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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Let the journey begin

You know I've been watching the mailbox. Yesterday, IT finally came. The envelope from Sean Culliton, Esq. I had expected something much thicker and heavier, not this thin, lightweight letter. Mind you, it came in a standard legal size paper envelope. Numbers have never been my thing so the dimensions have slipped my mind at the moment. But you get the idea, don't you, Invisible Reader?

I looked at it for a few moments and then I put it down on my little table just outside my bedroom. I still was not yet ready to deal with it. Odd, I've been watching the mailbox since I got off the phone with Sean. Here I had it in my hands and I put it down to look at later. It doesn't make sense, does it?

I left it on the table and went online. I answered emails, poked around on Jim's Forum, Straight Talk for Military Veterans, watched a little television. Mostly the television was on for the noise. Not that I need tv for background noise. I live in a house with two young adults barely out of their teens, 11 birds and 5 dogs. There is plenty of noise in our house. Someone or something is always barking, screeching or yelling and it's usually an animal.

Finally I decided I was dragging it out just a bit too long ... sort of like this blog, eh, Invisible Reader? I went back in the house, grabbed the envelope and opened it. Inside were 16 pages of paperwork for me to go through. Just the thought of that was enough to make me break into a cold sweat. Part of my problem these days is that I have a very difficult time concentrating on any one task for very long. Often times, these blogs take me two or three days to write. Proofing them is a real bear because I have a difficult time comprehending what I've written. How about that, Invisible Reader? Half the time I can't even understand what I've written after I've written it. Blogging for me is blood, sweat and tears. It sounds cliche but I really do pour my heart and soul into each blog that I write.

The cover letter was easy enough to understand. Basically all it covered was a standard "Thank you for contacting my office ..." and then it listed the enclosures for me to review and sign. Those are:

Enclosure 1. Contract of Representation and Statement of Clients Rights: This was the longest of the documents and the most difficult for me to get through. I'm not stupid by any means. I'm college educated and some people even think I'm "intelligent." But as I explained two paragraphs ago, I have difficulties with concentration and comprehension these days. It's a combination of the medications I take and depression. I'm sure many of you can relate. I read through eight pages of the contract several times over, making notes about the parts I was having problems with. Then I went back to those parts I was having trouble with and read them again. I emailed Sean and asked him a couple of questions and he responded right away.

The contract itself covers everything from how much the attorney will be paid to how the attorney will be paid. It covers how expenses will be paid, what legal services are to be provided. It also addresses the responsibilities the attorney and client have to each other in terms of keeping the lines of communication open. (I like that part.) The contract gives the Department of Veterans Affairs the right the pay the Attorney directly out of the back pay if I win my case. It gives me the right to fire my Attorney but it tells me I have to pay him if I do. It says that there are no guarantees that the attorney will win this case for me.

That's the meat of the contract as I understand it. There's more stuff, of course, but in my opinion, those are the most important items.

Enclosure 2. Statement of Client's Rights: The title is self explanatory. A lot of legal terms explaining your rights. The introduction states. "This statement is not a part of the actual contract between you and your lawyer, but as a prospective client, you should be aware of these rights."

This document covered the fees a lawyer can charge a client, the time you have to cancel the contract, questions you have a right to ask when hiring an attorney. It states before signing a contingent fee contract, a lawyer must advise you whether the lawyer intends to handle the case alone or whether other lawyers will be assisting. (Good to know!) You, the client, have to right to consult with each lawyer who is working on your case. It covers how expenses are handled which is good to know. Are there adverse effects if your case is lost? You have the right to be told that as well. You, the client, have the right to receive and approve a closing statement at the end of the case before you pay any money. This must be in the form of a detailed statement. Of course, you have the right to know how your case is progressing! If a settlement is offered, you have a right to know about that and the decision is yours to make.

If at any time you believe that you have been charged an excessive or illegal fee, you have the right to report the matter to the (your state here) Bar, the agency that overseas the practice and behavior of all the lawyers in (your state here).

Enclosure 3. VA Form 21-22a, Appointment of Individual as Claimant's Representative: This is an easy one, Invisible Reader. At one time or other, most of us have filled this out before. This is what gives those VSO's or other representatives the right to prepare our claims and represent us.

