(Part 1) Every veteran knows that the process to claim disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs can be complicated and frustrating.
Often, you need to enlist some help to get the compensation you deserve. We are excited to welcome Jim Brzezinski from Tabak Law back to the show to share his expertise and insights about the current VA disability claim landscape.
Questions? Comments? Continue the discussion by requesting access to our exclusive WVF Facebook Group.
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Today on Wisconsin veterans forward. All right . Let's talk about VA disability claims. And some of you might be saying, but Adam at the , at the Wisconsin veterans chamber of commerce right now, it's restaurant and retail month, why would you be talking about VA disability claims inform ? Well , first off, it's really, really important for everyone who served and their families to ensure that the department of defense, the department of veterans affairs, is holding up their end of the agreement and supporting you in the way that they committed to doing. When you signed on the out in line, when you did that, you made a commitment to them, but they also made a promise to you. And a lot of times they don't follow through on that. You follow through, you serve on honorably. Uh , they need to follow through too. So like overarchingly super important thing at all times, but like, it can be really hard to engage in retail operations, whether you are a consumer or an entrepreneur or a salesperson or a business owner, whatever, it can be hard to do things that are as pedestrian as going to a restaurant and enjoying a meal with your family, because you may be dealing with the lingering, physical, or mental or otherwise, or combined effects of things that are plague you by virtue of your service. Why ? I mean, it's, it's hard to talk about things that seem so pedestrian when there are people who are suffering and not getting taken care of the way that they earned, they earned that. And a lot of veterans are like, you know, I wouldn't, you know, I don't need to file a claim. You know, I'm not a taker or I, you know, I don't need handouts, baloney , take that attitude and throw it away. That's dumb. The department of defense made you a promise that they would take care of you enduringly financially medical clear otherwise, for anything that happened to you, almost anything that happened to you or any ailment that developed while you were serving, they promised to do that. You're not a , you're not a , you're not asking for a handout by having them fulfill their end of the agreement. That was part of the deal. And a lot of people don't realize that a lot of veterans don't realize that and it drives me nuts. So I'm a , I'm an evangelist for this. So we're taking a step away from talking about retail and restaurants. We'll get back to that next week. But in the meantime, we need to talk about this, cuz this topic always crops up and I get straighten Because there's so much that y'all deserve and have earned That you deserve to be taken care of for whether that is a financial compensation, whether that's medical benefits, whatever, and sometimes believe it or not. The , the process of filing for these and getting the VA to follow through on their end of the deal can be really complicated and they often don't get it right. Sometimes you'll use a , a veteran services officer VSO you'll use a , an office like the D uh , disabled American veterans or the VFW or , uh , American Legion or any of those departments that are actually certified to help people file disability claims. And I think that's a great place to start. I've used them myself from DAV to American Legion to, I mean, my initial claim, I filed through Texas vet commission outta San Antonio. And a lot of that got , uh , got substantiated and I got a disability rating for excellent. There's some things that they got wrong. And a couple of them , I was like, okay, whatever. But some of them were like, okay, this is bothering me because this is an enduring issue. How can I get them? Like, I've appealed. How can I get them to get this right? Sometimes when you need someone or when you need some help, need some firepower getting it right. Sometimes you need to turn to somebody who has a specific targeted expertise in this field. In speaking the VA's language and speaking the department of defense's language in doing what needs to be done, to get folks taken care of the way they've earned and deserve to be taken care of, I've done it. Lots of people have done it. I've called on this person personally for help saw . And he's helping me right now. He's a rockstar. And so is this whole team, Jim Bronski, he's the man payback law. They're amazing. Today. We're gonna talk about the current climate, current state of the department of veterans affairs. There's a lot of changes. Lot of things you need to know about current state of VA disability benefits. And we're gonna talk about like, what is the process? What happens when you need more firepower, when you need somebody in your corner like Jim, and like the , the team at Taback law to, to , you know, to go duke it out for you , how do you go through that process? What, what is their , what , what can you expect? We're gonna get into all of that exciting stuff. After this very brief bump , you are listening to Wisconsin veterans forward. Wisconsin's premier audio resource for veterans, military families, veteran owned and veteran friendly businesses. Wisconsin veterans forward is brought to you by the Wisconsin veterans chamber of email@example.com , friends. Happy to introduce my friend, Jim Bronski from Taback law. How are my ma'am?Speaker 2:
