How To Appeal Social Security Disability Benefits Denial

It is quite common to be denied for Social Security disability benefits when you first apply for them. This is because of the complications and challenges associated with Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and the fact that many do not have the help that they need to get the benefits that they deserve. In fact, many will be denied for small mistakes on the application or failing to attach important documents. This is common and frequently expected, and there is an avenue to appeal the decision against you. The wisest course of action, if you have been denied SSDI benefits, is to contact Surface Law Firm in Greenville, SC for a free consultation to learn more about your rights and the steps ahead of you.

Why Were My SSDI Benefits Denied?

If your SSDI benefits were denied, it could be for a variety of different reasons. With the right SSDI attorney, many of those reasons could be overcome with an appeal. Consider some of the following common reasons for denial of SSDI benefits:

  • You do not qualify for SSDI because you have not earned enough work credits.
  • You earn too much money through substantial gainful activity (SGA).
  • You are not disabled, according to the Social Security Administration’s definition.
  • You do not have a severe enough disability to last one year or lead to death.
  • You did not provide sufficient evidence of your disability.
  • You did not attend or refused to attend a consultative examination (CE) of disability.
  • Important information or documentation was missing from your application.
  • You are believed to have lied on the application.
  • You failed to follow through with necessary treatments or physical therapy.
  • Your disability is affected by your substance or alcohol abuse.
  • You have been found guilty of a felony and are in prison.
  • Your injury occurred while you were committing a felony you have been found guilty of.
  • You cannot be located for communication with the SSA.

Typically, the biggest obstacle that you will face in your quest to receive benefits is in providing adequate proof of the disability. Thus, it is common and necessary to use the appeals process. Being denied initially is a frequent occurrence, and you will have to deal with the administrative process if you wish to get the benefits that you need.

Four Levels of Appeals for SSA

If you have never attempted to apply for social security benefits, then you may be quite confused by the application and appeals process. The first thing to know is that there are four levels of appeals for SSA. These include the request for reconsideration, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Hearing, an Appeals Council, and a Federal Court Review. On denial of your application, you will receive a formal informational letter regarding the appeals process. However, this can still be confusing. An experienced lawyer can help you to understand the process and successfully complete it.

Request For Reconsideration

The first level of appealing for SSA is the request for reconsideration. This is where the Disability Determination Services will perform a full review of your claim. These will not be the same people who have already viewed and denied your claim. You have the opportunity to submit new evidence, and this can make all the difference if you were denied for a lack of proof. This is also when you may be able to meet with an SSA rep to discuss your disability and needs. About 15% of claims that request reconsideration will be approved.

Administrative Law Judge Hearing

If you are not approved after requesting reconsideration, your next step is the Administrative Law Judge Hearing. This is much like going to court, and you would be wise to have an attorney on your side during this step. You will be presenting evidence and testimony to a judge who will question you, and you will have the opportunity to question witnesses and experts. An attorney in this situation is invaluable, as your lawyer will have the experience and expertise that you lack in gathering evidence, witnesses, expert testimony, etc, to prove that you deserve disability benefits.

At this level of appeal, your chance of approval will be greater, with some noting that more than 50% of appeals are approved at this stage. Do not give up hope when your case is denied, even if is denied again at reconsideration. There is still a chance, and if you work with an attorney, that chance is even greater, to prove your need to a judge.

Social Security’s Appeals Council

If you go through the ALJ Hearing stage and are still denied for benefits, you still have more options. The next step is to ask for a review by the Social Security’s Appeals Council. This is the council that will view requests and only review cases that are not determined to be already correctly addressed. You may get a decision from the council, or they may send you back for another ALJ review. You also have the opportunity to submit any new evidence that you may have.

At this point, you may be months into your injury and it may have grown worse. You can submit evidence of this as well. You may also have evidence that you’ve completed treatment and have not seen improvement.  You will not have to attend a council hearing at this point unless the council sends it back down for review with the ALJ.

Federal Court Review

If you are still denied or if the Appeals Court will not review your case, you still have one remaining path to take. You can file a lawsuit in the federal district court, where a judge will review your application and the whole appeals process that you have been through. The judge will check for legal errors in the case and for any factual mistakes.

While it can be stressful and can take a lot of time and money to appeal your case in court, it is an option worth considering. To evaluate whether or not this is the right choice for your case, contact a knowledgeable SSDI attorney to discuss your application and appeals process.

