The Service Connection - July 2016, Veterans' Law Newsletter

Veterans’ Law Newsletter

Issue 1 – July 2016

Acquired Psychiatric Conditions

By Jerusha Hancock

While post-traumatic stress disorder gets a lot of attention when it comes to veterans, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Sometimes, a veteran’s symptoms don’t match the requirements for a clinical diagnosis of PTSD but will match another diagnosis. If you don’t have PTSD, you can still receive VA disability benefits and treatment for your mental health condition.

The first way to establish service connection for your mental health problem is to prove that you started having symptoms while you were still in service. If you sought counseling or spoke with a chaplain, it’s a good idea to locate a record of it. Buddy statements from friends and family members who noticed that you were struggling will also help. If your performance and evaluations took a turn for the worse, that can also help show that you were struggling with a mental health condition.

Service connection may also be granted if your mental health condition manifests within a year of getting out of service, and is considered at least 10 percent disabling. What that means is that if you are diagnosed with something like bipolar disorder or depression within a year of being discharged, even mild symptoms may be enough for service connection. If you’ve just recently left service and you’re struggling with pain or illness, it’s very important to seek professional help. And if more than a year has passed, buddy statements can again be very important to establish that you had a mental health condition, as well as the severity of the symptoms.

Finally, you can get service connection for a mental health condition that is secondary to your service-connected disabilities. For example, people who are in constant pain often experience depression. People who have a potentially life-threatening injury with its residuals may experience anxiety or panic attacks. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition due to your service-connected disabilities, consider seeking service-connection for your mental health condition as well.

If you have any questions about applying for benefits, or believe that you are entitled to benefits you’re not receiving, please contact us.

Traveling Vietnam in Style

By John Stevens Berry

I arrived at Fire Point St. Barbara, in Tay Ninh Province for the purpose of acting as defense counsel in an Article 32 hearing. The necessary personnel, including witnesses, were late so I decided to try to make myself useful. The main function of Fire Point St. Barbara seemed to be lobbing artillery up against Nui Ba Dinh, a wooded volcanic plug known as the Black Virgin Mountain. We owned the top of the plug, where we had a Signals Unit. The VC owned the mountain and its numerous caves. We were banging against the side of the mountain on a regular basis.

As always happens, wherever the Army can get bullets, they can also get a typewriter! I chased down the clerk typist, and arranged to have a sign made that the lawyer was in town. Although my function there was in criminal defense, I could not pass up the opportunity of providing legal service to the unit while I was there. A long line formed. There were Wills to be written, there were Powers of Attorney to be drawn, there were strongly-worded letters to be written to civilian counsel, advising that the soldier in question would not be waiving his rights under the Soldiers’ And Sailors’ Civil Relief Act. In other words, civilian courts back in the World had no jurisdiction to do anything to these guys until they were back and able to defend themselves and their rights.

The day wore on, I remember a First Cav slick landing long enough to drop off ammo and pick up body bags. Finally, we had our hearing. By then it was late and I wanted to get back to IIFFV for a scheduled rabies shot. I caught a slick to Tay Ninh and then was trying to get another back to Hotel Three in Saigon, where I would catch another to Red Carpet at IIFFV.

Unfortunately, there was intelligence that we were going to get hit that night, so a lot of people were finding excuses to leave and I was having trouble getting on a ship. Then I noticed a small airplane. I had nothing to lose, so I walked over. Sitting on it was a single Air Force Colonel. He told me he was being flown into Saigon to attend a birthday party and that I would be welcome to join in. Of course I was delighted to get a ride into Saigon, knowing that I would be able to hitch a ride “home”.

I have had many occasions to be grateful to the Air Force, and this was one of them, but I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be to be an O6 and get a plane to take me to Saigon for a birthday party. The plane even had its own Vietnamese flight attendant who brought me a bottle of orange soda. After a good day of lawyering, I was traveling home in style!***

Lorraine’s Corner

Lorraine worked at the VA for 37 years before joining our team.

By Lorraine Chrastil

Service connection may be established for a disability not related to service if it is the result of the effects of a service-connected condition. This is known as “secondary service connection.” For example, a service-connected right knee disability has resulted in altered gait, weakness of the leg, pain or other symptoms, resulting in the favoring of the knee. The veteran then develops left knee pain and arthritis is found on an x-ray. Service connection for the left knee may be granted if it is determined by the Veteran’s physician to be as likely as not related to the effects of the service connected right knee disability.

For example, a Veteran who is service-connected for diabetes mellitus and later develops complications such as diabetic neuropathy of the upper and/or lower extremities, eye problems, or kidney disease, etc. can have these complications service-connected as well.

An Interview with Veteran Bert Chapman

This month’s Veteran Spotlight is on Bert Chapman. It’s always a pleasure speaking with Mr. Chapman, as his undeniable excitement and tenacity are sure ways to brighten your day. Bert served in the United States Air Force and was stationed in Thailand during Vietnam, where he worked at a command post assisting with administration and communication duties. In his off-duty hours he played on the baseball team, traveling to different bases for games.

Fast forward several years. Bert sought the help of government agencies to assist him with filing five veterans disability claims. It took over two years for these agencies to begin work on those initial claims. Once Bert received a decision, he found that all of his claims had been denied. This is not an uncommon scenario for many veterans who are navigating Disability Claims.

After receiving the denial letter, Bert decided he needed to seek representation elsewhere. “I went looking for a law firm but most wanted money up front or just flat out would not take my case,” he says. But thanks to a referral from a friend, Bert found Berry Law Firm and its team of veterans’ claims attorneys. He describes our process as “simple, easy … I was happy to find a firm that would help me when others wouldn’t.” He says, “My intake was done by a very pleasant and professional intake specialist who explained everything thoroughly.” When asked for any words of wisdom he had for veterans trying to obtain disability benefits, Bert said, “The BLF was able to get me service-connected. I trusted Berry Law Firm and the entire staff that they would handle what needs to be done.”

Attorney Spotlight: Stephani Bennett

We are glad to welcome attorney Stephani Bennett to the Berry Law Firm family.  Stephani comes to us with a background in the military, serving in the United States Air Force. Stephani is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of Nebraska College of Law. She practices Veterans’ Disability Law.