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The Importance of Communication throughout a Case

Friday, March 24th, 2017

The Importance of Communication throughout a Case

Veteran benefits cases are often lengthy processes—that’s why our team of attorneys, paralegals, and administrative professionals works together to communicate with all parties to ensure smooth, timely case progression and prevent errors due to miscommunications.

Communicating with Clients

At the Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly, we keep our clients up to date on their case by staying in contact about every ninety days. Of course, if a client has questions sooner than that—about a letter they received, a call from the VA, or their case in general—we are available as needed. If a client has a question, they can call us or write a letter, which is how we often communicate with veterans who are incarcerated.

Communicating with Medical Professionals

One of the most important ways our team helps a client understand his or her case is through a written plan on how to win the case. This plan often requires that we gather evidence such as copies of medical records or a medical opinion. To collect medical records, the client must sign a release form so that we can work on their behalf to obtain the necessary documents. We coordinate directly with doctor’s offices, sending the release form to obtain the medical records, and then work with the client on any type of payment that might be due afterward.

To get a medical opinion, we must submit medical records and a questionnaire for the doctor to complete. We work with the doctors to make sure everything is sent back in a timely manner. If the client does not have a doctor, we will help them find a doctor in their price range and geographic area.

Communicating with the VA

It can take a long time for the VA to make a decision—that’s why we have a system in place to keep the VA up to speed up and on track in a case. We make sure that the VA is taking the necessary steps in a timely manner by contacting the appeals team, either by email, letter, or phone, for status updates.

If we’re not receiving a response, we may contact the director or other higher ups for the status update. If these efforts still do not receive a response, we oftentimes write a warning letter that says, “if you do not respond to us, or if you are not going to take the necessary action, we may contact the under secretary and, if necessary, file a writ at the court.”

By keeping channels of communication open and establishing systems to keep all parties on track, cases are resolved as efficiently as possible.

Author: Kristine Arvey, Paralegal Case Manager

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How Can an Attorney Help in Your Claim for Veterans Benefits?

Friday, March 17th, 2017

Securing veterans benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can be a long, intimidating battle. Don’t go it alone—partner with an attorney to guide you through the process and secure the benefits you deserve.

  1. Attorneys are trained in interpreting regulations and understanding case law.
    The Veteran Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly is made up of attorneys that have dedicated their entire legal career to helping veterans. We know how regulations and case laws impact your individual case.
  2. Attorneys keep abreast of any changes in the laws.
    If there is a change in law that will affect your case, we can analyze how that change affects your case and discuss any implications to your case with you.
  3. Attorneys are trained in identifying the issues that have prevented you from winning your case.
    Many times we seen veterans submit the same evidence over and over, and are frustrated because they don’t understand why the evidence is not good enough. We can help you identify what information is missing.
  4. Attorneys can help collect missing evidence.
    Evidence such as service records, medical opinions, and statements from family and friends are critical to a case. Attorneys can outline a timeline for gathering all of the necessary evidence and help remove obstacles to getting the benefits you are entitled to.
  5. Our attorneys have access to VA’s computer system.
    With access to the VA’s computer system, we can see the current status of a case. This access allows our attorneys to be more up to date with milestones such as whether you received a decision or letter.
  6. Our attorneys can represent you at all stages of an appeal for veterans benefits.
    We can appeal to the VA Regional Office, Board of Veterans Appeals, and, if necessary, appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Whether your case has been recently denied by the Regional Office or the Board of Veterans Appeals, or even if your case is already at the Court, our attorneys can step in at any point.
  7. Our law firm dedicates an attorney and case manager to each case.
    Having team members dedicated to your case ensures continuity, and allows our firm to become very familiar with your case throughout the various stages of the legal process. By staying by your side from start to finish, we can continue building on the evidence without any fear of something getting lost or making you feel as if you are starting from scratch at every new stage.
  8. Our law firm dedicates an attorney and case manager to each case.
    Having team members dedicated to your case ensures continuity, and allows our firm to become very familiar with your case throughout the various stages of the legal process. By staying by your side from start to finish, we can continue building on the evidence without any fear of something getting lost or making you feel as if you are starting from scratch at every new stage.
  9. Our attorneys will not stop until we have secured all available benefits to you.
    Because we are so familiar with the benefits and regulations offered by VA, we can determine whether you qualify for additional benefits which the VA has not offered you.
  10. Our attorneys work on a contingent fee basis.
    Contingent fee basis means that we don’t get paid unless we secure retroactive benefits for you. This fee structure also means that you do not have any out-of-pocket expenses for legal fees or any up-front costs.

