13 Rules Of Engagement

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This is a pretty complete list of 13 things that a veteran must do or more importantly, not do, while you attempt to win your compensation benefits. These aren’t in any particular order, each is as important as the next. I know these are all very important. I know the results of not catching mistakes and of making simple errors.

Following these simple rules won’t win your claim for you but it will help ensure you don’t lose it.

(1) Don’t call the toll free number. Don’t email the VA Regional Office. Don’t use the electronic system to file your claim. Do not ever, under any circumstances communicate with the VARO except by certified mail, return receipt requested. If you break this rule, you are sure to get the wrong information. When you call or email you aren’t contacting your VA Regional Office, you’re in touch with a call center. The call center has access to a computer system that is rumored to be powered by kerosene and data is stored on IBM punch cards. The employees are under orders that you are allowed 3 minutes and not any more. They will tell you anything you want to hear to get you off that telephone. If you insist, try calling 3 days in a row. Ask the same question each time. It’s likely you’ll hear 3 completely different answers, all the wrong answers.

(2) Know who is representing you. You hand over the future of one of the most important legal moves you’ll ever make where the stakes are counted in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and you aren’t sure who the person works for? On the other hand, you’ll walk into any office that looks official, sign over a power of attorney, complete financial paperwork that exposes your weaknesses to the world and walk away not knowing what to expect or when to expect it. Spend much time thinking about your claim and who that representative works for, you’ll be a lot happier down the road.

(3) Be patient. Take 2 hours of quiet time early in the process and read from all the stuff that is available all over the internet. The VA site itself is a wealth of information and will answer a lot of your questions completely. Your application for benefits will follow a process. If you’ve done your part that paper you submitted is going to slowly wind its way to the first step in the process, then the second step in the process, then the third step and so on right through over 100 steps that must be accomplished before it is adjudicated. Whether you think all that is necessary or not doesn’t matter. It’s the process that counts and you need to accept that very early in the game. Once you’ve submitted your paperwork and you’re confident that you have given VA all the evidence that there is, you’re done. There is nothing else to do but wait. Calling the VA (see #1) to ask where your folder is truly a waste of your time. Don’t write any more letters to the VA. Don’t call your VSO to ask if she has heard anything about your claim. She hasn’t.
Do anything at all but think about your claim. Your claim will be adjudicated when it gets adjudicated and not a minute before. Live with that.

(4) Don’t ever display any anger to a VA employee. Yeah, OK…we’re all pissed off. Every last veteran I know can feel their blood boiling at the mention of how the VA treats those it’s supposed to serve. We were trained to be angry. Extreme pain was a sign that weakness was leaving my body. My most basic and most important job was to kill people and destroy their stuff. We were not emissaries of peace, we were warriors. That was then and this is now. If you show your angry side to a VA employee by yelling, expressing your displeasure at waiting, slamming your fist down on a desk, cursing, storming out of a room and slamming the door or making a direct or veiled threat…you have created trouble for yourself and all those who have to follow in your footsteps. Most, not all, but most VA employees at the clinics, hospitals and regional offices want to help you. They’re usually every bit as frustrated as you are at the bureaucracy they work for. They have the same problems of paying bills, raising teenagers, flat tires and headaches that you have. Many of them are veterans. Many others weren’t born yet when you were injured. The bureaucracy wasn’t intentionally made tougher for you by that 23 year old student intern sitting across from you. A lot of these people are afraid of you. I was born with a scowl. At my happiest, my brow is furrowed and my eyes narrow down to slits and I sigh a lot. I’ve been told often that I intimidate people so I work hard to overcome that. Before you interact with a VA employee in person, on the phone or by letter, take a deep breath and let that anger go. The amount of courtesy, respect and smiles you give is directly correlated to what you’ll receive. Otherwise, you may find that your record is flagged to warn others about your erratic, threatening behavior and if you think you have problems with getting things done now, you haven’t seen nothing yet. Worst case scenario, the VA police are serious. Most VA police officers are real cops, not ‘security guards’. The handcuffs they use are pretty much guaranteed to show you what they think of your attitude. Think before you open your mouth. You’ll be glad you did. The rest of us will appreciate it too.

(5) A well written letter is your best friend. When you moved and changed your mailing address, it appears you told everyone but the VA Regional Office that handles your folder. Neither the toll free number nor the IRIS email system is at your regional office. Your VSO can’t be relied on to run errands for you. If you had written a letter, mailed it to the correct address and used certified mail with return receipt requested and kept the receipt along with your copy of that letter, it is very likely the address change would have happened just as it should have. If it didn’t, you have good evidence that you did your part correctly and timely. Without that little green postcard, you got nothing. This action applies to every action you take with the VA. Any time you want VA to accomplish anything for you, you must put it in writing and you must be precise in telling them exactly what it is you want. When you put your request in writing, you’ve just created a piece of evidence that can be held in the hands and reviewed by another person months or years down the road. It’s real, it’s solid and if it disappears from your folder, you have a back-up copy and that little green post card to prove it was delivered. A telephone call is a faint memory the moment the connection is broken. An email may roll up and off the screen, out of sight and out of mind. Emails are often purged whether by accident or intent. Your letter and your copy of that letter are the most powerful tool you have. A single letter that is brief and tells the reader just exactly what you want is more potent than a hundred phone calls. There is just no reason for you to communicate with VA by any other method than a letter.

