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Harry F. Miller recalls Battle of the Bulge – Part 2 of 5

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As war waged on through the punishing conditions of the Battle of the Bulge, sixteen year-old Harry F. Miller and the 740th tank battalion relentlessly forged forward in the fight to defeat the Axis powers. Harry’s battalion, known as the Daredevils, saw heavy action in the last days of December, 1944, but the Battle was far from over.

In commemoration of the 74th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we’ve completed a short, five-part video series featuring Harry’s personal account of the battle. Please check out our playlists for the rest of the series and other videos.

Source & Video

Harry F. Miller recalls Battle of the Bulge – Part 1 of 5

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Battle of the Bulge 001


Harry F. Miller enlisted in the U.S.Army at the age of 15 and soon found himself part of the 740th tank battalion attached to the 82nd Airborne Division. December 16th, 1944 began the Battle of the Bulge and Harry’s unit quickly joined the fight in the Ardennes region against the Axis powers. In commemoration of the 74th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we’ll be running a short video series featuring Harry’s personal account of the Battle.

Please, check out our playlists for the rest of this five-part video series and other videos.

Source & Video

Veteran Behind Federal Emergency Care Law Change Remains Without Refund From VA

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Richard Staab


ST. CLOUD, Minn. (WSAW) - Department of Veteran Affairs representatives said only a single $12 reimbursement has been paid under the law meant to stop the VA from denying payment for non-VA emergency care, a congressional aide familiar with specifics of a meeting between congressional staff and the VA tells 7 Investigates.

The revelation comes nearly three years after 7 Investigates first exposed a loophole leaving thousands of Wisconsin Veterans, and hundreds of thousands of Veterans nationally, improperly charged for emergency care.

That law is called the Staab Rule.

Today, the Veteran behind the national case that changed the law still remains without a refund from the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

Richard Staab’s life-threatening emergency

“It’s wrong. I think it’s wrong,” 86-year-old Minnesota Airforce Veteran Richard Staab told 7 Investigates Senior Investigative Reporter Matthew Simon. The exclusive interview comes nearly a decade after Staab’s long legal struggle began--on a day back in December 2010.

“Well, the heart was pounding. And I thought if I would sit down and rest, it would go away. But it didn’t. So they called the ambulance,” Staab said.

It would end up being life-threatening. Staab would survive emergency open heart surgery at a non-VA hospital in St. Cloud, Minn., after suffering a heart attack and stroke. He could not communicate for months.

“They told me I’d be lucky if I got out in a year when I was in the nursing home. I said, ‘Oh no, I’ll be out of here in six months.’ And I was,” Staab said.

When it came time to pay his bills, the VA cited the federal Veterans Emergency Care Fairness Act. The law includes directing how the agency is expected to reimburse Veterans for non-VA emergency care.

Under their interpretation of that law, the VA said because Staab had Medicare as other insurance covering part of his non-VA emergency care, they would not reimburse him for any of the remaining $48,000 in bills.

“It’s wrong what happened. And I don’t see how all the GIs would know what you need to do to be covered,” Staab said.

Looking back at some of his basic training pictures from 1952, as the Korean War Veteran recalled his current VA struggle, he also remembered the promise his country made to him.

"You enlist with us. You get to have all health care taken care of. And this, and that. That was the big thing back then," Staab said.

A Nearly Decade Long Legal Fight

A large part of Staab’s story can symbolically be seen in Staab’s lawyer Jackie Schuh’s St. Cloud, Minn. Office. Schuh is a Veteran herself. This mission is personal. Multiple legal filings, medical records, and appeal pleadings show the journey of VA denials representing the Staab case for most of the last eight years.

"There's nobody that should be put in the position that he's been put in where they have to come up with $48,000 to pay for emergency fees,” Schuh said. “When they are promised when they sign the dotted line or do their 20 years that they're going to be free from that result. It's ridiculous."

"So it's got to be fixed. I mean it's sad to say what has been promised to Dick, and all the other Veterans who have that vested benefit, is not what they're receiving," the lawyer added.

After years of legal fights, in 2016 the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled in Staab’s favor.

Judges said back in 2010, when Congress had changed the law, they intended for the VA to act as a "secondary payer," when Veterans' other health insurance only covered part of their non-VA emergency treatment.

Last year, what was thought to be a final clarification of this statute called the ‘Staab Rule,’ named after Richard Staab, was finally put into law.

"And so the Staab Rule made it unconstitutional, or perhaps illegal is a better way to say it, to have the VA implement denials internally when the law required they grant the request for coverage," Schuh said.

VA’s history: not answering refund questions

During the course of this 7 Investigates three-year investigation, a House Veterans Affairs Committee spokesperson confirmed in January 2018, more than one million Staab Rule-related Veterans’ claims were waiting to be processed.

