a disability rating of 100 percent.

Starting on March 17, if you have been rated at 100 percent permanent and total (P&T) disability by the VA, you will be eligible to have your SSA disability benefit application marked as high priority and processed with expedited service. To request expedited service you must provide your VA notification letter that states that you are rated as 100 percent P&T disabled. During the application for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you must also indicate that you are a 100 percent P&T disabled veteran.

For veterans who apply over the phone or in person, you must tell the claims representative that you are 100 percent P&T disabled according to the VA and either present your verification letter or mail it to the address provided by the phone representative. If you are applying online you will need to enter “Veteran 100 percent P&T” in the Remarks section of the application and mail your VA verification letter along with other supporting documents.

Disabled veterans who qualify for the expedited processing will have their claim for SSDI or SSI treated as high priority, potentially speeding up the waiting time for a disability benefit decision. The expedited processing does not guarantee a veteran will be approved for SSD benefits; it only means that a decision will be issued sooner than a typical claim. To qualify for SSD benefits, veterans must still meet the requirements for disability benefits including a total inability to work, a medically-diagnosed disability that has lasted or is expected to last for at least a year or result in death, and the required work periods (for SSDI) or financial limitations (for SSI).

The Law Offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, P.A. handles both veterans’ disability and Social Security disability claims. We have dedicated departments for every type of disability claim and these departments work seamlessly to ensure our disabled clients receive all disability benefits to which they are entitled, from both the VA and the SSA. For help with your veterans’ or Social Security disability claims, contact us to speak to a claims specialist: 1-888-234-5758.