Consult With an SSDE Appeals Lawyer in Greenville

The best thing that you can do if your application for Social Security disability benefits is denied is to seek a free consultation with an SSDE appeals lawyer in Greenville, SC. Surface Law Firm is here to help with the experience and expertise that you need on your side for the best chance of getting your application for disability approved.

Understanding The VA Disability Rating System

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides disability compensation to veterans who have sustained injuries or illnesses while on active duty or training. Approximately 13 percent of the over 19.3 million U.S. veterans receive disability payments from the VA annually. This tax free benefit is paid to veterans who apply for disability benefits. How much a veteran can receive for their disability depends on the disability rating assigned to your injury. For the 417, 554 veterans residing in South Carolina, understanding how disability ratings work is crucial to their overall health.


The VA Disability Rating


After applying for disability benefits through the VA, a veteran’s injury or illness will be assigned a disability rating. Disability ratings are meant to reflect the severity of the disability and the impact the impairment will have on the ability of a veteran to work. The VA bases the amount of compensation a veteran receives based on the disability rating. In this way, any loss in earning capacity resulting from military service on behalf of the country is properly compensated.


Generally, more severe disabilities will receive a higher rating while less severe ones are rated lower. The ratings are based on a percentage scale according to the Schedule of Rating Disabilities (VARSD) and range from zero percent to 100 percent at 10 percent intervals.


How Disability Ratings Work


The Schedule of Rating Disabilities is broken down into which part of the body a disability affects. Body categories for injuries include, but are not limited to:


  • Musculoskeletal system;
  • Respiratory system;
  • Cardiovascular system;
  • Digestive system;
  • Genitourinary system;
  • Endocrine system; and
  • Hemic and lymphatic systems.


In addition to these systems, there are also categories for mental disorders, neurological conditions, gynecological issues, infections diseases, immune disorders, and more. Within each category, the schedule lists medical problems and their respective symptoms. Symptoms are ranked as mild, moderate, moderately severe, and severe, with each level of severity being assigned a ranking. Under the category of respiratory system, for example, there are four subcategories with specific medical conditions:


  • Diseases of the nose and throat;
  • Diseases of the trachea and bronchi;
  • Diseases of the lungs and pleura—tuberculosis; and
  • Nontuberculous diseases.


Stenosis of the larynx, classified as a disease of the nose and throat, has symptoms ranked at 10, 30, 60, and 100 percent for the level of severity under Diagnostic Code 6520. Thus a veteran experiencing moderately severe symptoms from this medical problem would receive a rating of 60 percent.


How the VA Assigns Ratings


In order to assign a disability rating, the VA must take any medical evidence in a veteran’s file and best match it to one of the body system categories and its respective diagnostic code. There are, of course, instances when multiple diagnostic codes might apply. However, the VA can only assign one disability rating per disability, meaning when two codes apply, they are required to choose the one the gives the veteran the highest possible rating. Even in cases where a disability is not listed, the VA will evaluate the disability and do their best to approximate a disability rating based on a similar impairment.


What Does Each Rating Pay


Veterans can receive monthly compensation for any disability rated at 10 percent or higher. The benefit is increased for any dependents, including a spouse or children, that the veteran is responsible for. Under the 2016 VA Disability Rates, for example, a single veteran with no children would receive:


  • 30 percent – $407.75
  • 60 percent – $1059.09
  • 90 percent – $1743.48


A disabled veteran with a spouse and single child, however, would be eligible for increased compensation:


  • 30 percent – $491.75
  • 60 percent – $1227.09
  • 90 percent – $1995.48


The disability rates are evaluated on an annual basis and adjusted for increased cost-of-living. It is possible for a veteran to receive zero percent on their disability rating and although this makes them ineligible for disability compensation, it does not necessarily disqualify them from all health care and benefits available from the VA.


Veterans With Multiple Disabilities


Many veterans, of course, may have multiple disabilities due to their military service. When this happens, disability ratings are combined through a special formula. If a shoulder injury is rated as 50 percent and a respiratory disease is rated as 30 percent, it may seem like the veteran should receive a 80 percent rating through addition. This, however, is not the case. According to the Combined Ratings Table, the value would be 65 percent, which would be rounded up to 70 percent, qualifying the veteran for the compensation rate assigned to 70 percent injuries.