However, that number differs from VA spokesperson Randal Noller’s confirmation in February 2018. Noller said 217,000 Veterans are impacted nationally—which included 5,442 Wisconsin Veterans. Refunds, Noller said at that time, would add between $165 million and $298 million to their budget during the next five calendar years.

However, an unnamed VA Public Affairs spokesperson told 7 Investigates in October 2018 that once the Staab Rule was published and all claims were processed, they could not answer how many Veterans had been refunded.

“These claims became part of our normal workload,” the VA Public Affairs email said. “They are not tracked separately.”

In February 2018, Noller could not answer how many Veterans waiting for refunds had died.

“The VA is unable to determine how many Veterans with denied claims since 2010 have died,” Noller wrote.

That is significant. Under federal law, once a Veteran dies their benefit dies with them.

Publication of Staab: An unforeseen obstacle

Staab’s story is also personal for National Veterans Legal Services Program, or NVLSP Executive Director Bart Stichman.

He previously was part of the team representing Staab nationally, and is now fighting the VA's emergency care denials with a class action lawsuit.

While Staab's court victory specified the VA has to pay the remainder of a non-VA emergency bill, even if a Veteran has other insurance, the NVLSP claims that is not happening and says the VA is rejecting claims anyway.

"The problem with the new regulation is the VA came up with a different reason for why they shouldn't reimburse Veterans who have some private insurance," Stichman said.

The class action suit also claims the VA circumvented Congress by adding the words “deductibles and coinsurance” to the part of the Staab Rule allowing the VA to not cover co-payments.

"And the VA is trying to drive a Mack truck through that minor exception. So that everything you could possibly reimburse a Veteran for, is not subject to reimbursement," Stichman said.

Staab: Life is a battle

Even after Richard Staab had a law named after him, he still does not have his refund.

“Should you cry for all the other servicemen who haven't got their just?” Staab asked. “It's just not me. It's all the other ones."

Based on his case, he and his lawyer do not think any other Veteran has a refund either.

“I’m angry about the whole thing. I’m angry for my client. I’m angry for the thousands of others,” Schuh said. "This impacts every military member. Past. Currently serving. And in the future, until it's fixed,"

Schuh says to look no further than Staab surviving another stroke in 2017. The VA is now using his own law, the Staab Rule, to cite cost shares or deductibles associated with his other health insurance to reject payment for his non-VA emergency care.

"I just can't believe, in my heart, that that would've been Congress’ intent," Schuh added.

So Richard Staab, this one Minnesota Veteran, chooses to continue fighting this epic battle—hoping that someday he, and the hundreds of thousands of other Veterans he represents, will finally see justice.

"Life is a battle, isn't it?" Staab said matter-of-factly, with a Veterans’ conviction in his voice. "And you've got to have hope. You made the right decisions. And let's face it. Not everything goes that smooth."

Calling for a law change

Staab's lawyer and NVLSP, the national group behind this class action lawsuit, say if the claim is unsuccessful, than the law needs to be changed. They say Staab’s story shows how major loopholes remain within this system.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's office tells 7 Investigates that Baldwin is working with the NVLSP "on a legislative fix that would strike the provision in the law that the VA is misinterpreting to not pay for emergency care costs that Veterans' other insurance plans don't cover.”

During the last three years, 7 Investigates has also shared stories of Veterans, with only VA insurance, afraid to go to their closest ER because of inconsistent billing messages from VA representatives.

Baldwin's office said once the VA makes an update to what's called their “Access Standards” early next month, the senator's office plans to submit comments asking the VA to pay for all emergency room visits.

The senator’s office said if the VA does not comply when they finalize their regulations, she will introduce legislation to require them to do so.

Citing the ongoing lawsuit, representatives from VA Public Affairs had no comment.

Congressman Sean Duffy's spokesperson Mark Bednar said because of the lawsuit, Duffy also had no comment.

Sen. Ron Johnson's spokesperson did not return our repeated request for a statement.

The next step

Richard Staab hopes hearing his story means more Veterans join this class action lawsuit.

He would also like to see lawmakers address the VA’s 72-hour rule, which requires Veterans inform the VA within 72 hours of receiving non-VA emergency care, or the bill might not be covered

"Well what's being forgotten is the fact that you’re a serviceman. And if all of a sudden he's in a bad way and needs hospitalization, he’s got to have enough sense to call the VA," Staab said.


Indiana Veterans agency bill that aims to reform grant program passes House, moves on to Senate

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Indiana Vets agency


Update Feb. 25: The Indiana House voted 95-0 to pass legislation filed to reform an Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs grant program in response to an IndyStar investigation that revealed potential abuse.

Reps. Denny Zent, R-Angola, Dan Leonard, R-Huntington and Karlee Macer, D-Indianapolis, joined Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg, as authors on House Bill 1257.

Zent and Macer serve on the Indiana Veterans Commission, which provides oversight to the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. Macer said more work needs to be done to improve controls at both the agency and the commission.

