VA Disability Live Q and A Number 1
Jon Corra: Hi everyone. We hope you are going to enjoy this live Facebook Q & A for VA Disability. My name’s Jon Corra. I’m a social media specialist and community outreach specialist here at Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law. The person you’re looking at there, her name is Jess Hacker Hacker.
Jess Hacker: Hi.
Jon Corra: We wanted to give everyone a few minutes to jump on here, so we’re going to just talk with Jess Hacker a little bit about what she does and why she does it. So Jess Hacker, you’ve been here for how many years, now?
Jess Hacker: I’ve been here for seven years, as of January 11th.
Jon Corra: And we actually started in the VA department at the same time, the same day, actually, if I’m not mistaken.
Jess Hacker: Yes we did.
Jon Corra: You had been here for a little while longer, but my first day in the VA department is your same day. You kind of rose through the ranks. You’ve done everything from intake, appeals, you’ve been … Have you ever been a hearing clerk?
Jess Hacker: I have. I have done, I was in our lease and intake department whenever I went into the VA department. And I have been a case manager. I’ve been on appeals, hearing clerk, [crosstalk 00:01:07] reviews, requesting. Anything you can think of, I was probably on it.
Jon Corra: So you’re kind of a jack of all trades, correct? That’s why you’re probably the best person to lead the team because you’ve kind of done every position in there. So that’s awesome.
Jess Hacker: Thank you, Jon Corra.
Jon Corra: I actually personally didn’t realize how many of those different positions you’d held in the department.
Jess Hacker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jon Corra: So one thing we, all of us at this firm at some point, if we work in the VA department, or even the firm as a whole, we all have some kind of connection to veterans. It seems like we are driven, not just because they’re our clients, but we have a lot of veterans in our personal lives, and you have a personal connection, too. Is that correct?
Jess Hacker: I do. I have an older brother named Darin, and he is actually a veteran. He got discharged out of the military about a year or so ago, and he also did a tour in Iraq. Then, I also have a grandfather who is a veteran. So, they definitely hold near and dear to my heart.
Jon Corra: Want to say hello to anyone watching today, maybe?
Jess Hacker: Yeah, I can say hi to my brother. Hi Darin. My family.
Jon Corra: Tell all your friends to come talk to us, of course. We obviously have a passion. Jess Hacker has incredible knowledge about this. I know, of course, I’m not in the department anymore, but I still do a lot of writing, and I always go to her when I have questions. Our clients do seem to love her, so you all will love her, as well. If you do have a question today, do not hesitate to type it in the comments. We will try to get to it. If not, or if you post after this video has ended, we try to do these every month, so don’t hesitate to leave us a question for next month, either.
Jon Corra: Let’s go ahead and get started. I always tell people that one of the most important things you can do for a VA disability claim is seek medical treatment.
Jess Hacker: Yes.
Jon Corra: So Jess Hacker, I want to ask you, as someone who’s been all over your board and the department, why is medical treatment so important, and also, why are C & P exams so important for veterans?
Jess Hacker: Medical treatment is very important because when the Veteran’s Administration makes a decision that is the first thing they look at is medical treatment, consistent treatment, they look at that. If you get treated in service, and then you don’t get treatment for several years after that, a lot of the times you have to get a medical opinion linking your current diagnosis to your time in service. So that’s why treatment is very important. Also, as you mentioned, C & P exams. They’re known as Compensation and Pension exams. Those are very, very important, as well. The VA, if you do not attend these exams with good reason the VA can potentially deny your claims because you don’t go to your exam.
Jon Corra: So, we see people who have like gaps in treatment. Is that correct?
Jess Hacker: Yes.
Jon Corra: That can be an issue, too. Why can a gap in treatment be such a problem for someone?
Jess Hacker: The gap in treatment can be hard to prove because essentially we would have to prove that your current diagnosis is because of your diagnosis in service, so that’s why it’s very important if you can get a medical opinion linking your current diagnosis to your time in service, that really helps as far as your claims go, as well.
