Hello my friends. Nothing new to report on my on battle for support services from the VHA for my service dog, Rocco. To review, I received a letter from my local VA Hospital (James A Haley in Tampa) telling me he was denied as a prosthetic device. You can read an excerpt from that letter on this blog. My next step is to appeal that decision. To prepare for that, so far I've done the following:
1. I've spoken to my psychologist, psychiatrist, primary care physician, pain management doctor, urologist and social worker. They are all putting notes into my medical records supporting my request for Rocco as my service dog. Furthermore, they have put into my medical record how Rocco supports me on a daily basis. There are many things Rocco does for me that can't be done by "assistive devices" and they have noted that also. That's important because "assistive devices" are one of the reasons Rocco was denied.
2. I've requested a complete copy of my medical records, to include mental health, from June 2010 until yesterday, January 14, 2011. I did that for a number of reasons. One, I need to see a copy of the entire packet that went forward to VACO since they are the approving/denying authority. I want to see exactly what they considered for evidence and what reasons they based their denial on. The letter I received is very vague. It doesn't say specifically what they based the denial on or what evidence they considered.
Once I receive all my medical evidence and the packet that went forward to VACO, I will go through my records, line by line. I will highlight the supporting evidence from my doctors, and I will argue that there are no assistive devices to fulfill a particular task other than my service dog. For example, Rocco has been trained to bring me items from across the room by name. What assistive device will do that? Yes, I'm married. However, the VA has refused to acknowledge my marriage. So technically, I don't have a spouse according to the VA. How can they deny that I've had to train my dog to bring me things on days that I can't move from pain that I can't do for myself? My wife works, but even when she's here, according to the VA, she doesn't exist. Remember that blog? They refused to add her as my spouse because according to the VA a spouse is defined as someone of the opposite sex. I don't qualify for Aid and Attendance so technically speaking, there's no help for me at home other than my service dog.
Rocco does more and more for me every day. Last week he alerted me to an oncoming migraine headache. He knew three days ahead of time. He kept alerting me by pawing at me. He wouldn't stop. We were at home where, for the most part, I feel safe. I wasn't panicky. I wasn't stressed. He continued to paw at my legs almost continuously for three solid days. No dog has to pee that much so I knew he wasn't telling me he had to go outside. Finally on the fourth day everything clicked. I woke up with one nasty migraine. Rocco stayed very close to me all day. I couldn't even go to the bathroom without him at my side. Rocco knew that migraine was coming and he was trying to warn me. Next time I'll pay closer to his warnings. Next time I'll be prepared for the migraine.
So, my friends, that's where things stand with Rocco and "his" benefits. Everything is at a stand still until I get my records, a copy of the packet, and I can write up my appeal. As with all VA appeals, I have one year to get it submitted. I won't take that long, but I want to get it done right.
On to the next topic. Service dog organizations.
Many moons ago, I wrote about searching for a reputable service dog group. I warned that you have to do a lot of research before you select an organization to get your dog from. The following link comes from the Military Times and was written by Rick Maze. I suggest you read it. It's an excellent article and talks about "the buyer beware" so to speak. If you need a service dog, make sure you are getting a service dog and not just a companion dog.
Disabled troops, vets misled on service dogs - Military News | News From Afghanistan, Iraq And Around The World - Military Times
Last but most certainly not least, VA WatchdogTODAY dot Org is getting a new look. We've already put up a new banner on the homepage. I can't tell you when the new look will premiere, but it will be soon. Watch for it. I think you'll like it. If you want to blow off some steam, check out our Vets Express page. We've had some terrific feedback from Veterans just like you. Got something to say? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Just follow the few simple rules we've outlined for you here and you will probably get published. Need help with claims and benefits? Want to talk with others who have years of experience at it? Then join us at Straight Talk for Veterans. We'll be glad to help you. No flamers, spammers or trolls, please. If you're one of those, you will be banished in a hurry. We're a tightly moderated group with a set of rules that WILL be followed. If you don't follow the rules we've set, in the words of Jim Strickland, "buh-bye". Hope to see you there.
Until the next time ....