"I believe this was a really good start, but I don’t believe it’s going to solve all of the problems," she said.

Original story from Feb. 21, 2019: Legislation is advancing that would reform a troubled state grant program intended to help struggling military Veterans.

An IndyStar investigation that beganin November found middle-income employees of the Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs had an inside track on emergency assistance grants available through the agency's Military Family Relief Fund.

Rep. Randy Frye, R-Greensburg, subsequently filed House Bill 1257, which would take the decision to award grants to employees out of that agency's hands. Instead, the independently appointed Indiana Veterans Commission would handle employee applications, using the same newly prescribed income requirements as for all Veterans. The commission also would consider appeals for requests by any Veteran over the agency's lifetime cap of $2,500.

The legislation has broad, bipartisan support and appears likely to pass the House by Monday's deadline to send bills to the Senate. The House Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee, which Frye chairs, passed it unanimously earlier this week.

Frye has backed off two ideas that were in the bill when he filed it: a total ban on grants for agency employees and a lifetime grant cap of $2,500.

He said he reconsidered after talking to key stakeholders.

"I believe this needs to be fair and equitable for all Veterans," Frye said.

Following IndyStar's reporting and a subsequent audit, the state agency has adopted rules for the program that make it clear it's for low-income Veterans who are facing financial hardships. It's unclear how many state employees would be eligible based on the income requirements, set at twice the poverty level.

Frye said his bill essentially puts the new rules for agency employees and the $2,500 cap into state law.

"What we're looking at here is basically the rules that have been established by the IDVA for the Military Family Relief Fund and put in place by the commission in January," Frye said. "I wasn't satisfied with that. I want it in code. I understand that rule making is something that can be changed."

Dennis Wimer, who became the agency's director after James Brown resigned, said he supports Frye's legislation. Hired Jan. 28, he said he's been thoroughly reviewing the agency and wants to ensure the grant program is properly administered.

"I've asked my staff and we are working through the law," he said, "through the new rule that was mentioned earlier and adopted just a few weeks ago, through every piece of the process, so we can have it laid out, so when someone comes and looks, we have it publicly out there that this is what we do, this is how this fund operates, and this is how we are going to serve Veterans."

Since 2014, according to a state audit, more than 5,700 Hoosiers have applied for a grant through the $1.7 million annual program. Nearly 1,000 of those were denied for at least one award. On average, applications took 9.4 days to approve, the audit found. Only 88 applicants — including five IDVA employees — received permission from Brown or his deputy, Matt Vincent, to receive more than $2,500.

The program is funded with revenue from specialty "Support Our Troops" and Veteran license plates.

IndyStar's investigation found that IDVA employees, many earning $40,000 to $50,000, received grants for things such as new tires and car payments. But other Veterans said the agency refused to provide assistance for vehicle needs.

Several Veterans advocates told Frye's committee they generally support the legislation.

Retired U.S Army Brig. Gen. Jim Bauerle, the former chairman of the Veterans Commission, said he hopes the bill can can be amended further to clarify certain responsibilities of the commission versus the agency director, qualifications and an appeals process.

He said it's important the state get this right.

"We saw people weren't getting money for things that were emergency in nature," he said. "We think there are some areas that could be improved and we've got Rep. Frye's promise to work with us in the Senate."


VA publishes interim final rule on cash-out home loans to further protect Veterans

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Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it has published an interim final rule relating to VA-guaranteed cash-out refinance loans to further protect Veteran home-loan borrowers from predatory lending practices.

This rule implements certain provisions of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, and provides new regulatory safeguards relating to VA-guaranteed cash-out refinance loans. Such loans generally allow borrowers to convert home equity into cash.

In many cases, the principal balance of the new refinance loan is larger than the payoff amount of the loan being refinanced. This means the Veteran will generally receive some amount of cash at closing. The cash can then be used at the Veteran’s discretion to pay off debt, fund education, make home improvements and more.

VA’s cash-out home-loan program can also be used to refinance a non-VA loan into a VA-guaranteed loan. Certain borrowers can use VA-guaranteed cash-out refinance loans to borrow up to 100 percent of the value of their home.

“VA has taken significant steps to make the home-loan benefit the most competitive loan program available to Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “We want to ensure the home-loan program remains strong, attractive and accessible to all who are eligible, while creating a framework for lender accountability to Veterans and taxpayers.”

The rule will help protect Veterans from predatory refinance practices and minimize risk to taxpayers and the secondary mortgage market. For example, the rule specifically requires that lenders disclose clearly, both at the time of application and again at closing, a plain comparison of the existing loan’s cost with that of the new loan. These disclosures will help Veterans understand the impact of the refinance loan. This is in line with VA’s current policy on Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loans.