(6) Don’t call your Congressperson or a Senator. Your elected representatives in Washington makes laws, they don’t enforce them. Each of them maintains a number of very busy offices staffed by a dozen or more people. In that mix are “Military & Veterans Liaisons” or an individual with a similar title and responsibility. When you write or call to complain about the VA and your claim, your call is routed to that person. He or she will ask you to complete documents that allow them to view your folder, privacy issues must be addressed as you have medical records in there. Then they send a “Congressional Inquiry” to your VARO. The VARO maintains a team of people to respond to such inquiries within 45 days. Your folder is located, pulled out of line and examined for any particular glitches or errors. Then it may be sent to the Representative’s liaison for a review. If the folder and your application are merely going through the usual routine of numbingly slow progress, that’s what you’ll hear. If there is missing evidence and VA can’t find records or something is lost, they’ll assure the Representative that they’re doing all they can and that message will be passed on to you. Your Congressperson or Senator won’t be aware that you’ve done any of this with their office. They each have hundreds of these requests every year. Often enough, the impatience is rooted in ignorance. The vet doesn’t understand the process and nobody told him that his claim may take as long as 18 months. Some requests and complaints are filed with these offices because the veteran is in dire financial straits and is depending on a compensation benefit to save the day. The wolves are at the door, the car is being repossessed, the credit cards are maxed out and the vet needs the money right now. This is probably the worst reason to call as an inquiry may cause even more delays. Your folder could have been next in line to be distributed to the desk of a Ratings Veterans Service Representative (RSVR) and you caused it to be pulled out of its place in the line.

(7) Don’t ask advice from everyone you meet. Once you begin the journey to that compensation benefits award, you should soon develop a plan and stick to it. An integral part of the plan is where you’ll get guidance from. Have you decided to use a Veterans Service Officer who you trust?  Are you going to DIY? Are you in an appeal and you’ve signed some agreements with a lawyer? Whatever path you choose, stick to it. There is no one perfect answer to any of the thousands of questions that may come up during the course of your claim. Different people will have different experiences and those experiences will shape the way they will advise you to handle your claim. This happens in appeals too. The veteran speaks with a lawyer who agrees to take him as a client. Papers are signed and the lawyer begins the process by notifying VA of the new POA and requesting a copy of the folder. Six months pass and the veteran hasn’t heard anything so he calls the lawyer to discover the VARO only delivered the copied folder 2 weeks ago. The veteran once again starts looking for advice elsewhere and the result is always the same, the vet is lost, confused and unsure of what to do next. Changing representation in the middle of the process may be one of the worst actions a veteran can take unless there is a very good cause. That the claim is taking too long or the lawyer isn’t calling you every week to tell you nothing has happened isn’t good cause. You should only change your POA in a circumstance where you’ve discovered and can prove incompetence, your representative is on an extended leave or the representative dies. Even then, you will want to give a lot of thought to upsetting the flow of progress, as slow as it may be. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe that it’s better to allow the claim to proceed to a denial than to try to make a course correction during the process. When you make the decision to file a claim, give a lot of thought to how you’re going to proceed and choose your representative carefully. If you’ve done your homework up front, when you hit those bumps and delays that come with working with VA, you’ll remain confident that it’s just the routine and you’ll be happier for it.

(8) Prepare for the worst. Approach your claim as if it is already determined that you’ll lose and have a lengthy appeal. There are no reliable, precise statistics that allow us to predict which claims will be approved or the ones that are doomed to failure. We know that even when you submit a perfect claim with perfect evidence there’s a good chance that you will be tied up for a year or more and then receive a denial letter. When you get that denial, you’ll be stunned as you read along. In the required explanation from VA you’ll see that it’s almost as if not one single person actually read your evidence and/or they just ignored it all. The language they use might make you think that they’re speaking of someone else’s claim, not yours. You may read incomplete sentences, pages that don’t seem to connect from one to the next or the date on your letter may be days, weeks and even months previous to the day you get the documents. The truth is that it’s entirely possible that your complete folder was never examined for all the evidence. It’s possible that evidence you delivered wasn’t ever matched to your file. It’s not rare for papers from one file to be accidently included in another file and your denial may be based on a single page of a report from another veteran’s medical record. If you are already in need of the financial help that you deserve when you take that first step towards compensation, you must begin to develop your budget as if you aren’t ever going to see any help from the VA. I have met many vets who are suddenly unemployed or underemployed due to their service connected disability when they decide to file for a benefit. They hear from friends of the retroactive pay and that monthly deposit and the free medical care and they file and sit back and wait for it. It’s very unlikely that you’re going to find any sympathy for the knee injuries that you’ve asked for and been denied 3 years earlier. Even if your claim is valid and you’re unable to find work, unless you have a situation that is life threatening, you probably won’t see any help at all from VA. No matter what your situation, after you’ve completed your filing of the paperwork for your claim, you must then address your long term finances. You should involve your family in the discussion so that everyone understands that you’re facing a long road ahead. If you start the process knowing how you’ll pay bills each month until the point that you are awarded your deserved compensation, the time you wait will be less of a stress on you as well as your family.

(9) Read the fine print. Each time the VA writes to you you’ll find a page that applies to your claim and a number of pages of boilerplate instructions regarding your rights to appeal and other matters. Too many of us get to the part that reads, “We propose to reduce your benefits…”, or “Your claim for compensation is denied…”, or any one of a number of messages that we didn’t want to receive and we never read past that. The blood boils up in the brain, eyes cloud over and we get tunnel vision and we never see the instructions that can save us time and trouble. The fine print included with a VA letter is as good as it gets. Often enough it will detail why a particular action is taking place and once you understand that, you can correct the problem in short order. In a denial letter you may see that they didn’t consider an important piece of evidence that would have supported your claim and you have an instant reason to appeal. The most important detail you’ll find is that of timing. Your VA is obsessed with timing, yours, not their own. That fine print will tell you that if you wish to halt the apportionment of the money your ex is trying to withhold from your compensation, you must take certain actions within 30 days or 60 days. If you ‘timely’ reply you can request a personal hearing that can halt proceedings for months while VA makes room in the schedule for you. This can give you valuable time to gather evidence or get advice on how to fight a proposed negative action by VA. Reading those pages of legalese will provide the veteran with almost never-ending routes of appeals, hearings and opportunities to prevent decisions from going against us or to reverse decisions that aren’t favorable. Using the law to enforce your rights is smart. Getting smart beats getting angry every time.

