Episode 397 Joe Fortuno Navigating VA Disability Benefits and Military Transition Transcript

This transcript is from episode 397 with guest Joe Fortuno.

Scott DeLuzio: [00:00:00] Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we are focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community. Whether you’re a veteran, active duty, guard, reserve, or a family member, this podcast will share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio, and now let’s get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to Drive On. I’m your host, Scott DeLuzio. And today my guest is Joe Fortuno. Joe is a veteran who has made it his mission to help fellow veterans secure the VA disability benefits that they deserve. And with a wealth of. Personal experience and professional expertise, Joe brings invaluable insights into navigating the challenges of mental health, transitioning back into civilian life and accessing VA healthcare and disability benefits.

And we’ll get more into that in just a minute. But first I want to welcome [00:01:00] Joe to the show. So Joe, glad to have you here.

Joe Fortuno: Thank you, Scott. Definitely an honor to be here.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, you bet. Um, before we get into kind of the benefit side of things, can you tell the listeners a little bit about your experience, um, maybe transitioning from active duty in the regular army, uh, that you served in and, uh, the West Virginia, uh, National Guard back into civilian life?

Joe Fortuno: Yeah. So, um, I, you know, I joined, um, uh, activated back in, uh, I believe it was like May 99. So I, I did eight years of active duty. Um, And, you know, during active duty time, you get that, the guard had a little stigma, um, you know, that, uh, they’re just, you know, they’re, they’re lazy. They don’t do anything. And they just one week, a month, two weeks a year.

So I had that, I had that mentality, uh, while on active duty. Um, but I, [00:02:00] you know, I want to do more after my eight years, um, and like going to school and stuff like that. So that’s what I did. I did transition from active duty, um, to the West Virginia National Guard, uh, so I can go to school and. Yeah, it totally shocked me how great the National Guard is, um, their knowledge, their expertise.

Um, and it’s not just one week in a month for a lot of times. Um, hate to say it, but yeah, it is, you know, they do that annual training and stuff, but. There’s times that you’re gone more than just that one weekend, um, it could go five days, six days. It was a good transition, you know, it gave me time to actually go to school and, um, you know, get into the civilian workforce as well.

So it’s in a sense I was doing army part time instead and, uh, I was more naturally, uh, you know, I was more focused on the civilian side.

Scott DeLuzio: You know, I wonder, as you were [00:03:00] talking, I was thinking about how a lot of times people transition from active duty and. It’s like a light switch. Like one day they’re a soldier and then the next day they’re a civilian. And. There’s no real in between time there. They’re just done, you know? Um, I wonder how much easier the transition might be for some folks.

And, and you could probably talk to this because you’ve experienced it yourself, but how much easier that transition would be when they started. Still have a little bit of the military, uh, experience, you know, when they’re, they’re doing it, um, you know, one week in a month, two weeks a year type of thing, like the National Guard and Reserves, um, versus just going cold Turkey straight into the civilian world.

Um, I wonder if that might be easier for some people. I don’t know.

Joe Fortuno: Um, I think it was an easier transition for me. Yeah. I still took, um, I, you know, my leave and everything [00:04:00] before I, um, you know, I started doing, uh, drill days with the guard. Um, but you’re, you still have that knowledge. You still have that mindset leaving out of the military. You know, I hear from a lot of friends that, you know, like you said, go cold Turkey.

Um, and, um, They miss it. They, they miss camaraderie. They miss, you know, a lot of things that involve the military, but it’s not like they want to do it full time. Uh, so the guard was, you know, it’s a good way, uh, for them to transition, um, do an extra couple of years, cause you’re going to be in active reserve anyway, if you don’t fulfill your contract.

So, um, might as well, uh, you know, do the guard, easy transition. Um, you know, it’s not a full time thing. Um, and if you do want to make it full time, you know, they have those options for the guard as well.

Scott DeLuzio: They do. Right. That’s, that’s absolutely right. I remember you’re talking about how there’s that stigma about the National Guard and active duty. And I remember when I was in basic training, uh, so I was [00:05:00] in the National Guard. That’s all I did. I wasn’t ever, uh, you know, active duty soldier other than when, you know, When we deployed, but it’s still with the National Guard unit.

But, um, we we’re in basic training. Um, so there was National Guard soldiers, there was reservists, there were active duty soldiers, all in the same basic training unit. And a couple of the active, the guys who were going on active duty started like ragging on the guys who were going into the National Guard.