Further, the rule imposes loan seasoning and “net tangible benefit” standards. To meet the seasoning requirement, at least 210 days must pass and six monthly payments must be made prior to refinancing an existing loan. The cash-out refinance loan must also provide the Veteran with at least one of eight “net tangible benefits” defined by VA in the rule.

Since 1944, VA has guaranteed over 23 million home loans worth more than $2 trillion. Veterans with questions about the VA Home Loan Program should call 877-827-3702. For more information on the VA Home Loan program, visit


National Salute to Veteran Patients Week

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Patients Week


Communities across America will be bringing Valentines to hospitalized Veterans. You can too…check with your local VA facility here.

Popular entertainers will be performing for Veterans and their families and medical centers across America will be holding special events for hospitalized Veterans. Here’s just a few of the events:

The Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center is hosting its annual National Salute to Veterans Dinner Dance at the Horizons Conference Center in Saginaw, MI, on February 14. Dinner at 5, dancing from 6 to 9:30 with live music.

The VA Health Care System of the Ozarks is having their salute on Valentine’s Day, Thursday, February 14.

In honor of the week, Butler VA will hold its annual Community Living Center Lunch Date with a Veteran Program on Wednesday, February 13, host a visit by the Butler County Jr. ROTC on February 14 and hold another lunch program for Adult Day Health Care on Friday, February 15.

Last year, schools, community groups, and youth organizations nationwide sent more than 288,000 valentines to VA medical centers, which were distributed to Veteran patients at facilities across the country.

More than 9,000 volunteers and 1,400 community organizations contributed to events and activities recognizing hospitalized Veterans.

It’s also a week when we encourage people to volunteer at their local VA facility.

For those wanting to volunteer and join the mission to honor the sacrifice and service of America’s Veterans during the National Salute or any time of year, visit the nearest VA facility or contact Voluntary Service online at

Sydney Justin of The Miracles:

“I have great respect and admiration for our Veterans. Knowing they have sacrificed their time and lives for all our freedoms is amazing. My father-in-law and brother-in-law are Veterans, so for me it’s personal. All Veterans deserve and should be revered as heroes no matter what war.

“The Miracles have seen how sincerely dedicated the VA is towards the health and wellness of our Veterans.

“We look forward to serving our Veterans through our concerts. They feel it and we feel it back. The Miracles are dedicated to the betterment of our Veterans lives and well-being. We love all Veterans, we love America.”

Marty Raybon, Shenandoah lead singer:

“Personally, there is a very deep bond for the Veterans of this greatest nation on the planet. My son, Matthew, served in the Army for six years with one tour in Iraq. Mike McGuire (Shenandoah’s Drummer), lost an uncle while fighting for our country.

“We have the greatest respect for our men and women who serve. Our performing for the Vets allows us to give back some of the appreciation we feel in our hearts and we always try to go the extra mile while entertaining them for the sacrifices they make.”

Byner describes his respect for Veterans:

“The teamwork that it takes to perform and produce at a high level, the issues that are caused by the action on the playing field and in the state of battle, like traumatic brain injury, concussions and suicide makes us alike in many ways.

“Our men and women Veterans have risked life and limb to serve our nation and the world as we know it.

“I’m proud to show respect and love to those who have risked so much for the freedoms that we have.”

Volunteer at your local VA medical center

Nationwide, over 75,000 volunteers provide more than 12 million volunteer hours serving Veterans. Volunteers are a priceless asset to the nation’s Veterans and to VA.

Here’s a short video of one man’s decision to volunteer.

Our volunteers do the endless list of jobs that are necessary in caring for Veterans.  Some of our volunteers even blaze their own paths, using their unique skills and creative vision to find new ways to thank Veterans.

They read to patients, provide recreation transportation, entertainment, and training. They also offer respite for caregivers, coaching, friendship.

Sometimes, the value of a volunteer is as simple as the offer of a sympathetic ear.

Volunteers do what it takes to make their heroes feel at home.

You can too.


25 Things to Know about Service Connected Disability

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Service Connected Disability


Service Connected Disability is a benefit that exists to compensation you for an injury

Speaking plainly, a service connected disability is an injury, illness, or impairment that was caused or made worse because of some aspect of your service. This can be a distinct experience, or it can be something that occurs over time.

The benefit itself exists to assign and provide a monetary reimbursement for the level of impairment that is said to be connected to your military service.

You can collect Service Connected Disability concurrently with SSDI but probably not SSI

SSI is a means tested benefit, meaning the amount you receive (if you receive any) is based strictly on your assets and level of income. However, SSDI – a similar benefit in many ways & also administered by the Social Security Administration, can be awarded at the same time as service connected disability compensation.

This means that a Veteran could, and many do, collect SSDI for an injury that makes them unable to work, and collect a service connected compensation at the same time.

*Note, you cannot usually collect SSI w/ VA benefits – and if you do, your award is usually split or offset.

