I’ve looked at hundreds – quite possibly thousands of Veterans C-Files.
I see patterns in those case and have even written an eBook outlining 5 Major Reasons that the VA keeps screwing up your claim or appeal.
I’ve also seen behavior by Veterans that almost guarantees that their claim or appeal will stay in the VA Backlog and will take forever to resolve.
Here are the Top 5 things you can do to guarantee that your claim will go into a VA Black Hole:
#5: Bitch and Moan about every slight – small or large.
The VA has earned every single criticism that can be levied against it. And there are plenty of criticisms that can be leveled against what Robert Gates called the second most recalcitrant bureaucracy.
Let me ask you this, though – where does complaining TO the VA….ABOUT the VA …. get you?
I have yet to see the VA expedite a claim because someone stomped their feet, grimaced and barked about the duty to assist Veterans.
Doesn’t happen folks.
Listen, I’m not perfect.
The VA pisses me off sometimes, and other times I feel like they are playing games with peoples lives. I’m not above a snide remark or a sarcastic comment. I am human, and my license to practice law doesn’t exempt me from feeling or voicing my frustration with the recalcitrance of the VA Bureaucracy.
So what do I do when I need to vent my frustration?
I find a friend or colleague to whom I can vent my frustration, and I vent it. I then provide a clear and professional response to the VA.
I am not perfect at this, but I try very hard not to let the VA take me off my game.
One thing that helps is to draw a firm distinction between VA Employees and the VA Bureaucracy.
Most of the former are honestly trying to do their best. The latter is what prevents them from helping more Veterans.
If you send a civil, adult, correspondence to Bob McDonald or Allison Hickey, you are likely going to get action – but it isn’t because you emailed the top 2 people in the VA. It’s because you acted like a professional and an adult and approached them as professionals and adults.
We don’t have to like people to treat them with civility.
#4: Send Angry “Nasty-Grams” to the VA every chance you get.
If you can break one habit, break this one: don’t send any more angry, vile, violent or hateful emails to the VA.
If you are standing on a street corner looking for someone to give you a ride to the doctor, who do you think is going to help:
Person A: This is the Person you walk up to and punch in the face because they couldn’t immediately discern your need.
Person B: This is the Person to whom you explain your predicament, why you need help, and how they can help?
I can’t guarantee that being civil and direct with VA employees is going to get you the help you need.
I can, however, guarantee that if you walk up and verbally berate a VA Employee you will NOT get help.
Some Veterans tell me: but I’m entitled to be angry at the VA. My anger is justified.
Maybe so. But Anger is not an emotion – it is a behavior. The emotion that leads to anger is fear: and when you can acknowledge your fear about your VA claim and talk openly and honestly about it with the VA in a civil tone, mountains move.
Maybe not immediately, but over time, the VA gets to know you as someone that is honest, humble, forthright – while at the same time setting high expectations.
Acknowledge your fear, and don’t act out on it using anger.
I get a lot of emails and facebook messages from people berating me for some such perceived slight. They range from the juvenile to the frightening. Here are 2 recent ones:
This is from a guy who claims to have served with the US Special Forces:
And this one comes from a disbarred ATTORNEY and Veteran whose emails were far more violent:
Underlying both people’s anger is their fear….but that’s not my point.
My point is this: do you think that anyone on this blog – or at my law firm – is going to help anyone that talks to us like this?
I’d love to say that I’m perfect and that I could or would help either of these gentleman – lord knows I’ve worked with some really rough people and done great things with their cases – but I’m human.
And while I suspect both of these gentleman suffer from untreated PTSD or other mental health illnesses, this is no way to talk to anyone: not an attorney, not the VA … not your worst enemy.
If you find yourself sending vile – or violent – emails or messages to VA employees….stop.
Delete the email.
Get someone to help you communicate with the VA. An attorney, a VSO, or an accredited agent. Or a trusted friend.
Don’t think for one minute that you are improving the VA, or encouraging someone to help you if you send vile, violent or hateful correspondence.
You are actually hurting your brother and sister Veterans by making it harder for them to get in touch with people at the VA who don’t want to listen to venom all day, every day.