It’s like, dude, at this point, we’ve done exactly the same thing. There’s no difference between you and me right now. So, you know. Give it a break. You know, you, you’re, you’re talking a big game, but I don’t think you really know what you’re talking about. So, um, you know, so were there any challenges that you faced in your transition getting, getting from active duty into the National Guard?

Joe Fortuno: me, there wasn’t much, you know, it was more so just, uh, get in touch with the recruiter. Um, [00:06:00] you know, it’s because they did, they provided you certain options for what you can do in the guard. Um, it’s not like you had to stick with that same MOS that you had while on active duty. And with the guard, it’s, it’s crazy.

I’ve talked to so many guard members that had, So many different MOS’s, um, so it is a, it is a different ballgame when you go into the guard because the amount of MOS’s you can actually hold, um, is crazy.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah.

Joe Fortuno: send you to schools.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, they will. Uh, that’s one of the things I noticed, uh, myself was, uh, I didn’t even leave basic training and I had school offers to me. Like they, they were, they’re like, yeah, they’re. Your state, I guess, had, you know, slots available. Do you want to go? And, you know, I was like, holy crap. Like this, this is all.

Like I’m just starting here. Like, can I at least get my bearings here and figure out what it is that I’m doing and like where I want to go with this. But yeah, [00:07:00] you’re right. There’s a lot of opportunities. There’s a lot of options for, for schools and other training, different MOSs if you, if you choose to.

Um, I knew guys who. After we deployed to Afghanistan as infantrymen, they moved on. They, they, they started working on helicopters and doing all sorts of different stuff, all still within the guard. Um, and so it was, it was just, you know, a matter of what opportunities were available for them. So, um,

Joe Fortuno: that’s,

Scott DeLuzio: Now, a lot of, yeah, go ahead.

Joe Fortuno: no, that’s, yeah, I was a, I was a combat engineer, um, while on active duty. Um, and then, you know, did Sapper School, all that stuff on active duty. When I joined the Guard, I had those options, you know, whether I wanted to stick with, um, you know, being a combat engineer or I can go to a different engineer field.

Um, I even went to a 12 Wesley school, which is, you know, construction. So it’s, there’s just so many options for me. Um, after I got active duty, I wasn’t stuck.[00:08:00]

Scott DeLuzio: And it’s cool too, because you can, a lot of times use some of those experiences in the civilian world as well. Uh, and, um, I know, I mean, we were infantryman, so there’s not a whole connection between infantry and civilian worlds, right? But we had. A good number of people who were either police officers or corrections or, you know, things like that who were in our unit.

And so they were able to use some of the stuff that they learned in in the army in their civilian job. Um, but then. We also had a makeup of so many different people from so many different backgrounds. Uh, we had, you know, EMS, uh, workers, we had, uh, you know, construction, we had, you know, a wide variety of people, you know, even, even other, you know, more office type jobs like accountants and, and lawyers and stuff like that.

We’re, we’re in our, our unit. And, uh, You know, we were able to utilize that expertise as well. [00:09:00] Uh, you know, when we were deployed, so we had, you know, mechanics who could help diagnose a problem before the actual army mechanics came out, you know, on our trucks and everything. So like, that was super cool to have.

Um, and so, you know, a lot of times, you know, like you were saying, National Guard gets a bad rap, but you know, we do have a lot of, you know, Other expertise that we bring in, and it could be super useful when you’re out in the field. So, um, uh, you know, I know a lot of folks, you had mentioned like the missing the camaraderie and things like that.

When, when you get off of active duty, if you just go cold Turkey, a lot of folks deal with that type of stuff. Um, any, any struggles like that, that you might’ve dealt with, uh, you know, anything that you might’ve, Felt like you needed to seek some help for or anything like that.

Joe Fortuno: Yeah. Yeah. I went through some mental health struggles, um, due to the deployments I had, um, you know, with the, [00:10:00] with the RAC, they called it the Wild West back then, you know, 03, 04 and all that. And there was a lot of things that occurred, um, during that timeframe. And it’s things that, you know, you, you want to forget.

Um, but, you know, having that support system with, you know, I still talk to a lot of my buddies that I deploy with. Um, we have our own little chat groups now and we still talk to each other. We have, they have reunions. I haven’t gone on one yet though. Um, but it’s, it’s good that they’re still, you know, keeping in touch with, with each other.

