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300,000 veterans die waiting for their benefits, VA reports
Too many veterans die while waiting for their VA benefits.

Too many veterans die while waiting for their VA benefits.

It’s not right.

That’s likely the first thought to come to mind for every American to read a recent report from the Department of Veterans Affairs’ inspector general. The report stated that more than 300,000 American military veterans likely died while waiting for their healthcare.

To add to the pain, the report continues that “nearly twice as many are still waiting” for their veterans benefits.

The inspector general’s report cites severe problems with veterans’ enrollment data, making it difficult to determine how many veterans were looking for healthcare for the VA and how many actively are now. The VA said there are “data limitations” to finding this information.

To make matters worse, the inspector general’s report said there were “thousands” of unprocessed healthcare applications marked as completed. An additional 10,000 electronic transactions, possibly more, were erroneously deleted.

The fact of the matter is this: our troops deserve better. They put their lives on the line on a daily basis while in battle and should be treated well physically, mentally and emotionally upon their return home to the U.S.

It’s no secret that the VA has trouble with proper treatment of our veterans, as it has also had a VA backlog of tens of thousands of cases for years. This can only be called a national shame.

In order to have their claim adjudicated, it is important for veterans with claims to appeal any adverse decisions themselves or through legal counsel. Our office stands ready to help veterans with their claims against the VA for benefits.

Blocking memory pathway may prevent PTSD

A medical breakthrough may help those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the University of Colorado Boulder.

Blocking a memory pathway that encodes traumatic memories in those who are stressed could help prevent PTSD altogether, professors from this school have found.

About 8 million Americans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that PTSD affects about one-third of veterans who return home from war, including 11 percent of those returning from Afghanistan.

Michael Baratta, PhD, of the University of Colorado Boulder, researched the amygdala, a part of the brain that encodes painful memories. The research appeared in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

After testing mice, the doctors discovered serotonin promoted memory consolidation, which converted short-term memories into long-term memories stored in the brain. Blocking the amygdala cells interaction with the serotonin meant the mice in this study did not develop PTSD. They believe this could also work in humans suffering with PTSD.

Researchers believe the drug agomelatine, an antidepressant, may be able to help those with PTSD. While this may be an exciting discovery, it is imperative that veterans who believe they are suffering with PTSD get treatment as soon as possible.

While many receive veterans benefits, the mental anguish is not worth it. For many, a cure or treatment would be considered a miracle.

The law offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd. are experts in presenting evidence of PTSD and stand ready and able to assist veterans in pursuit of their benefits.

Disabled veterans will receive cost-of-living increase
Veterans will get a cost of living increase for 2016.

Veterans will get a cost of living increase for 2016.

Those who were wounded while serving our country truly deserve the best. It appears Congress may be making a move toward this, as the MilitaryTimes reported that there will likely be a cost-of-living increase for disabled veterans in 2016.

However, this veterans benefits increase will be tied to Social Security Administration disability benefits. The increase her will not be known until October, so veterans and their families will have to wait to hear about the increase in their benefits.

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives passed the cost of living adjustment for disabled veterans, calling it a “commonsense adjustment,” according to the MilitaryTimes. The Senate still has to approve this veterans benefits increase, but there is almost no chance that any politician will choose to vote against this increase in payment.

The increase may not be huge, as the adjustment was an increase of 1.7 percent for the SSA and veterans benefits last year.

MilitaryTimes reports that this new legislation also deems it necessary for VA to pay accrued benefits to a decreased veteran’s estate, even if the veteran passes away without family to receive the payout. This change was passed in an effort to make sure VA does not withhold or cancel payments before every eligible beneficiary is identified

In an era where veterans are often caught in a benefits backlog, it is good to see the U.S. government attempting to do the right thing for those who nobly served our country.

Veterans benefits extended to same-sex married couples

Gay veterans who are legally married will now have the ability to apply for and receive veterans benefits, according to The Hill.

In the wake of the ruling from Obergefell v. Hodges, a ruling which gave homosexual couples the right to marry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced all federal agencies will be required to give benefits to married couples.

Lynch said this will include the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Before July, the SSA and VA were still prohibited by a federal statute from fully adopting rules that would allow SSA and VA benefits to extend to same-sex couples, the Hill reported.

“Today I am proud to announce that the critical programs for veterans and elderly and disabled Americans, which previously could not give effect to the marriages of couples living in states that did not recognize those marriages, will now provide federal recognition for all marriages nationwide,” Lynch said. “The agencies are currently working towards providing guidance to implement this change in law.”