The wait time on appeal tends to be longer than Social Security Claims

During the surge of claims that peaked around 2008-2015 it was normal for an initial claim to take almost a year, and for an appeal to a denial or improperly awarded claim to take several years. In many cases, wait times are down significantly. However, it may still be very geographically dependent how long your claims and appeals will take.

Another factor affecting the length of claims is the complexity of Veterans claims. Many Veterans claims contain multiple claims with multiple sources of origination. Each of these injuries/impairments are essentially a separate claim unto themselves. And each of those claims can be appealed, mis-rated, etc. Veterans often have several claims for several injuries going at one time. And these claims are not always combined into a single decision, or timeline for decisions.

Many Claims Advocates are Overworked

As a result of the complexity of Veterans claims, and also in part to the nature of volunteer work, many Veterans advocates find themselves quickly overworked as they try to help Veterans with service connected disability claims.

These advocates, VSO’s, are often responsible for doing other benefits based assistance in addition to VA claims. Including education, burial assistance, and fielding a plethora of questions from Veterans of all ages. Most of them have a lot of different directions they’re being pulled in, in addition to providing representation on claims.

Despite this, many of the advocates are great. But some are not in the best place to provide support for Veterans disability claims. You should keep this in mind when choosing who to work with for your claim.

There is a Lot of Information About How to Win a VA Disability Claim

Forums, Reddit, legal blogs like this one, and so many more… are great places to find information about filing for and appealing a VA disability claim. It is possible to do this on your own, but it can easily become a complicated mess of moving parts too.

Each Veteran that pursues these benefits finds a different path. Some of those paths lead to frustration, and we’re here to help with that.

Some great places to start include:

Not all the Information about Wining a VA Disability Claim is Correct

The links above are great places to look for information on winning a VA disability claim. However, just as many claims have been butchered by bad information as have been successfully pursued with good. One of the biggest challenges with going solo on your VA claim is that you usually have little experience to assess whether a piece of advice is good or bad. Much of the claims process makes sense when you have the perspective to see how it got to be the way it is today. However, if this is your first, and hopefully only, foray into advocating a claim – be very careful whose advice you follow. And for the sake of your own claim, double check advice and cross reference.

^This is the reason bringing on a great advocate is good idea.

The VA has Streamlined Several of the Processes in Recent Years

It used to be that filing a VA service connected disability clam meant sending in a snail mail form filled out in ink. And it meant submitting all your supporting documentation in large parcel deliveries directly to the VA regional office handling your claim. Fortunately a couple changes have occurred recently to help Veterans and their advocates.

One of the biggest improvements to the filing process is centralized evidence intake. It used to be the case that you had to submit your evidence directly to the regional office of record. This meant 50+ processes at 50+ facilities, and reports of lost (or unopened) files were rampant. Now you can send your supporting evidence to one location and it will be scanned into your claim c-file, queued up for review, and you sometimes even get a receipt that the files were delivered.

Another fantastic improvement is the newish ability to file and review a claim online (when the system is working). Now you can see exactly where in the process your claim is.

The Burden of Proof is: “As Likely as Not”

One of the most important things to know about Veterans disability claims is that you don’t have to prove aspects of them “beyond a reasonable doubt.” You do not have to be 100% certain of minuscule details, you only have to believe that a cause is “as likely as not” (aka 50/50) the root of your current conditions. We cover this a lot in some of our other blog articles, but if you take one thing away from this list, remember this phrase, “As Likely As Not.”

Veterans Have a Lot of Choices

As you work to develop your service claim, you have a lot of choices for who you’d like to work with. From a friend, to a Veterans Service Officer, to a VA Accredited Claims Agent, to even an VA Accredited Attorney – there’s no shortage of people who can provide assistance. However, not all assistance is created equally. Here’s how you can identify who to work with and how to assess if they’re who you want to work with.

Service Connected Claims are Handled through the VBA

The VA is made up of three parts: the Veterans Benefits Administration, Veterans Health Administration, and National Cemetery Association. Most benefits, including service connected compensation, move through the VBA. Whereas the VHA usually focuses solely on health care administration.

Once you’ve achieved a certain threshold of disability compensation (usually 30%), some benefits are available through the VHA. In particular, we’re thinking about Vocational Rehabilitation, which is an educational benefit administered by the VHA. This is one of the best, essentially secret, benefits for those who have a service connected disability rating.

Receiving a Service Connected Claim Qualifies You for other Benefits

In addition to the Vocational Rehabilitation (Voc. Rehab) that we talked about just before this section, there is an enormous number of benefits specific to service connected disabled Veterans. Many states, schools, counties, and businesses provide discounts, free-passes, licenses, and preferential treatment for service connected disabled Veterans.

