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I'm here because I'm not really sure where to start. I was active duty Navy from July 2004-Sept 2005, during which time I went from stable to self harm and eventually a suicide attempt that put me in Portsmouth Naval Hospital for a week. A month after I was released from psychiatric care I returned to duty for several weeks before going AWOL for 60 days, and then returning to duty. I was put on restriction, given an OTH discharge and went home hoping to put that chaos behind me. Although the therapist I was sent to on the boat was adamant that I was not bipolar, I've been treated for exactly that since 2009, along with anxiety and PTSD symptoms most likely stemming from the Bipolar disorder itself. Both my doctors and I believe that I experienced my first real mixed episode while on the ship. I am currently on SSDI if that changes anything. I guess I'm wondering:1) Is it worth attempting to get VA benefits with an OTH discharge? How hard is it to get my discharge changed, and/or is it worth going through a Character of Service determination? 2) Will the 60 day period of AWOL disqualify me from benefits? 3) 2005 was a long time ago, and though my doctors believe I had my first mixed episode as a result of the stress incurred on the ship, buddy letters in regards to depression/erratic behavior 10 years ago may be hard to acquire. How important are these to proving a connection in aggravating my Bipolar? 4) I keep reading that I need to describe an incident that aggravated my bipolar disorder. Though I did experience quite a bit of bullying and feelings of being unsafe while on duty at the hands of a specific Chief, I'd rather not drag the man's name through the mud. There's no way he could have known how "fragile" my mind was at the time, and I'm sure he simply saw me as any other shipmate who needed tough love. Do I need to detail these specific incidences, or is there a way to make the argument that my time on the ship itself caused my first mixed episode due to multiple factors?
These should be helpful to you:
Upgrading Your Discharge AND Changing the Reason for Your Discharge http://www.swords-to-plowshares.org/2012/09/27/upgrading-your-military-discharge-and-changing-the-reason-for-your-discharge/
Claims for VA Benefits and Character of Discharge
Discharge Requirements for Compensation BenefitsTo receive VA compensation benefits and services, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
Discharge Requirements for Pension BenefitsTo receive VA pension benefits and services, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
Discharge Requirements for Education BenefitsTo receive VA education benefits and services through the Montgomery GI Bill program or Post-9/11 GI Bill program, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be honorable.
To receive VA education benefits and services through any other VA educational benefits program, including the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
Discharge Requirements for Home Loan Benefits To receive VA home loan benefits and services, the Veteran’s character of discharge or service must be under other than dishonorable conditions (e.g., honorable, under honorable conditions, general).
Discharge Requirements for Insurance Benefits Generally, there is no character of discharge bar to benefits to Veterans’ Group Life Insurance. However, for Service Disabled Veterans Insurance and Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance benefits, the Veteran’s character of discharge must be other than dishonorable.
"Both my doctors and I believe that I experienced my first real mixed episode while on the ship. I am currently on SSDI if that changes anything. "
Is the SSDI specifically for Bi Polar?
Was this the only period of service you had ( meaning did you attain a prior HD for a previous service period?
Was the OTH specifically due to the AWOL?
Do you have any proof that the AWOL was directly due to a manifestation of the bi polar?
Such as did you get MH treatment during that time?
Tbird gave you some of many excellent references on the net regarding bad paper. We have had other OTH vets here as well.
I helped a bi polar friend of mine (whose claim had been denied for years) to not only keep the claim in the system but to keep lookinmg for evidence to support it.
He had a HD, but still could not prove SC, until we got his 201 Personnel file as well as his SMRs and I put together some medical info for his doc, who then realized that he had an inservice manifestation of Bi Polar which caused him to be put into the brig. He was USN, in the 60's and they didnt understand Bi polar at all in those days. If you succeed with the Character of discharge becoming favorable, you could potential succeed in getting the bi polar service connected.
They awarded him 100% P & T with a retro of almost 1/4 million...because he would not stop fighting them and finally did what I suggested to him many times ...to get that 201 file and there was the proof he needed for his VA shrink in write up the nexus.