The extra costs are not yet known by either agency, but it is invaluable to be able to extend veterans benefits to those who bravely served our country, no matter their orientation.

Veterans hope VA benefits will pay for in vitro fertilization

There’s a 23-year-old law on the books that deems the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will not pay for in vitro fertilization for injured veterans. However, this law  is being challenged by veterans and lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, according to The Washington Post.

In vitro fertilization help is not offered to U.S. veterans.

In vitro fertilization help is not offered to U.S. veterans.

For veterans with spinal or genital injuries, this could mean a chance to have biological children that would otherwise not be there post-injury.

Previously, the Post said the IVF ban was adopted by the VA and Congress due to conservative opposition of assisted reproduction. However, now the practice is commonplace and has helped start many families. Veterans and lawmakers alike argue that the ban is outdated and should be overturned.

Another argument for the overturn of this law is the use of improvised explosive devices (otherwise known as IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, which caused a litany of reproductive injuries for troops overseas.

The IVF procedure is expensive, costing upwards of tens of thousands of dollars, and also may take multiple tries. However, many veterans trying to start a family have paid for it with their own dime, taking on a debt and even skipping an education to work in an effort to pay for IVF. Many completely rethink their plans to start a family.

The Post spoke with Army Staff Sgt. Alex Dillmann, who became paralyzed from the abdomen down after a bomb blast during his time in Afghanistan. While Dillmann feels lucky to be alive, part of his life dream was to become a parent.

“But this is a big pill to swallow for all veterans facing combat injuries, which have hurt their chances to have children,” Dillmann said, noting that the upcoming round of IVF he and his wife will undertake will cost approximately $25,000.

Perhaps if Congress was more concerned about the men and women who serve this country, veterans would get the care they require and deserve. While we cannot yet help veterans get money for this treatment, the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates can help ensure veterans we work with can get the full amount of VA benefits they are entitled to receive.

Young veterans suffering from PTSD may also have sleep apnea

Those who have served our country may have a lot more to deal with upon returning home. Veterans of all ages should ensure they get the best possible veterans benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, as early treatment of any disease or illness is essential. A recent study showed that problems can compound as well, as young U.S veterans with post traumatic stress disorder have a higher chance of suffering from obstructive sleep apnea.

Medical Xpress reported on a recent study of nearly 200 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who visited a PTSD clinic; 69.2 percent of these participants were at high risk for sleep apnea, a risk that increased with the severity of PTSD symptoms.

Co-principal investigator for the study Sonya Norman, a researcher at the San Diego VA, director of the PTSD Consultation Program at the National Center for PTSD, said younger veterans need to be screened for obstructive sleep apnea, especially those already suffering from PTSD.

“This is critical information because sleep apnea is a risk factor for a long list of health problems such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and psychological problems including depression, worsening PTSD and anxiety,” Normal said.

The Mayo Clinic said obstructed sleep apnea can cause cardiovascular problems, loss of sleep and eye problems, among other issues. Those who suffer should seek treatment as soon as possible to try and fight the ailment early.

It behooves veterans to take advantage of their VA medical benefits to obtain the treatment they require. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates can help make sure veterans get the full amount of benefits they deserve.

Vietnam veteran files class action lawsuit against VA

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has long experienced a hellishly deep backlog that has caused severe delays of veterans benefits for those in need. One Vietnam veteran has decided to take matters into his own hands, filing a class action lawsuit against the VA.

Conley Monk Jr., the lead plaintiff in the case, is a Marine veteran who said he has waited for years for disability benefits stemming from post-traumatic stress disorder and exposure to toxic chemicals. He said he came under fire in 1969 and 1970 and was exposed to Agent Orange during his time in the war.

The New York Times said he was diagnosed with PTSD and diabetes (sometimes related to exposure of Agent Orange) in 2011 and was denied VA benefits. After appealing that decision in 2013, he has yet to hear anything from the VA on his disability benefits. Monk told the Times that it has been frustrating to “be stuck in limbo.”

“It’s been hard to make ends meet,” Monk told the Times. “And we Vietnam veterans are getting older. We can’t wait forever.”

Reducing the number of claims of claims in the VA backlog has been a focus of VA, but the Times reports that appeals are at an all time high at nearly 300,000. That means much like Monk, many others may be suffering as they wait for a decision on their veterans benefits from VA.

In the opinion of attorney Harold W. Conick, the VA’s backlog could be trimmed by converting the Veterans  paper records to an electronic platform. The VA is apparently in the process of doing this, but it is taking far too long.