And. Even without, you know, any kind of army, army friends that, you know, talk to veterans still have the opportunity to, you know, get with any kind of programs that they’re in the community, um, you know, VFW, all that stuff, but I had a good support system, uh, with friends, um, you know, A lot of veterans [00:11:00] don’t even, they don’t like talking about it because they feel like they’re bothering or they’re, um, they’re going to be, um, they’re, they’re taking up their time if they talk about it and they don’t want to, they don’t want to feel like they’re a burden to them.

And so it’s, it’s just that thought process and eventually without that help. You know, you do start sinking down and it’s, it can get worse. I had to battle through that and know that there are, there is a support system out there, multiple ones, um, that I could use, uh, to help me get back on track. Yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: it’s really just, uh, you know, figuring out what support system that’s out there is the one for you, you know, is it, is it going to counseling and therapy and talking to somebody about whatever it is that you’re going through or is it, uh, you know, having that, like you’re talking about those chat groups with your, your buddies from Iraq, um, just being able to, know, [00:12:00] just talk with them and.

You know, keep that camaraderie. I think that’s a huge thing is, is just being able to have a group of people that you’re like, yeah, these are my people, you know, um, and, and you may, maybe you’ve lost touch with those people and you don’t have a group like that, but you know, there are VFW halls all over the place that you can, you can go and join and yeah, sure.

Maybe you didn’t serve with those people, but I guarantee you, you start talking to those people, you’re going to start to feel like you’re, you’re at home pretty quickly, right?

Joe Fortuno: Yep, you, you bond through whatever y’all, you know, whatever you went through, uh, either you, you bond through the, the suck that you, that you went through, or you bond through the, the fun times that somebody else had and, you know, when they went, so it’s, you know, better communities. Has so many outreach programs.

And so that’s, that’s what I love about it. It’s just, it’s close knit.

Scott DeLuzio: It is. Yeah. And I don’t know if I’ve ever met any [00:13:00] veterans who like, once when you find out that each other are veterans, that they’re just like, Oh, well, the heck with this guy, I’m not going to talk to him anymore, like, I don’t want to deal with him, like, it’s a pretty, like you said, a pretty close knit community of people and, uh, you know, you, you learn that somebody else is a veteran, it’s like.

Yeah, maybe you’re not going to be best friends instantly with a person, but you can at least through that common shared suck experience type thing, uh, you have some sort of connection there and you can at least strike up a conversation. And, uh, you know, who knows where it, where it goes from there. Right.

Um, so talking about your job now in this type of stuff that you did, I kind of alluded to it in the intro. Um, um, You help Veterans navigate the VA system and get their disability benefits. What are some of the challenges that Veterans face when they’re applying for VA benefits and, and what is it that you do to assist them in [00:14:00] overcoming these, these obstacles?

Joe Fortuno: VA is just pretty much, it’s like the unknown. Um, you know, you don’t know, you know, what is going to happen. When your claim goes through, it’s almost like it’s some veterans think it just goes, you become a number and that’s it. And it’s like being ghosted by the VA because you don’t hear from them for a while.

And then, uh, you know, you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with it. So we, what we do at, uh, JM DeLuzio, we help navigate, um, that veteran through the complexities of, uh, filing their claim, helping them understand like different terminologies the VA will just throw at them. And cause I’m not gonna lie.

I saw some, you know, there’s. There’s decisions that veterans get, but they will use so much legal jargon that it will confuse the veteran and it’s, but a lot of acronyms, you know, the military is big on acronyms, but the VA is also just as big with acronyms, um, and they’ll use it. All the time. [00:15:00] So it’s, there is, there’s a lot of things that veterans get confused by just with how the VA words things, the complexities of it, uh, being able just to navigate going online, um, on trying to figure out what’s going on with your claim.

But yeah, My advice to veterans is, I’m telling, I tell my friends right now that are still in, I said, make sure you have your I Love Me folder. Um, make sure you get your records straight. Um, you know, evidence is big. I mean, it’s what the VA uses. So, medical evidence, buddy statements, stuff like that. Those are big things that Um, definitely can help out a veteran.

And, you know, that’s why I’m telling my friends now that they, you know, they make sure they get everything recorded and keep everything on in your, I love me folder.

