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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A DRO Review. Luis Montalvan. Same Sex Benefits. Say What?

Greetings, Friends!

Well, it finally happened.  I received a letter from the VARO in St Pete scheduling me for a DRO Review on 27 July 2011.  After many emails back and forth, and several discussions with my attorney, it was decided to cancel the hearing.  What?  Are you asking if I'm crazy?  I am, yes, but that's another blog for another day. 

Rather than attend the hearing, my attorney decided to send in a legal brief detailing my case, explaining why I should be awarded Individual Unemployability (IU).  The brief took the place of the hearing.  I have to say that I was very impressed with the way my attorney spelled everything out in such incredible detail.  He tied it all together in a way that made sense, stating case law, CFR, and all the reasons why the VA had erred in not awarding me IU in the first place.

So what happens now?

As always, there is the wait.  It could be anywhere from two months to two years for a decision.  My very wise friend Jim Strickland said to hope for the best and expect the worst.  At best, I will be awarded 100% and life will go on.  At worst, it will be denied by the DRO and we will have to continue on with the appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA).  That could potentially delay my claim for another 3-5 years if we're going to be realistic about it.  What the hell ... I've been waiting three years for a decision.  What's another few years wait?   For starters, it's a lot more money if/when I win.  My attorney will get 20% of my winnings (so to speak) but what the hell, I wouldn't have that money were it not for my attorney.  I'm in this position because the (insert Veterans Group here) previous NSO handling my claim screwed it up and failed to submit critical evidence to support my claim.  Evidence that I had turned over to the NSO.  Evidence that said NSO told me was NOT necessary.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Another possibility is the DRO could decide that I need an updated Comp and Pen exam before a decision can be made.  After all, it's been over three years since I initiated this claim and things have changed since then.  However, I have to say that if I were called in for a Comp and Pen exam, it would be a waste of government time and money.  My service connected disabilities have continued to deteriorate in the 3 years that have passed since the last one.  They examine all of your service connected disabilities when you apply for IU and I have had two additional service connected surgeries since that time, have been issued a motorized scooter, acquired a service dog that I don't leave home without; so, yes, I do believe they'd have to find in my favor.

I hope I don't have to wait another two years for a decision but I'm not holding my breath.

Former Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan is back in the news again.  Before banning me from his Facebook page (how petty!), I was able to read a nursing note he posted there.  Supposedly he was roughed up by the VA Police, separated from his dog, Tuesday, and thrown in a holding cell.  Browsing the internet, I was able to find the note he posted to his Facebook page on this website:  I won't repost it here.  It contains the name of Montalvan's nurse and I won't republish that.  It bothers me that Montalvan himself had the nerve to put that kind of information out there without the permission of the other people involved.  I have to sign a Release of Information to get that information from my medical records.  How did he get it so quickly?  Not only get a copy of it, but get it home and get it on the internet so quickly?  As I recall ... as I said, I was banned from his page ... but there was less than an hours time frame from the time the report was written until the time Montalvan got it up and posted on Facebook.  There is something not quite right about that. 

In his statement he said he couldn't stand up because he was disabled.  But if you look at the picture of Montalvan below, which I found by Googling him, there he is, laying in the grass with Tuesday, cane way off to his side.  If he can't get up, why is this picture of him posted on the internet?  Is this another lie?  Why could he lay down then and be able to stand up without assistance but not get up when he was told to do so by the VA Police Officers?  Like I said, there's something just not right about this story.  If he can't stand up, he should be more careful about the pictures of himself that he allows to be published online.

The other thing that bothers me about this allegation is this.  Montalvan is a media whore.  Google him and his name is everywhere.  He's promoting his book right now.  Why hasn't he gone to the media with this story?  Why would he limit his posting of this story to Facebook where the only people who can read about it are people who are his "friends" and fans?  The other thing that bothers me is why now?  He's been utilizing this VA Hospital for how long now?  Why are they just now telling him his dog has to leave the facility?  I take my dog to the VA all the time.  He's well marked as a service dog and I've never been asked to leave.  I've seen other dogs get kicked out.  Those were dogs that were not supposed to be there.  Pet dogs that people carried in rather than leave them in the car in the Florida heat.  To them I say, "You know it's hot here.  Why do you bring your dog with you?"  You be the judge.  Go to the link above.  Read Montalvan's statement about what allegedly happened.  Tell me his story doesn't stink. 