Here’s A Benefit Guide for Veterans With Service-Connected Disabilities

While You Can Still Serve with a Claim, you Cannot Double-Dip

There are a number of Veterans still serving in the National Guard or Reserve. Some of these prior active duty troops currently have a service connected disability rating. It is typically incumbent upon a specific command to determine when an individual’s ratings preclude them from being able to carryout the capacity of their job. In a great number of cases, these troops can still function at a high level even with their partial disability rating.

One thing to note; however, is that while actively serving – even if it’s only for a drill weekend – you cannot collect a wage for military service AND service connected compensation. This usually means offsetting the amount of compensation received from the VA, or through DFAS.

If You Have More than 70% Service Connection and Cannot Work, You Should Consider TDIU

TDIU is short for Total Disability Individual Unemployability. This is a rating that takes into account your constellation of previous ratings and recognizes that they pose a total barrier to you being able to work.

There’s a quirk about the way the VA does service connected ratings that makes this a great benefit to know about. As you can surmise from the paragraph above, TDIU provides the beneficiary with a total disability rating even if they are less than 100% by individual ratings (also known as by schedule). So, you get paid 100% and receive all the benefits of a 100% service connected rating, even though you are technically less than 100% service connected.

This quirk we’re talking about is the VA math used to assign ratings. If you have 50% for PTSD for instance and you are awarded a second rating of 30% for a physical injury to your back, you might assume that 50% + 30% = 80%. This isn’t how the VA does it. What the VA does is take your biggest disability rating and make it your core rating. In the case above 50%. The next highest rating is applied to the remainder between that rating and 100%. So, 100% – 50% (for your PTSD) = 50%. Then 30% of the remaining 50% = 15%.   50%+15% = 65% (rounded up to 70%).

In the example above, you have 50%+30% = 70% (65%). Think about what it would take to get that to 100% going by adding disability ratings. You could have 50% (PTSD) + 30% (Back) + 20% Shoulders + 20% Knees + 10% Tinnitus and still only rate: ~80% service connection. To get to 100% from here you’d need an additional rating of 60+% from somewhere else. This exact situation is why TDIU exists. You can chase down 100% by different body parts and never reach it, but still be completely unable to work because of your disabling physical and mental health challenges.

*You can collect a service connected disability compensation and SSDI at the same time!

Using the DRO Process is Usually a Great Idea

VA disability appeals can follow a couple paths on their way to a Board of Veterans Appeals hearing. One optional path is to request a DRO review of your claim prior to formally requesting a BVA hearing. A DRO (Decision Review Officer) is a senior adjudicator (often retired from and/or on contract with the VA).   They provide a second in-depth look at your claim and appeal, and you can even request a hearing, or even informal discussion, with the DRO. If you have a helpful DRO, your claim can be unscrewed prior to needing to go to a BVA hearing.

One of the most important things you can ask a DRO is, “what would you need to see with this claim in order to approve it for what I’m asking?” When/if you get an answer, do it! You can argue with the DRO until you’re blue in the face, but your best bet is to help them help you – you still have a BVA hearing if you strike out at the DRO level.

You Can Waive Your Right to a DRO Review

One of the biggest drawbacks to requesting a DRO review is timeliness. It’s not necessarily the case that they take a long time, it is going to take more time though than to request a BVA hearing in lieu of DRO review. Some claimants want to push an appeal to the BVA as fast as possible, but doing so creates unique risk in a claim.

Once the BVA has made a decision it becomes a lot harder to overturn, and doing so can either cost you more $ in the form of representation fees at the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, or in the form of losing your claim date and having to start all over again on a claim that was already previously denied by the BVA.

In many/most cases, there’s little to gain and a lot to potentially lose by waiving your right to a DRO review. Nonetheless, you have the right to do so.

Your Appeal can be Granted at Any Point But Only Denied Formally

This statement might appear ambiguous at first. Meaning, a granted appeal would be just as formal as a denial. What we’re going for here is to convey that at any point during your appeal, your appeal may be granted. The appeal does not need to be heard by a BVA judge in order to be granted, a DRO, or other adjudicator can determine that the threshold of evidence/requirements have been met and issue a rating decision.

And, in contrast, a denial of the appeal can only be issued by a BVA judge. If you’ve worked the process well, went through a DRO, submitted additional evidence where necessary, added context and reviews similar cases and still don’t have a favorable decision when going to meet with the BVA judge, don’t despair – that happens often. You can disagree with everyone up to the point of the BVA and still get your appeal ultimately granted.

You Don’t Have to Use an Advocate

You can work with a lot of people to help get your claim or appeal granted. However, you can also go it alone. There’s no requirement to utilize an advocate in your claim or appeal. Choose to work with an advocate because you want to and when you see the value in doing so.

Your Award is Determined Based of Very Specific Criteria

There is a ratings schedule (table) for impairments.   For instance, if you lost a finger due to some experience in the military, the finger you lost, the loss of function for your hand, the grip strength measurement, and other factors all combine on a table (codified in law) to provide your rating. So, if you wonder how something is 10% and why it wasn’t rated at 30%, getting to know this table will tell you everything you need to demonstrate to understand the rating provided.

