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About SameOldSong

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    E-3 Seaman

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    Fighting about "service connected" with the VA

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  1. More progress to report. The VA Health Eligibility Office in Atlanta, GA has verified that Dad's 6 days of active duty service during the Federal call up for Baltimore in 1968 DOES count for VA Health Benefits. However, they will not approve his application until they see his DD-214 for that service. No other document will do. I have been told to file a Form 149 with the Board of Corrections. We had to file that form for Dad's Army Reserve DD-214 that had a typo on his SSN previously. They replied that the time to correct an error was 18-24 months. I have also found on the Air Reserve Personnel Center page about the DD-214s: https://www.arpc.afrc.af.mil/Services/DD-214s/Eligibility-and-e-Benefits-Info/ that there is a MISTAKE on the address for the Form 149. The address on the Form 149 is Randolph AFB, but they want the form actually sent to Andrews AFB. This is a Hot Mess and while I'm filing it, I'm also going to put this in logical order and complain to every member of the House and Senate DoD Military Personnel subcommittees: (from https://www.afpc.af.mil/Career-Management/Military-Personnel-Records/ ) AFBCMR applicants must fill out a DD Form 149, Application for Correction of Military Record. The DD Form 149 is currently going through the Office of the Secretary of Defense for an address change. The intake office on the back of the form has relocated from Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. To ensure your application is received and processed in a timely manner, mail the DD Form 149 to SAF/MRBC (AFBCMR), 3351 Celmers Lane, Joint Base Andrews NAF Washington, MD 20762-6435, along with any source documents, or send by email to usaf.pentagon.saf-mr.mbx.saf-mrbc@mail.mil. If your contention involves a medical issue, you must also fill out a consent form to release your medical records from the VA. You must fill out VA Form 10-5345, Request for and Authorization to Release Medical Records or Health Information, sign and attach it to the DD Form 149. If the former Airman is deceased or incompetent, the surviving spouse, former spouse, next of kin or a legal representative may apply with supporting documentation (e.g., power of attorney, marriage license, death certificate) indicating they have proper legal standing to apply. AFBCMR Resources: Air Force Pamphlet 36-2607, Applicant's Guide to the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records Air Force Instruction 36-2603, Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records
  2. I found a link to a snippet that might be of interest on the "r/o PTSD" commentary: https://www.mentalhelp.net/ptsd/why-the-va-doesn-t-want-to-diagnose-iraq-war-veterans-ptsd/ It discusses the refusal to put PTSD on medical records in the Veterans Health system.
  3. I asked for a copy of my C-file, and after a lengthy months long wait, I got it on DVD. I began checking the docs they have to the copies of the things that I'd sent. Of course there are missing documents. One of the documents they had, though, knocked my socks off. It's the report after my fall that snapped my neck at the C2 vertebrae. There's the time I was found and taken to the ER. And the time that I started the event before the fall that broke the neck. There's roughly an hour there, and when I do the math, it looks like I was knocked out for about 30 minutes or more. The C2 vertebrae is still broken and causes a number of issues: massive constant headaches, episodes of vertigo (some are horrific), odd tinnitus that's "in the middle" and actually can change in pitch/tone/type of sound if I cock my head a certain way, limited touch feeling in the back of my head/neck/left shoulder blade, reduced sweating and much increased urination, gastro issues with constipation. The fall happened 35 years ago. Getting the VA to diagnose, let alone rate, a TBI may be impossible. I've been reluctant to try it due to fears that the other issues will be rated under TBI and really pulled down rather than each issue rated separately. For instance, headaches/vertigo/tinnitus could all be TBI residuals at 40%. Or they could be separate items at 50%/30%/10%. (Yeah, they're THAT bad. Makes working challenging at best.) After finding the after accident report in my C-file, I had an MRI SPECT scan done. It showed an area of my left temporal lobe that was (in my doctor's words) "suggestive of a TBI". The neurological testing also found issues with some Executive functioning, but not memory. I blew the doors off memory (I had an eidetic memory until I was roughly 47 and put for the first time on antipsychotics for flashback hallucinations.) I have a high normal memory now, but I miss my ability to remember large chunks of text/numbers for years at a time. Is TBI one of those medical problems that the VA evaluator has to rate first? Or is it something that any private doctor could do? For headaches/tinnitus/vertigo/etc., will they be rated separately and stacked together, or rated together and brought down to 40%?