Jon Corra: Awesome. Once again, we have several people watching us right now. Thank you all so much for tuning in. If you have a question, please do not hesitate to ask. Jess Hacker is a wealth of knowledge, and she’ll be happy to answer that question for you. I have a question because I write about VA disability all the time, and I’ll just get an idea in my head, and I’ll be like, “I need to ask someone about that.” So, it’s been a while since I’ve talked to someone about a DRO hearing. Some people call it DRO, some people call it D-R-O, but I think our listeners or I’m sorry, our viewers, would like to know what is a DRO hearing? Can you explain what that’s like and where it comes in the process?
Jess Hacker: Yeah. A DRO hearing is called a Decision Review Officer hearing. This is the first initial hearing after you file your first appeal. A lot of people don’t realize it, but it’s very, very informal. This is something that a lot of our attorneys attend with our clients. It’s typically just you, your attorney, and the Decision Review Officer. It’s not in a courtroom full of people. Some people think that, and it’s not like that. These are very important for your case, as well. That is your opportunity to present why you feel that you should be service-connected or increased on your claims.
Jon Corra: So what, a DRO is essentially like a judge, correct? Is that the best way to put it?
Jess Hacker: Yeah, sort of.
Jon Corra: But it’s much more informal.
Jess Hacker: Yeah. It’s much more informal.
Jon Corra: Everyone might think like Judge Judy or People’s Court, but it’s nothing like that, correct?
Jess Hacker: No, no, no. It’s nothing like that at all.
Jon Corra: Now, correct me if I’m wrong, can those be done in person and via video conference?
Jess Hacker: They can be done in person. Also informally. A lot of the video conference hearings are at the BVA level, which is the Board of Veterans Appeals level. But our attorneys, they are able to, typically they’ll go to the regional office or sometimes they’re held at, if the VA medical centers are closer to them, they can be held there via video conference with the regional office. So there are times that yes, we are able to do those video conference, or we can do them informally by phone.
Jon Corra: Great. Now, Rebecca Window just tuned in and said, “This is great” and gave us a smiley wink, so we appreciate that.
Jess Hacker: Thank you.
Jon Corra: If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. That’s what we’re here for. Jess Hacker has been doing this for such a long time that she can probably tell you stuff backward and forwards and every which way.
Jess Hacker: I hope so.
Jon Corra: That brings us to our next question. Jess Hacker, Gulf War Illness, that can be really tricky for a lot of veterans. I personally still get confused because it’s something that I’m dealing with every, every day. Can you tell us just briefly like what is Gulf War Illness, which veterans are impacted, and how does that work for a disability claim?
Jess Hacker: I actually brought a list for everyone who’s watching. I don’t know each claim. It’s not in my head, as far as what should be diagnosed, what should be undiagnosed, but typically the Gulf War Syndrome claims are for veterans who served in southwest Asia during the theater military operations. They can either have certain undiagnosed illnesses or certain diagnosed chronic disabilities, all depending on what their diagnosis is, or if they have symptoms. A couple things that we see a lot for Gulf War Syndrome claims are just typical ones are headaches. When we see a lot of veterans coming back from, you know, they’re in the Gulf War, they’re experiencing headaches. Also, another one is I see a lot of irritable bowel syndrome claims. We see a lot of those. If you’re experiencing symptoms it’s something we definitely want to ask our clients about, because a lot of people don’t realize that if these claims are out there that you can file. So it’s very important, and it’s actually great for our Gulf War veterans.
Jon Corra: Now, this is something I get a question about quite often when I talk to veterans about it. Does that include veterans who served in Afghanistan? Because when we think about it, we think both those wars or conflicts were happening at the same time. So, are veterans who served in Afghanistan also impacted by this?
Jess Hacker: Unfortunately, no. But there is something also known as Burn Pit Exposure. A lot of Gulf War veterans were exposed to burn pits, where they burned everything. That’s how they disposed of their trash, anything and everything you can think of. And a lot of them breathed that in, so there are claims for respiratory conditions due to burn pit exposure, and that does include veterans who were in Afghanistan, as well as the others.
Jon Corra: Alright everyone, we apologize for that. We had a brief technical issue there. Jess Hacker was explaining to us what she likes about VA disability and what the best parts are. If you want to continue with that real quick for us?
