I’m an avid deer hunter – for years, I’ve hunted with my uncles up in Northeast Pennsylvania. And for the last 2 years, I have had the opportunity to hunt some beautiful parts of the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains in Northwest and Central Arkansas.
One of the things I really like hunting is that when I am out in the woods, I have nothing but time. I can soak up nature – the sights, sounds and smells.
And I can think and ponder and mull.
Recently, while on a scouting trip in the Ouachita mountains in Arkansas, I sat down to watch what I think is a pretty good trail. And while I sat, I thought.
I thought that there are some real parallels between hunting and the VA Claims Process.
With that in mind, here are 5 things I have learned about the VA Claim Process – from NOT bagging a deer.
#1: You MUST Know the Terrain of the VA Claims Process.
My family has hunted the same ground in Pennsylvania for years.
Over the years, the terrain has changed. Floods wipe out vegetation. Old trees have fallen, taking some of the best places to put a tree stand to monitor trails. Corn fields have been replaced by hay and, in some cases, are now overgrown with impenetrable briars.
As the terrain changes, we have to adjust our approach to hunting the land.
This is true of the VA Claims process, too.
Used to be you could file a claim and wait – if the VA did nothing your Congressional rep might intervene and encourage the VA to take action.
Not anymore. The last 2 decades, Congress is like nipples on a man – while we’d look weird without them, they are largely useless.
These days, to squeeze benefits out of the VA Claims Process, you have to be a smarter hunter. (Scroll down, and I’ll tell you how to do that.
#2: Set Clear Goals to Get Through the VA Claims Process.
While on a hunt one year, about mid-day I flushed a fawn and a medium-sized doe out of some very thick briars. I made my sight adjustments, controlled my breath, and moved my finger to the trigger.
Just as I was about to pull the trigger, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Turns out there was a big bodied buck moving into the same patch of briars.
I held the shot – thinking he was coming to join the doe and fawn. He never did.
The buck used an escape route I couldn’t see, and slipped away never to be seen again.
In your VA claim, you have to clearly lay out what it is you seek to accomplish.
Priority #1 is Service Connection.
I see it in the hundreds (or thousands) of C-Files I’ve reviewed over the years – Veterans get distracted from their first priority – service connection – and are bogged down in the briars, haggling over effective dates that aren’t even relevant yet.
#3: Plan for possible Changes in the VA Claims Process.
Last year – 2013 – it was late in the day, and we hadn’t bagged a deer yet. While leaning on a hay bale at the end of the day, I saw a mature doe nibbling on some late-season berries along a treeline.
I used the terrain – and the wind – to approach her without being seen. I judged the yardage at 125 yards, made my sight adjustments for cold rounds – Northeast Pennsylvania mountains get REALLY cold – and squeezed the trigger.
I missed. The round passed over the doe’s neck, and hit the ground right behind her. Through the scope, I could see her looking right at me for a second before she scampered over a ridge and disappeared.
What had I done wrong? I misjudged the elevation angle and distance. The actual distance was 166 yards, not the 125 yards I guessed. And the angle of the shot was 20 degrees downhill – much steeper than it appeared from my firing position. Because I didn’t properly adjust my shot, I missed my mark.
It is inevitable – the VA is going to do something to try to “throw you off your game”.
Do your homework – and be prepared to “adjust fire” when the situation changes.
#4: Don’t Wait to Call for Help in the VA Claims Process.
My favorite time hunting is early in the morning – I have a spot I go to where a “wind funnel” completely masks my scent from the deer trail I was set up on.
One year, just after first light, 2 big-bodied bucks meandered down the trail. One was clearly not legal (in Pennsylvania, a legal buck has 3 points on each antler). I couldn’t tell if the other was legal or not….he was very good at using terrain and vegetation to hide his rack.
I radioed my uncle, and asked him to move his position a couple hundred feet – hoping to stir the buck and flush him out of the briars. It worked. As soon as the buck kicked out I could see he only had 2 points on each antler – and was not legal
I would have wasted a lot of time spotting an illegal buck without my uncle’s help flushing him out.
In the VA Claims Process, you can waste a lot of time by working with a barely competent VSO – or worse – a VSO that sells you “up the river”. And if you choose the wrong attorney, you could ADD years to the time you will spend in the VA Claims Process.
#5: Smart “Bucks” Follow a Very Different Path through the VA Claims Process.
If you have ever hunted in a freshly fallen snow, you will understand this: you can see things in snow that you can’t see any other time.
Take one year for example: while hunting in virgin snow, I stumbled on a lone set of tracks in an unusual place. The terrain was very rocky, and the trail was within 20 yards of a big bear’s den. So I studied the deer’s route.
On this trail, the buck had access to much better food and water supply. The terrain was such that you could smell anything on the wind for 300 yards in any direction. And the cover and vegetation on his route was placed exactly where you would NEVER think a big buck might hide.
My conclusion – this was one smart animal.
In the VA Claims Process, there are two types of “deer”: there is the ‘herd’, and then there are the Smart Bucks.
The “herd” is out there using over-worked (and sometimes barely competent) VSOs. They are sending in volumes of unhelpful information. They are arguing with the VA over things that don’t really matter.
The Smart Bucks are doing things very, very different in their VA Claims.
The last couple of years, I have hunted a part of the Ouachita mountains that appear pretty popular. For the first 100 yards into the woods, there are signs of hunters – trampled underbrush, trash, trees scarred from stands, etc.
But I have done 2 things different to get to the BIG deer – I went deeper into the woods and I went out on days nobody in their right minds would….on days when it was pouring rain.
In other words, I did something very, very different than all the other hunters.
That is what the Smart Bucks out there do in the VA Claims Process, too – they do things just a little bit different than the herd.
Here are some of the things that the Smart Bucks are doing – to great success – to get out of the VA Claims Process:
* They use as many of the 5 Paths to Service Connection as they can.
* They know the Secret to Proving their VA Claim – and they ditched that damn 21-4138!
* They “get” the VA Claims Process – what it ACTUALLY is, as opposed to what folks have been saying it is for years.
The goal of the Veterans Law Blog is to teach Veterans to become the “Smart Buck”. Here are some of the resources that we provide:
* For 7 years, I have published the Veterans Law Blog – over 600 posts appear in this blog. Get the latest VA Claims Process information by having me send you the Veterans Law Blog – FREE – by email.
* After looking at HUNDREDS – if not thousands – of VA Claims files and Veterans claims, I have come up with 8 Steps that you can follow to Improve Your Own VA Claim.
* Throughout this post, I have mentioned several Veterans Law Guidebooks – I have published 10 books and have 12 more in various stages of preparation for publication. The best place to start is to get a copy of the Veterans Law Basic Field Manual package.
* Learn how to file your VA Claim. In this hour long training video, loaded with workbooks and tips, you’ll learn how to file your VA Claim – the right way – the first time.
And I’ve got more coming…so stay tuned!
Oh, and if you are a hunter, I’d love to hear from you.
Send me your pictures with your favorite “trophy”, and I’ll post the best photos on the Veterans Law Blog Facebook page!