I am minimizing how much work this all was me to even get enough medical info to get the shrink to establish the nexus,but these days that is far easier and you already have the nexus statements ,in a way:
"Both my doctors and I believe that I experienced my first real mixed episode while on the ship. "
Are they both psychologists or psychiatrists?
They might be willing to support that with a strong IMO that refers directly to your SMRs and any 201 Personnel file info and give the VA a good medical rationale for their opinions.
Just above every unit has a web site, and reunion lists, and Lookin for Rosters these days. Sometimes a simply google search of someone's name can help one to narrow down the search to a potential buddy..
"Do I need to detail these specific incidences, or is there a way to make the argument that my time on the ship itself caused my first mixed episode due to multiple factors?"
I suggest you find a vet rep who can help you carefully word the claim.
In my friend's case, there were no factors he ever mentioned that led up to his Brig incident. At least not that he recalled.
All he needed was his SMRs and the 201 Personnel file (which apparently VA did not get) ,and I found good medical treatises of bi polar manifestations,
and his VA MH doc was able to put it all together for him.....after many years of treating him for NSC bi polar.
Nothing is Impossible. But it can often take Lots of time and lots of work.
To add, have the vet rep consider carefully the Chronic Presumptive regulations:
Not much to add but I wanted to encourage you to apply for the upgraded discharge. And as for Dragging your Chief's name through the mud I just wanted to say it doesn't work that way, they aren't going to recall him and put him on trial.
CyberKnobby, Berta is on the right track, in that you do not need to necessarily have your discharge changed to win a claim for BD (Bipolar Disorder). With an OTH, the VA will make a determination on the character of your OTH discharge.
T-Bird posted some great references. Pay close attention to this one: http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/docs/COD_Factsheet.pdf
To answer your questions:
1. Yes, you absolutely have a winnable claim, provided the evidence is available and the claim is handled properly. Keep in mind that all claims these days are tedious and require a commitment by the veteran to see things through to the end. The VA is administratively incompetent these days and even the simplest claims with straightforward evidence often result in years of unjustified denials and appeals. I'm not telling you this to discourage you from applying, I just want you to understand that if the VA initially denies your claim, it's more likely to be denied because someone didn't do there job correctly, rather than because your claim is not valid. Be prepared for a long battle and if you get approved on the first or second round, you'll be golden, but if you don't, DON'T GIVE UP! Just remember the longer the wait, the greater the payoff in retroactive pay.
2. As you will note in the fact sheet above, a 60 day AWOL will not disqualify you. This would require 180 days or more. Although, the VA could find 'willful misconduct", this could be easily overcome by a Psychiatrist/Psychologist finding that your AWOL event and behavioral issues were attributable to your psychiatric condition at the time.
3. Buddy letters shouldn't be needed for your claim. Buddy letters are typically used to; substantiate veterans claims of medical issues, where records have been lost; or to substantiate stressors for PTSD claims where the veterans personnel records or SMR's (Service Medical Records) do not indicate combat or other traumas. Your SMR's should be sufficient to allow your doctor to find that your psychiatric event in service was related to your current bipolar diagnosis.
4. Stressors, such as those issues involving your chain of command can be helpful in giving your doctors additional ammunition in their rationales. I have a very similar story. I did explain those circumstances to the specialist who did my IMO (Independant Medical Opinon) without actually naming anyone by name. He used these issues in his rationale and they were supported in my SMR's in the form of me complaining of these stressors while I was psychiatrically hospitalized. I only used terms like "my section chief." Nobody is going to open any investigation against any personnel.
The very first thing that you need to do, is to request your SMR's and your .201 personnel file (if you don't already have them) and collect any medical records you can find for treatment you've received since your discharge. While you're waiting, see if you can locate a good Vet Rep with a good reputation, preferably in your area.
Also, be prepared to spend some money on a Psychiatric Professional who understands how to write an effective IMO for the VA.
Thank you so much for your help! Been having a rough week so I'm not online much, but I'm seeing my pdoc on the 22nd and will bring this up then. Is there any benefit to using DAV for my claim vs. a lawyer?
I'll be back here a lot I'm sure, you've all helped infinitely more than trying to figure this out on my own.
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