Jess Hacker: Sure. What I was saying was, I love waking up and coming to my job every day because we are getting benefits for people that deserve them. It’s a very hard and long fight, especially for our veterans, so I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to help them get those benefits, as well as the rest of our team. I know personally that all of our team is very passionate about what they do, and that’s what makes it great to come to work every day.
Jon Corra: Alright, everyone. Thanks for joining us. We do apologize for that little technical glitch. Technology is great when it works, of course, and we’re kind of in the middle of the building here, so sometimes we have trouble getting the WiFi signal. So thank you all for joining us again. Once again, if you have a question, please do not hesitate to submit it.
Jon Corra: I had another question here, because I often get confused about this one, as well. We hear a lot of people ask about the secondary claims for a VA disability claim. I personally just can get confused about that, so I’m sure some of our listeners or viewers out there have the same issue. Would you mind explaining how secondary claims work?
Jess Hacker: Yeah. A lot of people don’t realize that if you currently already have a service-connected disability claim that you can file secondary claims for those to also get them service connected. One example that we see a lot of is, let’s say someone is service connected to their back condition, and they have radiculopathy of the upper and lower extremities because of their back, you don’t actually have to be seen for the radiculopathy in service, but we can somehow try to link it to your current back condition, and you can get additional percentage on that, as well. A lot of another thing is, if you’re service connected to your right knee condition and you’re overcompensating your left because your right is injured, but now you’ve developed disability for your left knee you can also file a claim for that secondary to your right knee, and you can get additional compensation for that.
Jon Corra: That’s what I was just going to ask you about. Knees are always the first thing that comes to mind for me, so you kind of read my mind there, so thank you for that.
Jess Hacker: You’re welcome.
Jon Corra: I think that’s one of those things that so many veterans aren’t aware of.
Jess Hacker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jon Corra: Because there’s not enough information out there.
Jess Hacker: Right.
Jon Corra: And the VA doesn’t do a good job of telling people when they get discharged what they can do.
Jess Hacker: Yeah, another thing, just to add one. A lot of we see a lot of times, if a veteran has a bunch of disability claims, and it’s preventing them from doing a lot and they become depressed because of those claims because they aren’t able to do certain things they were able to do, we’re also able to file depression secondary to those physical disability claims, and you can get an additional percentage on that, as well. That’s a really big one.
Jon Corra: Great. I didn’t know that, actually.
Jess Hacker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jon Corra: Holly Mitchell is watching.
Jess Hacker: Hi, Holly.
Jon Corra: Holly, we appreciate you tuning in. If you have any disability questions, don’t hesitate to ask. And we appreciate everyone who’s tuning in right now. Once again, please submit your questions. If you have any, we’re more than happy to get to those for you. I, of course, have another question. And this one I sort of know the answer to, but I think a lot of people can get confused about it because there are so many options now when it comes to VA disability representation.
Jess Hacker: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jon Corra: Obviously, you can go one route and have volunteers working your case, but a lot of people, in fact, thousands of people, have chosen Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law to be their representative. Why would someone choose us, and how does our firm work? Because it’s not just one person working on your case the entire time. It’s really a team effort.
Jess Hacker: Yes, it’s a huge team effort. We have several years of experience in our allotted business. One of our managing lead attorneys, Heather Vanhoose, she’s been here since we actually started doing VA disability law at Jan Dils. And then we also have two other attorneys, Angie Lowe and Megan Fuller. They’re based out of our Charlotte office. But we do have several different positions within our department. There’s not just one single person working on our client’s claims. We have several different people working on claims. Initially, it would start out in our intake department. They would get all the information. Once we received the paperwork back, you’ll actually be assigned a case manager. We have two case managers for different parts of the alphabet. They’re essentially your liaison between the client and the attorney’s, so if you ever have questions, you can call them.
Jess Hacker: They can answer any questions you may have, submit documents for you, file any new claims for you because all our attorneys are very, very, very busy going to hearings for all our clients, so we just want to ensure that we’re giving the best customer service as possible. If we get a decision on a client, we have an appeals team who actually files appeals for our clients after the attorney reviews it. We also have our hearing clerks, who help all of our attorneys prepare and get ready for the hearings. And then we have our requesters and the reviewers. We have a team who requests the medical records, and then we have a team who actually reviews the medical records.