  4. Oh, one last thing, the statement in your VA psych report: Unspecified Trauma-Stressor-related Disorder r/o PTSD Does not mean that he denies PTSD. He doesn't have a clear stressor incident to hang PTSD on that you are experiencing. He's trying to say "please rule out PTSD". Unspecified Trauma - we don't have a clear single incident that caused the issue Stressor-related Disorder - we see a disorder that appears to have a root cause/stressor r/o PTSD - rule out PTSD , we may be seeing PTSD, but we need to find the actual stressor to prove it to the satisfaction of VA rules so please rule out PTSD (which really means "I think she has PTSD. Find another cause that fits or prove it isn't PTSD.")
  5. OK, you've been rope-a-doped by a doc. Buck is right, you need to complain about this soon. It will take a while for them to reschedule or respond. I posted in another post about the way PTSD is decided. Look at the details on that comment here: Please pay attention to the Criterion A-F section. Also note that you don't necessarily want the doc to say you always abused alcohol. Stating that you started after the stressor is the right thing to do and you did it. If you were abusing drink before the stressor, they can use that to deny you also. Refute every point in his evaluation that was wrong, step-by-step. Try to keep your tone even and professional. Denying your combat time was stupid of him because the records are everywhere. Once combat is established then the balance tips to your favor. The doc was trying to rule out 38 USC 1154 (b). Google that phrase and read the legal doc that comes up and you'll understand why: 38 USC 1154 (b) Now, 1154 states that the combat engagement will allow the presumption of service connection if the injuries/diseases sustained are consistent with the circumstantial evidence. This gets twisted a bit with PTSD and especially MST PTSD because there must be a stressing event and then the VA wants to check the existence of that event with an archives center that keeps all the docs. Well, there is one event obviously, but there may not be a military police report because some of these a-holes are people you have to continue to work with while you are out in the field. One of my buddies had her best bud in the field while they were on patrol in Iraq suddenly decide that he was entitled. She had to continue on as if nothing was wrong through the mission, but it was destroying her. And then her Humvee rolled over from an IED causing worse issues. To present the evidence of that event, are there any buddies/teammates that were out there with you that could write a lay evidence letter on your behalf stating the changes they saw before and after the event? That could help prove the stressor existed even in the absence of any police report or other signs. You need something to prove the event happened. It sounds like the problem is the "unspecified event" that the doc mentions that actually will rule out PTSD in the military's eyes even if you have raging PTSD symptoms. They may not be saying that you are untruthful (well, ok, the one doc that thinks the symptom over-reporting is malingering may be trying to say that), but that you don't meet the qualifications for PTSD. Please read the other post that I linked here. It shows you how they make their decisions on a PTSD case. Ask for your C-file. You will have to file for it and it will take months, but any legal beagle will need it. It took me 7 years to get my PTSD diagnosis. They denied me once, and it was a freshly scrubbed and new PsyD working at the Univ of MD medical center and in the Baltimore VA hospital (they're side by side and share personnel) that rated me. It was clear from the ratings report that she wanted to rate me higher and did not, but I appreciate the 30% rating because it opened the door to my appeal with a private doc's evaluation. Patience. Persistence. You will win. The VA will tell you that PTSD is not curable and all we can do is manage the symptoms. I think they are wrong. Also, very important. If they have you on any psych drugs like anti-psychotics, anti-epileptics, or anti-depressants, get some sublingual B12/B6/methylfolate vitamin tablets. Those drugs suck up all of the B12/B6 in your system and if your stomach/intestine is torn up from stress you can't absorb it in your food easily. Getting it by way of tissues in the mouth keeps your levels from crashing out and increasing psychosis episodes (flashbacks, etc). A daily 1,000 IU sublingual B12 will help. Especially with sleep and cognitive function.
