Helping vets get what they deserve
When a service member retires from the military, evaluations are made on mental and physical health to establish a barometer of disability for pensions and compensations. For some veterans going through the process, it is a good experience. For others, navigating the system with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is challenging.
Command Chief Master Sergeant William Markham (Ret.) had his own issues with the VA. Because of his struggles, he launched Project One Vet @ a Time (POVAT). The nonprofit, with volunteer doctors and lawyers, helps veterans with the lengthy and costly VA claims process at no cost to the vets.
Daniels Gate resident Bill Wosilius, a friend of Markham, used POVAT services and is the first client of POVAT to serve on its board.
Wosilius explained how the retirement and rating process works, Markham’s story and his own experience with the claims process.
The mental and physical evaluation is the first step. The VA outsources the evaluations to one of three companies that run a checklist to determine a calculated measurement. A number is established between 0 and 100%. The doctors determine chronic issues, caused while in military service or injuries made worse by time in service. When a vet gets a 100% “total and permanent (t and p),” this means the maximum in monthly compensations will be allocated.
“It’s important to understand what comes with the rating,” said Wosilius. “At each percentage (decided in increments of 10), different benefits are established.” The difference between 100% and 50% can be more than $2,000 per month,” he continued. “It is not insignificant.”
The benchmark is 50%, where a vet receives approximately $1,000 per month and is eligible for home loans, life insurance and education benefits. “If you are under 50%, you get a discount but have to pay premiums and copays; healthcare costs out of pocket can be upwards of $8,000 per year,” Wosilius explained.
Wosilius used a rental car analogy. “When you rent a car, you are expected to return the car in a similar condition and anything greater than normal wear and tear, you pay for,” he explained. In this example, the VA pays disability above normal wear and tear.
But if a vet had a one-time sprained ankle that never was a problem again while serving, that is considered “acute and transitory,” meaning no further injury on the body.
Markham had more than the usual wear and tear. He served 30 years in the Air Force and was one of the first 12 special operators to parachute into Afghanistan in October 2001. He served at all levels of leadership and received many decorations and awards during his career, including the Silver Star. When he retired from duty, he received a 100% rating, t and p. A few months later, Markham went to a routine appointment at the VA and the doctor changed his rating to 30%, taking away his healthcare and making him pay back disability expenses.
It was a three-year legal battle with the VA to get Markham’s rating back.
“If the VA can do this to Will Markham, they can do it to anyone,” said Wosilius.
Wosilius attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and then traveled the world for four additional years in active duty. When he separated from the military as a captain in the late 1990s, he admitted that he thought he was fine when he told the VA he did not need to file a claim. As he got older, Wosilius developed shoulder and knee issues, hearing loss and had his neck fused last year. After using POVAT services, Wosilius is currently at 90%. He donates his disability payments back to POVAT.
“I am fortunate that I don’t need the extra money right now, but there are other veterans who are not as lucky,” shared Wosilius. It costs POVAT approximately $15,000 per vet to go through the process.
POVAT has fundraisers throughout the year all over the country; 100% of the monies raised go to the organization. In August, POVAT held a golf tournament at The Ridge at Castle Pines and raised $35,555.
Wosilius concluded, “We are 178 and 0,” meaning POVAT has guided 178 clients successfully through the process. “We haven’t lost one yet.”
According to the VA, there are approximately 19 million veterans in the U.S. in 2023 and five million are receiving disability compensation.
By Hollen Wheeler; photo courtesy of Bill Wosilius