Service-Related and Non-Service Related Disabilities


While the VA evaluates any service related disabilities and assigns them a rating on an individual basis, matters are complicated when a veteran has a disability that is not connected to their service. When symptoms of your disabilities become difficult to distinguish between, the VA give the veteran the “benefit of the doubt.” Effectively, this means any symptoms the veteran experiences are assumed to be caused by the service related disability and the veteran will likely receive a higher rating.


Changing a Rating


If your condition worsens at any point, it is possible to petition the VA for an increase in disability rating. The disabled veteran may send in any medical evidence documenting the aggravation of the disability. Typically the VA will schedule an examination to establish whether or not the symptoms merit a change in disability rating. Similarly, the VA may ask veterans to check in periodically on their disability and compensation may be subject to a reduction if the condition improves. These type of periodic check-ins are common for veterans who have been diagnosed with disabilities that usually show improvement over time.


Talk to a Veterans’ Disability Attorney


If you are a veteran in Greenville, South Carolina and have questions about receiving disability compensation, don’t hesitate to contact the dedicated veterans’ disability lawyers in Greenville at the law office of J. Robert Surface, Attorney at Law. For years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to helping veterans receive the compensation they deserve. We’ll answer any questions you have regarding veterans’ disability compensation and help you get your application under way. Call us today.


Greenville Veterans Awarded Housing Funds

One of the biggest plights facing veterans in the U.S. is homelessness. In fact, homelessness is such a concerning issue among veterans that they are twice as likely as other American to be chronically homeless. Although it is difficult to give an exact figure, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that on any given night there are approximately 47,725 homeless veterans and anywhere from 529,000 to 840,000 are homeless at some time during the year. Among Vietnam-era veterans, the number of homeless veterans, both male and female, exceeds the number of soldiers who died in combat during the war. Of the total homeless population in the country, 33 percent are veterans.


Despite efforts by the VA to help homeless veterans with health care, even a single veteran living on the streets is too many. To help reduce the incidence of homeless veterans in Greenville, South Carolina, the city has been awarded funding recently.


Funds Awarded to Greenville Homeless Veterans


Greenville is receiving $63,792 in federal funding to aid homeless veterans secure permanent housing. The money, which is being given by HUD and the VA, is part of the $417,204 of rental assistance being awarded across South Carolina to help 80 homeless veterans. The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program is providing the rental assistance in combination with the VA’s case management and clinical services. The goal of HUD-VASH is to end homelessness among the tens of thousands of veterans around the country by providing both funds for housing and supportive services to veterans.


The HUD SE Regional Administrator Ed Jennings, Jr. wants to assure Greenville veterans that they are making “significant progress reducing homelessness among veterans.” He insists that veterans deserve the best the country has to offer and ensures the program will keep fighting on behalf of every veteran until they have a place they can call home.


The program has already successfully helped 111,000 formerly homeless veterans find homes and it hopes to add thousands more do the same. Before referring homeless veterans to local housing agencies, the HUD-VASH program enlists the aid of VA Medical Centers to assess homeless veterans. In this way, they can identify any veterans who may need further supportive services to find and maintain permanent housing.


Which Veterans Can Apply For HUD-VASH Program?


In order to qualify for the program, veterans must be eligible for VA health care and meet the definition of homelessness set by the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act. The most vulnerable of veterans are excellent candidates for the programs, especially those with serious mental illness, physical disability, or history of substance abuse.


Why Veterans Are Homeless


Adjusting to civilian life after serving their country can be extremely difficult for veterans and the reasons for so many homeless veterans is based on a set of complex factors. It is partially due to the shortage of affordable housing, lack of a livable income, and inadequate access to health care. Many veterans are displaced and at-risk due to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder  (PTSD) and other psychological trauma, military injuries, substance abuse, and the lack of support from family or social networks who fail to understand their needs. Other veterans, despite their military service, find themselves at a disadvantage for employment when they have few skills considered transferable to the civilian workforce.


What Homeless Veterans Need


The key to solving the homelessness issue of U.S. veterans rests not only in finding them permanent homes, but helping them successfully transition from military duty to civilian life. When combating homelessness, programs must focus not only on securing housing, but also ensuring that veterans can obtain nutritional meals, basic physical health care, mental health counseling, treatment and rehabilitation for substance abuse, and help with personal development and empowerment. This means veterans who are struggling with unemployment must also receive job assessment, training, and assistance with placement. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans believes helping veterans obtain and sustain employment is crucial for alleviating homelessness.