(10) Get involved. You served your country. You wore the uniform, took the oath and you agreed that if ordered to do so, you would lay your life on the line for the principles we believe in. That isn’t enough. You aren’t done yet. When you were active duty, you could vote and that was about it. Now you’re a veteran and you have the knowledge and experience required to understand how our military forces need the support of the civilian leadership that control them. If you haven’t ever written to your elected representatives before, don’t embarrass yourself by thinking that they should jump up to help you when you have an issue with the VA. You Congressional representatives want to hear from you on an ongoing basis. Your Senators each have an easy, simple section on their web site for you to write them a note to let them know how you feel. Once each month, it may take all of 5 minutes of your busy schedule to write to say that you support some piece of legislation for veterans. If you do that on a regular basis, if you aren’t a ranter, and if you are contributing your thoughts to them even when you don’t need their help, they’ll pay more attention when veteran’s issues come before them. Today, the younger veterans need your wisdom, your guidance and the benefit of your experience. When you returned to the world in 1969, there were few people who were willing to offer you a hand up. If you haven’t lifted a finger to help our newest veterans but you have time to bitch and whine and cry about your own benefits, you need to reassess the situation you’re in. Giving your time to assisting these warriors will give you something to do while VA muddles around with your claim. You won’t get the sort of reward from the VA that you’ll discover helping a young veteran rebuild a life.

(11) Learn how to use your computer.  If you’re reading this, the odds are you’re reading it on a computer. It’s often said that filing an application for disability compensation isn’t a spectator sport. It’s time for you to get in the game. How can a person who manages to log on and use email not know about that phenomenon known as the Google search engine? The Internet is as amazing an invention as the wheel or sliced bread. To have Internet access is something most of us couldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams as we entered our military service. Today’s soldier can’t recall a world without the Internet. If we take it in it’s simplest terms, the Internet is nothing more than a library that houses information. We all access the same Internet. It doesn’t matter if your portal is AOL or Bellsouth or Comcast, those are just doors that open to allow you access. Once you step through the door your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has for you, you are surfing along the same “Information Superhighway” as everyone else. Once you’ve arrived on the Internet, the “library” is full of billions and billions of pages of information. That information is piped up into the Internet from other computers, called servers, from colleges and governments and private citizens and even businesses that want to sell things to you. If you want to see what they have to offer, you have to be able to arrive at their Internet address and then view the information they provide. To get to a specific place or find specific information on the Internet requires that you know the exact address of the place you’re looking for. If you don’t know where you’re going, how on earth can you find your way among those billions of addresses? Thankfully, that was made easier for you years ago by the development of the “Search Engine”. The first Internet search engine came about 1993 and has quickly evolved into today’s Google. While there are plenty of competitors around, many consider that the Google engine is the best available. How do you use it? Simple. If the Google search bar isn’t already a fixture on the landscape of the web page you’re looking at, go to the address bar of your browser and type in http://www.google.com and you’re ready to search. Bingo, you’re on a page that shows you the results of the search by the engine. It may tell you that it found hundreds of thousands of “hits” of pages that are relevant to your query. The engine, being as smart as it is, has listed them in the order it thinks you’ll want to see them. You’ll see the main page of the DVA site (http://www.va.gov) and also the main page of the VBA site (http://www.vba.va.gov) Congratulations! You’ve just learned how to use a search engine. You entered a “search term” and then directed the engine to find a likely page of information for you. Once at the DVA web site you’ll see links to almost everything the DVA has available. A “link” is a word, phrase or symbol that you may click on that will take you to another place on the Internet or within the pages of the site you’re on. To find the facts about dependents benefits is easy once you’re on the VA site. Look around, you’ll see links to benefits, from there links to dependent’s benefits and so on. I recommend the DVA web site as a first stop for almost everything you need to know about the VA. The site is massive and it can be complex but with a little time, you’ll soon discover all you ever wanted to know about VA.

(12) Retrieve and then organize your own documents and evidence. The VA has a duty to assist you. The obligation to help you includes a reasonable effort to track down records and to notify you of your rights. The word you want to pay attention to is “reasonable”. If 10 years have passed since you were treated at the infamous Our Lady of Pain and Suffering Medical Center, located in beautiful Dog’s Breath, Georgia and you want those records, you better work on getting them yourself. That VSR may fire off a letter in the direction of that hospital and include a copy of your release but there is never any guarantee they’re going to respond. He may even try again. After that, it’s your problem, not his. Many hospitals today have medical records outsourced to a vendor in another city and state. If the VA writes to the hospital asking for your records they may get a message to contact the vendor. In turn, that vendor may require a stiff fee to research and copy records, and yes, they can do that. The vendor may require a photocopy of your driver’s license or other identification for security. Their rules may require all of that and then they must send the records back to the hospital where the hospital releases them to you or the VA. Upon encountering those kinds of barriers, the VSR at your VARO will note his attempts and move on, only without your important records. If you were treated by a handful of different physicians over the years, practices may have changed hands, doctors may have moved on. If you were treated by Dr. Quackenstein 12 years ago and his notes will prove your disability, you’ve got problems if he gave up medicine and is now a back-up singer in an unheard of band. Your file may be in storage, it could be that the entire practice moved to another building or that the practice, including your chart, was sold to another group of doctors. The VSR may send a letter and might even make a phone call on your behalf. If that isn’t productive, he’ll move on. In the circumstances above, had you taken the initiative yourself, you may have been able to track down your record. Yes, it may have taken you 30 phone calls and days of frustration but if you are persistent and you find the right person, the one with the keys to the storage facility, you may get that single piece of paper that wins your case.

