Overcoming VA Claim Challenges | South Portland, ME

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Overcoming VA Claim Challenges

Atty. Kristian Terison: [00:00:00] What would your words be to a veteran who is feeling overwhelmed by the process and who is, you know, thinking about abandoning their claim

Atty. Francis Jackson: Two things. Don’t give up, get help. Those, that would be my advice.

And in some ways it almost doesn’t matter where you get the help, as long as you get an objective opinion from somebody with experience, I think that’s a huge step forward in truly complex cases, my own bias is that you probably need an experienced VA attorney, whether it’s our firm or a different firm, there are, several, but get help from somebody.

Start somewhere, that’s what I would say.

Atty. Francis Jackson: [00:01:00] So, welcome to our podcast, Victory Over VA, Your Guide to Unlocking Your VA Disability Benefits.

So, welcome, and let me tell you a little bit about who we are. I’m Francis Jackson, this is Kristian Terison, and we work at Jackson MacNichol, which is a law firm dedicated to getting justice for veterans on their disability compensation claims.

So, what’s this about? Well, today, We’re going to talk about some limiting beliefs that people have regarding VA claims. And who is this show for? Well, it’s for veterans, obviously. All veterans of the United States Armed Forces. But it’s also about veterans who need support [00:02:00] from the community.

And so, it’s for those who are supporting veterans, whether you’re a relative or a friend, or simply part of a community support organization that helps veterans. That’s the audience we’re trying to reach with this podcast. So, let’s turn to today.

Atty. Kristian Terison: All right, so as you mentioned, we’re addressing the limiting belief that veterans can’t handle the appeal process. It’s got a reputation for being complicated, lengthy, very detail oriented.

So, how often do you encounter veterans, you know, feeling overwhelmed or are unprepared to navigate the VA disability system?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Sadly, we have had a lot of veterans who have come to us after having made a claim and just plain given up because of the complexity and as their symptoms got worse and their condition worsened, [00:03:00] they finally were forced to take a further step and come at it again.

And we’ve been able to help lots of those folks, but I think, based on my own experience and the statistics, that a number of veterans find the system just overwhelming and simply give up when they get a denial, which is very sad.

Atty. Kristian Terison: In your view and in your experience, what are some of the primary factors that I guess contribute to this frustration and almost, you know, burnout amongst veterans pursuing their claims?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, I think there are a couple of big things. For lots of folks, this kind of the attitude that, well, I filed a claim and the VA denied it, so that’s the end of that. You know, it’s

sort of like, this is some governmental pronouncement that they don’t have a valid claim. And in addition to that, we found a lot of folks who just found the emotional toll of being solely responsible for their claim to be [00:04:00] overwhelming.

So, I think both of those are things that can easily be overcome, but you know, for a veteran dealing with it in isolation, a lot of folks seem to just not be able to get past those barriers.

Atty. Kristian Terison: So, you know, for a veteran who’s feeling overwhelmed in the claims process, thinking you’re giving up, you know, what would your advice be to them?

Atty. Francis Jackson: My advice to them would be get help. You know, obviously, we’re in the, business of helping veterans, but you don’t have to come to us. There are lots of other resources in the country. There are other law firms, there are veteran service organizations, whether you’re talking American Legion or Disabled American Veterans, or you’re talking the Paralyzed Veterans of America or Vietnam Veterans of America.

I mean there are, host of organizations who provide help to veterans with their claims. Many states and even counties have [00:05:00] veteran service officers who will assist the veteran. Obviously if you have a truly complicated or sophisticated claim, you may want to go to a veteran’s law firm. You know, there are half a dozen big firms around the country besides ours that do these cases.

And there are lots of folks available to help, but the bottom line is get help somewhere. Just get another set of eyeballs on the claim, get someone to talk with you about what it is that’s involved in correcting the errors that were set out in the VA’s denial decision and move forward.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Okay. Can you share a story from your own experience of working with a veteran who was at that point ready to give up and how they persisted and found a path to success with their program.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, there are too many for me to single out individuals, to be honest, but there are, really two [00:06:00] different patterns. As I mentioned earlier, I see a lot of veterans who made a claim, got denied, and just stopped. And unfortunately, the way the claim system is built by the Congress, if you let your claim go more than the one year appeal period, then that’s the end of that claim. It’s there are a couple of minor exceptions, but it’s essentially impossible to resuscitate an old claim in most cases.