I'm doing great, Adam, I'm happy to be here. And , um, you know, I really enjoyed listening to your first few minutes , um, talking about the fact that these benefits are not a handout. They furthest thing from a handout. I mean, absolutely. Um, I , you know, there's a lot of other government benefits that are also not handouts that people feel the same way, but this one in particular is , uh , I mean, you know, and , and you being someone who served, I, I was not , um, I I'm lucky enough to work with you folks who have, and I get to experience , um , you know, the , um, uh, having conversations with some amazing people who have put their lives on the line and, and some of 'em are paying the price now, even post-military. And , and that's really what it's all about. You know, the VA did this , uh, did was, was formed basically as an insurance policy, right? Like, you know , you go to work for, with Wisconsin veteran chambers of veteran chamber of commerce. You've got insurance, you've got workers comp insurance. You've probably got an , uh , an option to buy disability insurance. You've probably got an option to buy life insurance. You've probably got medical insurance. Well, you know, guess what the military has those things too. And , um, you know, if, if you bought health insurance and you were suffering from some sort of medical condition, would you ever say, oh, you know what, I don't need it. I, you know, I don't need treatment. I , ISpeaker 1:
Don't wanna hand out yeah .Speaker 2:
A handout or, you know, like, let's say you have life insurance, you pass away. Is your widow gonna say , uh , you know, I , I don't need it. I'm fine though . It it's, it's the same, it'sSpeaker 1:
A really good point . I never thought of it like that.Speaker 2:
It's the same thing. And it's, yeah . And , and I, I mean, especially, you know, the people who are enlisted and just get in, I mean, I see what the salary is. It's not, you're not being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to be in the military. These benefits are what make up for that, you know, lower , uh, I don't wanna say lower, but it's, you know, it's, it's included , um, just like any other job, the benefits are part of the packageSpeaker 1:
Part of the total compensation package. Absolutely.Speaker 2:
Um, so yeah, what , what you said, I have that conversation all the time and it's, it's on . And , and, you know, I, if, if my tax dollars being a, non-veteran have to go to something , um, this is what I want going for, and I want people taking advantage.Speaker 1:
I think that's awesome. And, and I'm just curious, I , we may have talked about this last time you were on the show. We've had, you've, you've been our, our most repeat guest here.Speaker 2:
Hey , I thinkSpeaker 1:
This is our third or fourth time chatting. And just, it's, it's always a hit every time people, people need this information and they share it with the people that they love. So you not being a service member yourself. What drove you to this, this specific discipline of law?Speaker 2:
You know, it was , um, a little bit of a few different things, kind of all colliding at once. Um, when I went to law school, I had no idea that this is where I would be. Right. I didn't know it was even an option as a practice area really. Hmm . Um, so going back to probably around 2007, I, I got a job with the VA. Um, now I do have service member , uh , family members who are, you know, active duty we're in all 20 years and re retired.Speaker 1:
Sure . Um ,Speaker 2:
My grandpa was a , uh, ended up as a senior master Sergeant with the one 28th outta Mitchell. My uncle's over there right now. Um , oh, nice. Was in the Navy and it's um, so, you know, it's not like I, I didn't have any experience , um, with the whole , um , veterans military, you know, they were deployed during the Gulf war and I, I got to be, you know, that experience of having a family , family member over there during that thing . So, so I do have that. Um, but what really, the progression of my career, basically in 2007, I, I had a friend who was working at the VA and there was this huge hiring blitz, like they, my class. And it was like I say, class, because when we did a training, there was like a hundred people being trained for my position over at the Milwaukee VA at the time. Mm . And , um, and I think I was probably like the third out of five classes like that, that all happened within like a six month period. So it was, it was , um , basically what happened was some funding got allocated. They had to use it immediately or lose it and, and , oh boy, did they use it? So, so that was how I got in. Um, I started off as a , a VSR, which is a veteran service representative, basically, you know, the letters you get from the VA VSRs, draft those up in , send them out. So there's a , a group that tells the VSRs what the actual decision is. Then the VSRs are the people who basically take what they're told and, and communicate the decision. So that was what I was doing. Um, you know, then because of being in law school, I was eligible to get up to what's called the rating org or becoming an RVSR, which is, you know, when you file, you get that first rating decision. Um, I was the one, I was one of the people who was taking the evidence, writing those decisions, making the actual decision and , um, you know, and , and then sending it down to the RVSR to be mailed out. So did that for a couple of years. And then , um, I was actually going to law school, part-time at Marquette at night. And, you know, it ended up getting to the point where I , I sort of had to choose like law school or my career with the VA, which the VA's a pretty decent job and not many people leave there once they're in there. Cuz you know, you got the government Benny's, you got theSpeaker 1:
Great benefits.Speaker 2:
So , um , but I had , uh , you know , I had already invested, you know, two years worth of tuition into law school and I was like, okay, well I , I have to do this. So , um, so I left to finish full-time um, but what I was doing was I was still volunteering at the VA. I was volunteering in the legal clinic, which I don't know if you ever back in like the, the old buildings back behind the hospital, there was this , uh, this building that was , is not quite from the civil war, but probably pretty close that theySpeaker 1:
It's the one that they recently refurbished.Speaker 2:
Yeah. So right. So they, they did the soldiers homes, which were kind of right , right . It was around there, but there's a , there's a little admin building that , um, they would let us come in and we would do these legal clinics where vets could come with literally any legal issue. There's an attorney. And then there's law students working together with the attorney to get some sort of advice , um, to the, the veterans. And, and the funny thing was because of the VSOs that are available to vets for free, whenever someone came in with a benefit question, as part of us being there, we had to refer them to the VSO. Like we weren't help with benefits, even though I , I had some really good knowledge to pass along at the time,Speaker 1:
Years of experience too. Yeah.Speaker 2:
So what ended up happening was, you know, I ended up actually talking with a couple just either before or after the clinic started or ended. And I ended up giving a few vets, just some pointers, just not really like, you know, I wasn't like representing them or sure . Detailed advice, but like, Hey, here's what I would do in your situation. Go do this, get that. And what ended up happening was like, the word got out that, you know, I could be there cuz we'd say, okay, go to the VSO. And they're like, well, I just came from the VSO. Like this is they , they didn't have a solution for me , you know? And , and that's why , why they were seeking legal help. Um, you know, this was 2011, there really wasn't anyone practicing around the area at the time. I don't think there really are many more , um, you know , focus on it. There's a nice firm out in Madison called west and dun westSpeaker 1:
And dun. Yep . They're they're uh , uh , partners of ours. Yeah . Uh , members of the chambers. Well, good people overSpeaker 2:
There. Yeah. They're great. So , um , Shauna actually worked in the same department I did as , uh , R VSR in the about that . Yeah. So , uh , we didn't work together. We just barely cross missed cross crossing paths. But , um, so she started took the same trajectory as me into, you know, helping vets and uh , but anyways, so I was at these clinics. I was , um, sort of getting the word out and there'd be people coming when I was scheduled to work and like waiting after. And, and we talked , so what ended up happening was , um, after like a year and a half more of law school and doing these volunteer clinics, I had probably a good 15 to 20 vets that were just waiting for me to graduate. And um, and um, you gotta get accredited by the VA to represent veterans, you know, an attorney you have to be accredited. So you can't just pick up and say, I'm gonna represent a veteran on a VA. Right . Cause you won't be recognized by the VA unless you go through their accreditation process. Um, so, so I had to get that. And then within a few months of graduation, may of 21, or I'm sorry, may of 11 , um, you know, I got the accreditation accreditation and I, I started working on these cases and, and um, you probably have been applying long enough that you remember the old appeals process with , uh, you know, you file and you could file an an N O D with a where you notice disagreement and you could get a decision . And I mean, the funny thing back then is it literally took sometimes five years from the date. You file a disagreement wow. To get , um, to get the next step of the decision, which was called a stay of the case . And then it could be sometimes another three or four years before you would get a hearing with a judge. If you asked for one , um , that'sSpeaker 1:
Insane. And how many people give gave up during that period of time. Oh,Speaker 2:
I , I could tell you now, like the vast majority, because now they're coming back again and I'm looking and I see, okay, well you, you know, they five , but now they've let their appeal period pass.Speaker 1:
Um, and, and I'll tell you, some of them , some of those cases are still pending, not as many, but , uh , it's not uncommon for me to sign on a vet who thinks they don't have a claim pending because it's been literally years since they've heard anything, butSpeaker 1:
There's still something in process somewhereSpeaker 2:
I get in the file . 'em like , Hey, you actually, we don't need to file this. We actually just need to prepare because you're going to have a hearing probably within the next year or so. Um , because it's already filed. Uh , and , and that , andSpeaker 1:
Now the process doesn't take quite as long.Speaker 2:
No, it's gotten better. It actually has. Um, and it's because they've opened up some new channels of appeals. Um, it used to be very linear. Like you would file your case. If you got denied, you would file a notice of disagreement. You would wait for a statement of the case, which I said , like I said, it could take sometimes three or more years. And then if you still weren't happy, you could file what was called a form nine, go to the BVA and wait , you know, either , um , just get a decision from a judge or get a hearing and then, you know, go to the courts after that. Well, now what you can do is you can file your case, allow the VA to work it up with what they've got, get a decision. And the VA will notify you. What's missing rather than file an appeal right away. You can get what's missing and file. What's called a supplemental claim. Um, and there's certain times that you still would go into the next level, even, you know, even if that they came with that, which, you know, we can talk about if there's time, but you, you can actually file a supplemental claim even though you, and basically it starts the process over again. It's like, like, okay, I , you , you can save my effective date from this first claim, but I wanna go through the original claim process again, because here's new evidence that you didn't see last time.Speaker 1:
You know, the drill, this dialogue , this interview will, will be continued in the very next episode of Wisconsin, veterans Ford, which is sitting there waiting for you right now. What are you waiting for? Head on over there? We'll see you there. Thank you for listening to Wisconsin veterans forward brought to you by the Wisconsin veterans chamber of commerce. Please visit firstname.lastname@example.org . Don't forget to subscribe to this podcast, leave a rating and review in whatever platform you're listening through.