Whether you are thinking about filing a claim, or have received a denial from the VA, fill out our online contact form for a free consultation. We look forward to hearing from you.

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The Proper Interpretation for Diseases of the Peripheral Nerves – “When the Involvement is Wholly Sensory”?

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

On March 6, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Court) issued a decision in Miller v. Shulkin. Mr. Miller, the veteran, had appealed VA’s denial of a disability rating greater than 10 percent for peripheral neuropathy of the left foot. The argument on appeal focused on the interpretation of the statement: “When the involvement is wholly sensory, the rating should be for the mild, or at most, the moderate degree.” See 38 C.F.R. § 4.124a (2016).

Mr. Miller believed he was entitled to a rating greater than 10 percent because when a peripheral nerve disorder is more than “wholly sensory” (that is, manifested by both sensory and non-sensory-based symptoms) it must be rated as at least moderately severe and assigned a 40 percent disability rating. The VA, on the other hand, argued that the “wholly sensory” language of the regulation establishes a maximum disability rating for wholly sensory conditions rather than a minimum disability rating for conditions that are more than just “wholly sensory.”

The Court affirmed the Board of Veterans’ Appeals decision that denied a higher rating “[b]ecause the language at issue establishes a maximum disability rating for conditions that are wholly sensory, as opposed to a minimum disability rating for conditions that are more than wholly sensory.” In interpreting the plain language of section 4.124a, the Court found that the language “provides only a maximum disability rating for wholly sensory manifestations of incomplete paralysis of a peripheral nerve.” Contrary to the veteran’s argument, the Court determined that it did “not logically follow that any claimant who also exhibits non-sensory manifestations must necessarily be rated at a higher level.”

Read the full Court decision here.

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Total Disability Due to Individual Unemployability

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Dan Krasnegor discusses VA disability ratings due to unemploya…

Dan Krasnegor, Lead Attorney for the #Veterans Benefit Group, answers your questions about total disability ratings due to unemployability.

Posted by Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly on Thursday, December 15, 2016

Video shot live on facebook. Check out our facebook page for future broadcasts and more videos

A total disability rating due to unemployability is a type of compensation benefit that a veteran can get from the VA if he/she is unable to work due to their service-connected conditions. Often called “TDIU” or “unemployability”, this benefit is available to veterans who are already service-connected for one or more conditions. When those conditions prevent the veteran from being gainfully employed, the veteran can get a 100% disability rating. Currently, a 100% rating is a little over $3,000 a month for a single veteran, and a little bit more for a veteran with dependents.

How to Qualify for TDIU

There are two basic ways a veteran can qualify for TDIU, and both require evidence that the veteran’s service-connected conditions prevent him/her from gainful employment. The first way to quality for TDIU is to meet the scheduler criteria, which is when a veteran has either (1) a single service-connected disability rated 60% or more disabling, or (2) two or more service-connected conditions (of which one is rated at least 40% disabling) with a combined rating of 70% or more. The veteran must be able to show that those conditions by themselves would prevent gainful employment.

If a veteran does not meet the scheduler criteria (i.e., the service-connected disabilities are not rated high enough), that doesn’t mean that he or she doesn’t qualify for TDIU. The second way to qualify for TDIU is on an extra scheduler basis. In order to qualify for an extra scheduler basis, the veteran must supply evidence that shows that, according to a doctor or other sources, he or she is unable to be gainfully employed due to the service connected disability.

VA Unemployability Benefits and Social Security Disability

While a veteran may qualify for both VA unemployability benefits and social security disability, the benefits are distinct from each other. Here are answers to common questions regarding unemployability benefits and social security disability:

Why am I not getting unemployability benefits from the VA when I’m already getting Social Security disability?
Social Security rules for unemployability benefits are not the same as the VA’s. Generally, Social Security benefits are going to be rewarded no matter what condition is causing your inability to work. To qualify for unemployability (TDIU) from the VA, the condition that prevents the veteran from gainful employment must be related to his/her military service.

If I have already been awarded Social Security disability, how do I also get VA unemployability benefits?
First, the VA is going to ask you for an application called VA form 21-8940. This form can be found here, or through a service organization representative. The form asks for information about what sort of work you did in the past, when you last worked and what conditions you think prevent you from working. If you have any documentation, especially from a doctor, that explains why your service-connected disability prevents you from working, be sure to include it with your form.