  6. OK, despite treating you for Complex PTSD, you may not end up with a PTSD rating. Here's why: (Read along with me on the DBQ form, please: https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-0960P-3-ARE.pdf ) Skip down to Section V, Clinical Findings. The stuff above Section V is using the findings to rate you in the sections above. Section V involves your past history. Trust me, any of us with PTSD has a 90% chance of having a very unhappy childhood with a lot of attachment issues and possible abuse. Now, they'll try to blame all of your problems on your unhappy past. Or drug use. If you admit sniffing the white lady (cocaine) or doing other drugs or heavy alcohol usage, they'll try to pin the problems on that. Then it's your fault and they don't have to rate you. Sentinel events are things that are vivid in your past that stand out. A traumatic event that happened before the military service. They'll say your problems were prior to service, but if the military stressors made your problems worse, they are still liable. Section VI is the important point and they need something in Criterion A through F. All of them. Not just a couple of things, every Criterion MUST be there, or it's not PTSD. Every Criterion. There must be a specific stressor event. Lots of fear with combat zones and possible IEDs and watching your buddies get hurt daily around you WILL NOT CUT IT. There must be a specific event. A particular attack or bombing. All of the attacks that end up in the military reports are put together and sent to an archive that tracks these events. Your stressor will be checked at this center and must match within a timeframe of a couple of months. (The name of the center is the Joint Services Records Research Center.) The utter crap of PTSD is that our memory of these events is shattered into fragments. We can't remember timeframes or events or faces or sequences of events clearly. For the Vietnam guys, we suggest that they try to remember whether it was Monsoon or Dry Season. For Iraqi, try to remember if there was some event that was near your stressor like Ashura or Eid Al-Adha or Ramadan. Or if the dates were ripening. Something that could be in a season or timeframe within two months of the event. Back to the Criterion. Let's start with A: Criterion A: The Veteran experienced, witnessed or was confronted with an event that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others. AND The Veteran's response involved intense fear, helplessness or horror So, BOTH of these conditions have to be there. You saw threats to others or saw something awful and as a result of it, felt intense fear, helplessness or horror. Once again, it had to be a particular event. And it had to fit the criteria above. Criterion B: There are several conditions under Criterion B. At least one of them must be experienced, or they check the last box that states that the traumatic event is not re-experienced. And we do re-experience that crap in PTSD. It ambushes us at odd moments due to some thing we see or do or hear and leaves us lost in the event memories. In my own PTSD experience, I can tell you that I hit every one of those conditions in Criterion B. I trigger on some random minor thing and suddenly I can see stuff in pieces from the event. It's awful. One of my jobs before I got checked into Happy Meadows to sort it out refused to let me call the fire department to report something burning in the office because I'd smell burning metal all the time. I also was seeing and hearing hallucinations of the event pieces disconnected. And I'd wake up either choking and unable to breathe or I'd have night terrors. That's always fun for your spouse/partner. I'm putting the criterion here in case the VA disappears the PTSD DBQ the way the TBI DBQ vanished: Recurrent and distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts or perceptions. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring; this includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event. Physiological reactivity on exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event. Criterion C : Criterion C is avoidance and numbing. You avoid anything to keep from remembering. You can't remember it clearly. You turn off your feelings so that you can't feel because otherwise this crap will sink you. In Criterion C, not all of them have to be met. But at least 3 of them do have to happen. The Criterion: Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the trauma. Efforts to avoid activities, places or people that arouse recollections of the trauma. Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities. Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others. Restricted range of affection (e.g., unable to have loving feelings). Sense of a foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children or a normal life span). Criterion D : Persistent symptoms of arousal, at least 2, not present before the trauma. They have to have started since the stressor occurred. Difficulty falling or staying asleep. Irritability or outbursts of anger. Difficulty concentrating. Hypervigilence Exaggerated startle response Criterion E : Duration of symptoms. This has to show that this is ongoing and persistent. It has to have happened for greater than a month. Criterion F : The PTSD symptoms are ripping your life up in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. I can't seem to hold a job because job stress has a tendency to make my PTSD symptoms surface and romp around the office. It freezes me. I can't think or function and end up in panic attacks often. If the evaluator asked those 5 or 6 questions for the Criterion above and you didn't have the response that fits the VA definition of PTSD, then they will rate you as not having PTSD. Event -> Symptoms -> Your Reactions -> Long Duration -> Destruction of Your Life. That's what they look for. Then, once they establish PTSD, they look for how it's impacting you. That's Section VII - Symptoms. This is where they decide the level of impact on your life. Of course you won't have all of these. It's impossible to have every single one because some are diametrically opposed. Section VIII - Other Symptoms. If you have something going on that wasn't on that Section VII list, then it should be listed here. Section IX: Are you competent to handle your financial affairs? My pdoc basically said to me that it was best if my spouse took over all financial matters. I have immense problems with this, but he was right. Section X : Remarks. If there's anything else missed, your pdoc should put it here. Mine mentioned that my symptoms through a particular set of circumstances caused me to gain weight. So, that's how you can be treated for Complex PTSD by the organization that won't verify your PTSD. It's the Criterion A-F. If you don't hit every one, you don't have PTSD by their standard. Because the VA's standard of PTSD hinges on one event causing the PTSD. Not a weardown over months that makes you manifest the PTSD symptoms. "Complex PTSD" means that it was gained through numerous events that created an environment of fear, not simply one. Appeals on PTSD take years. And he didn't nail down the criterion. If he works with his treatment team and manages to remember a particular event **and timeframe of that event** that left him in horror, file a new case because you have new evidence. Always, always tell them the truth. They'll figure it out, if you aren't telling them the truth. But I suspect the first question the evaluator asked was, "what event occurred to create your PTSD?" or some variation of that. And then I suspect he answered, "well, it was not a particular event but there was all this stuff always happening." And that would be that. Not PTSD. No criterion met. No need to go further.