Additionally, it would be helpful if VA personnel were more open and cooperative with counsel for veterans in attempting to resolve claims. This is not currently being done; the system is very adversarial to both the veteran and their counsel. “Stone walling” is standard operating procedure at the VA and delays the adjudication of claims. This needs to change to better serve the U.S. veterans in the benefit claims process.

VA accused of changing dates on disability claims

After U.S. veterans return home from stints in battle overseas, many suffer from physical injuries, mental illness and other debilitating symptoms that need to be treated. Sometimes, they simply need a helping hand to get restarted in life; the Department of Veterans Affairs is supposed to be there for them to provide veterans benefits. However, a recent report from the inspector general found that at least one VA office has been changing the dates on claims to make it appear as though the department was moving through its growing backlog at a quicker rate.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, staff said they have been following orders from VA administration to change the dates of on the files in backlog. The inspector general said an average of 20 months passed between when the VA received the documents and acted on it in at least 43 of the cases.

One case, which was made to look as though it was 14 days old, was actually two decades old, meaning the veteran in question may have fallen even more ill or even died while waiting for benefits.

“Right now it’s incumbent upon VA leaders to ensure the claims of veterans affected by this scheme are correctly processed while moving swiftly to hold the responsible employees accountable,” according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. “Although I believe Secretary McDonald is trying hard to correct VA’s course, the fact that incidents like this are still occurring highlights the scope of the challenges he is facing.”

If this is happening in one state, under instruction of the VA administration, it is not hard to draw conclusions that it may be happening to veterans in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and other areas near and dear to our law firm’s heart.

It is still too early to know if these reforms will make the VA medical system credible and effective. However, there can be no doubt that the mission of the VA medical system is critical to the care and welfare of U.S. veterans.

Forbes calls proposed VA rule ‘attack’ on veterans, families

A new proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is being called an “attack” on veterans and their families by Forbes. Alesha Ebeling writes on Forbes’ website that this rule attempts to prevent people from giving away their assets and applying for veterans benefits, but she notes that veterans believe this may cause harm by making a difficult process even harder and more arduous.

The VA pension rule provides money to veterans and their surviving spouses for daily assistance in necessary activities. Currently, the rule is that if veterans get down to $80,000 in assets, including houses and cars, and have medical expenses that are more than than their income, they may qualify.

The proposed changes would establish a 36 month look-back period, make a new limit of $119,220 and have a 10 year penalty period when it comes to gifts, thereby making it much more difficult for veterans and their families to obtain.

Bernard Krooks, a New York attorney and Forbes contributor, said these rules are “an attack on our nation’s veterans and their families; it’s a huge change from the status quo.” However, the proposed change is coming after attempts to pass a look-back rule in Congress failed, so if this change is made administratively, it can be challenged in court.

The benefit that VA officials want to make more difficult to obtain provides elderly veterans and their spouses with funds for assisted living. This is a very important benefit for our veterans and should not be limited, as veterans have earned these critical benefits through service to our country.

Essentially, the VA appears to want to treat U.S. veterans as welfare recipients by applying Medicaid and Medicare standards to VA benefits. If such rule is imposed upon these benefits, litigation should be commenced to overturn such arbitrary and capricious administrative action.

VA whistleblowers say many troops claims end up ignored

For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been inundated by a large backlog of troops coming home looking for veterans benefits. With a high number of veterans waiting, the local CBS affiliate in San Francisco reported some shocking news this month: Thousands of claims filed between 1996 and 2009 were put into a file cabinet and ignored until 2012.

An example of how this has impacted veterans comes from Dorrie Stafford, whose husband Wayne was an Army veteran who filed a veterans disability claim in 2004. Wayne died in an accident seven years ago, but he received a letter dated July 29, 2014, thanking him for filing for disability benefits. This left his wife wondering how VA could be so callous, not only in ignoring the claim, but in sending a late reply to a veteran who was already dead.

Rustyann Brown, one of the team assigned to process these claims two years ago, said their VA office was getting letters from elderly veterans and widows begging for help. This showcases the very real need many veterans have to hire an attorney who will fight for their veterans benefits.

“Half of the veterans were dead that I screened. So almost every other piece of paper that I touched was a veteran who had already passed away,” Brown told CBS.

It is absolutely critical that a disabled veteran retain experienced counsel to pursue their VA disability claim. Iis well documented that veterans will have a better chance of success in obtaining benefits with the assistance of legal counsel.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates are available to assist veterans in pursuit of their benefits.