The other piece is we get people who, as we’re going along in the claim, just find it so draining that they know this is out there and it’s is always on their mind that it’s hard for them to continue and they, sometimes want to just give up. And we do our best to encourage people to let us take over the worrying about those claims and to move them forward.

But in all honesty, there are still some folks who just find it too difficult mentally to have this thing [00:07:00] hanging out there and they just out and out give up. We do our best to encourage them not to and most of our clients don’t, but every year there are a few who just give up and go away.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And I guess related to that. What do you see as, the attorney or representative’s role in empowering veterans to keep fighting and also I guess just supporting veterans through the process?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, we deal with that issue in a couple of ways, every veteran who we represent is assigned a personal case manager who is available by phone to talk with them about their case. And, you know, these aren’t trained therapists, mind you, but these are folks who have done a lot of these cases and see how it works and they are often able to offer support to veterans and encourage them to continue to move forward. In terms of the folks who just find the process and the delays overwhelming.

You know, there’s no magic [00:08:00] answer to that, but what we encourage clients to do is to kind of offload that burden to us, let us do the worrying about making sure that the appeals are filed on time, making sure the evidence is submitted, making sure that we have the evidence to submit, so we do all of those things.

The other thing is we try to correspond with every client on a regular basis to make sure they understand that they haven’t been forgotten, even though it’s a, slow and sometimes painful process and to just help them understand that we are still here even though the VA is being very slow and not acting on their claim, we’re here and we’re going to continue to support them.

You know, I’ve had a number of discussions with clients who were just right on the edge of giving up and I’ve encouraged them to go forward and in many cases we’ve been able to get them over that hurdle and to get them to let us continue forward with their claim, and I’ve gotten them [00:09:00] significant amounts of back benefits.

I’m sad to say that there have been a few where they just couldn’t continue, they simply found it too anxiety producing, too depressing, they couldn’t do it and I always feel bad about each one of those. But luckily that’s a very small number each year.

Atty. Kristian Terison: Now, this is an interesting question. Have you seen a shift now that so much documentation and so much filing and everything is done digitally? Are there any digital tools, online resources that you’ve seen that change the landscape for veterans in the claims process?

Atty. Francis Jackson: I don’t think so, on a, changing the landscape level. There is an opportunity for veterans to look at their cases electronically and a system where they can see where they are in the queue for appeals in particular. But I don’t see that has really changed things on any kind of global scale.

You know, for a [00:10:00] few individual veterans, I think it has been actually too depressing to see where they were in the list, how many thousand cases back they were. Mm-Hmm. , For others, just knowing where they were was encouraging and it’s helped them to hang on and move forward.

Atty. Kristian Terison: They can see the number improving.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Yep, they can see the number improving each month. So, it’s a mixed bag, I haven’t seen anything that I thought really made a dramatic change over the entire landscape.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And I know there are some I guess You know, narrower one off tools and community initiatives. I’m thinking of the veteran there who started compiling ships deck logs on Google so that folks who served on particular ships off the coast of Vietnam can find support for their claims because oftentimes, for whatever reason the VA is unable to get those records and establish that the right ship was in the right place at the right time and so, but obviously that just applies to a, [00:11:00] small subset and wouldn’t you know, change the.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, you know, certainly there are, things that help, one issue that used to really plague a lot of our clients was proof that when they served at an Air Force base in Thailand, one of the Royal Air Force bases in Thailand, they were near the perimeter and thus exposed to Agent Orange.

And so, there’s a fair body of evidence that was built up on the internet showing how narrow these bases were, so that if you had a job that took you to the flight line, it puts you at the base perimeter, whether the VA acknowledged that or not.

So that certainly was helpful, and you mentioned the aggregation of deck logs. There’s also a new software program that I recently saw uh, notice about that lets folks who serve together kind of, have a it’s not right to call it a buddy system, but a way of, keeping in touch with each [00:12:00] other.

So, it would be a,

a resource that veterans could use to locate folks who served with them and, might have information that would be supportive of a particular plan. So there, is, you know, there are some things kind of developing on the Internet that are of some assistance.