Bottom line – we are Veterans. We served in the military, and we served with dignity. Soldiering is an honorable profession, and we maintain the honor of this profession by respecting others and ourselves after our service has ended.
If I can paraphrase the words of General George Washington: Make your grievances known in a manner consistent with your own honor, and mindful of the dignity of the military branch in which you served.
In the words of my former Battery Commander, Art Weeks: “When someone is wrong, and you know they are wrong, always always always …. take the Moral High Ground”.
#3: Treat VA employees with disrespect or without basic civility.
It’s tempting to dish out your anger or frustration on the first VA employee that you talk to. We’ve all done it.
I get it.
I’m a red-head: half Italian and half Irish, with a very low tolerance for bull-shit.
Those factors – and a couple others – combine to make me a pretty sharp-tongued guy.
But I’m also a Veteran and I have seen some serious bullshit from VA employees (thankfully, the jerks are the exception and not the rule, although a few jerks in key visible positions can really jam up the whole system.)
I’ve had to learn to curb that sharp tongue when it comes to the VA: it gets me nothing. Ever.
I’ve also learned that there are GOOD people working at the VA, honestly trying to help Veterans get the care and benefits they deserve.
Listen: you distinguished yourselves from the other 90% of Americans by serving in the military and putting it all on the line (in peacetime or combat) for your nation.
Your service is a badge of honor that you should wear with Honor.
Why sully that service by being an ass to a VA employee?
Even if they deserve it, it gets you nowhere.
Always keep in mind that immutable law of the universe: “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”.
Learn more about this Universal Rule in Chapter 6 of Emmet Fox’s Classic Book on the Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life (I’m not hawking religion here, folks…but a good speech is a good speech whether it was delivered by Jesus, Terrence Powderly, or Abraham Lincoln).
If Veterans are not careful, our negativity and insulting attitudes, tongues and temperaments are going to back-fire on us with the American people.
I’m not saying to “give ground”.
You can be strong and persistent while still being polite. I adhere to a philosophy of Defiant Optimism when dealing with the VA.
I defy bullshit…but am optimistic that I will find and get help from the good people at the VA. They are out there. Make it your mission to find them.
I am saying to act like a professional – like the soldier, or non-com, or officer – that you were trained to be.
Want to learn some new techniques? Try this book – it’s been around almost 100 years for a reason:
#2: Overload the VA with the same 20 pages of paper.
This formula, more than any other, will move your claim through the VA Claims Process and get you more satisfactory results:
2) Get your C-File and find out what evidence is missing from your VA Claim or Appeal.
3) Submit the evidence in a Direct Concise and Easy format.
In the alternative, many Veterans like to send in the same 20 pages … over and over and over again, without any determination as to what is relevant or material.
I remember one C-File I reviewed about 3 years ago. It was over 1,000 pages long. 700 of those pages consisted of the same email chains and articles about TBI.
By doing this, the Veteran buried the relevant and material evidence in his claim in a mountain of irrelevant and immaterial information.
He created the haystack, hid the needle in it, and then berated the VA for not finding the needle.
Instead of making his claim Direct, Concise and Easy, he inadvertently made it exponentially harder to find the key evidence in his claim.
Here’s a better approach. Forget the haystack. Show them the needle.
#1: Insist on Refusing to get help.
There are bad attorneys out there. But there are some really good ones.
I wish I could list all of the attorneys that I have met that are “true believers” and that represent Veterans and great financial and personal cost to them.
Veterans Attorneys like Barbara Cook who selflessly gives her time to teach many more attorneys how to evaluate impairment ratings and effective dates.
The point is this – there are some damn good attorneys out there changing lives for Veterans who are overwhelmed by the VA Claims Process.
But not every attorney is right for every Veteran.
Although the attorneys at the Attig Law Firm are honored to work with our clients, it is more important to us that Veterans choose an attorney that is RIGHT for their claim and THEIR personality.
I am not the Right Attorney for every Veteran. I am, in fact, the wrong attorney for some Veterans.
Take your time – talk to at least 3 VA Accredited Attorneys before you hire one.
Here’s my question for you: if YOU – not Congress, not the VA – YOU – can do one thing this week to improve your VA claim what would it be?