For at-risk veterans, programs that are community-based, nonprofit, and involve other “veterans helping veterans,” seem to be the most effective. Government funding for these programs, although important, is often limited, and helping veterans find transitional housing and employment greatly rests on the efforts of local, collaborative programs that offer services to veterans.


Help From the VA


While it is committed to helping end homelessness among veterans by providing assistance and funding similar to the money recently awarded to Greenville, the VA is often overrun. They do provide healthcare to an estimated 150,000 homeless veterans and a variety of other services to another 112,000 veterans. In addition, the VA provides compensation and pension benefits every month to more than 40,000 homeless veterans.


Although the VA can provide limited resources to homeless veterans, it has, since 1987, largely collaborated with and relied on community service providers to reach more veterans who are in trouble. Their combined efforts have secured 15,000 residential rehabilitative and transitional beds as well as 30,000 permanent beds for veterans. The number of homeless veterans has significantly been reduced over the years, but still remains one of the major obstacles facing veterans.


Any veterans who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless, should reach out to their local VA Medical Center. The local Greenville VA Medical Clinic can be found at 41 Park Creek Drive.


Veterans’ Disability Attorney In Greenville


Working for years in Greenville, SC, J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law has dedicated his career to helping veterans get the help they need. We understand that homeless veterans are often plagued by a variety of health issues, ranging from PTSD to substance abuse. Veterans with disabilities deserve to get the help and compensation they need to begin a new chapter in their lives. Contact our law office in Greenville to find out more how we are fighting for justice for servicemen and women in South Carolina. If you are a veteran in our community and need assistance with a disability and have questions regarding your rights or how you can receive compensation, contact our dedicated veterans’ disability attorneys in Greenville today.


Sexual Trauma In The Military – Getting Compensation

Sexual harassment and assault are part of a dark underbelly that the military doesn’t like to admit to. Any form of sexual harassment is, of course, a tragedy, but it’s even more difficult to accept its existence amongst the servicemen and women who sacrifice so much while serving their country. Incidents of military sexual trauma (MST), however, are far greater than many would expect. In fact, a poll by Gallup shows that one in four U.S. veterans know a servicemember or veteran who was a victim of sexual harassment, assault, or rape. Furthermore, the same poll said female veterans are three times – 60 percent – more likely than male veterans – 20 percent – to say they know a someone who was victimized.


Being the victim of MST or any other form of sexual trauma can be debilitating not only in the short-term, but is likely to affect the victim far into the future. Many victims develop psychological and physical problems years after the incident. In addition, veterans who were victims of MST have also recently been linked to higher rates of homelessness.


If you are a servicemember or veteran who is the victim of MST, there are options available. Speaking to veterans’ disability attorneys may be helpful.


Is Compensation Available for Military Sexual Trauma?


The VA defines MST according to Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D which defines it as “psychological trauma resulting from physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, in inactive duty training.” Sexual harassment constitutes any “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”


Although a veteran cannot receive compensation specifically from the traumatic event itself, they may be entitled to receive disability compensation due to conditions resulting from MST. Health conditions that a veteran may have as a result of MST include a number of disorders such as depression, substance abuse, panic attacks, anxiety, and even posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).


In order to qualify for compensation based on MST, the veteran must prove their eligibility by affirming the following:


  • The sexual trauma occurred while the veteran was on active duty;
  • The veteran has currently been diagnosed with a physical or mental disability; and
  • These disabilities were either the direct result of, or worsened by, the military sexual trauma that the veteran was a victim of during their service.


Experiencing some form of mental or physical disorder as a result of MST is very common, even years after the trauma occurred. The most common disorder developed by veterans with MST is currently PTSD.


Evidence to Support MST Claim


Before receiving any kind of disability compensation for MST from the VA, a veteran must first prove the aforementioned items related to MST. Direct evidence of the MST can be proven using the Department of Defense forms used to report sexual assault or harassment along with any investigative reports that took place during military service.