I don’t want to sound negative about it, but it’s not, we haven’t reached the level where it’s a game changer. PM Yeah,

Atty. Kristian Terison: I know much is made of the VA’s own duty to assist with the claims preparation. Does the VA itself have any other supports or assistance for veterans in going through this claims process?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Well, it’s a mixed bag. Every regional office, RO, has a public contact team that folks can go and talk to and if appropriate, get set up with a veteran service officer to talk about their claim. And sometimes those folks are able to provide significant assistance.

So at worst, they [00:13:00] are usually a, an affable, friendly face to talk to about the claim at, if nothing more. But coming back to the duty to assist, you know, one of the big issues that got disputed in the formation of the most recent legislation about the claims process, the uh, so called AMA that became effective in February of 2019, most of the larger veteran service organizations, american Legion, DAV, and so on, supported the changes to the claims process.

Others like Vietnam Veterans of America thought that it was a disservice to veterans because it changed the duty to assist. What’s happened now is the duty to assist only applies when you first file a claim up to the point that you get an initial decision by the VA granting or denying the claim.

It no longer applies all through the appeal process [00:14:00] as it used to do. And Vietnam Veterans of America in particular was very adamant that they thought that was not a good change in the law. But, you know, other veterans organizations thought that other changes in the law kind of offset that and overall were more positive and they supported it.

I don’t know, in all candor, whether it really has made a big change. I do know that there are some individual cases that we can point to where there would have been a better or faster result had the duty to apply continued to, sorry, the duty to assist continued to apply all the way up through the process.

But the problem with the duty to assist is that it’s so generic that it almost becomes meaningless in some cases. Keep in mind that the duty to assist basically requires the VA, number one, to get any federal records that are relevant, typically the, [00:15:00] service records, particularly the service medical records.

And number two to get a VA compensation and pension medical exam, C& P exam as they’re called in many, although not all, cases. But there are enough cases that kind of fall outside those parameters that the duty to assist isn’t always a panacea for veterans who aren’t experienced in these claims and don’t have a different source of support with regard to their claims.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And, I guess, for veterans who are looking for ways to be better informed about the claims process, to educate themselves about their rights and what to expect in the claims process, are there any resources out there, anywhere you’d direct them to, anything you’d recommend?

Atty. Francis Jackson: Sure. In all Canada, the VA provides a large volume of information about the process. [00:16:00] You can go on the VA’s own website and find most of the information. In addition to that, there are a number of private sites that are hosted by various organizations for various reasons, ranging from various attorney firms that are looking to assist veterans to you know, local and state organizations that are just trying to be supportive.

Here in Maine, the uh, Pine Tree legal assistance, the civil legal assistance for the folks who are financially challenged, has a nice website with lots of information about VA claims. And, you know, there are certainly not alone, there are many others. But I think it’s fair to say that pretty much any piece of information you’re looking for is somewhere on the internet.

Some are easier to find than others, but it’s probably out there somewhere If you really uh, are looking hard. For most people, the issue is not so much finding the information [00:17:00] as understanding how to apply the information to the facts of their case and to discern what they need to do to win on these particular facts.

And for that unfortunately, there’s no alternative to experience. You really have to contact someone who has experience in the claims, whether that’s a local state or county uh, veteran service officer or a, one of the VSO organizations or an accredited attorney, but somebody with significant experience in the claims who can recognize what the issues are in this particular case and help you to understand what needs to be done.

Atty. Kristian Terison: We’re coming up on the end of the episode, but I just wanted to ask before we finish. What would your words be to a veteran who is feeling overwhelmed by the process and who is, you know, thinking about abandoning their claim

Atty. Francis Jackson: Two things. Don’t give up, get help. Those, that would be my advice.

[00:18:00] And in some ways it almost doesn’t matter where you get the help, as long as you get an objective opinion from somebody with experience, I think that’s a huge step forward in truly complex cases, my own bias is that you probably need an experienced VA attorney, whether it’s our firm or a different firm, there are, several, but get help from somebody.

Start somewhere, that’s what I would say.

Atty. Kristian Terison: And I guess you don’t have to rely on your own personal bias when board’s own statistics would support getting a VA attorney as well, or a you know, a Veterans Benefits Attorney.