Enclosure 4. VA Form 10-5345, Request for and Authorization to Release Medical Requests or Health Information: I've filled these out more times than I can count. Every time I submit a claim and have to pull medical records from all the places that I've been treated (I've moved all over the United Stated since I retired from the Army in 1994), I have to sign tons of these. I'm sure you have too, Invisible Reader, if you have a gypsy soul like I do.

Enclosure 5. SF 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records How many of THESE have we all filled out over the years and sent them off to St Louis trying to pull medical records, 201 Files, DD Form 214's, awards and decorations? Most of us think of St Louis as the black hole. We send off requests for records and we never hear anything back or we get replies back that our records were destroyed in the fire. The only thing I've had success with is getting copies of my DD214. For that I use the eVetrecs Link. I've been using it for years and I can usually get a DD214 in 4-6 weeks. But, the lawyer wants a signed copy of the SF180 so he's getting it.

I have to point out that while I was sorting through all this paperwork I had the ABC Soaps on in the background. Yes, I admit it. I am a soap opera addict and I have been since grade school. I have stuck with the ABC soaps and have never wavered from them. Over the last few weeks I have been so wrapped up in all my doctor appointments and Veterans activities that even though they are on in the background, I haven't been paying much attention to the story lines. It won't take much to catch up. In soap time I've probably only missed a day or two. General Hospital was on and I happened to look up at the television in time to see two of the characters (I'm not even sure who they were but a quick peek to my favorite soap website will tell me) up to their necks in what appeared to be very cold water. It looked like they were on the verge of drowning but they were fighting to stay afloat and alive. In that one moment, that was how I felt as I sat there going through all those legal documents. Looking at them I knew exactly how they might have felt if what I was watching had been real. It was torture trying to keep it together and figure it out.

The final enclosure. HIPPA Release and Authorization: I think by now most of us now what "HIPPA" is, at least in concept. It's that law that means that I can't call the hospital anymore and ask how my best friend in bed number 4B is doing after her car accident. This release authorizes anyone to release information to or speak to my attorney about any or all of my health care issues.

Just as it took me several hours to decipher the letter from my attorney, it's taken me several hours to write the last few paragraphs. I'm sure I oversimplified much of the text of the documents, but you should have the basic idea of the contract. It seems to be a fairly straight forward contract. It spells everything out clearly enough once you get through the legal jargon. There are protections built into the contract for both of us. He gets paid if I get paid. If he screws me over and I'm smart enough to catch him at it (there's the catch, Invisible Reader), he's in for the ride of his life. I've signed the releases so he now has access to my entire military and medical history.

A very wise man said to me recently (& he knows who he is, Jim), I have to be able to let go of my claim and let Sean do the work. I was an Admin NCO in the Army. After the Army I managed high dollar businesses for a living. I even went into Army recruiting as a civilian for a while. I'm used to being in charge of details. I let go of my claim to the DAV. I trusted them and they screwed me. They failed to do the job I hired them to do. Letting go is something I will have to get used to. Trusting is something I will have to learn. (I'm drowning here.)

On another note. An anonymous poster left a comment on my last blog that I rejected. This anonymous poster said that while I sound, "literate and organized" (gee, thanks) he sees no reason why I cannot work. He said that he is 70% and works every day and he is sure there is some kind of work out there that I can do. He said that he would not request 100% IU and neither should I.

I rejected his post. I can't stand a coward. If you have something to say to me, at least have the guts to put your name to it. Thanks, I think, for your offhand compliment. I'm "literate and organized"? Ya think? What does that have to do with anything? If you are able to work at 70%, that's great, pal. More power to you. Congrats.

Guess what. I am not you. My guess is you are one of those VSO's out there who tells Veteran's like myself that it can't be done. You are one of those VSO's who won't work hard for a fellow Veteran. I make this assumption based on your statement about the "facts of my case" that you commented on. I'll tell you what, fellow, when you've walked a mile in my shoes .... oh, wait ... I can't walk one block ... never mind. Moot point.

Until the next time ....

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