Jess Hacker: And then a really important department that we have is called the claims file review. Whenever our client initially becomes a client, we will request an entire copy of the claims file. These can range from 200 pages to 18-20,000 pages. It really just depends. It’s based on, if you were seen, it’ll have your service treatment records, which are your military records. All your military administration records, all of your VA medical records, private records, any decision or appeal that’s ever been submitted to the VA. It’ll have that in the file, and we do have a team who does a thorough review of that file. They take it with a fine-toothed comb and look through it because we want to be able to get our clients the best, as far as getting them service connected for what we can. Our team leader for that department is Chris Fluharty.
Jon Corra: Awesome. And Bethany has a great question I wonder if you could get to in just a second. I want to do a quick follow up. We have it set to where our clients can call us at any time for updates.
Jess Hacker: Yep.
Jon Corra: Any time you have a question about your case, you want to know what’s going on, if you need a further explanation, you call and speak with a case manager.
Jess Hacker: Yes.
Jon Corra: If they don’t get in touch with you, they’ll return your call within 24 hours.
Jess Hacker: Yes.
Jon Corra: We even have where people can ask questions online. We have the report and update feature on our website. I’m even happy to relay messages from our Facebook page, if necessary. We want to provide excellent customer service, and there are several routes. But you guys also do a followup, is that correct? Like you have it set to where, no matter what, X amount of time will go by before speaking to a client.
Jess Hacker: Yes. We have a 90-day followup where we will reach out to our clients, get all updated medical treatment and make sure that they haven’t received anything that we have not received. There are a lot of instances and we like to tell our clients that if you receive something from the VA, please be sure to give us a call, because there are times that we don’t receive decisions, forms, and those types of things from the VA, even though we’re supposed to. But we’ve been running into that problem. We want our communication with them, as well as we want our clients to communicate with us, and we want to be there for them.
Jon Corra: One of the biggest misconceptions is, we’re at the mercy of the VA, too. That’s the thing. We’re doing lots of work on peoples’ cases when we’re still waiting for them to get back to us on a decision. The VA’s timeline is just getting worse and worse and worse, and we’ll talk about that more here in a minute. That’s one of the biggest things. We have frustrations with the VA, too. We would love for them to hurry up and get decisions back. So we definitely understand where people can get frustrated for that.
Jon Corra: Bethany has a great question. She asks I know you know the answer to this one. She asks, “Can you file a social security disability claim when you’re receiving VA disability?”
Jess Hacker: Yes. Yes, you can. Social security really isn’t my line of business, so I don’t know a lot about social security, but you can file. There are two different types of social security claims. They are SSDI and then SSI, which is based on your income. It all just depends, as far as your income goes. And they would offset the two, but yes, you can file for social security disability and veteran’s disability. We actually have several of those clients that are both VA clients as well as social security clients.
Jon Corra: I will jump in on that one, too, because I do a little bit of social security. And I know a very little bit about personal injury, but you just pick up on things from time to time. Social security wants to know if you’re disabled or not. VA disability, they want to know if you’re disabled because of the military. So that’s one of the things where, if the VA has said that you’re disabled, it will help your social security case, most likely. No guarantees, though, by any means. But the fact that it’s been proven, that will help, and you definitely want to submit any VA records with your social security file, too because they don’t communicate with each other. A lot of people think that it’s the same, social security and VA disability, and they’re not. They do not just automatically get your records. So it’s one of the things just to keep in mind, of course.
Jess Hacker: Yeah, and the difference between those two, as well as, with VA, a lot of people don’t realize this, you can work as well and get your VA disability benefits. There is a claim. It’s called individual unemployability, if you’re unable to work due to your service-connected disability claims, and if you meet certain percentage criteria. You can also file for that, and if you’re awarded the VA will pay you at 100% rate.
Jon Corra: But with that, you cannot work, correct?
Jess Hacker: Right. You cannot work with that.
Jon Corra: And of course, social security, same thing. You really shouldn’t be working with social security, either. I also want to know about the national average for cases right now, because it feels like it’s gotten worse. And both you and I have been doing this for seven years, and it just seems like it’s continually getting worse. Can you elaborate on the VA disability timeline?
