Ben Bowman is no stranger to the importance of disability benefits. He learned in the most personal way, with three of his four immediate family members permanently disabled. His older brother had leukemia as a child, his older sister had a brain tumor as a teenager, and his dad was a disabled veteran.
Ben filled his childhood memories with visits to the VA hospital and clinics, where his dad received most of his care, and hours spent sifting through veterans’ benefits, social security benefits, and other government programs.
“I remember the impact it had on our family when we were either waiting to know if we were going to get approved or we had been denied and had to start all over and go through the process again,” Ben says.
The issues and challenges his family faced were very close at heart as Ben moved into adulthood and began his professional career in leadership consulting. Ben spent his time doing strategic planning and team development for growing companies.
At one point, a client offered Ben the chance to deepen his understanding of disability benefits and recruited him to join the legal team. Ben would earn tons of experience in the disability benefits space, handling thousands of disability appeals for veterans. His experience clarified how arduous, confusing, and challenging the VA disability claims and appeal process was for veterans of all ages.
Ben admits that, although arduous, the processes of the VA made sense.
“The VA is trying to steward these resources for millions of veterans, and it is very overwhelming to the system.”
Through his work, Ben and his colleagues had a great win rate and would get a lot of back pay for veterans through claims on appeals.
“But the problem,” says Ben, “is a lot of these families were just like mine and didn’t have years of savings built up to live on while waiting for an appeal and to receive that back pay they should have been receiving all along.”
As time passed and the firm continued to see appeal claims coming through the office that should have been easy wins from the start, they began to recognize that many were denied due to minor mistakes here or there. Maybe the veteran needed to know what to file for, or perhaps the VA had missed it or made a mistake.
Often, they found denials were the result of a bad VA examiner. If the veteran doesn’t have the evidence to support their claim, they rely on the examiner they meet during their compensation and pension exam.
After years of handling appeals, the legal team realized they might have a better way of helping veterans if they could catch them early on. They knew they could prevent much heartache and waste that negatively affected these families. And so, they founded ForTheVeteran.
ForTheVeteran is a medical consulting company that works to help veterans understand the claims they’re eligible for and ensures veterans have independent medical examiners to provide the necessary evidence to win.
The ForTheVeteran team focuses specifically on monthly disability compensation.
“When a veteran has suffered a service-connected disability that affects their quality of life in some way or another, physical or mental, they can apply and be granted for that condition, which gives them a monthly check that is supposed to help offset the impact that disability has on their life,” explains Ben.
The entire disability claim process can be confusing because of how the VA words things like medical terms or medical diagnoses. Even the calculations could be more straightforward.
In most of the world, 50 plus 50 equals 100, but for the VA, 50 plus 50 equals 80, and that’s because it is 50% of the remaining 50%, which would be 25%, and you can’t have 75% so, it rounds up to 80%. Yes, it could be more apparent.
Sometimes, we wonder whether government assistance deliberately presents challenges to deter easy qualification.
“I don’t know if the process is hard intentionally,” says Ben, “But it makes sense that the government is trying to ensure that people who don’t qualify don’t receive benefits. The problem with that logic is that the people who need the assistance most might be in the worst place to try and navigate something like that.”
“For example,” he continues, “let’s say you have a veteran that is dealing with a mental health challenge from reintegrating into civilian life; that is not the time to try and burden them with paperwork and run them through the hoops to try and go through the whole process alone. It just becomes overwhelming and challenging for them. In addition, this person may be dealing with pressures from family members and other burdens in life.”
Ben recognizes the significance of responsibly managing the budget allocated to veterans and disabilities.
“I do, however, want to help every veteran get the maximum that they qualify for, no more, no less. We aren’t trying to take advantage of the system but don’t want to leave anything on the table. There are reasons why there are rules that set certain conditions at certain ratings, and if you have that condition, you deserve the rating.”
Ben and his team have found many older veterans, who ultimately come to their firm as a referral from a friend or family member, feel their illness or injury is just part of their service and sacrifice. Albeit noble, these programs exist for a reason, and they deserve to take advantage of them.
Sometimes, it requires a caregiver to say, “Hey, I really need you to go through this process because your condition is getting worse, and the VA has programs with monthly compensation to help you through this.”
Ben explains, “It’s not always the older or ‘old school’ mentality. We see it a lot with special forces and with Marines. It is something that is built into their DNA to be self-sufficient. They don’t want to appear as a victim or need a handout. But I tell them that is not what this is. This is justifiable. The award is well-deserved, with clear and defined criteria. If you suffer from this, you get this. Period. Every veteran deserves to take advantage of their benefits.”
The Elephant in the Room
There are Veterans Services Officers who work for the county that can assist veterans with their initial claims and appeals for free. In a recent tirade on social media, a person claimed that companies who charge veterans for this assistance were bad apples and should be avoided. We asked Ben to explain why a veteran would need his services if they can access their VSO for free.
“There definitely needs to be more clarity in our industry around this topic,” says Ben, “It is a great question, and I am happy to share our perspective.
“Some amazing VSOs and other organizations do similar types of work to what we do. We emphasize to all potential clients, as stated in our written agreement, that free options through local resources exist. However, these options may not always be the most effective, as the VSO they are paired with can sometimes miss something.
“We have made sure to build into our model the ability for a veteran’s fee to be purely contingent on the success of their claim. An organization like ours specializes in overcoming the bureaucracy of the VA and providing an alternative where we can bring in our own highly trained medical professionals and experienced claim strategists who know what works and what doesn’t.
“Our great data and processes allow us to know exactly how to approach each situation to make it as smooth as possible and give the best chance to win. Everything we do at ForTheVeteran is free unless we can win on the first filing.
“If a claim we have processed is denied and has to be appealed, the veteran can still use our evidence, and we will introduce you to someone who can handle your appeal, but you won’t owe us anything if the claim is granted on appeal.”
A Veteran’s Best Questions to Ask
If a veteran is going to speak with a company like ForTheVeteran, we wanted to know the best questions a veteran should ask before committing to services. We asked Ben to identify some crucial questions for us.
- Be clear on the price and the fine print. Make sure you fully understand how it works because anyone unwilling to be upfront probably has something to hide.
- Ask about the company’s medical team. Understand if their team are just coaches or strategists. Ensure the company can explain how their team can understand the complexity of a disability claim.
- Do you have qualified medical personnel, not just someone who is rubber stamping something? Instead, are you taking the time to make sure they have relevant information to support my claim?
Free Claim Evaluation
When you visit the ForTheVeteran.com website, there is a button at the top for a free claim evaluation. Ben shares the process for a veteran once they engage that button.
“The first thing we will do is schedule a call with one of our intake specialists who can help to strategize and understand what the veteran can qualify for. We determine where the veteran is in the process if they have ever filed before, need to reopen a previous claim, or are brand new to the process and just looking for guidance.
“The intake specialist is ensuring we are a good fit for the veteran. Once that determination is made, we set up a meeting with our medical team and the veteran. The first meeting takes place through a medical discovery call. Next, the medical team will dig into independent medical exams, medical records, or anything from the veteran’s VA file. Afterward, the team works closely with the veteran to prepare and complete their claim with the appropriate evidence.”