I received a shock this morning when I looked up at the stats and discovered the site is on the cusp of going over one million hits by you, my fellow Veterans. My enduring hope is that one million Veterans used the knowledge to win their claims or bludgeon their Veterans Service Officers representing them into doing a better job in assisting them.
A short history. Back in 2006, I discovered I was dying. Hepatitis C had been eating my liver, unbeknownst to me, for the last thirty six years since my transfusion at the Sam Thong Air America hospital/veterinary clinic (LS 20). Not wishing to leave my wife penniless, I once again armored up to do battle with the VA. I foolishly chose a VSO again- this time the Military Order of the Purple Heart- as my shield bearer. Fat chance. As I would eventually come to find out years later, VSOs work for the VA. It’s written into their Congressional Charters. “Veterans Service Organizations are chartered by Congress and tasked with the noble cause of helping the VA adjudicate Veterans’ claims.”
My good friend Lars Showalter, a Huey pilot in the Indochinese Olympics, claimed they were suuuuper good and had managed to finally get him a 30% rating for his back with promises of much more. Unfortunately, he passed away from pancreatic cancer before he became a chicken dinner winner. My experiences up to that point were 0% and 0% for hearing/tinnitus and a denial on my back issues. I’d been hornswoggled by DAV and AmVets into believing untold riches awaited me if I could just convince these folks I was telling the truth. Nothing was ever said about what kind of proof would suffice.
Up to then, I’d been too busy building houses to even learn how to turn on a computer. Being this sick, I had the rest of my soon-to-be-abbreviated life to learn how and see if there was something I was missing in the VA claims game. Cupcake refused to do any more than show me the on/off switch. She was too busy trying to make ends meet since I was now mega-incapacitated and unemployed. Like all of you, I found the search bar and began my quest for justice. I found the Board of Veterans Appeals website showing all their appeals from 1992 to the present. By simply entering the word ‘Hepatitis’, it disgorged a thousand or more claims that had been adjudicated-some wins but mostly losers. I read. And read. And read.
Eventually, I discerned a thread of wins that hinged-not on luck- but on simple doctors’ letters in support of the Veterans’ contentions. What’s more, it applied broadly to any claims -regardless of the etiology. A Vet claimed he jumped out of perfectly airworthy airplanes while in the 81st Airborne and his doctor said that was what caused his knees to go south. The idea of a ‘cookie recipe’ began to form in my addled noggin. I read some more and began taking notes.
Needless to say, my good buddy down at the MOPH had failed to alert me to this unique requirement. In fact, none of the earlier VSOs had mentioned the requirement either. On my next visit, I asked about how I was going to win without one (a nexus letter). That’s when I became the recipient of the Foghorn Leghorn speech. “Nexus letter! Nexus letter? Why, lands son, of course you need a nexus letter. I say, I say, you can’t win without one. Hoo-doggies. The boy doesn’t know about nexus letters. What are they teaching these youngsters nowadays?” When we left, Cupcake turned to me and said “That’s your legal help? Shit, oh dear. We have a better chance of winning the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.” I sadly agreed.
On my next visit to my gastrodoc for the monthly “you’re dying more slowly than we anticipated” briefing, I broached the subject of a nexus letter. To my immense joy, he agreed and wrote a daisy. I dutifully carried this back to my MOPH minder who shoved it into the circular file. It never made it to the VARO. Being anal, I had taken the added step of sending it in directly to VA beforehand. It was not that I didn’t trust my VSO, mind you. I just had a few nagging doubts about how all this worked. When I informed him I had done so, I got the “I’m in charge and if you pull that stunt again, we’ll revoke your representation” speech. Several years later, after I discovered VA had claims files on all of us, I obtained mine. That’s when I discovered his perfidy. There was one-and only one-nexus letter in the file with a copy of the envelope I used to mail it in. Shocked. I was shocked, I tell you. To this day, I’m guessing he didn’t want to spoil his perfect denial record with a win.
By then, I’d discovered the Court of Veterans Appeals website and was avidly reading why I might finally win this time. I’d spotted Caluza v Brown and the discussion by the Justices of the three ingredients essential to winning at VA poker. When I subsequently won a year later, I began a blog for other Vets to teach them this. I was dumbfounded that no other Veterans website illuminated this essential ingredient. That was 2008. Here we are in 2018 and a million wiser Vets later.
