With all the pain I was feeling around summer 2019 (end of my Active Duty enlistment), I did not hesitate to put in a disability claim with the VA.
During the separation briefings and out-processing, they quickly go over why and how to submit a claim and enroll in the VA health care system.
So where to start!
- Get a VSO: A Veteran Service Officer is there to help you find resources and act as a liaison for you during your claim process.
I left active duty July 2019 and filed my first claim September 2019 (you need your DD214). I claimed my lower back and everything that has happened during my 5 years of service (appendectomy, glute medius partial tendon tear, and digestion issues). I also enlisted into the Air National Guard by July 2019 (Palace Chase). I was only able to make 2 ANG Drill weekends, before I experienced a drastic change in my health.
I got a decision on the first claim, I was rated at 70% and had available funds by Nov 2019. A few days after my first experience of paralysis and drop foot. After struggling 3 months with debilitating episodes (unable to do my ADL and walk long distances). I again reached out to my VSO. I asked about re-opening the claim with this new evidence in hopes I could get an increase. Working from home was becoming a struggle. I decided to use my GI Bill to go back to school part time instead. My VSO suggested I apply for the VA Individual Unemployability claim. I met the requirements of not being able to hold down a steady job and my disability rating of 70% or more. I felt it was the best move. I was struggling with simple task, inabilities, pain and felt a lot of pressure with deadlines or fast paced environments. I just needed to lay down and just be.
So by December 2019, I decided to submit the unemployability claim. I stopped working and enrolled into a part-time, 6 credit hour, fashion design certificate program. I wanted to do something with my hands and not sit at a desk anymore. My VSO also recommended using the Vocation Rehab bill or Veteran Readiness and Employment benefits, in lieu of the GI Bill. This was very good advice, because the program was part-time. I was missing out on the max use of GI bill benefits, like BAH. With the VR&E Bill you can receive monthly Sustenance Allowance for part time programs.
During my time in the program, I have asked for accommodations. I submitted my claim with all of my ER records and doctors notes from the hospital. I was scheduled for a compensation and pension appointment but due to Covid-19, it was pushed to November 2020. By December 2020, I got a minor increase in a sub rating for my back/ridulopathy but my overall rating had not changed. They focused on me voicing accommodations at work and a loss in my wages. All I had was a doctors note for work rest cycles and to be able to work from home.
Also, in November 2020 I had an MRI done on my neck. I found out that I also have multiple discs that are herniated and mildly pressing on my spinal cord. This validated all of the symptoms I had been feeling since October 2019. So in January 2021 I was working with the Air National Guard to start on a Prior Service Medical Board package (afi36-3212 section 4C). I also got in contact with my VSO. She suggested we file a new claim for my neck before we appeal the VA Unemployability case.
By Feb 2021 I opened a new claim on my neck. I have gotten a wheelchair from the VA, because I am unable to walk long distances. It is manual for short distances and has a “Smart Drive” electrical device for longer treks. The only problem is that manually pushing the chair is causing debilitating flare ups in my neck, shoulders and hands. I have had my compensation and pension assessment by a VA doctor and am awaiting new judgement.
This has been a crazy journey. I can’t tell you how much pain I encounter or how different my life is now. I keep focusing on a new way of life that will set me free. Till then, I will keep fighting and waiting. Everyday I learn something new.