Jess Hacker: Yeah. As far as filing new claims, those have actually gotten better. A couple years ago, it used to take 12-18 months just to get a decision on a new claim, but now they’re being worked out of a national work queue, so there are several people working on new claims. So we’re typically seeing decisions come within 4-6 months of the filing dates. Appeals take a little bit longer. The national average is between 12-18 months, but it really just depends on which regional office you’re working with. Sometimes typically it does take longer than the 18 months, but the great thing about hiring our office is we are constantly following up with the VA, ensuring that we get a hearing or decision back from them, and then as well as if you file a hearing at the BVA level, which is the Board of Veterans Appeals level, they’re actually based out of Washington, D.C.
Jess Hacker: Right now, they’re currently working on appeals at the end of 2014 and slowly into 2015 when you file the appeal date. So those are a little longer than 12-18 months. It is unfortunate, but at the same time, we try to let our clients know, “It’s going to be okay, and there’s just several veterans who are filing claims who deserve them, which is creating the backlog.”
Jon Corra: Jose Gonzalez just commented. He says hello from Lebanon.
Jess Hacker: Hi.
Jon Corra: We’re international, now. Not too bad for a law firm in West Virginia.
Jess Hacker: I know.
Jon Corra: You know, that’s actually a good point. I’m glad Jose mentioned that. We do represent veterans nationwide.
Jess Hacker: Yes, we do.
Jon Corra: We have clients in all 50 states, and we’re proud of that because we work really hard to get our name out there, and I personally love talking to veterans. I mean, I don’t do as much myself anymore, but I love hearing their stories, and they almost always have a great sense of humor, and it’s really a lot of fun, too. I’m going to go back to what you said, too. So, the national queue, so for instance, if I file a new claim now, it’s not necessarily going to be directly handled by like West Virginia regional office?
Jess Hacker: Correct.
Jon Corra: Oh wow, okay.
Jess Hacker: Yeah, it’s worked out of it’s called a national work queue. There’s different types of regional offices who are working on those claims. They’re pushing them through much more quickly. Just one thing I want veterans to know, also. It is a very lengthy process, however, the great thing about that is, typically your effective date will go back to the time that you had filed the claim. So even if you’re waiting three years, if you get awarded, you’re going to get that three years of back pay.
Jon Corra: That’s great news. I must admit I did not realize that. So I learned something new today, too, because we used to always feel, especially for people in certain states. We don’t want to name names, by any means, but there were certain areas that were worse than others. And we have states like New Hampshire, which have a low bedroom population, who just happens to be quicker. So that’s great. That’s wonderful to hear. I need to write a blog about that, Jess Hacker.
Jess Hacker: I know.
Jon Corra: Before we go, Daryl Cruz wanted to say that he’s very satisfied with Jan Dils, and Angie Lowe in Charlotte is awesome. I’m also a fan of Angie Lowe in Charlotte. For those of you who don’t know, Angie’s actually married to an air force … is he a veteran, or is he still serving in the Navy?
Jess Hacker: He’s still serving. Yes.
Jon Corra: So that’s awesome.
Jess Hacker: Yeah.
Jon Corra: He was recently deployed, and we have pictures on our Facebook page from where he returned from service. It seemed like all of our attorneys, at least on the VA side, have some sort of connection to veterans. It’s great. Daryl, thank you for your comment. We definitely appreciate that. We love working with all our veteran clients, but we are going to go ahead and sign off for now, but we appreciate everyone who stopped by. It looks like we got a bunch of likes and loves here recently, and smiley faces. So we appreciate that. We’re going to keep doing it. We’re going to do another one next March, or not next … in March. If you think Jess Hacker did a good job, be sure to like this video. We want to make sure that she does it. She gets a little nervous sometimes, but I think she has nothing to worry about.
Jess Hacker: Thank you.
Jon Corra: That’s all for now. Thank you, guys. Jess Hacker.
Jess Hacker: Thank you guys so much. If you have any questions, please comment below, and we will get back to them.
Jon Corra: Yeah. And if you watch this after we’re done going live, we’ll be happy to answer them next time, or message us on Facebook. I can always relay them to whoever. So we appreciate it. You all have a wonderful afternoon.