Our country often boasts of having the most highly developed military in the world. Indeed, the power of the United States military has been influential in winning two major world wars in the 20th Century and is also credited with influencing the collapse of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In part because of our military’s influence around the globe, many young people join the service with patriotic ideals and the expectation that they are serving their country and protecting a way of life. But is this really all there is to the story? Is there a darker side to the maintaining a massive military that extends its influence in multiple foreign conflicts around the world?
In my experience as a veteran’s benefits attorney over the many years that I’ve been practicing, I have heard the anger and the dismay of many veterans who felt that the story the recruiter sold them was quite a bit different than their experience once they got out with injuries and disabilities from their military service.
I want to share with you the comments one veteran shared with his U.S. Senator, as a window into the lives of veterans suffering at the hands of the VA’s failure to grant their claims in a timely fashion. This veteran stated,
“Dear Mr. Senator, Today I was humiliated to the point I felt as if the world had taken all I have held so dear all my life and denied me a small part in being a worthy citizen of this great country. Today I was denied medical care at the United States Army Hospital at Fort Sill, Oklahoma because I am retired military.
“I am 54 years old and served my country for over 20 years. I am honorable, retired, and I feel I’ve been denied part of my retirement benefits.
“I live on my meagerly small retirement pay and disability pension from VA that comes out of my retirement pay and, sir, I cannot afford to pay any doctor bills.
“I was told today by a neurologist, after a nerve conduction study, that I should have an operation on my hand soon or I could suffer permanent nerve damage to my right hand and arm.
“Sir, this is the same right hand I used in Vietnam to hold a weapon in answer to my country’s call during two tours of duty there.
“Sir, this is the same hand I used to salute the flag and pledge allegiance to it during my 20 years on active duty.
“Sir, this is the same hand I raised several times to swear that I would honor and obey all the commitments required of me by my country during my enlistment in the United States Army.
“Sir, now as I need it most one of the benefits I was guaranteed upon joining and with each subsequent enlistment has been taken from me.
“Sir, I wonder if this right hand of mine will be able much longer to be raised to pay homage to a country that I served so reverently.
“Sir, please help me get this hand taken care of.”
It is letters like these that break your heart and shock the conscience. Here we are, a country of such wealth and such a highly developed society but yet our veterans feel like their country has betrayed them. The statistics make it hard to refute them:
- Today, about 25 percent of the nation’s homeless are veterans. 1.4 million veterans are at risk of homelessness.
- 900,000 veterans receive food stamps
- An average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day. This includes 17 who are not enrolled in U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs Health Services.
- Roughly 1 in 10 people incarcerated are veterans.
- And, sadly, there are 300 veterans currently on death row.
Is this the best we can do?
One veteran client of mine told me that when he came home from Vietnam no one welcomed him – nobody thanked him. He feels belittled. Time went on. He didn’t realize he could file a claim for VA benefits and nobody at VA made him any wiser. He was ashamed of himself. He was ashamed to talk to anybody about his problems, about his PTSD, he was scared to death and he really didn’t know what to do. He felt helpless at times and it really bothered him that he felt like VA was calling him a liar simply for trying to get the benefits he deserved.
He told me that it made him angry, the way in his words they “threw him to the dogs.” He said he doesn’t trust the government; “They lied to us.”
As to the VA claims process, he said it’s confusing and they cite to stuff that he doesn’t even know the meaning of. And the often heard refrain came from his lips, “They want us to give up. They’re waiting for us to die.” Indeed, the mantra, “Deny, deny; until they die!” is frequently spoken of in veteran’s circles.
This reminds me of another veteran client who I represented successfully. His claim had been on appeal for 26 years. This doesn’t mean he appealed, got denied, and then waited a number of years to re-file. No. His claim was actually on first appeal continuously for all this time. He first filed his claim in 1976 when Gerald Ford was president and disco was all the rage. Due to his disability and other circumstances, he ended up homeless and lived on the streets for about 20 years. During that time the VA forgot about his claim and didn’t do anything on it for 20 years. To his credit, the veteran stabilized himself enough to get a used motor home and was able to live in it and travel around sleeping in parking lots and other places where he could park his rig.
The veteran started working the claim again and eventually hired our law firm. We litigated the case all the way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims and got it remanded. His claim for veterans’ benefits was denied again. We then went back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, got the denial of benefits overturned again and the matter was sent back down to the Board. I’m glad to say that we did help this veteran win his benefits. That was the in 2012. His claim had been on appeal for 36 years. He died two weeks after we won him VA benefits.
Before this veteran died, he shared his thoughts about the VA disability benefits process with me. He told me he was confronted every day with the reality that at his age’ he may never get what he was entitled to and that the VA will outlive him. Sadly, for most veterans the hardh reality that VA will outlive them is true. He told me that the whole thing, being disabled and not getting what he was entitled to has destroyed his family, his finances, and made him homeless for years. He believed all this happened because he served in the military.
He said, “If you’re disabled, they simply discard you when you’re injured. VA simply doesn’t follow its own rules. They just do whatever they want. They ignore stuff for years. – You keep trying to get points across and they just ignore it as if you never mentioned it.” He also e observed that young veterans assume the VA is going to help them, but according to this experienced veteran, “VA is doing everything they can to deny you.” Another veteran said to me, “If I’d have known the way they would treat me, I never would have enlisted.” Yet another veteran said, “I’m tired of fighting on my own. I’m tired of them just denying everything. I’m tired of doctors that don’t care.”
The motto of VA is, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.” It sounds good but in reality, veterans are faced with a decades long legal battle in many cases.
There are no easy answers when it comes to veterans and their need for disability benefits, but as a veteran’s disability attorney who’s spent years in the trenches helping veterans, I know that many of the frustrations veterans experience trying to get the VA benefits they have earned can be avoided with careful planning and expert legal strategies.
Unfortunately, many veterans do not know they can hire a veterans disability benefits attorney after the notice of disagreement is filed. Too often, veterans are not aware of the existence of lawyers until after the appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims. But in many of these cases where veterans wait for decades for VA to make a favorable decision, the delays that consist of multiple rounds of appeals and denials and remands could be avoided if the claims were developed properly by a skilled veteran’s disability lawyer.
Although our law firm cannot help every veteran, and although individuals cannot change the nature of the VA’s dysfunctional administrative appeal’s process, with every veteran we work with we can fight back in some small way to let our veteran clients know the staff our law firm cares.
These veterans have come a long way. They deserve justice. They deserve honor and vindication. They should be recognized for what they’ve done for our country. Everything they gave up: their youth, their strength, and often their life. These veterans deserve our respect and the VA disability benefits they earned.
If you are a veteran or know a veteran who has had a similar struggle getting the disability benefits they have earned, contact our law firm to so we can help you get the benefits you deserve.