  7. I'm going to add a bit to Buck's excellent advice. Your PTSD and TBI will be combined if the VA feels that the symptoms are identical and cannot be teased out to "this set of symptoms for PTSD" and "this other different set of symptoms for TBI". They are similar ailments, but they can be teased out. Buck's absolutely right about the nexus letter --that's the letter from the private doc who examines you and states that: He's seen your military service medical records and says so in the nexus letter. He describes that the conditions that have resulted are "at least as likely as not" or "is likely as not" that the conditions were caused by the military service injury/disease. It is also helpful if the doctor discusses the condition and why the doc feels that the military service injury/disease caused it. The "likely as not" wordings of the two choices above is specific because these phrases do not have the legal weight of "caused by" or "most likely as not" so the doc won't put himself in some sort of legal stranglehold. He evaluates your condition on the DBQ and also USES THE PROPER ICD CODE. The ICD code is the military code for an injury or illness and is completely different from the Medicare codes that are used by every doctor. You've got to have the right ICD codes on that form, or the VA questions that the private doc is familiar with VA rating. So, look up the ICD code for PTSD and TBI. And anything else you are being evaluated for. If you don't know them, this site may help you: http://www.militarydisabilitymadeeasy.com Other things to know about the Byzantine way that PTSD and TBI are diagnosed: PTSD must first be diagnosed and rated by the military docs. You can't have a private doc diagnose it first. But you have that diagnosis now. Now a second private doc can sort out the details. ( TBI also may have to be diagnosed first by the military. I'm not sure because the DBQ is no longer on the VA site.) PTSD has only specific types of docs that can diagnose and write these letters. For PTSD, look at the top of the DBQ for the listing of health provider types that can Review your military diagnosis. https://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-0960P-3-ARE.pdf TBI also has only a set group of physician types that can diagnose or Review your military diagnosis. However, the DBQ for TBI has been missing on the VA site for at least a year. I can't find it. I did find the Coast Guard's version, which is very similar to what used to be printed up on the VA site. https://www.dcms.uscg.mil/Portals/10/CG-1/PSC/PSD/docs/VBA - Initial evaluation of TBI residuals.pdf?ver=2017-03-28-105323-973 I think a private doc can diagnose a TBI, but pick a specialist. I'd try to find a Neurologist or Psychiatrist to do it. Now the fun. You must separate the symptoms to get them rated separately. Well, not you, but someone trained that can evaluate you. If you have a TBI, it can cause a lot of the issues that PTSD have. Look at the DBQ for PTSD. TBI can also have physical symptoms like headaches, vertigo, tinnitus. If you can get it done, talk to companies that do SPECT MRIs (Warning: they are expensive). SPECT MRI can actually pinpoint the difference between TBI and PTSD in the brain. The VA was all over backing that analysis method until they realized that it would cost a fortune to analyze every soldier and would provide solid evidence about the physical injury. Places that offer SPECT scans also usually have neurological testing and usually will write nexus letters from the appropriate healthcare providers. They rated you at 70% for both. But it's going to hard to get to 100% from that point. The VA always low-balls your rating. Fight to raise the rating. There are now a lot of residuals that will eventually pop up and you will need to file on those. Use part of the lump sum payment they give you to arrange for private evaluation. The good news is that they should rate it as Permanent & Total because TBI has no expectation of getting better. If they did not do that on your rating, ask on this site and see if someone can instruct you on the letter to write about it and where to send it. PTSD is now viewed as treatable, so the VA likes to mix those because then they can harass you every 2-3 years until they take your rating away. It's never settled until you reach P&T.
