health problems dating back to service


First off, thank you for standing tall for veterans.  I was drafted in 1969 At my pre-induction physical, I informed the examiner about my being extremely flatfooted and bowlegged, an ankle that was prone to swelling due to a bad fracture, as well as having been diagnosed with arthritis my in right shoulder. I have copies of my induction physical and it clearly shows a notation in the margin saying "See Ortho", but it had been scribbled through. I never saw an orthopedic doctor. These conditions mattered not. I entered the Army and after Basic Training I was sent to Advanced Infantry Training. After that, they sent me to NCO School at Ft. Benning (Infantry). A buddy talked me into going to Airborne School. Immediately following jump school I was assigned to the 82nd Abn Div in an Airborne Infantry capacity and remained there until ETS in 1971. After separation, I decided to spend remainder of my 6 year obligation with the 20th SF of the Mississippi National Guard. I was on jump status for over 4 years and made 45 or so jumps. Many times, the pain in my knees and ankles was excruciating, but going on sick call would most certainly have resulted in being taken off jump status and the loss of $55 per month jump pay. Even worse, one was looked upon by everybody, including commanders, as being a wimp for going on sick call. So I just sucked it up and moved along. Everybody did. My knees continued to be a constant problem after I was discharged. To date, I have had six knee surgeries of which four (4) were total knee replacements, and one surgery on the right shoulder. I first filed a claim back in '99 and was promptly denied. I just dropped it with no appeal. I didn't understand how the system worked. Websites with helpful information were practically nonexistent back then. In 2012, even though I had private insurance, I had my third knee replacement at the VA and once again I filed for service connected disability. The surgeon sent me to the C&P office. There, I was told I needed a letter from the Dr. but was sent to some other office, who sent me back to the orthopedic clinic to get a letter from the Dr. who said he needed a letter from C&P. Around and around and around in circles. I believe they do this purposefully to discourage veterans. I just walked out of the building.

I do have a service connected hearing loss, but it is non compensated. My fourth knee replacement was in November, 2018.
I have decided to file again, but this time I plan to use every resource available to me. I will not quit this time. I have submitted a claim for service connection for both knees, both ankles, and both shoulders because I know in my heart, my condition was either caused by, or made worse by my service. (I must have both shoulders replaced). My medical records show the presence of Rheumatoid joint disease, as well as osteoarthritis. I was placed on Social Security Disability in 2000 at the age of 52 because of this. A recent visit to the podiatrist at the VA resulted in me being told the only solution for my left ankle is an "Ankle Fusion". I have been to see my VSO who seems to be genuinely interested in helping. I have been to my US Senator and asked for help. He has said he would look into my case but, realistically, I am not expecting a lot of help from him. My research so far has revealed that I need to get letters from more than one qualified doctor stating that my condition is more likely than not service related. Also, I'm told that I may need to get somebody to write these "nexus" letters and then have doctor to sign them, as correct wording is critical. I am willing to do that, but am wondering if I should just get a Veteran specific attorney to handle everything. Is that a good move? Thanks in advance.

Jim's Reply:

You aren't allowed to retain a veterans law attorney unless and until you have been denied a benefit. You have great claims but you'll likely be denied because this is the VA. If I were you, I'd file the most obvious claim and keep it brief...the knees. Make it as brief and simple and to the point as you are able to...keeping it simple makes the process go faster. Tell VA your knees are shot and stop at that. You'll get a C & P exam and do your best to keep that simple too. Then wait patiently. You'll likely have a denial in the mail within a few months and then you can turn it all over to an experienced lawyer at no out of pocket expense to you. The lawyer can then review all your conditions and history and get it done right for you.