Atty. Francis Jackson: Yeah the, statistics are, you know, are the VA’s own and what they show is that, people e who do these cases on their own have the least likelihood of success.

People who do these cases with the help of a Veteran’s Service Organization have kind of the middle level of success, if you will. And the highest level of success is with folks who work with [00:19:00] a veteran’s attorney. And just one kind of side note to all that when you’re looking for help, make sure that you don’t fall for one of these scams.

There are a number of organizations that are scamming veterans on a regular basis, promising to magically get them results, quickly getting them results in situations where that’s not going to happen, and asking for money up front to do that.

If someone asks you to pay them in advance on a VA claim don’t walk, run to the nearest exit, there’s something wrong. The VA carefully and sometimes painfully slowly accredits folks who are capable of representing veterans at least a competent level. They do that for attorneys, they do that for non attorneys. You know, those folks are listed on the VA’s website if you look at their accreditation site.

Don’t pay money [00:20:00] to these folks who say, Oh, just give us $1,000 and we’ll get your claim granted right away or $500 or whatever it is, don’t do it, it won’t happen. What will happen is your money will go away and you will not see a result, that’s what will happen.

You know, and what is particularly annoying is some of these scammers they’ll get people to give them some money, and they’ll tell them, oh, do this, they’ll get more money, do this, get more money, and the veteran could have done those very steps all by himself if he had just gotten some input from someone who is familiar with these kinds of cases. It wouldn’t have cost them anything.

On the other hand, if you really feel like you need help, go to someone competent and don’t pay in advance. No person who is accredited by the VA to handle these cases is going to ask you to pay in advance, that’s just not a thing. If they ask you to pay in advance, there’s [00:21:00] something wrong.

Atty. Kristian Terison: All right. Well, and on that serious warning, we’ll wrap up today’s episode of Victory Over VA.

Please be sure to subscribe and tune in next time.

Atty. Francis Jackson: See you then.

Welcome back to another insightful episode of Victory Over VA Podcast! In this episode, we tackle the common challenges veterans face when navigating the VA system and provide valuable insights on how to overcome them. Join us, as we dive deep into the world of VA claims and discover the knowledge and tools you need to achieve victory over these challenges.

1. Understanding the VA Claims Process:
Navigating the VA claims process can be overwhelming, especially for veterans who are unfamiliar with its intricacies. In this episode, we break down the claims process step by step, providing clarity and guidance. From filing the initial claim to appealing a decision, we cover everything you need to know to successfully navigate the system.

2. Gathering the Necessary Evidence:
One of the key factors in a successful VA claim is providing sufficient evidence to support your case. We discuss the importance of gathering relevant documentation, such as medical records, service records, and statements from witnesses. Our expert guests share their tips and strategies for obtaining the necessary evidence to strengthen your claim.

3. Overcoming Obstacles and Delays:
VA claims can often be met with obstacles and delays, causing frustration and prolonging the process. In this episode, we address common challenges veterans face, such as denied claims, long wait times, and appeals. Our guests share their personal experiences and provide valuable advice on how to overcome these hurdles and keep moving forward.

4. Seeking Guidance and Support:
Throughout the episode, we emphasize the importance of seeking guidance and support in your VA claim journey. We discuss the role of Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs), accredited attorneys, and other resources available to veterans. Our expert guests provide insights on how to choose the right advocate and the benefits of working with professionals who understand the intricacies of the VA system.

If you’re a veteran seeking guidance and support in your VA claim journey, this episode of Victory Over VA Podcast is a must-listen. Gain valuable insights on overcoming challenges in the VA claims process, gathering the necessary evidence, and navigating obstacles and delays. Don’t miss out on the knowledge and tools you need to achieve victory over VA claim challenges.

Tune in now and join me, Francis Jackson, as we dive deep into the world of VA claims. Together, we can overcome the challenges and achieve the benefits and support you rightfully deserve. Listen to this episode of Victory Over VA Podcast 

AND MORE TOPICS COVERED IN THE FULL INTERVIEW!!! You can check that out and subscribe to YouTube.

If you want to know more about Francis Jackson and Kristian Terison, you may reach out to them at:

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