If you’re not familiar with our story, you can read it here.
We started his claim for PTSD, as well as an increase for his migraines, on July 22, 2009.
According to the VA’s time-table, the claim was considered on July 29, 2010. They then sent out a Notice of Decision on 8/2/2010.
This is when we began our Notice of Disagreement. He went to visit his VSO representative and together they filled out the NOD. We had family write letters, gathered all his civilian medical records, and even sent in several news articles and his orders for both Albania and Kosovo. This took some time before they could mail it off. The VA received the NOD on July 14, 2011.
On October 2, 2012, we had a personal hearing at the St. Petersburg VA where we were interviewed and recorded. Sort of like a deposition. The moment we entered the meeting, the VA Decision Review Officer (DRO) immediately conceded to the maximum allowable rating for migraines. Relief. We didn’t have to fight for that one anymore.
However, the rest of the meeting was quite painful. I learned a lot more than I ever had, and I probably still don’t know it all. But I watched him break down and I couldn’t help him. I had to sit there and listen and absorb everything. It was so overwhelming and my emotions overflowed as well. This was one hard meeting. I never want him to have to do that again. Learning about the things he kept inside, the things he tried to shield me from, the things he never really wanted to talk about, started me on my own path of shared PTSD. That’s what I am calling it now. Shared PTSD or Secondary PTSD. Doesn’t matter, depression/PTSD, all ailments are shared by the entire family. I didn’t know it until much later, but I had my own breakdown; hence the reason for this blog.
After that meeting, we waited, and waited, and waited some more.
On January 29, 2014, he went to his Compensation & Pension (C&P) hearing. You can read about the outcome here in more detail if you wish. But let’s just say that this was a complete waste of time. Five minutes he was in there with the lady. He came out completely broken. She wouldn’t listen to him. She dismissed everything and sent him on his way. We knew then, it was the final nail in the coffin.
On July 14, 2014 the VA sent their Statement of Case (SOC). It was very thick and full of legalese. Understanding this is near impossible. But what we got out of that 34 page document is that they were NOT going to change their decision. He immediately called his VSO representative but couldn’t get him in until July. He’s both very busy and THAT good!
Last week, he saw his VSO rep and they discussed his options. We now have to appeal his (NOD) and our VSO recommended that we opt for a BVA Hearing by live video conference because that is the shortest wait time with a better possible outcome – if you consider a year and a half to two years short. But looking at the other options, our VSO said that if we opted for “I do not want a BVA hearing” or “I want a BVA hearing at a local VA Office” those two were sure ways to receive a quick turnaround with a denial letter. The last option of a hearing “in Washington DC” could go upwards of 3 years or more. Just, NO!
I must say, as frustrated as I am, as disappointed in the system, I am so grateful for our VSO. I love how he stated the VA FAILED. See below.
MY VA RATING LETTER OF THE
TIME AND THE C&P REPORT FOR THAT RATING LETTER BOTH CLEARLY IDENTIFIED THAT THE VA
EXAMINER NOTED THAT I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH [REDACTED] & [REDACTED].
I CLEARLY IDENTIFIED THAT IT WAS MY UNDERSTANDING THE THE VA SHOULD HAVE ADDED THESE
CONDITIONS TO MY CLAIM AND THAT THESE SHOULD HAVE BEEN PROCESSED AS INFERRED ISSUES.
THE DRO SHOULD HAVE REVIEWED THESES ISSUES AS INFERRED ISSUES AND COMPLETED ANY
ADJUDICATION REQUIRED TO ESTABLISH THESE TWO ISSUES AS SERVICE CONNECTED DISABILITIES.
TO IGNOR THESE ISSUES AS INFERRED ISSUES BOTH BY THE INITIAL ADJUDICATOR AND THE FOLLOW ON DRO UNDER THE ACTION OF A DENOVO REVIEW SHOULD HAVE NOTED THESE ISSUES AND
ACTED UPON THEM. BY NOT DOING SO THE VA FAILED TO REVIEW ALL PERTINENT EVIDENCE
ASSOCIATED WITH THE CLAIM AND THE VA FAILED TO GIVE A COMPLETE AND TRUE ASSESMENT OF
ALL POTENCIAL ISSUES WITH MY CLAIM.
IT APPEARS THAT THE DRO DID NOT REVIEW OR DID NOT EVEN ADDRESS THIS ISSUE OF
INFERRED ISSUES REQUESTED BY ME IN WRITING IN MY ORIGINAL NOD.
I DO NOT BELIEVE I WAS GIVEN FAIR TREATMENT BY THE VA AND I WILL PURSUE THIS
INDIVIDUAL ISSUE THROUGH ALL OF THE REMAINING LEVELS OF APPEAL POSSIBLE UNTIL THE VA
ACTS IN A FAIR AND JUST MANNER IN REFERENCE TO THE EVIDENCE OF RECORD IN MY CLAIM AND
THE LAW WITH WHICH THE VA IS REQUIRED TO ACT IN A NON-CONFRONTATIONAL MANNER.
These are the words, plus many more, that will be mailed to the VA for his appeal. I don’t think I could have said it any better. The way he worded it puts a smile on my face but I know that it will not do much in the way of making the VA do their job.
And now we wait again.
TheHubs got out of the military in July 2002. Here we are 12 years later, still fighting for his benefits. He may not have the visible wounds that others have, but it doesn’t make him less broken. He may not have had boots on the ground in Iraq of Afghanistan, but that doesn’t make his experiences in Albania/Kosovo any less than anyone else’s. He is sick of people looking at him like he’s faking it, or telling him “You don’t look disabled.” He’s sick of being dismissed because he served in “The Forgotten War” as he coined it. But most of all, he’s sick, and tired, of fighting. I have to keep at him, encouraging him, reminding him. That’s what the VA wants–for the veteran to give up so they don’t have to pay out. We cannot let them win!
And people wonder why there are veterans dying before their claims are awarded, or appointments made. This whole bureaucratic-red-tape-flaming-hula-hoop-jumping-how-high-waiting-game is down-right obscene!
***We would never recommend you do this process on your own. You WILL get discouraged. You WILL lose hope. You will probably be denied the first time, no matter how simple your claim is. I speak from experience. Our fist claim, he filed on his own. He received only 10%. We missed so much. The verbage, the laws and legalese that the VA looks for, the common person will not know. Therefore it is detrimental to a successful case to seek the assistance of a VSO at the very least. ***