(13) You’re not in the military anymore.You no longer have to accept answers you get as if it was handed down from authority and, or through the chain of command. Question everything. If the answer or decision is not favorable to you, disagree with it. Our government’s agencies do not always get things right, do not have your best interests in mind, and will not always tell you everything you need to know. If you think your claim has merit, and your belief is based on facts, law, and evidence directly on point to your claim, then appeal and persevere. Do not shrug your shoulders, give up, and think the VA must know better and, or must be right. They make wrong/bad decisions all the time; hence, the incredible backlog that exists in the VBA claims process today.

Read this disclaimer: The above information is provided to you to describe general processes and procedures that occur during the application for disability compensation and pension and other benefits within the Department of Veterans Affairs System. You are not being provided with any legal advice. Any information provided here is not intended as and should not be construed as legal advice. The DVA laws and regulations are subject to change. I cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any of the information provided, or any results or outcome as a result of the use of this information.

Uphill Battles & Gaining The High Ground

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Many of you have been around here long enough to know I’m a disabled United States Air Force (AF) veteran who has been in an uphill battle with the Veterans Administration (VA) since the day I got out of the AF. I’ve asked why it must be a battle to receive veterans disability benefits, I’ve asked why there must be so much red tape, and repeatedly I find myself with the same damn answer, because this is the way it is, just accept it. Well, I’ve called bullshit, and that answer is not only un-acceptable to me and shouldn’t be acceptable to any living breathing veteran on the face of the planet. The word needs to get out, we need to share what we know with everyone, the more information we are armed with can mean the difference of one’s success or failure with the VA. So, here’s my personal challenge to all of you, veteran or not, disabled veteran or not, family members, friends, and co-workers, share this post on your web page, your blog, Facebook, Google+, and so forth. This following information will help you whether you want to file a claim or you wish to re-open an existing claim. But this information needs to get out there, the word must be spread. I won’t mention her name here, she knows who she is, who she is to me, but she knows first hand the battle veterans fight in the VA system, whether it be on the medical side or the claim side of the VA. We have spoke extensively and I want to be the one that gives something back to my fellow veterans. She has been an inspiration to me to keep my head held high and keep fighting. I owe her a debt of gratitude for lending me an ear and being a dear friend. So, again, the more this information is shared with everyone the better.

There is information within the walls of the VA which is very important to each and every veteran. I’ve spent many years just taking the VA’s word for it about my personal disability claim, but I’m done with that nonsense, real done with it, everyone who is a veteran needs to come to the very moment I did, and just flat say that enough is enough, its time to get to higher ground, its time to win my battle and claim the high ground. I didn’t do this alone, I’ve had help along the way, I’d love to mention each person out but I would rather thank all of them in mass for they each helped me in their own particular way or supported me when I thought it wasn’t worth fighting for any more. But why do we need to fight? Why can’t the process be easier? I’ll tell you why, it has the appearance that the VA makes the process of filing a claim overly complex and hard simply to discourage veterans from filing a claim. When, in reality, it should be just the opposite, our Veterans Administration should be helping us, not fighting us at every turn, they should want to be there for us as we have been there for them. But, we all know it to be very different, a scenario that resembles a battle plan with contingencies to set in play for the setbacks. Again, we must be prepared, we must be three steps ahead, we must have a hand in the grand scheme, and the only way to win any battle is to be well informed.

I have read many blogs, web sites, forums, reviews, papers, and government documents than one single man should ever have to endure. I’m no lawyer, not by any means, and this post will only point out your legal rights as a veteran, but in no way constitute any form of legal council. And, for the purpose of the contents of this post I offer you my disclaimer. The information you obtain on this blog or this post specifically is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney or advocate for advice regarding your individual veterans claim situation. This blog post is intended for informational purposes only. Got it? Great, lets move on then, there is much to cover. The following information has been researched by me personally, shared with me personally, all for the purpose of being better prepared to do battle with the VA. With that being said, I’ve collected quite a stack of useful information. Today we will talk mostly about a veterans “C” file or claims file, it’s contents, and why the information might be the single most important resource a veteran can have.

What is in a C-file? When I casually say everything about you, I truly mean it. For simplicity purposes, let’s separate the contents of a C-file into 11 different categories so each one of them can be examined. Your claims file is being reviewed by the VA to evaluate your case, it is your legal right to have a copy so each party has the same information. See what is missing, see what is being overlooked, and provide yourself with ammunition to fight back, you need a page by page copy of your entire claims file, without it you have already lost your battle.

Miscellaneous: Basic information can be found here like birth certificates, employment information, and more.

Military Administration: This area pertains to everything from your discharge to your awards and personal records.

Compensation and Pension Exams: Any records pertaining to your C&P Exams.

VA Medical Records: Record for any occasion in which you have sought treatment at any VA facility.

Private Medical Records: Any medical records from non-VA facilities, or from your active duty period.

Military Medical Records: Any medical records from your time in service.

Entrance and Separation exams: These exams are performed when an individual enters and when they exit the military.

Ratings Decisions and Statements of the Case: This section is rather large and will contain your application for benefits, appeals, decisions, statements of the case, and so much more.

