There is one mantra I like to say to each Veteran when I begin representing them: “The biggest weapon you must have with the VA is patience” – and I mean it. Some Veterans come to me after applying multiple times and they just cannot get what they deserve. Some have been fighting with the VA for decades. Most however applied once many years ago and just gave up. And I understand why – an initial claim can take 6 months or more to be decided. An appeal could take several years after that.
The reality is the VA takes a while to decide a claim and the Veteran should be prepared to stick with it for the long haul. It is an agency that is inundated with claims. I often find the employees of the VA genuinely do care for the Veterans, but the procedures for deciding claims are not always the most efficient. I tell my clients right off the bat how long it could take to get a decision from the VA so that they do not have unrealistic expectations. If my client knows what to expect, it minimizes frustration and impatience.
Fortunately, Congress and the Executive branch are beginning to take notice of the inefficient claims process and claims backlog. It seems the VA is on politicians’ radar and I think some good changes and improvements will be made to the system. I do believe there are brighter days ahead for the VA and the Veterans who file claims.
Anytime I file a Notice of Disagreement, I always request a hearing before a Decision Review Officer. This is an optional hearing that takes place at the Philadelphia Regional Office with the Decision Review Officer (DRO) who is deciding your claim on appeal. I request this hearing for a couple reasons:
Firstly, it is the first time a Veteran will talk face to face with the person deciding their claim. In other words, the VA gets to see the human side of a Veteran, instead of him/her being simply a stack of medical records. Secondly, it gives the Veteran the chance to tell their story through testimony which is recorded and becomes part of the record. Thirdly, it allows the attorney and Veteran to speak candidly with the DRO and to discuss what evidence is needed to get the claim approved.
My clients often express anxiety about these hearings, because they think they are going to “court”. Rest assured, these hearings are a low stress environment and are nothing to worry about. The DROs are not judges and in my experience are always friendly with the Veteran. I believe they truly want to reach the best possible resolution to the Veteran’s claim. These hearings only last an hour and are great way to make sure the VA has all they need to get your claim approved.
Please be aware, if you file a claim on your own be sure you write to the VA specifically stating that you want to have a DRO hearing. They will not automatically give it to you. You must request it!
Have you ever wondered how much your Social Security Disability payment or Retirement payment would be if you were to become disabled or retire now? If so, you now have the opportunity to view your Social Security Statement online. Simply go to the Social Security website at http://www.ssa.gov and click on the “my Social Security” link. From there select the Sign In or Create an Account button and follow the prompts to create a profile unique to you. Once you have completed and created a profile you can then view your earnings statement to see how much your payments would be and can also determine your eligibility for the benefits as well.
There are a number of helpful links that provide information about requirements and eligibility for the benefits noted above. Lastly, you can also contact your local Social Security office to determine eligibility as well as how much your payments might be.