Scott DeLuzio: I like how you said that the I love me folder that I kind of laughed when you, when you said that, but that’s really what it [00:16:00] is because you at the end of the day, you got to take care of yourself. I mean, if you’re not taking care of yourself and not getting your, your, you know, things documented and keeping the paperwork and everything, I know everything goes digital these days, but you know, whether it’s a physical paper file or it’s a digital file, whatever it is that you, you do with this information. Keep it, make copies of it, back it up, you know, have it in a safe location because, um, You know, your, your house burns down, all those papers go, go away, right? You got to have it in a place that, that is, uh, you know, safe, secure, you know, if it’s a paper file, have it in a, you know, one of those fireproof, uh, you know, safe kind of things, or, um, you know, something to make sure that you have that, because, uh, without it Down the line, something comes up, uh, that you, you decide to apply for those disability benefits.

Um, you’re gonna be out of [00:17:00] luck if you don’t have that paperwork. Right.

Joe Fortuno: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s just, it’s just the fact that the V, like I said, the VA uses that, um, you know, if you don’t have that evidence, it’s almost like what do they have to work with? And so, you know, with the VA, I. I think they used to be like within five years after your last active duty date, they would, you know, they allow you to get that, um, VA healthcare without having to pay that, that, that copay or anything.

But now they extended it to 10 years and I’m telling my friends that now also like, look, you know, you, you have up to 10 years from your last active duty day. Get that treatment and get that diagnosis, you know, that every year that you wait, it gets harder. Um, just because you have to try to link it to your time of service.

Oh yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: in some cases there may be things that happen after the service that they may, they may say, well, you know, you, you fell off a ladder and so yeah, that’s why your, your [00:18:00] back’s all jacked up and stuff like that type of thing could happen too. So the more time that goes by, the more. Opportunities that something else might happen that they can use to say, well, this is the reason why, and it’s not because of your, your service.

Right. So, um, you know, put in those, those claims early. Um, and you know, hopefully, hopefully that works out for you. But, um, but unfortunately sometimes things don’t. Start bothering you until years down the line. And so you may end up waiting that long, uh, just because, you know, when you first got out, maybe, maybe that injury that you had wasn’t really that bad, but it starts getting worse over time.

And, and, uh, you, you may put in for disability because it really was connected to your service, but you know, it just didn’t really start causing problems until years down the line. Uh, how do you, how do you. Work with people [00:19:00] in, in those kind of situations and how do you help them kind of navigate those, uh, situations where it has been a significant amount of time, uh, between their, their service and when the issues start rearing their heads.

Joe Fortuno: So, uh, with a lot of those things, like if, you know, if they have, if they don’t, if they don’t get a medical diagnosis or any treatments for so many years after, um, and there’s nothing that’s already service connected to, you know, latch onto it and say, Oh, it could be secondary to this. Um, We try to tell, you know, a lot of veterans, um, at the firm is, you know, make sure you, uh, try to see if you can get some buddy statements.

Does anyone, was there anyone witness to this event, uh, that they can write something on your behalf? You know, I, I’ve had to write buddy statements for quite a few friends of mine that, you know, just didn’t get treated after they, they left, um, you know, after they got out of active duty. So it’s, you know, if I was a witness to it, I, I, I’ll write it.

I will tell [00:20:00] exactly what I saw. Um, and those are really helpful. They’re great impact statements. You’re a witness to that thing.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, absolutely. Um, you know, those, those buddy statements are. Uh, you know, they’re not exactly medical evidence. You know, it’s not as good as that because, you know, seeing a doctor who, you know, puts it in your medical file and you have that documentation like, yeah, on, on X date, this is what happened. And this is a diagnosis and blah, blah, blah, all that kind of stuff.

Um, It’s the next best thing, right, you know, maybe something at the time, maybe you couldn’t go see a doctor, you know, you’re out on a mission and you’re in combat, like, you’re not going to go, oh, time out, let’s, let’s go, you know, let’s go, go take me to the, uh, to the doctor, um, you know, it’s just not going to happen, uh, You know, in some cases, um,

Joe Fortuno: uh, quite so often, you know, it just, a lot of veterans don’t want to get that treatment after they get out. You know, when you, a lot of [00:21:00] those post health risk assessments, uh, you know, they, they just like, you know, they pencil it, but it’s like, no, no, no, I’m good here. I’m good here. Uh, just because they don’t want to wait any longer after they come back home.