Statements in Support of Claim: Any statements or questionnaires that you may fill out will be located here.

Transcripts:  This simply pertains to transcripts from hearings.

Transcripts: Any applications, decisions, and records pertaining to Social Security.

The claims file is kind of like the lifeblood of your case. A C-file is something that every Veteran has once a claim is filed with the VA. Some C-files are small, and others contain more 7000 pages, but no two files are the same. Unfortunately claims files are not currently electronic, and they arrive from the VA unsorted. One of the first things to do when your claims file arrives is sort it into the eleven categories above. Those eleven categories contain all of the essential information about your case. So, how does one obtain a C-file? That part, unlike the review, is simple. All you really have to do is ask for it from the VA. Remember, the word simple with the VA is a relative term. As I mentioned earlier, the files are not electronic. They are paper.  As they are paper, they are stored in filing cabinets. Further, depending upon when you served, where your case is in the process, and which Regional Office is handling your claim, the file may be in multiple locations. Because of this, it takes time to get your file together.  Also, it is important to note that only one copy of your file is free. If you request additional copies you will be charged. I recommend, if you have the technology, scan it all, scan everything, make that digital copy for your records, store it on a thumb-drive and/or burn it onto a DVD or CD. Saying that your claims file is important to your VA Disability claim is an understatement. Honestly, the records found within the claims file really determine your eligibility.

I mentioned above that a veteran just needs to ask for his/her claims file, below is an example of what I used.

———————————–

(Date)

Privacy Act Department

Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office

6900 Almeda Road

Houston, TX 77030

Re: (Veterans Name) Claims Folder FOIA Request

(Social Security Number or Claim Number or Case Number)

Dear Staff:

I hereby request a copy of all documents contained in (Veterans Name) claims folder, including, but not limited to, all documents in the right flap, left flap, and center flap, and the reverse side of any documents with writing on both sides.

Please note that this request for documents is being made pursuant to the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552a, as well as 38 C.F.R.§1.550 and 38 C.F.R.  § 1.577.  Your agency has a duty to respond to this request within TWENTY (20) DAYS of the date of this request pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552 (a)(6)(A)(2)(i).

Additionally, although an extension of time to respond may be requested, it may only be granted for “unusual circumstances.” “Predictable agency workload” is not typically considered an unusual circumstance as stated in 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(C)(ii).   Moreover, even to the extent that unusual circumstances could be demonstrated in this instance, the time limit for the extension is limited to “10 working days” pursuant to 38 C.F.R.§ 1.553(d).

Please also be aware that your agency’s failure to respond to this request within twenty (20) days may result in the filing of an administrative appeal with the office of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs pursuant to 38 C.F.R.§ 1.557 and 5 U.S.C. §552(a)(6)(A)(2)(ii), and potentially, the filing of a federal lawsuit to compel the production of the information.

This may subject your agency to contempt of court and a fine, including attorney fees and litigation expenses in compelling the production of this information pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(l) of the Privacy Act, and 38 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B) of FOIA. Thank you.

(Veterans Name)

(Veterans Signature)

(Veterans Contact Info)

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Hand write the request, type it out, print it, be sure to sign it, put it into an envelope and send it. But, wait, be sure to send it certified mail requiring a signature. Why? You will be notified of the date, time, and person signing for the letter. Why is this important? Their time to reply starts on the date signed. Remember its business days, excluding weekends and federal holidays. Once you get a copy of your claims file, categorize it, read it, get to know it frontwards and backwards, then use the information to better prepare your initial claim or to help you re-open your claim. Personally, I’m in the information collection phase of my battle, soon I will soon be finished preparing my package to be submitted to the VA. I will continue to update this blog with my progress and/or road blocks. Remember, the more this information is shared with fellow veterans, family members of veterans, co-workers of veterans, and so forth, the better we, as veterans, can better prepare. If the playing field is level then the veteran once again has a fighting chance. The resources are out there, the information is out there, and the almighty answers are all out there, find it all and live a better life.

What is Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)?

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What is Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD)?

  • What “Internet addiction disorder” (IAD) is still difficult to define at this time.  Much of the original research was based upon the weakest type of research methodology,  namely exploratory surveys with no clear hypothesis or rationale backing them. Coming  from an a theoretical approach has some benefits, but also is not typically recognized  as being a strong way to approach a new disorder. More recent research has expanded  upon the original surveys and anecdotal case study reports. However, as I will illustrate  below later, even these studies don’t support the conclusions the authors claim.
  • The original research into this disorder began with   exploratory surveys, which cannot establish causal relationships between specific behaviors and their cause. While surveys can help establish descriptions of how people feel about themselves and their behaviors, they cannot draw conclusions about whether a specific technology, such as the Internet, has actually caused those behaviors. Those conclusions that are drawn are purely speculative and subjective  made by the researchers themselves. Researchers have a name for this logical fallacy,  ignoring a common cause. It’s one of the oldest fallacies in science, and one still regularly perpetrated in  psychological research today.
  • Do some people have problems with spending too much time online? Sure they do. Some people also spend too much time reading, watching television, and working, and ignore family, friendships, and social activities. But do we have TV addiction disorder, book addiction, and work addiction being suggested as legitimate mental disorders in the same category as schizophrenia and depression? I think not. It’s the tendency of some mental health professionals and researchers to want to label everything they see as potentially harmful with a new diagnostic category. Unfortunately, this causes more harm than it helps people. (The road to “discovering” IAD is filled with many logical fallacies, not the least of which is the confusion between cause and effect.)
  • What most people online who think they are addicted are probably suffering from is the desire to not want to deal with other problems in their lives. Those problems may be a mental disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.), a serious health problem or disability, or a relationship problem. It is no different than turning on the TV so you won’t have to talk to your spouse, or going “out with the boys” for a few drinks so you don’t have to spend time at home. Nothing is different except the modality.
  • What some very few people who spend time online  without any other problems present may suffer from is compulsive over-use. Compulsive behaviors, however, are already covered by existing diagnostic categories and treatment would be similar. It’s not the technology (whether it be the Internet, a book, the telephone, or the television) that is important or addicting — it’s the behavior. And behaviors are easily treatable by traditional cognitive-behavior techniques in psychotherapy.
  • Case studies, the alternative to surveys used for many conclusions drawn about online overuse, are just as problematic. How can we really draw any reasonable conclusions about millions of people online based upon one or two case studies? Yet media stories, and some researchers, covering this issue usually use a case study to help “illustrate” the problem. All a case study does is influence our emotional reactions to the issue; it does nothing to help us further understand the actual problem and the many potential explanations for it. Case studies on an issue like this are usually a red flag that help frame the issue in an emotional light, leaving hard, scientific data out of the picture. It is a common diversionary tactic.

