July 22, 2019 --- A couple of Success Stories from the Chair of the Joint Service Committee (JSC) --- Mr. Rob Caldwell
Veteran Success Story #1
We filed a claim in 2017 for this veteran who was suffering from PTSD. The VA issued a 50% award. We filed an Appeal challenging that Decision on the basis that the VA vastly undervalued the true extent of this Veterans disability. The VA denied our Appeal and surprisingly, found that the Veteran was incompetent to manage his/her finances because the Veteran’s spouse as paying all their bills and managing their family finances. The finding of incompetency was alarming to us because such a finding triggered the Brady Handgun Law causing this Veteran to lose the right to own guns.
Due to our huge disagreement with the VA’s decision, we filed a 2-pronged Appeal. First, we challenged the finding of incompetency because it failed to provide reasons and a basis for why such a trivial matter as bill payment was enough to declare this veteran incompetent, and that the decision was not otherwise in compliance with the law presuming the competency of all veterans.
Second, we challenged the denial of a higher rating for PTSD on the basis that the Brady Handgun law required that the VA find that a veteran is permanently socially and occupationally disabled in order to trigger the Brady Bill in the first instance. We argued that the Brady Bill’s requirement of finding total social & occupational impairment is equivalent to the VA’s regulations for a 100% disability rating for PTSD. We argued that the VA’s finding of incompetency requires that the VA also grant the Veteran an award of 100% for PTSD.
In short order, the VA withdrew it’s finding of incompetency, restored the Veteran’s right to own guns, issued an apology to the Veteran for its gross error and issued an award of 100% for PTSD.
Veteran Success Story #2
Veteran #2 is an Air Force Veteran that served in Korea. While there, his superior, a Master Sargent, repeatedly sexually assaulted him, and then isolated him to keep him quiet. The Veteran developed severe psychological issues that made it impossible for him to do his job. The Master Sargent then discharged him from the Air Force to coverup his perversions.
Upon discharge that veteran began abusing drugs and alcohol, his wife divorced him, he lost his job and he became homeless. His guilt and shame for being raped by his Master Sargent caused him to believe that he was raped for sexual reasons rather than the real reason: that his Master Sargent abused his position of authority to gratify his own lust for power over someone weaker with lesser rank.
The Veteran came to us early in May of this year. We immediately filed a claim for Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD. We also argued that the Veterans homelessness and high risk for suicide (the Veteran tried 3 times to kill himself) was legally sufficient for the VA to grant priority processing for the Veterans claim. We worked very closely with the Veterans psychological counselor at the VA Medical Center in Seattle to assure that the medical findings would support a high rating.
Within 3 weeks the Veteran received an award of 80% from the VA for his disabilities and they pointed out that other evidence may result in a total disability rating. We were able to locate that evidence and have submitted a decision review request seeking the higher rating. This is the fastest the VA has acted on any claim that the JSC has ever experienced.
The JSC is experiencing an increase in the number of military sexual trauma clients, most of them involve women, but a growing number of those clients are male. In all these cases the common thread is that these assaults are not for sexual purposes, rather they involve a higher-ranking individual abusing their position of authority to prey on those with lower rank for their own self-gratification.
Sexual assault is increasing within the military at alarming rates. In 2017, the Department of Defense received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving service members, an increase of 10% over the previous year. We have found that male sexual assault victims are reticent to step forward due to social stigmatization. The JSC considers all military sexual assault cases to be our highest priority and we handle all such claims with the respect and sensitivity that veterans deserve.
Many veterans have reported to us that they fear filing VA claims for psychological disabilities, out of fear of losing their right to own guns. In over 5 years of working on such cases, we have only had one such case that the VA initially labeled as incompetent --- when we filed an Appeal, the VA lost.
While the VA is required to comply with the Brady Bill in cases of incompetence, the legal standards are extremely high to make such a finding. The presumption is that a veteran is competent, absent medical evidence to the contrary. Such cases are limited to the most severe cases. The JSC believes that failure to come forward, out of fear of losing the right to own guns, is misplaced and misinformed. Please come forward. If you have doubts, come talk to us.
Veterans helping veterans: A committee of vets reaches
Attorney and VFW Post 3348 member Rob Caldwell volunteers with the Joint Service Committee (JSC) for veterans, who come from both Snohomish County and King County. "A lot of vets come in here to get help navigating the maze involved with dealing with the VA (Veterans Administration), or to find out what’s wrong with their lives. We try to help,” said Caldwell.
The JSC meets on Tues & Wed at the Fleet Reserve @ 23003 56th Ave West in Mountlake Terrace (MLT). Caldwell and other veterans who volunteer from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW Post 3348) and Vietnam Veterans of America have banded together into a group that works in concert to benefit vets.
Just last year, Caldwell and his fellow volunteers assisted 292 vets. The JSC appreciates any donations made to their committee, which can be sent to them via Blackburn Aurora VFW Post 3348 @ PO Box 55164, Seattle, WA 98155.
VFW Post 3348 itself donates twice a year to the JSC from the Net Proceeds from donations given to them for those VFW red poppies which are available when VFW Post 3348 holds their Buddy Poppy events held just prior to Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
The JSC also attracts younger veteran clients from Edmonds Community College via ECC's Veterans Resource Center. The JSC also assist vets from all over the country and internationally, via Skype, as their reputation is spreading mostly by word of mouth.
The issues these veterans face vary widely. They often come in struggling, looking for compensation from the VA to get compensation for their injuries. They can have injuries more profound than can been discerned by seeing a purple heart medal.
90% of the committee’s work is with people suffering the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Per Caldwell "We try to do a few things:
· Give them camaraderie so they know they’re not alone
· Get them into the VA’s PTSD center
· Help them with the claim process, which can be complicated
· If needed, appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims”
The JSC has had much success with the court and the VA, winning hundreds of thousands of dollars and other benefits for veterans; e.g. an appeal they just won for a Vietnam veteran resulted in an award of $3,100 per month for life, $90,000 in retroactive benefits since 2015 and full health and dental care from the VA Medical Center.
"We also have a healing circle that meets; we get a bunch of veterans together to talk about how difficult life can be. They all have a story. That story, built up over time, is part of the problem” Caldwell said.
Caldwell has credentials. "I was a paratrooper in Vietnam. We got our asses kicked a lot. It was all so hard to understand that I had to tell a story, one that cost me emotionally. It builds up a brick wall,” he said. "We want to help veterans confront what is bothering them and see how their behavior today is directly linked to being in war. They can lose that brick wall and start to understand themselves.”
To honor these veterans, the healing circle gives out a PTSD medal. "And that’s because they need to know this is an honorable thing,” said Caldwell. "You have PTSD because you were there. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You earned it.”
Their approach doesn’t only apply to veterans who saw combat. Just being near a war zone can leave a mark. "There are a lot of tears. I understand. I was a 20-year-old paratrooper in some nasty country. There were nights when I bargained with myself: ‘Let me see daylight and I will do something to make up for all of this.’” So, Caldwell became a lawyer. "In my first case to go to the VA Appeals court, I won. I found that I liked lifting someone’s life up.”
He and other veterans decided that there is more strength in numbers, so they formed the JSC with about two-dozen veterans volunteering on behalf of their fellow veterans. It is a lot of work — especially the bureaucratic paperwork — he wouldn’t have it any other way. "When you can put money in their pocket it’s a good feeling,” he said. "For me, practicing law stimulates my brain. Helping vets enhances my life” Caldwell said.