So it’s, you know, sometimes we suggest, you know, getting a medical provider that, you know, that knows you, knows your, the treatments that you’ve done. If you have had some treatments afterwards, uh, they could possibly write a medical opinion for you. Even the firm offers, um, independent medical examiners that are contacted through our office that could possibly write one for you, depending on the medical evidence they have to work with, you know, Yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah. So that’s, that’s the thing too, is it doesn’t necessarily have to be a, uh, uh, you know, an army medic or, uh, you know, army doctor, you know, someone connected to the military who provides a diagnosis for these things. You can, you can get that from, you know, any medical professional, right?

Joe Fortuno: Yeah. And there’s, we have, we have a book, [00:22:00] um, that talks about, uh, veterans disability. Um, and there’s a lot of frequently asked questions on there. Um, and we send those out to the clients as well. You know, that way they can, you know, take a look at it. Um, a lot of the things that a lot of the questions they may ask is actually in the book.

Um, just, you know, frequently asked questions like, what is a, what is an appeal? How do I appeal things? And it’s, it’s in that book that we have. So. You know, if the client wants it, we’ll send it and then we’re also sending it to, you know, the new case managers so that they’re aware of a lot of the frequently asked questions.

Um, we even have a VA disability calculator. If you, you know, you’re just wondering, what do I need to do to get to that percentage? Like what would the percentage pay or, you know, what is it, um, what if claim a back condition and a knee condition? So on fight4vets. com, we have a VA disability calculator they can also use.

Like if I got 20 percent for this, 50 percent for sleep [00:23:00] apnea, where will my percentage be? And they can kind of like, you know, it’s like having a goal, you know, like I want to get to this, uh, be able to take care of my family. If I can get to this part, I know where I need to go now because, you know, the firm’s navigator or somebody’s navigating me through the process.

I know the score I want to try to get to. This is what I need. This is the evidence I need to get to that.

Scott DeLuzio: Sure. Um, now were talking about like, you know, having that goal and trying to figure out how do I get to that certain percentage, you know, I, I, maybe I, I need that, you know, 70 percent or 50, whatever the number is, you know, that their, their goal is that they’re trying to get to, um, is there. Any resources available that veterans can use to assess their eligibility and kind of understand what benefits are available to them based on the severity of the conditions that they’re having?

Joe Fortuno: Well, they can, you know, uh, we can actually do free [00:24:00] constations, um, at the office as well. They just got to call, you know, the, our main office will do a free constation, um, to determine whether or not they are going to be eligible based upon what they’re just saying. You know, it’s not like they have to submit evidence right then and there, but we kind of coach them.

It’s like, okay, this is what we’re going to need from you. To get you to where you want to be. Um, so

Scott DeLuzio: Okay,

Joe Fortuno: they can easily go online and, uh, go to fightforbets. com and, you know, just ask questions on there. There’s a, there’s, it’s 24 hour chat. Um, somebody will be there to speak with them and that way we can give them a phone call, just do a free call station.

No cost. We’ll, we’ll ask them, Hey, what do you need? Um, what do you have? And, you know, we’ll, we’ll guide you to what, you know, what we can actually help you with.

Scott DeLuzio: um, for anyone who’s out there who, you know, they, they got this condition, it’s been bugging them and they know it’s going to connect to their, their service. Maybe they, they have it documented and, um, they, [00:25:00] they know that they, they went and saw the doctor, you know, when they were in service, it’s all, all squared away, or maybe it’s not.

And they know that they. Have some buddies that they can get to write a buddy statement, um, what’s a good first step that they can take to getting those benefits or, or applying for the benefits, I should say.

Joe Fortuno: You know, VA. gov, um, is, you know, has a bunch of tools that, you know, that a lot of veterans can go on to, um, for, you know, submitting a claim. Uh, we can also submit claims for you, but gathering that evidence, like I said, it’s, it’s very important. Um, because we have, you need something to work with, whether you go through our office or go through VA.

gov, there’s just, they’re going to want that evidence. How is it related to service? You know, and it’s, you know, you get denials all the time. A lot of veterans can get denials. You’ll see it on there. We, we can’t find a link to your time of service. There was a diagnosis. We see it, [00:26:00] but there’s nothing showing how this diagnosis links back to that injury that Um, you know, and that’s where And you want to talk about how it’s actually, it’s worsened since your service and you want to make sure you can write your own, uh, statements, uh, statements for claims and submit that, like, how is it related to service?

This is how, this is what happened. Here’s the medical diagnosis. Here’s my, here’s my treatments that I’ve had. Here’s even a buddy statement, um, with that. Oh yeah.