Why Does the Research Leave Something to Be Desired?

  • Well, the obvious answer is that many of the original researchers into the phenomenon known as IAD were actually clinicians who decided to conduct a survey. Usually doctoral training is sufficient to create and test a survey, yet the psychometric properties of these surveys are never released. (Perhaps because they were never conducted in the first place? We simply do not know.)
  • The obvious confounds are never controlled for in most of these surveys. Questions about pre-existing or a history of mental disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety), health problems or disabilities, or relationship problems are absent from these surveys. Since this is one of the most obvious alternative explanations for some of the data being obtained (for example, see Storm King’s article, Is the Internet  Addictive, or Are Addicts Using the Internet? below), it is very surprising these questions are left off. It taints all the data and make the data virtually useless.
  • Other factors are simply not controlled for. The current Internet population is nearly 50/50 in terms of proportion of men to women. Yet people are still drawing conclusions about this same group of people based upon survey samples that have 70-80% men, comprised mostly of  white Americans. Researchers barely mention these discrepancies, all of which will again skew the results.
  • Research done in a particular area should also agree about certain very basic things after a time. Years have gone by and there are more than a few studies out there looking at Internet addiction. Yet none of them agree on a single definition for this problem, and all of them vary widely in their reported results of how much time an “addict” spends online. If they can’t even get these basics down, it is not surprising the research quality still suffers.
  • More research has been done since the original surveys were released in 1996. This newer research has been conducted by more independent researchers with clearer hypotheses and stronger, less biased population sets.  More about these studies will be discussed in updates to this article.

Where Did It Come From?

  • Good question. It came from, believe it or not, the criteria for pathological gambling, a single, anti-social behavior that has very little social redeeming value. Researchers in this area believe they can simply copy this criteria and apply it to the hundreds of behaviors carried out everyday on the Internet, a largely pro-social, interactive, and information-driven medium. Do these two dissimilar areas have much in common beyond their face value? I don’t see it.
  • I don’t know of any other disorder currently being researched where the researchers, showing all the originality of a trash romance novel writer, simply “borrowed” the diagnostic symptom criteria for an unrelated disorder, made a few changes, and declared the existence of a new disorder. If this sounds absurd, it’s because it is.
  • And this speaks to the larger problem these researchers grapple with… Most have no theory driving their assumptions (see Walther, 1999 for a further discussion of this issue). They see a client in pain (and in fact, I’ve sat in many presentations by these clinicians where they start it off with just such an example), and figure, “Hey, the Internet caused this pain. I’m going to go out and study what makes this possible on the Internet.” There’s no theory (well, sometimes there’s theory after-the-fact), and while some quasi-theoretical explanations are slowly emerging, it is putting the chicken far before the egg.

Do You Spend Too Much Time Online?

  • In relation to what or whom? Time alone cannot be an indicator of being addicted or engaging in compulsive behavior. Time must be taken in context with other factors, such as whether you’re a college student (who, as a whole, proportionally spend a greater amount of time online), whether it’s a part of your job, whether you have any pre-existing conditions (such as another mental disorder; a person with depression is more likely to spend more time online than someone who doesn’t, for instance, often in a virtual support group environment), whether you have problems or issues in your life which may be causing you to spend more time online (e.g., using it to “get away” from life’s problems, a bad marriage, difficult social relations), etc.  So talking about whether you spend too much time online without this important context is useless.

What Makes the Internet So Addictive?

  • Well, as I have shown above, the research is exploratory at this time, so suppositions such as what makes the Internet so “addictive” are no better than guesses.  Since other researchers online have made their guesses known, here are mine.
  • Since the aspects of the Internet where people are spending the greatest amount of time online have to do with social interactions, it would appear that socialization is what makes the Internet so “addicting.” That’s right — plain old hanging out with other people and talking with them. Whether it’s via e-mail, a discussion forum, chat, or a game online (such as a MUD), people are spending this time exchanging information, support, and chit-chat with other people like themselves.
  • Would we ever characterize any time spent in the real world with friends as “addicting?” Of course not. Teenagers talk on the phone for hours on end, with people they see everyday! Do we say they are addicted to the telephone? Of course not. People lose hours at a time, immersed in a book, ignoring friends and family, and often not even picking up the phone when it rings. Do we say they are addicted to the book? Of course not. If some clinicians and researchers are now going to start defining addiction as social interactions, then every real-world social relationship I have is an addictive one.
  • Socializing — talking — is a very “addictive” behavior, if one applies the same criteria to it as researchers looking at Internet addiction do. Does the fact that we’re now socializing with the help of some technology (can you say, “telephone”?) change the basic process of socialization? Perhaps, a bit. But not so significantly as to warrant a disorder. Checking e-mail, as Greenfield claims, is not the same as pulling a slot-machine’s handle. One is social seeking behavior, the other is reward seeking behavior. They are two very different things, as any behaviorist will tell you. It’s too bad the researchers can’t make this differentiation, because it shows a significant lack of understanding of basic behavioral theory.