This table is also very useful if you are disagreeing with a rating percentage. It’s normal to have two people see a ratings criteria applied in different ways. This table is one of the things that will truly strengthen your appeal claim, if understood & used.

There’s Usually One of Three Things Missing in a Denied Claim

If a claim was denied, it is typically one of three reasons.

  1. Failure to demonstrated service nexus
  2. No measurable current condition
  3. Your current condition & history since service don’t clearly show a connection.

Here’s a great article describing this more.

Briefly though:

  1. Means something happened during your service, you have to demonstrate this in some way
  2. Something has to exist today, an impairment of some type
  3. Establishes a clear path between service injury/ailment and current condition and takes into account (or discredits) other possible explanations.

Doctors, Providers, and Friends Don’t Know What This Is

The items above, the three things most often missing in denied claims, are usually not understood by your treating doctors, therapists, friends, and most other Veterans. Successful appeals are not usually a matter of how much evidence is provided, but more often a matter of what type and how it supports the whole claim.

The tendency is to try to provide an overwhelming amount of doctor statements, buddy statements, and other similar evidence. But without context or an understanding of how it fills in the gaps in the originally denied claim, it’s just as likely to confuse and possible harm your appeal as it is to help it.

Service Connected Disability Doesn’t Usually Mean you Cannot Work

While various levels of ratings might reflect an inability to do certain tasks, with the exception of TDIU, a service connected disability rating typically does not reflect an inability to work. Some ratings thresholds might be based upon their impact to employment.

For instance 70% for a mental health rating is usually reserved for levels of impairment that provided significant to almost total inability to work.

But for most ratings, the question of how or whether you work is not related at all to your compensation claim. With the exception that allowanced that have to be made for you to be successful at work might be something you want to highlight for your claim.

Service Connected Disability Compensation is Tax Free

Unlike military retirement pay (non medical), service connected disability compensation is tax free.

Service Connected Disability Compensation is Different from Non-Service Connected Pension

A non-service connected pension is similar in many ways to SSI. Generally it is for a disabling condition that is no service connected. Unlike service connected compensation, a pension is all or nothing (no % ratings), and it is means tested (based upon income and assets). You normally would be able to have been awarded SSI (even if you haven’t applied). For this reason, a lot of potential recipients have concurrent claims with Social Security, though the maximum benefit will be the highest of the two and not a combination of the two (as in the case of SSDI & compensation).

This is all a bit complicated, but we’re more than happy to break it down for you if you contact us here. You really want to be aware of overpayments when dealign with both the VA & Social Security Administration.

In Many Cases you cannot collect both Service Connected Disability Compensation and Pension

Service connected disability compensation provides you a monetary reimbursement for injuries or illnesses that have an effect on you today. A pension is a ‘backstop’ benefit for other disabling conditions that stop you from being able to work. The pension is means tested, meaning it is based upon your assets and income – and if you had a disability rating and associated compensation, that would be considered income. This will reduce the amount of the pension, in an offset like manner.

There is No Limit to When You Can File a VA Disability Claim

You can begin the process of filing your service connected disability claim at any age, no matter how long you’ve been separated from military service. Though, the further you get from military service the harder it often gets to demonstrate that your current conditions are a result (in part or in whole) of experiences you had while serving.

As the saying goes: “make hay while the sun shines.” Filing today is going to be far easier than filing tomorrow. Evidence will be easier to produce, a service nexus will be easier to identify, and you have more time to work through the process…because in some cases it can take longer than you would expect.


Apple lets Veterans track their health records on the iPhone

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Active members of the military and those who’ve left the service who receive care through Veteran Health Administration hospitals will be able to view all their personal medical data through the Health Records feature on their iPhones. Apple and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs made the announcement on Monday.

Starting this summer, Vets will be able to view an integrated snapshot of records from such providers pertaining to allergies, immunizations, vitals, test results, medications, procedures, conditions, and so on. The data is encrypted.

Following a visit to a VA health care facility, the participating Vet’s Apple device will automatically receive updated health record information within 24 hours.

The Health app on the iPhone isn’t new, nor is the Health Records feature within the app where the data will be stored. It was updated last year to make it simpler for patients to chase down records from disparate medical providers, and keep them in one convenient repository. The feature itself is still technically in beta.

Among the growing list of more than 200 providers in the program are institutions such as Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Stanford Health Care in Palo Alto, Calif., NYU Langone Health in New York, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp are also participants.

How it works: Apple Watch ECG feature to detect irregular heartbeat launches.

Discounts available: Apple launches online store for active military and Veterans

The latest announcement brings the VA hospitals into the fold.