  8. Thanks, GBArmy. So, here's our update from today. We did make some progress. Today, I took a bundle of paperwork, Mom, Dad, and we went on a field trip to the Baltimore, MD VA Hospital to talk to the VA Benefits office. Different experience with the USAF Reserve points card that clearly shows Dad's Title 10 service. The woman heading up all of the difficult claims called the VA Health Eligibility Center in Atlanta, GA and told the fellow on the phone about the points card. He had her fax it over to him, and then told her that he needed the DD 214 or a set of travel orders to go with it. Well, in 1968 during that call-up, they notified everyone to come in by putting out announcements on the radio and through the telephone tree. There were no orders cut. They were all local anyway. So, we don't have orders specifically for Dad. And we've already specified above that the DD 214 was never completed for most of the ANG. But what I did have was a copy of the 1968 Maryland Order to Active Duty that brought everyone into Active status via the Executive Order 11406 signed by President Johnson. They really wanted to see both the 1968 Maryland Order to Active Duty, the Executive Order 11406, and the letter that the Brigadier General in charge of the MD National Guard sent to an army serviceman in 1968 that clarified that the pay for the 6 days of active service was paid by the Federal Government and 3 days of service before the active call was paid by the State. Those and Dad's points card from the ANG. The VA Benefits counselor in Atlanta, GA then said that he wanted his supervisor to make a decision on it. We don't have the typical paperwork, but it's clear that the Title 10 service happened and Dad was there. So, they'll call us Monday with the details. Once we know if it works or not, I'll post again. If it does work, the woman at the VA Benefits section at the hospital will know what paperwork our ANG guys need. And why does this matter? Well, this week, THREE ANG servicemen from 1968 came into the Baltimore hospital VA Benefits office and asked to register this week. Three. I told her that I think they likely were State of Maryland retired employees because the State of Maryland is trying to kick the retirees off of the pharmacy plan so many will look for other possibilities. All of us State of Maryland retirees got our benefits open enrollment paperwork last week.
  9. Usually the VA exasperates me on my own behalf. Today they are doing it on behalf of my Vietnam-era father. My Dad's Air National Guard unit was activated by Lyndon B. Johnson's Executive Order 11406 on April 7, 1968 at 10:15 pm activating just about all of the Army and Air National Guard units. Dad reported for duty and for the next 6 days patrolled Baltimore's city streets under martial law. On April 12, 1968, the order was released back to state control, and the Guard units were released. Now, the Army National Guard totally had it's paperwork shit together and issued DD 220 and Form 88 for every service member called up, which created DD 214's for these service members for the 6 days of active duty service. The Air National Guard did not complete their paperwork and so Dad did not get a DD 214 for that service. Fast forward 51 years later. Dad is 80 years old. He heard from other National Guard folk that if he applies for VA Health Benefits, he will qualify because of his federal call up. This is based on 38 CFR 3.12a(a)(1) which defines the minimum period of service as: 24 months of continuous active duty; or the full period for which a person is called or ordered to active duty However, when he tried to apply, they turned him back because he does not have a DD 214 with active duty service (National Guard get ACDUTRA which is "Active Duty for Training" on an NGB 22 but his flight wing didn't do their paperwork after the riots to generate a DD 214). Now, if his active duty service was listed on any paper, he'd have VA health benefits (such as they are, but prescription plans are useful). So, I went to work and contacted the National Archives and got the paltry records back on his service. I had Mom & Dad contact the Maryland National Guard at the 5th Regiment Armory, and they very helpfully gave them a copy of Dad's USAF Reserve Personnel Record Card with his points on it which clearly has his points for those Federal call up days listed with a No in the "Time Lost" column and a Title column with "10/8500" in it. Title 10. There's another entry later that year where the 15 days of training was registered as "32/503" in the Title column. Title 32. Pretty darn clear that at least the first one should have triggered a DD 214. Probably the second also since the unit spent its time cleaning up burnt out areas of the city and boarding up buildings. I also have the Order to Active Duty from the 5th Regiment Armory that activates all Army and Air National Guard for that timeframe. In that order, most administrative paperwork is waived with the exception of morning reports, the subsistence of troops, DD Form 220 and Standard Form 88. The Army did that paperwork. The Air Guard, well, it's spotty at best but most of them don't have the DD 220 or Form 88. Air National Guard also didn't issue DD 214's for anything less than 90 days of continuous service. Dad has nothing but the copy of his points card with the Title 10 designation. It's the difference between getting benefits and not. With that one call up, he was on Active