Thursday, July 25, 2024

THE VETERANS' PRESS: The high cost of waiting or not applying for your earned disability benefits

When we solemnly swore our oath in supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States, we didn’t have in our heads the idea that existed the potential to leave military service with fewer abilities had we not entered military service at all.

Imagine that a carbon copy of yourself was created right when you signed those enlistment papers. Fast forward to your military exit. Compare yourself to your military self to that carbon copy that did not enter military service at all. What are the differences? Perhaps there is a physical difference, such as a paratrooper may have a bum knee and back spasms from all the voluntary leaps from perfectly good airplanes. Perhaps there is something invisible, such as witnessing the hell of combat that interrupts the military self — perhaps resulting in avoiding things, no escape from intrusive memories or even re-living those experiences — we can’t necessarily ‘see’ the difference from our carbon copy, but internally there is certainly something changed.

It is these differences that the VA disability compensation system was designed for. It’s in the VA motto, a quote from President Lincoln: “To care for him (her) who shall have borne the battle and for his (her) widow (widower), and his (her) orphan.” (Emphasis rightly added for my Women Warriors!)

It breaks my heart to hear a brother or sister in arms tell me that they won’t apply for a service connection because they feel like they are taking something away from another veteran. “They deserve it more than I do.” No vet is getting anything taken away from them when another vet applies. It simply doesn’t work that way!

I bugged a veteran buddy over the course of three years to apply for service connection from the OIF burn pits he was exposed to, who always said that “some other vet needed it more than him.” Three years of bugging him, he finally applied. Three months later he was 100% service connected disabled — he could hardly breath — the burn pits had a major impact on his health.

This is what I told him that helped him change his perspective:

If you leased a car from a dealership, you will have made an agreement on the maximum number of miles driven and if you got a ding in the car, you’ll have to fix it before it’s returned. If you return it with unrepaired damages and/or more miles than agreed upon, you are going to have to pay extra. Our enlistment contract compares to this lease example. Uncle Sam leased our minds and our bodies in exchange for a signed blank check, payable for up to our mortal life. Just like returning that leased auto to the dealer, if we leave service with dings, cracked headlights and more miles used — guess what, our Uncle will compensate for that! The problem is our Uncle won’t just pay it — we have to apply for it — you have to apply for a service connected disability.

We calculated that because my buddy waited those three years, he lost more than $70,000 in compensation that will never be paid back to him. Every month a member waits from filing is a month of compensation they’ll never get back! Don’t wait, apply now!

It further breaks my heart when I encounter a vet whose home is being foreclosed on them and their family because of the cost of their medical treatments, such as cancer. Like a cancer that has been directly connected to exposure to Agent Orange and had that vet applied for a service connection, not only would those medical bills been covered, they would’ve been able to keep their home. Additionally if that service member clocks out in life because of that cancer, I can sleep at night because I know their spouse and their dependents will be taken care of as they’ll continue to receive survivor benefits. That part is really important to me — if my death is related to an injury or disease associated with my service — I need my family to be able to sustain themselves after I’m gone. The service connection disability I applied for and was awarded was essentially all for my family.

VA disability compensation is a tax-free benefit paid to a veteran because of injuries or diseases that happened while on active duty, or were made worse by active military service. All recognized service connected disabilities will all be fully covered medically for the rest of the vet’s life, followed by a plethora of additional benefits that can’t even be enacted until a service claim is made.

I urge my vet readers (and their support systems) to meditate for a moment on the idea of that carbon copy self on the day they exited military service. What is different? Is it still impacting you today? Has it gotten worse? Meet with a service officer to discuss these differences — service officers are available to you and your family at no cost; you don’t have to be a member of their organization, nor is there pressure for you to join their organization. It’s a very low risk conversation with a service officer who took the exact same oath as you did upon entering service. They’ll understand and recognize if your experiences will qualify, it is incredibly valuable to have that talk!