What if I have both a service connected disability and a non-service connected disability that prevent me from working?
You will need to make it clear that the service-connected disability is severe enough by itself to prevent you from working and that it’s not the non-service connected problems that are preventing you from being able to work.

How does my previous employment affect disability benefits?
The VA will look at what kind of work you used to do, and why you stopped doing it. Use VA form 21-8940 to provide information about your previous employment. If possible, also provide statements from your prior employer that indicate why you stopped working. If you stopped working for a reason other than your service-connected disability, explain why you still think you are unable to work due to disabilities that are related to your service. For example, if you retired at age 65 and now you think that you still are not be able to work due to your service connected disabilities, you will need to be clear that, while you retired from your last job, the reason you can’t work now is because of your service disabilities. Always be honest with the VA, because they will talk to your final employer and the truth will come out.

If you have already made a claim and believe you have been wrongfully denied or simply need help walking through the claims process, the Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly can assist you in getting the benefits you deserve. We specialize in getting veterans their compensation, pension, TDIU and other benefits they earned with their service. If you would like our help, contact us today.

 

Key Terms

Unemployable When a veteran is unable to participate in gainful employment.
Gainful employment Generally, a job that pays higher than the poverty level.
Total disability due to individual unemployability (TDIU) A type of compensation that a veteran could obtain if he/she is unable to work due to their service-connected conditions.
Scheduler TDIU When there is evidence that a veteran’s service connected conditions render him/her unemployable, AND the veteran has one of the following disability ratings: (1) a single, service-connected disability that is rated as 60% or more disabling; or (2) two-more more service-connected conditions (one of which is rated at least 40% disabling) with a total, combined rating of 70% or greater.
Extra Scheduler TDIU When a veteran does not have the disability ratings listed above, but the veteran’s service-connected conditions render him/her unemployable.

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Can a veteran obtain more than one personal hearing at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

On January 31, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims issued a decision in Cook v. Snyder which essentially held that 38 U.S.C. § 7107(b) allows a claimant who had a personal hearing before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) at one stage of appellate proceedings to receive another hearing before the Board during a subsequent stage of appellate proceedings, following a remand from the Court. The Court provides an historical background of Board hearings and the role they play in Board adjudications. The Court addressed, in detail, the statutory interpretation of section 7107(b) and determined that both the Secretary and the Appellant advanced grammatically plausible readings of the statute where the Secretary argued that only one hearing before the Board was allowed while the Appellant argued that more than one hearing was permitted. The Court determined that the statute’s language is not clear on this point. Therefore, the Court looked to whether VA’s implementing regulation, i.e., 38 C.F.R. § 20.700(a), interpreted the statute, and it found that the regulation did resolve the ambiguity in the statute. Because the VA regulation did not provide the necessary guidance, the Court looked to the Secretary’s interpretation to the extent that it has the “power to persuade” it of its propriety. However, the Court, understanding the VA’s nonadversarial claims system and the understanding that a claim changes and evolves at different stages of an appeal, held that an Appellant should be given the opportunity for a new personal hearing following a remand from the Court.

Here’s a link to the Court decision. https://efiling.uscourts.cavc.gov/cmecf/servlet/TransportRoom?servlet=ShowDoc&dls_id=01204266296&caseId=84703&dktType=dktPublic

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New law regarding contaminants present in the base water supply

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Effective March 14, 2017, the Department of Veterans Affairs has added certain diseases associated with contaminants present in the base water supply at U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for veterans, former reservists, and former National Guard members, who served at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days from August 1, 1953 to December 31, 1987, and who developed one of the following conditions: kidney cancer, liver cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, adult leukemia, multiple myeloma, Parkinson’s disease, aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes, and bladder cancer.  The new law establishes a presumption that these individuals were disabled during the relevant period for purposes of proving active military service for benefits purposes.

A veteran who did not have the 30 day service at Camp Lejeune could establish direct service connection for the conditions listed above; however, it would require (1) evidence of a current disease/disability; (2) evidence of exposure to the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune; and (3) a medical opinion which supports a relationship between the current disability and the exposure. This same process would apply for veterans who had the 30 days of service but developed a disability other than the eight conditions listed above.

 The effective date of March 14, 2017 means that even if a claim was filed before that date, if the claim is granted based on the new regulation, benefits are only effective as of March 14, 2017.