Let me clarify something before you jump on me.  I've never argued the fact that Tuesday isn't a service dog.  I've also never argued the fact that Montalvan has PTSD.  My only problem with him is that he is a sensationalist.  His own soldiers and superiors have come out against him saying he has embellished the events of his alleged assassination attempt in Iraq; soldiers who were there that day dispute what happened.  How is it that he is the only one who claims it was an assassination attempt?  I spent twenty years in the Army.  Who wants to assassinate a Lieutenant?  They don't know anything.  The only person in the Chain of Command who knows less than a Lieutenant is a Private.  I asked Montalvan flat out, "So you're calling them liars?"  His reply was to unfriend me from Facebook.  

Browse the boards on the internet.  Veterans are now starting to talk negatively about him.  They've googled him.  Montalvan's naive fans are posting the nursing notes to Veterans boards and the old retirees are responding to it the same way that I am.  They aren't being bowled over by his book, his dog or his smile.  They see him as a man who is making money off his dog and his disability and they are beginning to doubt his story and credibility.  They are starting to get angry.  If he did, in fact, embellish his story to get benefits, and he's published it, and later it comes out that his story is false, it will only give more fuel to the public fire that Veterans will do anything to get money for disabilities.  I don't know about the rest of you, but my chronic pain is very real and comes from 12+ surgery's all connected to things that happened to me on active duty.  My PTSD is also very real and I have evidence to back it up.  I have buddy statements, I have medical records and I have statements from witnesses.  I also have letters I wrote him, in explicit detail, describing what happened to me.  And, if they still exist, there are police reports out there somewhere.

You all know I'm not a huge fan of the VA and the way the do/don't approve service dogs.  I've written extensively about my fight to get Rocco approved as a Service Dog/Prosthetic Device.  You know that he's been disapproved not once, but twice already by VACO.  They think that he's strictly a PSTD dog when he's not.  He's a dual purpose dog; medical alert and mobility.  But, they don't give me any problems when I take Rocco in there with me.  I take him to the Haley VA Hospital in Tampa and he's always welcomed there.  My doctors and nurses adore him.  The same thing applies when I take him to the Brooksville Community Outpatient Clinic.  No one says anything to us.  Well, no one says anything negative to us.  We get complimented all the time.  Why is Montalvan publishing this Nursing note now?  Is he looking for more publicity?  I've been browsing service dog boards all morning long.  There are some lines of thought that believe this was done to sell more books.  What's the rest of the story, Luis?  Are you waiting for your pal, Senator Franken to bail you out of this one?

By the way, if you read the nursing note, you'll see that Tuesday was given VA recognition as a Service Dog by an "Act of Congress".  That's a real shame.  That means Montalvan has no clue how hard the rest of us fight for the same privilege he was given.  He can advocate all he wants but it makes sense now why he gave me such worthless advice when I asked him for help all those many months ago.  He doesn't know the first thing about applying to the VA for getting a service dog recognized as a prosthetic advice.  He thinks everyone should get their dogs granted by Acts of Congress and that's why he kept telling me to write my Congressman.  My Congressman kept telling me to see a VSO.  The VSO's can't help you because the request has to come from your primary care physician or psychologist.  My guess is that Montalvan doesn't know that. Enough about him.  I guess we will all just have to wait for the rest of the story to come out.  When it does, I'll have it for you here.

Changing Gears.  Next subject.  Benefits for same sex spouses from the VA.  I've been preaching about this for well over a year already.  I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a lesbian and I'm legally married to a woman.  If/when I reach that elusive 100%, I want my wife to be able to reap the benefits of Champ VA, just as if I were married to a man.  However, the law defines a spouse as a person of the opposite sex.  The law has to change.  Until that happens, couples like myself and my buddy Tracy and her wife, will fight at this level.  We've filed claims for benefits for our spouses that have already been denied.  Tracy is one step ahead of me.  She had her DRO Review one month ahead of mine.  She's already received a Statement of the Case.  Mine will follow.  The next step for us both is to get with our attorneys and file a Form 9 to the Board of Veterans Appeals.  Then we wait for that denial.  It could take years.

