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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

An "Advocate" is not always an "Advocate". Let the buyer beware.

Hello, Invisible Reader. I'm finding that I'm covering more topics that stray from my battles against the VA more and more often. Variety is the spice of life. So, it's all good. If you don't like it you won't read this blog. I guess it's as simple as that.

Over the years I've subscribed to a lot of online Veterans groups. I subscribed to them in search of support. That's what Veterans do. We seek out our own kind. We subscribe to these groups looking for help. We hope that someone will have all the answers for us.

One group that I subscribed to and have been a member of for years is moderated by a Gulf War Veteran. Over the years I've tried to post the plight of women Veterans to that group. I've tried to post articles about how unfairly women Vets are treated at the VA Hospitals, how unfairly our claims are treated, how our claims for Military Sexual Trauma are rejected more often than our male counterparts are rejected for PTSD. The owner/moderator of that particular group basically told me I was out of my mind and had no clue what I was talking about. He refused to allow me to post links for women Veterans. He slapped me on moderate so that he could review all my posts. Needless to say, most of my posts never made it to the list. You can bet anything I tried to post on Don't Ask Don't Tell never saw the light of day.

Speaking of Don't Ask Don't Tell ... I've been asked on lists I've been a member of NOT to post anything about Don't Ask Don't Tell. I've been told not to bring up the subject of gays in the military. What kind of shit is that?

Just yesterday I unsubscribed from a group. I got into a pissing contest with one of the moderators. Someone posted some old information to the group. I made the comment "This is old news but thanks for sharing." The member had posted the info that Veterans and Retirees could now salute when the National Anthem was played. President Bush signed that into the Defense Authorization Act of 2009 in OCTOBER 2008. To me, that's old news. My comment was not sarcastic. I thanked the sender for posting it. The moderator jumped my shit and in his final email to me ... in a public forum, told me that if I commented one more time he would remove me "... understand". Since that was not the first time I'd gotten into it with that moderator, I unsubscribed myself. This particular group of late has had very little information being posted other than "prayer requests" for sick Veterans. I don't see how that is supposed to help the Veterans who go to that group for help with claims.

The best group on the internet right now is Jim Strickland's STRAIGHT TALK for Military Veterans. Anything goes. I should know. I'm a moderator on that group. Okay, okay .. so maybe I'm a little biased. We don't shy from anything. You should join us there. We have some really great people on our board including a couple of NOVA Attorneys who offer free advice on your claims. All we ask is that you don't flame the other Veterans in the group. We're all brothers and sisters there. Peace, love and harmony. We don't fight there. Debate, yes. That's fun. But keep it civil.

But back to my original subject. On all of these Veterans boards there are self proclaimed "Advocates." When you ask them what their qualifications are you never get a straight answer. They will tell you they've been doing claims for Vets for years. They will tell you that because they research information on the internet and they help Veterans, they are an "Advocate". They will tell you because they help Veterans fill out a claims application they are an "Advocate." Ask them what training they've had and they can't tell you. They will tell you that Bubba at the DAV, the VFW, The American Legion taught them how to fill out a claims application. That makes them an "Advocate". Does it? Do you really want to put your future in the hands of someone who doesn't know VA Law? I don't.

I've learned a lot this last year as my claim has gone through the system. You know my story if you've been reading this blog from the beginning. Am I an "Advocate"? Hell no. Do I talk about benefits to friends and strangers? You're damn right I do. Do I try to help every person that I can? You're damn right I do. Does that make me an "Advocate"? Nope. It sure doesn't. It just means that I want to help my brothers and sisters get everything they have coming to them. I don't pretend to know VA Law. I don't pretend to understand the system. I know just enough to make me dangerous. What I do know is where to go for answers. I am learning how to research. I have a long way to go before I will ever say I am an "Advocate".

Here is what I know. I completed the Vocational Rehab program in December 2000. I know how to apply. I can advise Veterans how that works. I can assist them with that and I can tell them how the program works. I know that program well because I was in it. Now I know that you can go back into Voc Rehab outside the 12 year window if your circumstances have changed drastically. I know that from personal experience. I can share with my brothers and sisters how to get back into Voc Rehab and how the Independent Living Program works because I'm living it. Does that make me an "Advocate"? Nope. But for some people, it does.

I am an 80% service connected disabled Veteran. I know how to file a claim. I can tell a Veteran how to file a claim and where to go to get the forms. I can point them in the direction of Jim Strickland's A to Z Guide with instructions on how to file a claim. That does not make me an "Advocate". It just means I'm one Veteran looking out for another Veteran.

What I'm telling you is this. Beware of self proclaimed "Advocates". Ask them what their qualifications are. Did they take and pass the course from the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP)? I haven't, but I will. One of my long term goals of my Independent Living Plan is to work with Veterans. I want to help Veterans get the benefits that I have. I will be taking this course. Will that immediately make me an "Advocate"? Not really. I have to take the exam in order to become a "certified Advocate" but even then, I still have a lot to learn. A certificate will not automatically make me an "Advocate". Experience will do that. A proven track record will do that. Trust and faith from other Veterans will do that.

One last thought before I let this go. On the boards a lot of the "Advocates" are the spouses of Veterans. I admire the work they do. Don't get me wrong. It's great that they stand beside their spouses. But I have to tell you this. Those "Advocates" did not wear the uniform. As a good friend said to me recently, "they are like the Ladies Auxiliary at the VFW or the DAV or the American Legion. They wear the vests with all the flash, they shine their shoes the brightest, they sing the songs the loudest but when it comes down to it, they are not Veterans." We Vets feel a bond, you see. I don't have that bond with the spouse of a Veteran. Sure, I can have a conversation with a spouse. But when push comes to shove, I have absolutely nothing in common with that spouse. That spouse didn't wear the uniform and they just don't "get it." They think they do, but they don't. But put me next to a Veteran and he or she is my brother or sister. Instantly.

Brothers and sisters, beware. When you're on the boards and an "Advocate" answers your questions, ask that "Advocate" where they got their qualifications. Are they trained in VA Law? Can they back up their answers? Life experience is good, Invisible Reader. I have a lot of that. I share it with friends and strangers. But I don't call myself an "Advocate" and I abhor those who do.

Until the next time...


  1. I like you style. Everything you've said is true. I have been to the DAV, VFW, advocates and attorneys. Now it has been 17 years that the VA wrote me a letter of S/C for one of three disbilities. Not rated yet, it may be another 17 years for that (I may be dead or homeless), and another umpteen years for the appeal of the other two. Fortunately, I had been referred by a secretary from of of the many attorney's offices I contacted to represent me in my claim to the VA Law Clinic. This representive and team have worked endlessly on my behalf and I am thankful for them. And I will make this site and Strickland's for further research.
    I am so happy you are speaking out for women because we are under represented and other sites shun questions we ask. They can't refer us either.
    So thank you!

  2. African History,

    Thank you for your kind words. You're right. Women are under represented. It's infuriating and aggravating and annoying. Be sure to join us at Straight Talk. I'm sure we can help you there. :-)


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