The entire law can be read here.

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Helping a Loved One with PTSD

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

When your loved one comes home from military service, they may carry mental and emotional burdens related to their time in service. If they have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can almost seem as if they are a different person. Living with someone suffering with PTSD can be confusing and sometimes scary, but it is manageable. According to the VA, here are several ways you can help make the transition to civilian life easy for the veteran.

They know what they are going through, and focusing on the negatives in life can only exaggerate the problem. Highlighting the positives in a situation or about themselves can lift spirits and stabilize moods.

When a veteran is dealing with PTSD, they can sometimes feel as if there is no one around for them, since those closest to them in service are gone. Scheduling time with friends and family shows the veteran people care for them.

Playing sports, going for bike rides or simply going for a walk can alleviate the stress and depression that often comes with PTSD. Keeping active distracts from any trauma and scientifically releases dopamine, which helps stabilize moods and releases more positive feelings.

One of the most important things that anyone with PTSD needs is therapy. Getting professional help is essential to the veteran coming to terms with their trauma; however, therapy is expensive and getting help from the VA can be difficult, especially if the condition has not been deemed by VA to be service connected. The Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly understands the struggles veterans go through to get the help they deserve.  If you or your loved one have been denied a claim for compensation by the VA, give us a call, we are dedicated to help veterans and their families establish the benefits to which they are entitled.  Contact us at 877-838-1010 or contact us here.

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Receiving Benefits from Exposure to Agent Orange

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Medical researchers have discovered many connections between Agent Orange—an herbicide and defoliant used during the Vietnam War—and a number of diseases and illnesses that plague veterans today. Because of this medical link, the VA has created a list of conditions which it has acknowledged are due to a veteran’s in-service exposure to herbicides. These illnesses include: 

● AL Amyloidosis
● Chronic B-cell Leukemias
● Chloracne (or similar acneiform disease)
● Diabetes Mellitus Type 2
● Hodgkin’s Disease
● Ischemic Heart Disease
● Multiple Myeloma
● Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
● Parkinson’s Disease
● Peripheral Neuropathy, Early-Onset
● Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
● Respiratory Cancers
● Soft Tissue Sarcomas (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, or mesothelioma)

If you currently have one of these illnesses and served in the Republic of Vietnam at any point between 1961 and 1971, you may be entitled to receive VA disability compensation benefits. The first step toward filing for benefits is establishing service connection.

To establish service connection due to Agent Orange exposurea veteran must provide documentation of a current disease with a medical diagnosis and evidence of stepping foot on land or serving in the inland waterways in the Republic of Vietnam (or any of the other places which VA has recognized were in close proximity to or treated with Agent Orange). To file this claim with the VA, fill out VA Form 21-526, attaching any medical records (service, VA or private) pertaining to your illness, certified copy of your DD 214 or other records to document your Vietnam service, and copies of marriage certificates divorce decrees and dependent birth certificates. Attaching these documents is not necessary if they are unavailable to you, or if you have previously submitted them, but will speed up the process. 

If you have already made a claim and believe you have been wrongfully denied or simply need help walking through the claims process, the Veterans Benefit Group of Goodman Allen Donnelly can assist you in getting the benefits you deserve. We specialize in getting veterans their compensation, pension, and other benefits they earned with their service. If you would like our help, contact us today.

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Some 24,000 veterans will begin receiving notices this week of their right to have a new TBI examination from the VA.

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

Last month, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald agreed to offer new Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) examinations to the 24,000 veterans whose initial TBI examination was not conducted by one of the four designated medical specialists identified by VA that have the appropriate expertise to diagnose TBIs.  To ensure that a TBI is properly diagnosed, VA requires that one of four specialists conduct TBI examinations: (1) psychiatrist; (2) physiatrist; (3) neurosurgeon; or (4) neurologist.   Those veterans who have been identified as not receiving an adequate initial TBI examination will begin getting contacted by VA this week regarding their right to a new exam.  Affected veterans have one year within which to request the new exam.

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Goodman Allen Donnelly Attend American Legion Conference in Puerto Rico

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

The American Legion’s Department of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands invited attorneys Nancy Foti and Krystle Waldron of the Goodman Allen Donnelly Veterans Benefits Practice Group to attend a conference and speak to Post Commanders and Officers about the needs of veterans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the legal assistance that Goodman Allen Donnelly can provide in obtaining the benefits they are entitled to.

View more here: VBG Puerto Rico Trip.

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