Scott DeLuzio: Um, yeah, I think that that’s a good first step. I think, um, you know, collecting evidence, getting all that stuff together is, is definitely huge. Like you said. Um. And some of it may take some time and effort to compile all of that information. Um, the VA does do some legwork to help you out with, with gathering evidence, but it’s always better if you have it up front and just submit it.

So they don’t have to, [00:27:00] um, you know, especially, uh, you know, more recently they, they are pretty overwhelmed with a lot of claims, so they may miss something, you know, so, um, that’s not. Not a commentary on, you know, their work ethic or anything like that. It’s just, there’s a lot to go through. So the easier you can make it for them, I think the better it is.

Um, now what about when folks get. Those denial letters and they, they come back, like you said, there’s a lot of times there’s legal jargon, there’s acronyms, there’s things that it’s just confusing sometimes. Um, what’s, what’s a good first step when they get that, that denial? They know that this, this thing is service connected.

Um, it just, they didn’t obviously do a good enough job proving it to the VA. Um, what’s the next step that they could do to, uh, kind of get that decision reversed?

Joe Fortuno: so they, they have, they definitely have to read that rating decision. Um, it’ll state [00:28:00] exactly the reasons for denial. Uh, it’ll even state on there, um, what was considered favorable. Um, what did they find that was favorable? Either a diagnosis or, uh, they did. Um, see that you served in that time period. Um, so that’s kind of gives you something to work with.

Um, definitely, you know, with a lot of these appeals, they only, you got that one year window. Um, either you want to appeal it. And, uh, get it sent up to the Board of Veterans Appeals, or you wanna do a high level review, you can even submit a supplemental, um, with that new relevant evidence of support, why you believe, uh, it is related to service.

Um, so there’s different ways, but you definitely need to read that decision letter that’s gonna give you the clues that you need to see what ne what you need to, um, help you get a service connected in the future. Mm-Hmm.

Scott DeLuzio: Yeah, that was one thing that, um, that I was told, uh, [00:29:00] a while back, um, is that if you do get the denial letter, um, read through it and it’s going to tell you pros and cons. So things that you, that are in support of your claim, the things that are, you know, in your favor, but it’s also going to tell you all the things that are, um, the reasons that they denied the claim.

And so. Then it, it’s almost like a fill in the blank. The way I think of it is like, they give you the answer, um, almost like Jeopardy, like they give you like the opposite, like this is what’s wrong. Give me the answer. And you just got to fill it in, fill in that blank. Um, and. You know, maybe, maybe it’s something like you, you need that buddy statement to tie it to your service because, um, you know, it, it’s like, okay, yeah, you have the medical diagnosis that, you know, your, your back or your knees or your hips or whatever are all messed up.

Um, But [00:30:00] that diagnosis happened after your service. So now we need something to tie it to your service. You know, what is that thing? And in some cases, um, this is before you get that denial, but in some cases, some conditions are that you’re You kind of get the benefit of the doubt. They, they have what’s called the presumptive condition,

Joe Fortuno: Right, right.

Scott DeLuzio: That, that could be in your favor too, because then you don’t need to go through all the hoops of proving that it’s connected to your service. They just kind of assume that it’s right. Yeah. So, um, are there any other resources or any other, uh, things that you might want to share with the audience that might be useful when it comes to applying for, uh, VA benefits or, or appealing or, uh, you know, filing a supplemental claim or, or anything like that to, or, or providing supplemental.

Evidence, I should say, um, for a claim. [00:31:00] Um, any other resources that are available or any other tips or advice that you might want to offer?

Joe Fortuno: So, um, you know what the veteran has access to is called their C file. Um, other term for it is called the claims file. So, it contains everything from the date that you raise your right hand, um, to everything that the VA is tracking currently. including private records or, um, you know, VA records, anything that you’ve done and submitted to the VA or even through the military is going to be in the C file.

Um, so a veteran can request that, you know, our office also requests that because what we do, you We, we go through each and every page line by line just to see if there’s anything in there that we can latch on to because sometimes it is hard to find that, that one little tidbit. Um, cause you know, with the VA, sometimes they say, Oh, well, we don’t see that you actually served in that region and we’ll, we’ll dig.

Um, You know, we’ll dig to find if they were in that area. [00:32:00] We’ll look through their, um, we’ll look through their clothing records if we need to, uh, just to see if there was something in there. It shows like, here’s the, here’s a, here’s a unit that he was in, and this time frame, this unit is only in, um, it was only in Iraq at this time frame, this cut, and this goes for that, um, that time that he was in.