On many occasions, however, these documents are unavailable because the incident went unreported. Thankfully, the VA has relaxed some of the documentation necessary because they understand that because of the nature of sexual trauma, the incidents are not always officially reported. For veterans who are seeking disability for a disorder related to MST there are other means of proving the occurrence of traumatic events. Evidence can be provided in the forms of “markers,” meaning signs, events, or circumstances, that show some indication that sexual trauma happened. Examples of acceptable evidence for MST claims include, but are not limited to:


  • Any records by law enforcement, mental health counseling centers, rape crisis centers, hospital, or physicians indicating sexual trauma;
  • Testimony from family members, fellow service members, roommates, clergy, or counselors;
  • Pregnancy tests or STD tests;
  • Civilian hospital visits;
  • Substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol;
  • Transfer requests to another military duty assignment;
  • Periods of depression, anxiety, or panic attacks that have no identifiable cause;
  • Social and economic behavioral changes without explanation;
  • Sexual dysfunction; and
  • Relationship problems.


Filing a Claim for MST


When filing your claim to the VA for MST, veterans should make sure to have a all documentation in order. Because of the severity and complexities involved with MST, the VA addresses them slightly differently than normal claims. To ensure the MST claim has the best chance of winning make sure to include all the following:


  • The completed VA Form 21-526;
  • A diagnosis from a doctor or other healthcare provider of PTSD, depression, anxiety, or other health disorder caused by MST
  • A letter from your doctor or health care provider stating that the mental or physical disorder is most likely caused or aggravated by an incident of sexual trauma that occurred during your military service; and
  • Appropriate evidence from the aforementioned section proving the sexual trauma occurred.


It is advisable to submit claims related to MST has soon as possible after the sexual trauma occurred as waiting hurt your chances of having the claim approved. If you are unsure of the documentation necessary for filing a claim or need help doing so, working with a veterans’ disability attorney is advised.


Can a Previously Denied Claim Be Re-Evaluated?


Often times veterans become discouraged and even report feeling traumatized after having the VA deny their claim due to lack of evidence. It’s important to remember, however, that increased awareness of MST is resulting in more research and training for VA personnel.


This means that even though you may have filed an MST claim that was previously denied, it is still possible to receive compensation and ask to have the claim re-evaluated. Training helps VA personnel better identify markers that indicate sexual trauma. Any claims filed before 2011 took place before these training periods and can, consequently, be submitted for re-evaluation.


Furthermore, veterans may submit additional evidence in support of their claim when having it re-evaluated and should submit such evidence to the same place they sent their request for the re-evaluation.


Seeking Veterans’ Disability Compensation?


Surviving any form of trauma is painful, but military sexual trauma can be particularly difficult to deal with. There is often a cloud of denial when such incidents occur and many victims feel ashamed or afraid to come forward. Don’t let these things stand in the way of receiving the compensation you deserve. For help with MST claims or any veterans’ disability compensation claims contact the offices of J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law. With years of experience in veterans’ disability law in Greenville, he can help you understand your rights and receive the maximum benefits available from you claim.

VA Proposes to Grant Full Practice Authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

VA News Release

05/25/2016 02:50 PM EDT

VA Proposes to Grant Full Practice Authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Proposed Rule Will Improve Veteran Access to Care and Use of Resources

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing a rule to grant full practice authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) when they are acting within the scope of their VA employment. Full practice authority will help optimize access to VA health care by permitting APRNs to assess, diagnose, prescibe medications, and interpret diagnostic tests. This action proposes to expand the pool of qualified health care professionals authorized to provide primary health care and other related health care services to the full extent of their education, training, and certification to Veterans without the clinical supervision of a physician.

APRNs are clinicians with advanced degrees and training who provide primary, acute and specialty health care services. APRNs complete masters, post-master or doctoral degrees. There are four APRN roles: Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and Certified Nurse Midwife. All VA APRNs are required to obtain and maintain current national certification.

“The purpose of this proposed regulation is to ensure VA has authority to address staffing shortages in the future,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Implementation of the final rule would be made through VHA policy, which would clarify whether and which of the four APRN roles would be granted full practice authority. At this time, VA is not seeking any change to VHA policy on the role of APRNs, but would consider a policy change in the future to utilize full practice authority when and if such conditions require such a change,” Shulkin said. “This is good news for our APRNs, who will be able to perform functions that their colleagues in the private sector are already doing.”

