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November/December Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Veterans Benefits Update / PTSD Substance Abuse Committee Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Constitution Committee Report / Convention Resolution Report / Healthcare Budget Reform / NamJam / South Korean Veterans / Arts of War / Book Review / Books / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions / 4 Chaplains /

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Benefits Update

Benefits 101: A Refresher Course
BY DAVID L. HOUPPERT, ESQ., DIRECTOR, VETERANS BENEFITS

VVA’s founding principle is “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” This is a principle that our organization and our members take to heart. A significant portion of our membership is reassessing their view of this principle in light of our current global conflicts. As more and more of America’s sons and daughters don the uniform and serve their country in harm’s way, their family members want to insure they receive the veterans benefits they are entitled to upon discharge from active duty.

Over the last year, I have received an ever-increasing number of calls from Vietnam veterans telling me that their sons or daughters are about to be discharged from active duty and they would like to know what their children can do to avoid problems in their dealings with the Department of Veterans Affairs. More often than not, the people I have spoken with served in Vietnam and are extremely concerned about the well-being and the future of their children who are serving overseas. They do not want their children to go through what they went through when dealing with the VA.

In an effort to help our members and their families, I would like to provide some basic information for active-duty service members serving at home and abroad. Although this information applies to all active-duty service members, it is especially useful for those serving in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Death and injury are the known quantities of war. In the coming years, many of those who served in these regions may learn that they are suffering from other disabilities that are a direct result of their service. There may be a modern version of Gulf War Syndrome due to exposure to items such as depleted uranium or other chemical, biological, and radiological agents. Others may have suffered a minor injury while on active duty, such as a back or neck injury, that worsens with age. And there is always the possibility of a veteran developing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD may also be caused by incidents unrelated to combat.

For service members on active duty, the information and evidence they obtain now may greatly assist them in the future in receiving the benefits they are entitled to. For some, this may be a refresher course in “Veterans Benefits 101.” For others, this may be the first time you have ever considered these issues. In either event, if you can pass this along to one of our modern warriors, please do so.

Traditionally, veterans apply for VA benefits after being discharged from active duty. Using this approach, veterans rely on the VA to gather the evidence and information needed to substantiate their claim. Unfortunately, this method has caused problems and hardship for untold numbers of veterans. In the past, military medical records, personnel records, and DD-214s have been lost, misplaced, or destroyed by the various agencies charged with their safeguarding. Even if these required documents are available, VA often takes months and sometimes years to obtain them on the veteran’s behalf. Using lessons from the past, tomorrow’s veterans can start preparing for their future now.

In general, veterans are entitled to compensation for disabilities incurred in or aggravated during active military service. To obtain compensation or disability benefits, it must be shown that the individual is a veteran. (Please don’t laugh. Every year individuals apply for veterans benefits who never served in our armed forces). If the individual satisfies the veteran requirement, a claim for compensation must meet three additional conditions: medical evidence of a current disability; medical evidence, or in some situations lay evidence, of an in-service aggravation or occurrence; and a link between the currently diagnosed condition and the in-service aggravation or occurrence. What this boils down to is that a claim for compensation requires evidence, evidence, and more evidence.

While it may be easy to prove known and documented visible injuries, such as combat wounds, it can be by far more difficult to prove a claim for issues such as PTSD and other disabilities when the service member either did not seek treatment during active duty or the condition does not manifest itself until years after discharge. Active-duty service members rarely seek medical care or treatment for PTSD and minor injuries due to the social stigma surrounding disabilities. Other service members do not want to abandon their comrades in arms, and still others may not even recognize or acknowledge their disability until years after discharge from active duty.

While on active duty, service members can take several steps to facilitate future claims. It is best if these steps are taken as close to the occurrence of the event as possible. If not, complete them prior to discharge. These steps include:

Report all injuries, diseases, and psychological problems to the appropriate medical facility.

Review and ensure the medical record accurately reflects all complaints, diagnosis, and treatment.

Obtain copies of all military medical records.
Review military personnel record to ensure it accurately states duty locations and training.

In the event of exposure to a traumatic event, document the incident. Docu-
mentation may be done in a number of ways, including keeping a diary and obtaining “buddy statements.” A diary should contain times, dates, a description of the event, and a list of others present. A “buddy statement” is simply a written statement from a fellow service member or witness also describing the event and placing the service member at the scene. It is far more effective to do this soon after the event, rather than trying to piece together a recollection years later when it may be difficult to locate other witnesses. Please note that a traumatic event does not necessarily need to involve combat. A personal or sexual assault is also a traumatic event.

Obtain official military records regarding traumatic events such as firefights or close proximity to the detonation of an improvised explosive devise. Such documentation includes morning reports, casualty reports, damage reports, and after-action reports.

Obtain and review DD-214 prior to discharge and ensure all information is accurate.

Obtaining this information prior to discharge will greatly aid in filing a complete claim for compensation, saving months and possibly years of waiting for an accurate decision by VA. Anybody desiring more information about veterans benefits should contact an accredited VVA service representative. A state by state listing of service representatives is available at www.vva.org or by calling the Veterans Benefits Department at (301) 585-4000. Additional information may also be obtained directly from VA at www.va.gov

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