So we look for little things like that. C File is great, um, cause it contains everything. Um, not

Scott DeLuzio: And where can you go to get the C file if people are interested in

Joe Fortuno: Um, you can, you can request it through the VA. Um, that’s what we do. We request it through the Freedom of Information Act, um, uh, and to get a copy of that. So it range between 300 and, you know, 15, 000 pages, but a veteran can request that under the Freedom of Information Act because it is their, it’s their own personal record.

Scott DeLuzio: Um, yeah, no, that’s, that’s actually good information. I didn’t know that that file even existed. So, um, yeah, I guess for, [00:33:00] uh, folks who are interested, go, go ahead. Go, uh, you know, research that and, and see if that might have, uh, the information that you need to get that claim, uh, you know, successfully submitted and, and approved.

Um, because, um, you know, we don’t all hang on to military records for ever after our military service. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. But, um, you know. If that file exists and it has just that one little piece of evidence, even something like, like a clothing record, like you said, um, that could be what you need just to tie.

Yes, I was in this location on this date or this time period anyways, and that might be, you know, something that you might need for that type of evidence. So, um, you know, yeah, any little sliver of, of evidence that you can, you can grab out of there. Uh, and, and like you said, that could be. Quite extensive as far as the paperwork goes.

So, um, so that, that is a good, good thing.

Joe Fortuno: The VA can [00:34:00] miss some, some things that aren’t a C file because they, you know, they dig through it. Um, but it can be missed. Uh, so it’s, if they, if you want to get a copy of it because, um, you know, the VA may have missed something that you know that’s in there. Uh, we’ve had clients ask us if we can send them a copy of their C file because when we request it, at times they’ll send it to the client, but most often they’ll send it to us.

And that’s what we do. We look through it. Each and every page, um, and the client will want to get a copy of it also because he wants to do the digging himself as well. And, you know, so there’s a lot of information in there, especially if, you know, they, like I said, they can go all the way up to 15, 000 pages.

That includes, you know, the doctor’s notes that are scribbly and stuff that, and, uh, so we, you know, those things are definitely looked at. Veteran can look at it and the VA can miss it. Everyone’s human. Uh, it can be missed.

Scott DeLuzio: That’s right. Yeah, that’s true. It is, um, you know, like any other human, [00:35:00] they’re imperfect and they, they could miss things. So, um, again, like I said before, you’re, you got to fight for yourself. If, if you, if you want this, this is something that you’re going to have to put the time and effort into to make sure you get it, um, because other people Aren’t going to be. They’re not going to have the same vested interest as you do. You know, it’s ultimately your bank account that’s going to be impacted, not theirs. So, um, you know, getting those benefits is, is only going to benefit you, uh, you know, and your family. So. You know, yeah, you’re going to have to get some, some, uh, put some work in, uh, to, to find some of this stuff sometimes.

Um, you know, other times it may be, you know, readily available, and it, it may not be all that difficult to do, but, but sometimes you might need to do a little investigating, a little digging to, to get that stuff. So, um, awesome. I, I,

Joe Fortuno: Yeah, it’s daunting. And that’s why, you know, we offer that for the veterans. [00:36:00] Um, we, that’s what we look through it our, ourself, and then it gets looked at over again. But, uh, by the operations manager, everything gets looked at, um, once, twice over just because we don’t want to miss it. It’s part of what we call like client centered focus.

It’s, we’re there because We want to make sure that, uh, that veteran gets, like, the most of what he can get. If we miss something, you know, that’s on us, because we We want to make sure that we give that, that percentage back to that veteran, like, you know, they signed that contract, um, to serve in the service, you know, that 1%.

That’s why I say, you know, the 1 percent that serve, you want to make sure that we give 100 percent back.

Scott DeLuzio: That’s awesome. Uh, for the folks who are interested in maybe getting some assistance with their, uh, disability benefits and, and filing their claims and all that type of stuff, um, where can they go to get in touch with you guys and your, your organization and, um, you know, where is it that, you [00:37:00] know, Well, first off, where are you located and, and where do you, uh, help clients from, you know, where, where, uh, are the, are the location specific?

Are you nationwide?

Joe Fortuno: We are definitely, um, we’re, we’re nationwide, but we do have a free consultation. They can always, um, see if we’re able to assist in that area. Um, uh, we can, they can go into the Jan Dills website or the fightforvets.com, um, and, or they can just call us, uh, toll free. Um, 8 7 7 7 1 5 9 0 3 7. Uh, that will get ’em to someone, um, that can do a free consultation for them.