What Do I Do If I Think I Have It?

  • First, don’t panic. Second, just because there is a debate about the validity of this diagnostic category amongst professionals doesn’t mean there isn’t help for it. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, help is readily available for this problem without needing to create all this hoopla about a new diagnosis.
  • If you have a life problem, or are grappling with a disorder such as depression, seek professional treatment for it. Once you admit and address the problem, other pieces of your life will fall back into place.
  • Psychologists have studied compulsive behaviors and their treatments for years now, and nearly any well-trained mental health professional will be able to help you learn to slowly curve the time spent online, and address the problems or concerns in your life that may have contributed to your online overuse, or were caused by it. No need for a specialist or an online support group.

In Conclusion…………………………….

This information was forwarded to me by my daughter who is a double Bachelors in Engineering candidate attending college as we speak. One of her elective classes offered a free writing essay for their final exam grade. A grade with is 65% of their overall grade. My daughter chose to write about the theory of Internet Addiction and chose this article by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. as her launching point for her research. Why did she send me this article to read? Probably because I tell her that she spends too damn much time on the internet and the fact the we talk about disabilities every once in a while because there is so much bullshit out there called a disability. I believe this is my daughter’s attempt to humor me, she didn’t say exactly. Funny enough is the fact that she sent it to me but I had sent her the picture below just a few days ago because eventhough she has unlimited data usage on her cell phone plan, she is always taking “Free Wi-Fi ” into consideration when heading out.

What do you, the reader on the internet right now, think about studying internet addiction?

IMG_47905032173627

Is being an alcoholic a disability?

Did y’all know that being an alcoholic is a “disability” which is both covered and protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act? Included in this post will be, but not limited to, information, links, and my opinions on this little factoid. When did being an alcoholic become a disability? When did being an alcoholic become a disease? I have news for y’all, being an alcoholic is neither a disability or disease. For example, one can quit drinking, but one can not quit having MS or CF. I found that reading at the Americans with Disabilities Act website that the definitions of terms are very screwed up. In fact, I challenge y’all to to look up four words, for fun of course, and then review how they are applied in the Americans with Disabilities Act. The four words are Disability, Disease, Alcoholic, and Addiction. Meanwhile, let me continue. Consuming alcohol is a choice a person makes. Stopping the consumption of alcohol is as well a choice.

 
This seems to be a very blurred subject when it comes to employment, benifits, and a person living their life. Unfortunately, as we see everyday, we tend to pay for the mistakes made by people making bad choices. Alcoholism is an addiction, it is a choice, it is a matter of a person’s will power, and that doesn’t make it a disability or disease. Makes no sense to me that an alcolholic is considered sick, he/she is not sick, he/she has an addiction to alcohol. Let me give you an example taken from the ADA questions and answers page. Click the “ADA” for an entire list of questions and answers.
 
Q. Are alcoholics covered by the ADA?
A. Yes. While a current illegal user of drugs is not protected by the ADA if an employer acts on the basis of such use,a person who currently uses alcohol is not automatically denied protection. An alcoholic is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA if s/he is qualified to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer may be required to provide an accommodation to an alcoholic. However,an employer can discipline,discharge or deny employment to an alcoholic whose use of alcohol adversely affects job performance or conduct. An employer also may prohibit the use of alcohol in the workplace and can require that employees not be under the influence of alcohol.

I tend to look at the choices we make in life as being similar to choices we would make while playing a game of chess. Each move in chess is a choice, each choice has a consequence, and in turn each time we make a choice, good or bad, we have determined what the outcome will be in advance. The non-chess players are now scratching their head. Just in case one or all of y’all are curious to what brought this up with me today, let me take a minute to explain. I was listening to the radio and one of the commercials boasted information in reference to lawsuits based on the discrimination of alcoholics in the workplace, either being hired or grounds for dismissal. The advertisement went on to explain it was in violation of the ADA and that lawfirm was there to help. Needless to say, it pissed me off just a tad. It pissed me off enough to do some research on my own.

In case you are wondering, yes I do have family members and friends who are “classified” as alcoholics. I have had the exact same conversation with them as well, I have explained to them they do not have a disease, they have an addiction. I can’t say much about a person’s addictions, I have my own since I make the choice every day to light just one more cigarette. Maybe they should make smoking a “disease” and then I wont have to go out in the rain to smoke. Seriously. Speaking of which, I am being very serious here, I am not making light of someone being an alcoholic. Trust me when I say I fought my own demons of self control not too many years ago. I used to be a heavy drinker, even could be considered an alcoholic, and one day I made a choice. My choice? My choice was to stop drinking. Why? Because I was tired of waking up sick every morning. I was tired of throwing money into the bottle. I was done. Hence, I wanted to quit. Therefore, I made the choice to quit and uphold my decision. Yes I know, what happens with one person is not the blanket answer to everyone’s problems. But, I do know, that making the choice to stop drinking is still just that, its a choice.

