Transition & Claims Experience - In Her Own Words - Cynthia
Today I have the honor of sharing another story from a veteran sister, Cynthia Lendof. I first met Cynthia when she showed up for a Hiring Event we were having for the Department of Homeland Security in Lubbock Texas. She wasn't there for the job fair, she just wanted to meet us before her interview that was coming up soon.
It was a bold move and we could see how nervous she was but she stayed throughout the event, speaking with the recruiters, participating in the workshops, seeing how things work. It was a public event and I was impressed that she traveled from Colorado for this event and for her interview with the Texas Veterans Commission.
She absolutely killed the interview the next day. She had really done her homework about the agency and the job. She had created a notebook full of information with separate sections for the agency, it's various programs, history and leadership, specific details about the job itself and the tools used.
As impressive as this was, (and we were VERY impressed!) her personality, professionalism and warmth took her over the top to get the job offer. She was professionally dressed, friendly, positive, smiling, she is just one of those kinds of people that others are just drawn to and she makes you feel happy! Our entire team has been blessed to work with her and she continues to be a blessing for the Texas Veterans Commission as the Women Veterans Program Coordinator for West Texas.
Like so many of us though, she has had her own demons to fight. This is her story and it is my hope that you will be encouraged and inspired. Thank you Cynthia, for sharing your story.
In 2009 following my separation from the Air Force, the VA deemed me a 30% service-connected veteran. The monthly award I received was enough to make my car payment. It was the financial boost I desperately needed following my discharge. I had received benefits for the scars left by some mole removals I had when I was active duty. I had also been awarded 20% for a knee injury that occurred on my only deployment. I never saw myself as a wounded veteran that is until, I realized I had sustained injuries that were not visible at the time of my discharge, not even to me.
Eleven months after I got out of the military, I found myself walking into the Mental Health Clinic as a “Crisis Walk-in”. Five years later, I was a regular visitor. It took time to get on the right medicine and to work through the several diagnoses but overall, my civilian clinicians diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder with manifestation of Hypochondria.
By the time I was well enough to realize I had been sick, I had fought through the irrationality of having been convinced I had every cancer under the sun (brain, stomach, throat), “You name it and I had it”. Of course, my family had learned to recognize the new norm and helped me through it all, especially my mom. One day after I was “better” she asked, “Cynthia, you never noticed all this started happening when you got back from your deployment”? My mom’s comment prompted me to dig into my military medical records. It tuned out; I had been convincing myself I had cancer since I was an E-3. It explained all the moles I had removed. Every military note resembled that of the medical observations current clinicians recognized; Patient is worried, Patient is concerned…
A search of my records revealed that soon after my deployment I started making countless visits to the MTF (Military Treatment Facility). At the time, I thought I was just a cautious person. Now, I could see I was terrified Airman. Thus, I submit my claim to the VA. I wrote a detailed letter about an incident that took place on Manas Air Base and exposed the “Craziness” that pursued after I returned.
I waited 19 months for a denial. I was informed that my claim had been written incorrectly. I was told that rather than Anxiety, I should have requested a claim for PTSD? This made no sense to me, but I did not want to fight it. I decided to just move on and be happy that my car would be taken care of the rest of my life.
Six months passed and I received a letter in the mail. It turned out once I requested an increase in benefits the VA wanted to revisit what I had already been awarded. I was shocked. I lost my 10% mole award after I could not prove it was an ongoing issue. The irony is the scars of my mole removals were the catalyst for how my mental illness began.
Following the VA’s decision to take my award, I decided I was going to fight. Almost 9 years after my service I finally enrolled in the VA. I needed a new diagnosis and I was looking for proof that this began when I was active duty. Several computer tests later, I was told the online results concluded that I did not have PTSD. The doctor instead diagnosed me with “Other trauma related stressor”.
I was devastated but decided I wanted to once and for all find out how to fight this disease. I let them call it what they liked “Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Hypochondria, Manic Depressive, and now Other Stressor Related Trauma”. I did not care. I stayed in therapy for a year and can tell you that it changed so much for me. It helped me not just “white knuckle” my way through my irrationality. It helped me visit the day that changed me and see that I was okay. It turns out my fear was death, not cancer.
Following my year in therapy at the VA I decided I was going to ask for an increase one more time. This time, I did so with the help of a Texas Veterans Commission Claims counselor. The first thing he said I was going to need was a NEXUS letter. A letter from a counselor declaring my diagnosis and that it was service connected. Against all odds, I did get that letter and my Claims Counselor initiated a Claim on my behalf. In less than a week I received a request to attend a VES examination.
I attended the exam by a contracted entity outside of the VA. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life. Trying to summarize all the pain and anguish my service bestowed on me in an hour was a grueling task. I just told the truth; how much has been stolen from me and how much my illness affects every waking moment of my life. My claim was initiated in mid-September. This week I received an award letter, the VA has deemed me a 60% service-connected veteran.
This process has been difficult, more so, consuming. I let so much time pass because I let defeat, anger, and resentment consume my ability to “fight”. I wrote this with the hope to encourage my fellow veteran sisters to push through that consuming anguish and fear of rejection.
Below are all the things I wish I knew before I started this 6 years ago…
1. If you are already receiving benefits, requesting a new or increased issue can generate an entire review of your existing (Awarded) claim.
2. If you are receiving VA benefits for a specific medical issue, MAKE SURE you are being treated or at the least being seen periodically, for your issue by the VA.
3. The VA can take away a portion/percentage of benefits you have been receiving IF they ARE NOT deemed PERMANENT by the VA.
4. If you are experiencing Mental Illness, get seen by the VA. Learn about your diagnosis and get help finding the root cause.
5. The process for the VA to reach a decision once you initiate or open a new claim no longer takes years; decisions are being made in less than 180 days.
6. In Texas; the Texas Veterans Commission, Veteran County Service Officers, Wounded Warrior Project and the Disabled American Veterans have Claims representatives (EXPERTS) that will help you file any stage of your VA Claim for FREE.
7. Be the fighter you once were.