Why are we doing this?  Because it's important.  But we can't do it alone.  We need others to join us.  What we are doing isn't enough.  The law needs to be changed.  I was talking to my pal Jim Strickland this morning.  He and Leo Dougherty were discussing Grass Roots politicking and that's what we need to do if we're ever going to get this law changed.  It worked with Don't Ask Don't Tell.  Why can't it work with this?  This is going to become a hot button issue in September of this year when they start allowing gays, lesbians and bisexuals to enlist.  Don't you think they are going to start demanding benefits for their spouses?  And what happens when they get out?  Do the benefits just stop cold?  I don't think so.  Disabled GLBT Vets will want benefits to continue for their spouses.  Where are the groups that fought so hard to repeal DADT?  Why aren't they picking up on our fight for benefits?  Have I been posting this blog in the wrong places?  Tell me, my friends... what am I doing wrong?  Is there something else I could be doing to get the attention of the GLBT Disabled Veteran Community?  Where are all those people who chained themselves to the gates of the White House fighting for the repeal of DADT?  Why aren't they back in the public eye fighting for benefits?  Did they get what they wanted and then quit fighting for the rest of us?

What about the rest of you?  Tracy and her wife can't be the only same sex, legally married disabled Veteran service connected couple aside from Terri and I who want benefits for our spouses.  Are you afraid of letting the VA know that you're gay?  They don't care.  Look around you the next time you're at the VA Hospital, CBOC, Regional Office, etc.  Really look.  The VA has a lot of GLBT employees.  Many of them are Veterans.  My doctors know I'm a lesbian.  I refer to my wife often.  They don't bat an eye.  They are happy to meet her when she comes to my appointments.  She's listed as my emergency contact and she has my power of attorney.  They aren't going to take away my benefits just because I'm gay.  Employers don't have access to your VA records so there's no chance of your being "outed" through them or to them.  But let's get real here.  If you're receiving 30% or higher, you're entitled to an additional monetary amount for being married.  Why should we be penalized because we love someone of the same sex?  Doesn't that infuriate you?  It does me.  I will keep fighting for this benefit until the day I die if that's what it takes.  I want my wife taken care of after I die.  I want my wife buried next to me in a Veteran's Cemetery and right now, that's not possible. 

So now that I've piqued your interest and you want to file a claim for your same sex spouse how do you go about it?  Read this blog and you'll find all the information you need.  It's got all the links to the forms you need.  Once you file and get your denial, email me and I'll send you the format for the Notice of Disagreement(NOD) and Appeal you have to file next.  I received my denial in record time.  I believe it was only two or three months.  We've got Tracy's transcripts back from her formal hearing and we'll now use that as a basis for all formal hearings.  She did a fabulous job preparing for her hearing.  We'll update her transcript as new laws are approved that will help our case(s).  Just keep in mind that this is not a fight that will end any time soon.  It will go on for many, many years.  Spread the word.  Share this blog.  Tell your Veteran friends about it.  Encourage couples to apply.  Talk to everyone you know about this initiative.  Without your help, my friends, we can't make this happen.  Tracy and I and our wives are four women.  We'd like to make this change happen but honestly folks, we're just four women.  We spread these blogs around and they are well read if the statistics provided by  and Blogger are correct.  That isn't enough though.  Reading my blogs just isn't enough.  Spreading the word isn't enough.  We need couples to take action.  I'll step down from my soapbox now.  You know how to reach me if you have questions or comments on this topic.  Thanks for listening, my friends.

And that, my friends, wraps it up for today.  We've talked about DRO Reviews, Luis Montalvan and benefits for gay and lesbian, legally married, disabled Veterans.  I've been wanting to blog about these topics for quite some time but my PTSD has been rattling my brain more rather than less quite a bit these past several weeks. I haven't been able to put together more than two or three paragraphs that even made sense.  You know how that is.  It makes being able to concentrate very difficult.  If I told you how many hours I've been pecking away at this keyboard, trying to put together this blog, it would blow you away.  Type a little, have a smoke, take the dogs out to the yard, watch a little television, check email, work on the blog a little more, take some time out for Rocco, drink a diet coke, grab a bottle of water and so on.  And ... I still have to proof read this before I can publish it.  That will take me another two or three hours ... at least.  Did I mention I have a very short attention span?

Until the next time, my friends .......

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