 

You People Need To Lighten Up

Originally Published To: Hate Mail on 10 April 2013

Here we are once again. I have been neglecting my duties by not sharing more often. But, I won’t promise anything, but I will try to keep up and post as I get 2 or 3. Today I am going to do a combination post from messages, e-mails, and comments I have received in reference to three specific posts, Is Being An Alcoholic A Disability, Bigfoot, God, And Ghosts, and What Has The World Come To. I can’t even begin to tell y’all how surprised I have been that so many have become so bent out of shape. Makes me think that is why I write. Perhaps I need to add that to my mission statement. I have always stated that I am here to lay out my opinions on many things. I choose not to try to cater to one group or another. Love me, hate, it doesn’t matter because blogging isn’t paying my bills so I don’t believe that I need to kiss any ass of suck up to anyone in particular. As I mentioned, this is going to be a collective of messages, comments, and e-mails received on these two posts. I will quote some things, but if you have been paying attention I usually remove all the comments that refer to me as a “pagan devil worshipper” since it really doesn’t add anything that other people want to read. So, I do my job as babysitter to other people’s children and make the appropriate edits. But wait, they don’t actually ever disappear, I collect them and add them to, what I consider, to the greatest collection of crap known to mankind.

Shortly after my posting about Bigfoot the stupid shit really started pouring in. I was told that Bigfoot was an urban legend, ghosts were myths, and God is very real. I was bombarded with so much biblical mumbo jumbo that it almost made my head explode. Well, even after the sermons, I still don’t see any proof that God exists, therefore, in my opinion, God ranks right up there with everything else that cannot have it’s existence proven to mankind. Next thing I got was questions asking me why I left out everything about Aliens since they rank pretty high on the myth and legend scale. I took a fair amount of heat from a fair amount of people about leaving them out. Well, ok, I did leave them out, and it was on purpose, because if I would have added commentary about Aliens then the post would have become grossly boring and long winded. Plus, it wasn’t even what I was thinking about, it never entered my mind until I was almost done writing the post. I did give it thought at that time because it too is one of those great unsolved mysteries. Hell, why not add in the Bermuda Triangle while I am at it. My point is simple, people believe in many things, I am not here to say a person’s opinion is inaccurate, I just ask that if you wish for my support just give me something to actually support. True, I do ask allot of questions about God’s existence and the purpose of believing in something nobody has ever seen. I will continue to do so until God is knocking at my door waiting to be invited to eat some of my Diablo Scorpion Chili. Until then, everything about God is just another fairytale. By the way, if it actually matters, I am not a devil worshipper. People take their religion way to serious, it almost seems they don’t leave time to actually live their life, and that is very, very sad. I don’t hate Christians and God, I just think the entire idea is a bit silly. Who would have ever thought idol worship was still alive and strong. There is no reason to be wound so tight. But hey, I think I will always get flack for not believing in God, and I am ok with that since I made my choice while standing by my choice. You God fearing people really have a mean streak.

 

The second part of this post will be about how people want to split hairs with me about someone being an alcoholic and in their opinion it is a disability. Perhaps we just look at what a disability actually means in different light. I am a firm believer that being an alcoholic was a choice that person made. The alcoholic isn’t disabled, the alcoholic is addicted. In my post I explained my own struggles, those were dismissed because people wanted to disagree with me. It would appear that those same people didn’t want to look up the words so they would know the definitions and they wanted to feed me the same old garbage about it being a disease. I will give them one simple thing, drinking indeed causes medical problems and even some diseases, but being an alcoholic is not the disease, just a contributer.I find it amazing how childish people act when there is a differing opinion than what they see in mainstream media. I am not here to enable any jackass that thinks making poor choices in life mysteriously makes him/her having a disability. Let me give you an example of disabled, it is my personal situation. I was retired from the United States Air Force as a 100% disabled vet. Want to know what that means, look it up. In fact, I know some of y’all are a bit lazy, so I will provide the following link for the VA and you can look it up. Also, you can look at the 2013 Veterans Compensation Benefits Rates Table for more info. Make sure you look at the very bottom of the table at the last entry and remember I am a veteran with a spouse, two children at home, and one in college. So, do you think I need to work to fill my financial needs? (see snippet below)  Now, legally, as per my DD214, I am not eligible for employment in the United States. However, I was provided with a waiver because I didn’t want to sit at home on my ass living off the gov’t cheese for the rest of my life. Add to that knee replacement a few years ago, yet I still get my ass up every day and go to work. Why? Because I made the choice not to use it as an excuse. Which is what we do in life, we make choices, good and bad. I don’t look for pity and I don’t expect shit to be handled to me either. I do, however, wish that people would own up to their choices so there doesn’t have to be laws protecting them for making poor choices. Do I take this a little personal? Yes, because I know the difference between being truly disabled and and being an alcoholic with an addiction.

The third part of this post will be about how offended the non-meat-eaters became with me because of my opinions and how I painted being a non-meat eater in my post. Let me just throw this down for all of you, I eat meat, I enjoy eating meat, I enjoy cooking meat, and meat makes me very happy. If that offends any of you then you really need to get over yourself. A non-meat eater’s way of life isn’t wrong for that person, its just wrong for me. One of the fabulous messages had stated that she can’t wait for karma to catch up with me and won’t it be a bitch if one day I am forced to eat in the vegan lifestyle. I gave this some thought, and yes, it would be a bitch because I am not sure I could do it. I cannot predict the future, but from what I can see in my crystal ball I don’t see meat not being in my life any time soon. I mentioned I am not knocking the vegan lifestyle, that, however, does not mean I can not talk about what I don’t personally like about vegan foods. Personally I wish all the vegans and non-meat eaters all the best in life, I mean that.

Finally, always try to keep in mind that sightings of Bigfoot can be faked, sightings of Ghosts can be faked, believing in God, Unicorns, and Aliens can also be faked, but you can never fake the almighty and grand steak.