The American Nurses Association (ANA) applauds VHA’s leadership for proposing to grant full practice authority to the four types of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. “VA will be able to more effectively meet the health care needs of our nation’s Veterans,” said ANA President Pamela Cipriano. “This proposal removes barriers that prevent APRNs from providing a full range of services and will assist VA in its ongoing efforts to address staff shortages and improve Veterans’ access to care. APRNs are critical members of the health care workforce and an integral component of the health care delivery system with a proven track record of safe quality care and high patient satisfaction.”

The proposed rule can be found for comment at


Study Critical of Use of Dogs to Help Veterans With PTSD

For years dogs have served as companion animals to thousands of people coping with depression, anxiety, and other disorders. A number of organizations offer dogs to veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the VA provides certain resources for guide dogs. Questions of the efficacy of using dogs for the treatment of PTSD, however, have come into question. An ongoing study is being conducted by the VA currently in an attempt to better understand if and how dogs can help the healing process PTSD requires.


Questions About Effectiveness of Treating PTSD


Before the three-year-old golden retriever Munger came into his life, army veteran Joe Aguirre couldn’t imagine undertaking even a simple outing to a restaurant. With the dog by his side, however, he finds a small measure of confidence to take on the world.


While it is progress of a sort, the VA study is concerned that the comfort and security dogs like Munger provide may actually be hindering true healing from PTSD. Critics of using dogs say the VA’s training protocol actually reinforce PTSD’s cognitive disorders, including paranoia and pathological thinking. Other critics question whether the dogs are just serving as substitutes for the hard work of ongoing therapy and other even question if the VA isn’t just trying to get out of veterinary bills.


Defenders within the VA, however, including the their chief veterinary medical officer, adamantly refute the study has anything to do with money and the training commands were developed over an extensive period of time with the aid of mental-health experts, service dog providers, and veterans.


Problems Plaguing Study


Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 350,000 veterans have come to the VA, seeking help with PTSD. The VA is only allowed to offer “evidence-based” therapies, which means no dogs. In 2010, the VA was given permission to study alternative therapies, including animal-based therapies.


The study began with three dog vendors, but soon ran into trouble with two vendors being cut and allegations ranging from biting incidents of participants’ children and lax veterinary care. Yet the VA study continues, revamped and scheduled to conclude in 2018, with roughly half of currently enrolled veterans already placed with dogs. Another study conducted by Kaiser Permanente Northwest Center for Health Research that included 78 veterans with PTSD found those with animals showed better overall health, higher satisfaction in interpersonal relationships, and lower rates of substance abuse.


Regardless of what the politicians and researchers decide, for veterans like Joe Aguirre there’s no questions about effectiveness of such animal therapies. He firmly believes without his dog Munger, he wouldn’t be alive any more.


Help for Veterans Seeking Disability


The path to recover for disabled veterans and servicemembers, especially those suffering from PTSD is long and difficult. If you are in need of assistance acquiring disability benefits, contact J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law. With years of experience as a veterans’ disability attorney in Greenville, he will work tirelessly to advocate for you and help you recover the disability benefits you are entitled to.


New Links Found Between Bladder Cancer and Agent Orange

For many Vietnam veterans, Agent Orange is like a daily nightmare that comes back to continuously haunt them. Since the collaboration between the U.S. and Britain to release the chemical during the Vietnam War, the list of diseases and health problems associated with it has been growing year after year. Veterans whose military service put them in contact with Agent Orange and their survivors may qualify for a number of medical benefits from the VA. New research and a push by veterans may see the list of Agent Orange diseases expand, yet again, to include bladder cancer.


A Decades Long Fight


When Allen Eller, an army vet, was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1996 he filed a claim with the VA for veterans’ disability benefits. Doctors told him the toxic herbicide was most likely the cause, but the VA denied his claim. Eller continued gathering evidence and more support from doctors, filing a total of three claims, the last one as recent as 2014. Each claim was followed by a response from the VA, arguing he had no evidence to support the connection.


But the story took a turn last month when a prominent group of scientists released a new study on the effects of Agent Orange, perhaps providing the necessary links between Eller’s bladder cancer and the toxin. The study is monumental not just for Eller, but also for the 5,484 other veterans who have also been diagnosed with bladder cancer.