To add health data from the VA, Vets will sign in with their military credentials inside the Health App, just as people seeking records from other medical providers sign in with the credentials used to access the various institution's respective patient portals. An Apple ID is never used.

The VA indicated a willingness to partner with other companies to bring similar capabilities to other mobile platforms.

In a release, Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “We have great admiration for Veterans, and we’re proud to bring a solution like Health Records on iPhone to the Veteran community. It’s truly an honor to contribute to the improved health care of America’s heroes.”

Apple’s move is just the latest by the company to salute the country’s fighting men and women. In December, Apple launched a dedicated online store for military members, Veterans and their immediate families featuring 10 percent discounts on almost all the products available in the store.

"We don't view (Veterans) as a market, per se," says Jeff Williams, Apple's chief operating officer. "It's not about the business, it's about taking care of people who have done so much for our country."


Medical Records and Your VA Disability Claim

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Medical Records


In any claim for VA disability benefits, evidence is needed to help prove the claim. Medical evidence can be one of the most important pieces to the puzzle. It is important to know how you can obtain your own medical records, whether it is through a private doctor or medical facility and through a VA Medical Center and/or facility.

The VA has a “duty to assist” Veterans or, in other words, help them obtain their medical records to support their VA disability claim. Even though the VA has a duty to assist, it is the Veteran’s responsibility to provide any and all evidence that they wish to submit to the VA to help support their claim.

VA Medical Records

If you have been treated at a VA Medical Center, the medical records can be requested directly from the VA Medical Center by using VA Form 10-5345a release or by visiting your local VA Medical Center. When using this VA Form 10-5345a, it is important that you are using the most updated form available. You do not want to be using an out of date form to help keep the VA from denying your request for your records.

Another way to access your VA medical records is through an online portal called My HealtheVet. This website allows Veterans to create an online account where they can access their VA medical records. With this online account, there are three kinds of accounts available: a basic account which provides limited access to features available that is usually self-entered, an advanced account, and a premium account which gives the highest level of access to all of the sites’ features. First-time users should visit or contact their local VA Medical Center for assistance.

Private Medical Records

You can obtain records from private doctors or hospitals by simply contacting them and asking for your records. Some private facilities may request that you fill out a release form for them to release your records to you or they may have their own online portal that is similar to My HealtheVet, where you can access your private medical records.

You may also request that the VA obtain these records for you by signing a release form.

National Personnel Records Center

The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is a part of the National Archives and Records Administration. The NPRC stores records for Veterans who have been discharged or have retired from the military. Most of these records are not stored electronically so it may take some time for the records that are being requested to be found. Most of these records are paper records that have been stored in boxes.

You can request personnel and service treatment records from the NPRC as well as a copy of your DD214 should you need a copy. You can request NPRC records online or by using a Standard Form 180. Any specific information like the name of the hospital where you were admitted for treatment during service or where you served in combat may be beneficial to include in your request.

Why Are Your Medical Records Important?

Medical records that are relevant to your claim can help paint a picture of the symptoms and the severity of your claimed condition. It is important that you always report worsening symptoms to your doctors so that your doctor can notate your worsening symptoms. This is always helpful in cases for an increased rating. Medical records establish the types of disabilities you have been diagnosed with and provide clinical findings, lab results, and important medical opinions from your medical providers who are most familiar with your condition.


Veteran claims VA is doing little to stop someone from siphoning off her benefits

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Siphoning Off


FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill. ( - A Fairview Heights military Veteran told News 4 her VA benefits were siphoned out of her account and she believes the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing little to stop it.

Shanaye Rogers-Sanke said she went to the ATM on Saturday only to find her account had insufficient funds. She said she got home and checked her e-benefits account.

“At that point I really noticed there was a problem because I was locked out of my account,” she said.

Rogers-Sanke receives a monthly disability check from her service in the Marines, something her family depends on.

“We’ve been receiving that benefit for 18 years to that very same account,” said Rogers-Sanke.

When she finally got a hold of someone from the VA, she said she was told her check had been re-routed to a different bank account.

A letter arrived Tuesday, days after her money was stolen. The letter stated the VA processed the January 20 request to change her direct deposit, and it has a 1-800 number to call if she didn’t authorize the change.

“They just changed it, they didn’t wait for a response from me,” she said.

The VA sent News 4 the following statement:

"The ebenefits program has not been hacked. However, we have learned of individual accounts that have been fraudulently accessed."

Rogers-Sanke said she thinks what happened to her is not an isolated incident, stating she has read about similar incidents happening to other Veterans.

An almost exact situation happened to a Veteran in Colorado Springs and another in Kentucky. Right now, police in West Plains, Missouri are investigating a Veteran’s check being re-routed.

The VA said they take fraud seriously, adding that in the last three years, less than 0.1 percent of ebenefits accounts have been hacked. When it does happen, the VA told News 4 it works to correct the situation quickly.


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