A lot of veterans, uh, what they do is they go in the chat and they just submit their question, uh, so that they can be called later on and, uh. To see if they’re able to assist. Cause we have, we have clients nationwide. Um, we had clients in Hawaii, Alaska, you know, everywhere. [00:38:00] So,

Scott DeLuzio: Well, excellent. Yeah. And I know, I know there’s some people out there who are, uh, you know, dealing with disability benefits and banging their head against the wall, trying to, trying to figure it out and get through it all. But, um, Yeah. So I will have those links that you mentioned, uh, uh, for both of those websites, I’ll put the phone number in the, uh, show notes so folks can find that, uh, rather easily as you’re listening to the episode, you should be able to find it right there.

Um, again, uh, If you guys are having issues with your, your benefits or you just don’t know where to start, you’re feeling overwhelmed because it can be overwhelming, you know, reach out to somebody. There are people out there who, who can help just like, just like Joe and his, his team. And, uh, you know, the, the folks who are out there, uh, they, like Joe said, he wants to get you a hundred percent of what you deserve.

So, uh, you know, don’t, don’t just sit there because, you know, [00:39:00] that. That money is yours. It’s just a matter of proving that it’s yours. Right. So, um, so yeah, that that’s great. Um, before we wrap this episode up, I always like to end episodes with a little bit of humor. And especially when I have another veteran on the show, um, having a little bit of humor where we can poke fun at other service members, I think it’s always, always a good time and, um, usually puts a smile on people’s faces.

When, uh, when I say the name of the segment, which is. Is it service connected? Um, you know, it’s the name of the segment and it’s, uh, you know, we, we just watch service members doing something stupid on a silly video and, um, then we get to laugh about it and they’ll probably use this as evidence in their, their disability, uh, you know, uh, application later on.

So I’m going to share my screen real quick here and, uh, we’ll take a quick look. So right now for the audio only, for Listeners, I’m going to try [00:40:00] to explain this as best as I can, uh, but check it out on YouTube or X Twitter. Um, and, uh, you know, check it out. So right now it looks like we got a couple of soldiers standing at the back of a vehicle that the.

Ramp is open. Um, and that’s all I can really see right now. So I’m just gonna play the video and see what happens. So we got a couple. Okay. We got one with like a baseball bat and a, and, uh, we got a couple guys running out of the vehicle, followed by a raccoon. Man, guys stop messing with the wildlife. They give you these briefings for a reason.

They, they tell you, stop, don’t mess with the wildlife, and you got it inside the vehicle with you. And there’s like three guys in there. That it’s not going to be happy. You’re definitely going to get like scratched or bit or whatever raccoons do. I don’t know. You’re getting messed up. Put it that way. Um, yeah, I don’t, I don’t know.

Would that, if they got all torn up, they got like [00:41:00] rabies or something from a raccoon, got to imagine that I don’t know where that would fall under like the disability, uh, benefits, but they’d probably have some case there, I would

Joe Fortuno: Oh yeah. I, I could see, I could see something being traumatized or, you know, it’s there, uh, if, if they got bit, um, that could be a skin condition that could develop in the future. You never know. And, uh, Uh, definitely get it recorded, uh, if you got bit while on service from, uh, Trash Bandit. Um, cause, there’s, uh, those, those look like a striker to me, but, um, you know, those that look, there’s always, we always keep a bunch of snacks in there, especially on long missions, so I can see why there would be, uh, something in there, probably rummaging through.

Scott DeLuzio: yeah, yeah, that’s true. I, I, I actually jumped to the conclusion that they were messing with the wildlife, but the wildlife may have been messing with them and coming after their, their snacks and whatever they may have had. Oh yeah.

Joe Fortuno: pogey bait in there.

Scott DeLuzio: A ton of it. Yeah. They probably had it. [00:42:00] They probably took all the ammo out of the ammo cans and shoved pokey bait in there instead. So, uh, anyways, Joe, thank you again for taking the time to come on the show, sharing what you guys do, and also for the work that you do in helping veterans get the disability benefits that they deserve. So thanks.

Joe Fortuno: Thank you again for having me, it was a pleasure.

Scott DeLuzio: Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to support the show, please check out Scott’s book, Surviving Son on Amazon. All of the sales from that book go directly back into this podcast and work to help veterans in need. You can also follow the Drive On Podcast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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