Agent Orange to Possibly Expand


Although the VA has previously failed to cover other diseases linked to Agent Orange, it is now undergoing a process to determine whether it will this time. An expansion of the list would mean thousands of dollars of dollars for some vets and more for Eller, who the VA would have to retroactively pay.


It is not only bladder cancer that might be added to the list; the new research may also provide evidence linking Agent Orange to other medical issues. This would mean possible benefits for 15,983 veterans suffering from hypothyroidism and roughly 1,833 with Parkinson’s-like symptoms. In addition, the working group at the Veterans’ Health Administration is also looking into whether hypertension in Vietnam veterans could also be due to Agent Orange exposure.


With Vietnam veterans now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, the process of determining which health issues are related to exposure during their service and which are simply brought old age is a delicate one.


Seeking Veterans’ Disability


Regardless of whether you served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq, if you are a veteran, you deserve to taken care of for the sacrifices you made. If you are a disabled veteran or servicemember needing advice regarding veterans’ disability benefits or have questions about health problems that may be related to your military service, you are not alone. Call the offices of J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law to speak with our experienced veterans’ disability lawyers in Greenville. As a leading authority on veterans’ disability in Greenville, he will answer any questions you have and help you get the maximum disability benefits available to you.


VA selects new Director of the Center for Women Veterans

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced the appointment of a new director of the Center for Women Veterans.

Kayla M. Williams assumed duties this week as Director, serving as primary advisor to the Secretary on Department policies, programs and legislation that affect women Veterans.

“Kayla embodies everything it means to be a true advocate for women Veterans and I am proud to welcome her to VA in this leadership role,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “This is an important time for VA as we prepare for the growing number of women we expect to take advantage of the VA services they have earned. I know Kayla will be tremendously helpful in improving services for female Veterans now and in future.”

Williams is a member of the Army Education Advisory Committee, a former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, a 2013 White House Woman Veteran Champion of Change, and a 2015 Lincoln Award recipient.

She worked eight years at the RAND Corporation conducting research on servicemember and Veteran health needs and benefits, international security, and intelligence policy.

Williams graduated cum laude with a BA in English Literature from Bowling Green State University and earned an MA in International Affairs with a focus on the Middle East from American University.

She is author of two books.  Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army, is a memoir about her deployment to Iraq. Her second book is, Plenty of Time When We Get Home: Love and Recovery in the Aftermath of War, about her family’s journey from trauma to healing.

Williams is coming from Pittsburgh, PA with her husband, a combat-wounded veteran, and their two children.

The Center for Women Veterans was established by Congress in November 1994 by Public Law (P.L.) 103-446 and monitors and coordinates VA’s administration of health care and benefits services and programs for women Veterans. The Center serves as an advocate for a cultural transformation in recognizing the service and contributions of women Veterans and women in the military.

The Politics of Veterans’ Healthcare

We have been hearing a steady drumbeat of the inadequate and abysmal healthcare provided to our wounded and disabled veterans for many, many months now. Congress and the White House have promised they will get to the bottom of it and root out any obstructions between the veterans and their healthcare. People are left scratching their heads as some of the horrific stories of long wait times, and inadequate and insufficient (and sometimes lack of) healthcare for the veteran, come to light. Who is responsible, and how do we fix it? No Band-Aids, please; these are real problems – we need real solutions.


Politics and Healthcare Make Strange Bedfellows


First, we must get politics out of the Veterans’ Administration. This organization must be a bi-partisan (not in words, but in deeds) effort by all Americans to assist veterans in their healthcare needs, whatever they may be.


Recently in the news, a whistleblower has come forward and expressed regret, and admits that the systemic problem with veterans’ healthcare has more to do with politics, than anything else.


According to a report involving allegations of the mismanagement of veterans’ healthcare, it came to light that a particular Phoenix VA Hospital allowed approximately 1,700 veterans waiting for medical care to languish on the “black hole” waiting list, and these individuals were never scheduled for any appointments nor were they ever put on the official VA healthcare waiting list to obtain a doctor’s appointment. They remained in limbo because, as one whistleblower federal employee stated, her department did not want to tell Congressional members that there was a problem with gross misconduct and the ill treatment of veterans. At what point did the care and treatment of veterans become so political that officials responsible for overseeing the issues of veterans’ affairs refused to communicate with one another because of their fear of political retribution?