Helping others less fortunate was ingrained into me by my father. He retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant General in 1973 and went to work for McDonnell Douglas helping develop the F-15. As most military buffs know, the Air Force, under Gen. Sweeney, had begun to adopt the concept of a fighter-bomber instead of a true air superiority fighter. Sadly, the last true fighter A/C, the F-86 was retired in 1957 with the advent of the F-100. The shortcomings multiplied when Republic came out with it’s improved big brother- the F-105 Thud. Dad advocated belligerently for a new fighter-the F 110-soon to be rechristened the F-4. Finally, a true fighter with an astounding thrust-to-weight ratio of 1.5:1. McNamara immediately wanted to know how many bombs it could carry. About that time, after the Air Force stripped the guns off the Phantom and put in 6 hardpoints, he began planning with Sandy McDonnell for the future F-15. North Vietnam’s Mig 15s and 17s were a tremendous wakeup call for revealing the shortcomings of thinking we were always going to have in-theatre air superiority.
With the F-15’s future ensured, he retired from McDonnell Douglas to be a volunteer paramedic and eventually an animal welfare officer-again on a voluntary basis. This altruism infected me as well. Not satisfied to just adjudicate my own claims and help others, I decided to become street legal. Knowing VA’s penchant (and mantra) that ‘No good deed goes unpunished’, I could see the day when I would be stripped of my own ratings for helping others put a hole in the VA budget.
In 2011, Cupcake induced me to begin asknod.org. Up to this point, asknod was a sideshow at the HCVets site. Patricia Lupole and Harry Hooks had done an admirable job of getting the word out about jetguns as the disease vector but the asknod forum was narrowly focused on Hepatitis C Veterans and not broadly based on the bigger picture of VA claims in general. Toward that end, asknod.org, in its present iteration, was born on Labor Day weekend seven years ago. If emulation is the sincerest form of flattery, my site might have been the platform that provoked many more on preaching the need for a nexus. Now, all manner of attorneys and Veterans have their own sites that discuss what we’ve been espousing for over ten years- how to succeed at this intractable conundrum. They act like they invented the concept.
The ‘cookie recipe’ analogy has finally borne fruit. More and more of you not only know what is needed to prevail, but more and more are doing so. The cat’s out of the bag on this one-finally. Imagine. VA has been funning us since the War of 1812 and depriving us of the recipe. I find it satisfying to see Congress finally made them divulge the information after one hundred and fifty years. In case you missed that, it was the Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) around 2001 that ostensibly forced them to do so but even back then, the VA couldn’t bring themselves to say it in simplified DickandJanespeak for us. It took my blog and others like Hadit.com to drum it into Vets that they would never prevail without an Independent Medical Opinion (IMO) also known as a nexus letter.
Proudly, in 2016, I became a VA agent. Knowing firsthand (after getting bushwhacked by a vindictive Veterans Law Judge in 2011) that you cannot win them all at the appellate level, I asked to be accepted to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC). Because I’m ignorant and have no Juris Doctorate, I require supervision-albeit little or none- to practice there. The proudest moment of my life was this February 8th, with my Juris Doctorate son Matthew, when Gregory Block swore me in at the Court before Judge Michael Allen.
I guess I was promoted because I’m now an “Officer of the Court” and a “nonattorney practitioner”. I reckon that’s a micro-step up from VA agent. Who cares? I’m equally as lethal now as any VA leagle beagle with a JD after their name. The only difference is I don’t have a $225,000 Pell grant to retire for the college degree. I feel like I’m cheating somehow.
I strongly advocate for, and encourage others to do what I did. What do you have to lose? There are 350-odd VA agents out there kicking ass and taking names. Hell, I’ve even increased their numbers by two so far with several more hopefully in the wings. The Court has granted 33 of us the right to practice there at the Federal level. Sadly, there are far too many Veterans who need good legal help from Agents/attorneys. To plagiarize a famous line from Star Trek… “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
The National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) has excellent lawyers (and Agents) but our numbers are dwarfed by the immense numbers of unrepresented Veterans with complex cases requiring a bit more than a VSO degree in licking envelopes or filling out 526s. How many of you sit on your asses and complain (as did I) that you can’t get an attorney to take your case? A journey of this magnitude begins with the first step. I took that step, unbeknownst to me, when Cupcake showed me the on/off switch. Surely I can’t be that unique. We all held up our right hand and swore an oath when we joined. I could die happy if I knew every Veteran had an able advocate. And, if I only succeed in getting America to capitalize the word Veteran, I would really die happy. I feel competent in saying Churchill might have forgiven me bogarting his famous line-
“Never have so many owed so much to so few”
And to think we weren’t even allowed to charge more than $10 for doing this before 2007. Talk about VSOs disenfranchising America’s Sons of War…
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
P.S. Well, actually that was all I was going to say about this, but I received this from Bruce Almighty-our East Coast asknod CEO as I pushed print. It’s very touching and the below is the most apropos pour les Vétérans Militaire. Indeed. Why haven’t more of us done something to help disabled Veterans fight and win their claims?
P.P.S. I lied. It’s only been seven years to reach 1,000,000 hits. Cupcake pointed out the error. Sorry about that, folks.