Duty and not ACDUTRA. It's not VA Pension worthy, of course, but for VA Health Benefits, it's valid. On page 5 of the Summary of VA National Guard and Reserve Benefits that I've attached, it clearly says that serving the full period of active duty counts. His active duty was 6 days. It counts. Now, what paperwork will the VA accept for the determination? They'll take the NGB 22 or the NGB 23 (points determination for retirement). Dad's NGB 22 has no mention of the Title 10 stint. The NGB 23 was never created for him since he only completed 6 years of National Guard duty. In a small paragraph buried in a 253 page booklet for separating National Guard/Reservist personnel, I found a note that states: "The Air Force Reserve provides a letter on active duty service from the Air Reserve Personnel Center (ARPC) that the VA Regional Offices accept in lieu of a DD 214." I am stumped at this point how to get the Service Verification from the Air National Guard/Air Reserve Personnel Center. The ARPC keeps telling me to leave voice mail and never contacts me (big shock. people are busy). The Air Guard won't answer phones either. All I need is a letter from them and we should have what we need to get past the gatekeepers. I'm not leaving Dad on this paper trail. We're going to solve this. But if anyone has any ideas, please let me know. --SameOldSong Former US Army, Currently rated at 30% disability but they keep disbelieving the broken bone in my neck on the x-rays SummaryofVANationalGuardandReserve.pdf
  10. Thanks Pete. I imagine that they'll just deep six the request like they've done for the medical records and buddy statements sent in support of the claim. One doctor sent the records 5 times, and the VA 'did not receive them'. The hospital sent the records twice. Nope, VA didn't get them. The buddy statement which is crucial to the case was sent once from Qatar and once from England into the VA on the right form with signatures and through the internal communications system for DoD. Nope. VA doesn't have it. They ignored the data that was pointed out in the military medical records. Hell, the Army lost half the medical records and the file had to be submitted from copied records in possession. (always copy your records and keep them. I know they do this stuff electronically now, but there must be a way to get a paper copy out of them) I've contacted a reporter from the Washington Post and the NY Times that are covering the Congressional hearings on the VA. And I'm putting together a message for the Senators on the Senate VA Affairs committee to see if we can't get some pressure to fix this ASAP. I'm sure the VA won't listen to a thing that a vet says.
  11. Brought to my attention this week. The VA appeals form, VA form 21-0958, isn't available online so it's blocking veterans from filing appeals of their healthcare ruling. If you're on a Windows, Mac, or Android platform no matter whether you have the newest Adobe Reader software or not, you can't download this form. This is the VA form that all veterans who disagree with a VA decision on disability rating must fill out to start their appeal process. Instead of a form, it's feeding everyone an error message in the form of a pdf download, whether your Adobe is up-to-date or not, that looks like this when you open up the pdf: "To view the full contents of this document, you need a later version of the PDF viewer. You can upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Reader from www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html For further support, go to www.adobe.com/support/products/acrreader.html" (I know, links in email. Google the following words: "VA form 21-0958" and try it yourself from the VA website) How serious is this? Well, the VA won't consider the appeal filed until you use this form to start the formal disagreement process. And according to the GSA website, only 144,000 forms were filed so far (none electronically) since the form debuted May 2013. There were a couple million vets who had their long overdue decisions handed down in May/June 2013 via the use of 3rd party agencies in other states that made the decisions really fast, but it looks like only 144,000 of them were unhappy with the decision? That doesn't sound correct at all. The GSA site that shows the form response rate: http://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewIC?ref_nbr=201206-2900-001&icID=202598 (Google the words: GSA 21-0958 reginfo.gov ) It's time to hit the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs with this information. Vets unfairly affected should get a time extension on their filing date. The VA should have a website capable of serving you a form that is readable by your version of Adobe Reader. They can't figure out how to set up a simple check of the Reader and pass the correct file version? Older Reader version files may not be 'fillable' but they should at least be downloadable. I found the vet the form via Scribd (and a couple of Russian sites that looked pretty dodgy for free), but that required me to pay a fee to get it for him. This is absolutely criminal obstruction. --- Attached to your decision letter, there is a copy of this Notice of Disagreement form and instructions. The VA usually fills in your "case number" (SSN) on the form when they send. But if the form is damaged or lost, getting a new copy off the web is almost impossible.
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