The Secret VA Waiting List


When the story broke in 2014, it was discovered that at least 40 U.S. veterans had died while waiting for medical appointments for treatment at the Phoenix Veterans’ Healthcare Center. These veterans were placed on a “secret waiting list,” that the Veteran Administration knew would never be scheduled for any type of medical review or treatment. Many veterans, up to 1,600, waited for up to 21 months before they were allowed to see a doctor, and many did not get to see a doctor at all.


A 24-year veteran of the Phoenix VA Hospital, Dr. Sam Foote, admitted that there were two patient appointment lists. The official list and the secret list were created to give the illusion that veterans were receiving the treatment they were entitled to.Those fortunate enough to make it on the “official” list received treatment and care within 30 days. Those veterans placed on the “secret” list were intentionally never given appointments to see a physician for their care and treatment.


Where Politics Came Between the Veterans and Their Medical Care


The recent admission by some whistleblowers at the VA Administration is indicative of a more deeply-rooted problem. It may be left up to society as a whole to flesh out what this real problem is and to demand that our lawmakers put this problem on the front burner and that it be handled with all expediency.


Contact Your Attorney for Answer to Questions Regarding Your VA Benefits


If you have questions about your rights to veterans’ benefits of healthcare, attorney J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law wants to meet with you. For a free case consultation with an experienced Greenville veterans’ disability attorney, contact our offices now.

New Program Designed to Help Veterans With Debt Collection and Credit Issues

A mountain of debt and a multitude of debt collection problems became an unintended consequence of the new VA Choice Act Program for veterans.


Veterans’ healthcare has been in need of an overhaul for some time, now. Recently, as a result, Congress allocated in the 2016 budget, an amount of money in the neighborhood of $169 billion to the Veterans’ Administration, of which $15 billion of that was to be reallocated to the Veterans’ Choice Act to take care of all the veteran healthcare problems that have been prevalent as of late.


The Veterans’ Choice Program Added Another Wrinkle to an Already Broken System


The Veterans’ Choice Program that was created to help veterans obtain much need healthcare has, in and of itself, created another problem that the veterans did not have previously; a mountain of debt as a result of the slow payments or no payments to private healthcare providers who had provided treatment and medical services to the veteran with the promise that the Veterans’ Administration would pay the bill.


The Choice Act Program has had its problems from its inception, and is now coming under fire from veterans, veteran advocate groups, as well as Congress for its gross mismanagement and mishandling of veterans’ healthcare issues.


The Veterans’ Choice Program was designed to “fix” the issues with veterans’ healthcare stemming back to reports of long wait times for medical appointments and, in some cases, veterans were dying from their ailments while they waited for these appointments. Under the Choice Program, veterans were allowed to go to their community healthcare facilities and be seen by private physicians. The VA, through the Choice Program, was to pay the physicians directly under this program. However, it was not long before it was apparent that the systemic problems veterans were having with the VA were redirected to the Choice Program. Veterans were having problems getting their medical treatments approved by Choice, and even after the treatments were approved, Choice was slow to pay the private physicians, hospitals and other healthcare providers, and was in some instances not paying them at all. As a result, the private physicians were billing the veterans directly for any treatment they received and in some instances, sending the veterans’ accounts to collection for non-payment.


The Newest Program on the Block: Choice Hotline Community Care Call Centers


Efforts are being made to eliminate these debt issue problems as soon as possible. Now, veterans having debt and collection issues as a result of Choice Program billing problems will be allowed to contact the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs directly to resolve these problems. This new program will eliminate the “third party” bureaucratic red tape layer veterans were having to sift through in order to get to the department that had the authority to authorize healthcare payments.


This program will set up Choice Hotline Care Call Centers in the communities that will work with veterans who are having billing and credit collection issues, as well as the community healthcare providers who are having problems getting paid. Also available with this new program will be assistance for veterans who have had their credit ruined as a result of adverse credit reporting and debt collection instigated by their healthcare providers for non-payment of healthcare bills. Read this interesting article in The Daily News for more information on this story.


Contact Your Attorney for Answer to Questions Regarding Your VA Benefits


If you are a disabled veteran or servicemember needing assistance in understanding what disability benefits you are entitled to, contact J. Robert Surface Attorney at Law. Mr. Surface is an experienced veterans’ disability attorney in Greenville who will advocate on your behalf to help you recover the veterans’ benefits you deserve.