It’s not often you get a Vet who comes to you with a great back story. It’s an even finer thing when he hasn’t monkeyed with it and made it a thorough mess with all the wrong filings and denials. Please note I’m using the word ‘monkey’ devoid of racial animus. Let’s get that straight up front. It describes nothing more than an unknowledgeable person, a Veteran in this case, who gomers up his claim before seeking experienced legal help. ‘Gomer’, as used here, is not a contemporaneous epithet for a Viet Cong participant of the SEA Olympics but a synonym for someone who is mentally challenged at VA law. With that in the preface, maybe I can write this blog without offending someone. Seasons change. So, too, descriptive nouns.
Stuart came to me via a referral from my Good Humor Man at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in sunny Saigon. I finally got Bob TDIU last summer but when I first got him his Bent Brain rating back in 2018, his girlfriend’s brother- also a Vietnam Vet- called me up and asked me if I’d take his claim. Well, you know me. Being a boots-on-the-ground kind of guy too, I couldn’t say no.
Stu related a history of bent brain that began north of Long Binh back in 69 right before I arrived for the Repo Depot party. Seems he was riding shotgun in a convoy when they hit a buried MK 82 and was injured. To add insult to injury, a few weeks later, he traded places with a fellow trooper who was killed in an ambush. Boy howdy do I know all about that guilt trip shit. The guilt many of us feel about surviving Vietnam is a major component of the PTSD a lot of Vietnam Veterans bear. It also explains why we lose 22 Vets a day to suicide.
I began by filing him for PTSD because that seemed to be the index disease. VA promptly denied it. I took a good, long look at his claims file and saw all the evidence he’d amassed back in 1972 when he filed for a ‘nervous disorder’ (and was denied). Stu pointed out he’d never bothered to tell the VA ‘technicians’ about his Purple Heart for the injuries related to driving over the bomb. Weren’t they supposed to know that already? I filed that with the PTSD just in case but it didn’t catch any air. Strangely, in all the bent brain filings I’d done in the past, a combat medal was almost a gimme for a PTSD rating.
I promptly refiled Stu for TBI and pointed out his STRs supported all this-including the chronic headaches he’d been having for the last 50 years. And Boom! Just like that, we had 40% with the tinnitus. Yep. You guessed it. Zero for the headaches. That denial for the Bent brain continued to bug the bejeus out of me. Having an unbesmirtched record of wins, I wasn’t going to take it lying down. I went out and bought myself an IMO from a PTSD guru and refiled.
Stu is kinda old-fashioned. His phone is a throwback to the old flip phones. It works so why change it? You can’t even take a picture with it let alone do a Face Time™ for a televideo c&p. Being as it was in the Time of Corona, he wasn’t big on going to the library and using Zoom there or wherever you go to do a Zoom. So he did it via telephone only. I was skittish about this but figured if the VA pukes denied us, I could have him drive up here (from Oregon) to the illustrious LZ Grambo Bed & Breakfast Zoom Club and we’d do it here.
I launched the filing in October last and we waited. Along about February, they had him come in for a video PTSD c&p and it came out positive-in great part due to our private IMO. And then the deferrals began. And the incessant notes about “WTF? Who signed off on this private IMO without a video conference? Find an error and deny pronto.
Sensing this potential defect, they called for a clarification or two on the claim and asked if it wasn’t probably the anxiety rating they’d given him for the TBI. Pyramid that boy to a denial and be quick about it. Next, they wanted to know if maybe it wasn’t a ‘progression’ of the nervous condition caused by the TBI. Then, when that pancaked, a long, pregnant pause deciding on how to lowball him. It’s pathetic to watch but you can almost see the gears turning in their simpleminded brains.
Then, last Friday afternoon, I got a voicemail from Stu in a total panic. Seems some VA rater was catfishing him to see if he could trip him up and get him to blow a hole in the bottom of his claim boat. He told Stu my private IMO was useless and he’d never win with it. How much did he pay for it? He went on and asked him where in Sam Hill he’d gotten the idea that he could provide his own IMO when VA had plenty of independent psychologists he could use for this project. Who was this yayhoo he’d hired who wasn’t even a VSO service officer? I’d given Stu a pretty good briefing on this subject and his instructions were to start crying, melt down and tell them to call me because he was too mentally frangible and might fall apart if pressured. Try as that fellah might, he couldn’t get anything damning out of Stu’s mouth and finally gave up. Probably didn’t even thank him for his service to America.
Well, Saturday morning dawned and I called Stu at 0800 to calm him down. Too late. He’d become so depressed at the thought of all this work going to waste and the added anguish of reliving it in his dreams that he ran down to the ETOH store, grabbed a fifth of __________ and got piss drunk. He was so distraught , he didn’t get a wink all night. I emailed the VA rater who’d tried this stunt and asked him what I might be able to supply to help him out. Crickets.
Along about 1000 Hrs Left Coast (including Portland) I saw the below pop up. We’d managed to catfish them into their own net. By having the VA shrink look at our private IMO and concur with it, they’d inadvertently established service connection for bent brain. Worse, by asking a separate shrink to review it and confirm it was a progression of something that walked like PTSD and quacked like PTSD, they were conceding he had the MDD. This is called a finding of fact. Once you concede, you can only CUE yourself to fix your fustercluck. VA had two shrinks now who had agreed with our shrink. They were stuck to this tarbaby and had to live with it-video or no video.
I love catfishing. Lay a good punji pit and let them spot it. Then file for the TBI which was a slam dunk and well documented in the STRs. Get the TBI win and come back with a new, well-constructed PTSD punji pit. Granted, with the Corona, I think I could have logically argued the circumstances of his dire mental state and trying to comply with a video feed were almost insurmountable barriers and VA should accept the IMO as-is.
Considering VA is a nonadversarial, Veteran friendly environment in which to adjudicate our ex parte claims with great deference to the Veteran’s testimony, I am shocked-yes, shocked- to think these folks would even try to catfish a catfisher. We’re seeing this phenomenon across the VARO plains these days. VA will examine this like a Rubik’s cube® for weeks looking for the weak spot to glom onto. I’m sure some expert there in Portland honestly thought it was ethical to browbeat the poor Veteran into some damning statement with an idea toward getting him to provide the seeds of his own destruction. That, to me, is a new low in an outfit renowned for their reputation of being lower than whaleshit.
One thing I notice about VA raters. They are plumb het up about trying to find a way to defeat us litigators or minimize any remuneration we get. I’m not in it for the dough so when I file a claim with an IMO up front that rebuts their prior denials, they jump on it and grant a lot of times. Here, it was well past a year since the PTSD denial so I wasn’t going to win more than chump change. I think it throws them if they try to figure out my claims game rationale. Gez, if he ain’t doing it for the baksheesh, what’s he up to?
So, the DIY teaching moment here is simple. File the claim. If they deny, set up a new, better ambush. If they call seeking clarification, stand fast and say “You already have it all.” If they persist with their VAF 21-4142s, send in a §5103 acknowledgement saying you don’t have anything more to add and to please proceed to the checkout line at your earliest convenience. Don’t get squeamish or have second thoughts about trying to explain it better. Remember, we’re in the Land of Oz now. If you are adroit, you can keep your claim alive forever. Think of it like dining at the Golden Corral©- endless second helpings. And if they deny? Then hire me. I’ve walked point on this trail for 30 years now.
The long-overdue heat wave finally got here to Washington state. I’m heading out to the cement pond for a dip. Stay cool.