It’s taken a decade for me to win my veterans disability case. Throughout all those years, I trusted one service officer because he fought for me and went above and beyond to help my family.

It wasn’t the service organization he worked for when we met. It certainly wasn’t the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). It was Allen Gumpenberger. That’s why, when he left the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to join Alpha as its director of veterans disability advocacy, I followed him.

A Ten-Year Fight for a 100 Percent Disability Rating

I retired from the Army in 2001. It was in 2003 when I started experiencing symptoms that were misdiagnosed by the VA and rated wrong. It took years to get the right diagnosis and ratings for my disabilities.

What I have is Chronic Solvent Encephalopathy (Gulf War Syndrome) from my years working around solvents during the Gulf War. The VA tried calling it some other kind of disease but we fought that.

Allen and I dug deep into my military records to find proof that my eyes, balance, memory loss, respiratory problems, and heart condition are residual symptoms from a disease I got because of my military service. (Gulf War Syndrome is similar to Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). It worsens over time.)

The VA first rated me at 10 percent, but I should have been rated at 100 percent, and the rating should have been from my retirement date, since my illness is service-connected. That’s what Allen and I fought for, and that’s what the VA repeatedly denied, saying that my symptoms were not caused by toxic solvents. We ended up in front of a judge in Washington, D.C., who finally saw that we were right all along and granted me a 100 percent rating.

It’s been a long hard fight with the VA. But Allen has always been there, even helping my family and I get through tough years after losing my job in 2003. Thanks to Allen’s work at Alpha, my disability compensation dates back to when I retired.

Veterans Can Make Their Own Choices

What disabled veterans need to understand is that it’s not the service organization that wins cases. It’s the people who work there. I tell vets to find a rep you think has real interest in you, who understands, and has experience.

A service officer should do more for you than simply file your application based on what you say. You have to work together to prove that your service caused your disability. You have to prove it if your condition is chronic or is getting worse. That’s what Allen did for me at Alpha.

We have laws in place now to allow veterans to go anywhere they want to for help with their disability case. I wasn’t convinced that the DAV could finish my appeal because it’s so complicated. So I moved my case to Alpha to stay with Allen. I had a service officer I knew I could trust. He was committed to win for me.

Get Your Social Security Disability Benefits

I also think that there are a lot of veterans out there who need to know that if they are getting 100 percent disability from the VA because they can’t work, they may get Social Security disability benefits too. Service reps at Alpha do a good job of this because their sister organization, Freedom Disability, helps veterans get Social Security disability benefits.

When I got sick and lost my job, I filed for disability with Social Security. That was a battle in itself. I hired an attorney and won, but it would have been really nice if Alpha and Freedom Disability were together back in 2004.

Paying It Forward

Alpha as an organization is very professional. The service reps there are on track with helping disabled veterans. In ten years, I’ve learned a lot about the VA disability claims process. That’s why I want to pay it forward. Veterans can decide where they think they can get the most help. I recommend Alpha Veterans Disability. – Carl MacLeod