Robert B. Goss is a Veteran, attorney, and the founder of the Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. Bob, as he prefers to be called, started his law firm in response to the need he saw for a level playing field between Veterans and the government system intended to provide benefits to Veterans. Recently, I had an opportunity to discuss with Bob some of his thoughts on how Veterans can be better served. The following is Part II of a two-part conversation.
Eleanor Meltzer: Bob, I know Veterans can contact you directly. What recommendations do you have for Veterans who are struggling to obtain benefits?
Robert Goss: “Don’t wait to contact me.” I hope everyone reading this interview tells their active-duty friends the following: if you are just leaving the service, make the service give you a physical. Once you leave service (and are now a Veteran), claim ALL your disabilities. For instance, a paratrooper most likely is going to have orthopedic issues, tinnitus, hearing loss. Depending on the individual, there may be other service-connected traumas such as PTSD and burn-pit related injuries. FILE WITHIN THE 1ST YEAR after leaving the service. Why? Because then your benefits go back to the day after separation. If a Veteran has been out longer than a year, they still need to file. The sooner the better.
If a Veteran has not filed, I have to emphasize: FILE YOUR CLAIM today. A lot of Veterans don’t know this, but their benefits don’t accumulate. So, if you wait 10 or 20 years before pursuing your disability benefits, basically that’s all money lost.
M: I’ve read news stories suggesting that Veterans receive too many benefits. VA seems to be of that opinion, making it tough to obtain benefits. What is your reaction to the assertion that Veterans are “overly compensated.”
G: That kind of talk is irresponsible at the very least. Let’s be clear about this. The benefits Veterans receive – for themselves and for their families – only helps recoup some of the lost earnings they might have made had they not been injured. They’re not charity and they’re not a hand-out. Benefits don’t give you back your leg or your kidney or your peace of mind. Benefits don’t give me back my eyesight, do they? They can’t make your life the way it was before you were injured. These benefits are earned the hard way, through the Veteran’s honorable service. The Veteran has been damaged, and money can only do so much. But, it’s better to have the benefits than not to have them.
I also remind Veterans that their families, their dependents, need this assistance as much as the Veteran. So – don’t wait to file for disability or other benefits.
M: What do you say to a new Veteran who thinks disability benefits are only for “old people”?
G: I am glad you asked about new Veterans. Informed Veterans realize that disability benefits are sometimes their only real insurance. In reality, VA disability payments are not only the Veteran’s – they assist everyone in the Veteran’s family.
I recently had to explain this to a friend to get him to realize that failure to file does not create some bigger future needs-based payment. My friend is a Federal prosecutor. He’d been putting off submitting his disability claims because he thought a “bank account” of disability benefits would be there later when he needed them the most. I had some tough news for him. VA does not create an account, like a bank. If you are not receiving benefits now, you lose. VA doesn’t “save them up” for some needs-based payment later. Once I explained how failure to file was affecting not only him but his wife, then my friend understood. He realized his wife, to whom he is 100-percent devoted, could be left in dire financial straits without benefits support. Having your Veteran spouse deteriorate due to a service-connected disability is awful. Having financial stress on top of it can turn out to be unendurable.
M: I understand Veterans lose benefits if they don’t file disability claims right away. Is there any other negative impact from waiting?
G: Absolutely. The real problem with waiting is that disability claims become harder and harder to prove as each year passes. The concern I have for Veterans who wait to file claims is that when you’re 20 years old and single you don’t think about the consequences of all those jumps. Sure, it hurts, but you shake it off and have a drink with your pals. Suddenly, you’re 40 years old with severe back problems and other orthopedic issues as a direct result of that initial jump-caused knee injury. But, if you haven’t filed for disability, you can bet your boots VA will say your back and orthopedic issues weren’t caused by your jumps. Must have been caused by your civilian job.
M: What about the most severely injured Veterans? Are there issues specific to a 100-percent disabled Veteran?
G: Yes. If a Veteran is at the 100-percent disabled level, we carefully analyze their disabilities. At this level, the Veteran is likely suffering from a service-connected ailment that can actually cause the Veteran’s death. Therefore, we recommend the Veteran continue pursuing claims until that item (which can lead to the Veteran’s death) is clearly designated as service-connected. This is to protect the Veteran’s surviving spouse and children.
That’s the same thing with making the initial VA claim. Due to your service, your body was damaged – either through a disease, injury, or traumatic event. Congress set up a compensation system that acknowledges society’s responsibility to recompense, at least with money, the Veteran’s social and occupational disability impairments. The sooner you FILE FOR YOUR CLAIM, THE BETTER.
M: Bob, I met you through your work with the State Bar of Texas, as the Chair of the Military and Veterans Law Section. In addition to your work with the State Bar of Texas, what other groups do you work with?
If you are going to represent Veterans you must be a member of NOVA. NOVA is an organization of attorneys and agents dedicated to helping Veterans. NOVA just argued that VA’s mandatory NOD forms may be illegal. I helped work on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit petition that enabled NOVA’s oral arguments to this Court. The VA’s proposed Standardized NOD helps VA – not the Veteran. I have already seen that VA’s robotic reliance on their forms is designed to reduce the VA backlog through denying claims.
Since we also help Veterans with consumer-law issues here in Texas, I am active with NACA.
M: Speaking of those mandatory forms, what are your thoughts? What should Veterans do?
G: Benefits claims are so important. I would tell Veterans to hire an attorney to prepare everything for them before they submit the standardized forms to VA. My own experience is that there are a lot of traps for the unwary with VA’s forms. An attorney who is familiar with VA’s practices can definitely help Veterans and their families avoid pitfalls. Having someone who has been there is like having a guide back when the West was still wild. It’s nice to know whether that’s really water or just a mirage. We definitely know how to properly file and pursue disability claim appeals.
M: Thank you very much, Bob. I know you need to get back to several cases you are working on right now.
G: Helping Veterans is the passion of the members of the Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. Happy to talk – and I hope we get the word out to Veterans they are not alone. We are here to advocate and ensure Veterans receive the maximum benefits to which they are entitled under the law. It’s their right.
Any notice from VA should not be ignored. It won’t improve with time. The good news is, by taking prompt, early action, you are in the best position to maintain or improve your benefits situation. DON’T WAIT. Contact the Law Office of Robert B. Goss, P.C. today to a FREE consultation.