Cindy Speaker: Good afternoon everyone, my name is Cindy Speaker, I have we me as my guest today Nathan Guin, and he is a Veteran’s Attorney with Gardberg & Kemmerly, a wonderful firm down in Mobile Alabama. Nathan thanks for being with us today.
Nathan Guin: No problem at all thank you for having me, I always enjoy it.
Cindy Speaker: I always do to. Well we’re going to talk about a new kind of a topic today and this is called non-service connected pensions. Right?
Nathan Guin: Right, that’s it.
Cindy Speaker: So let’s start off and have you explain what is a non-service connected pension.
Nathan Guin: Okay, so non-service connected pension is an alternate route of benefits, so most of the time when we’re on here we talk about disability benefits, getting things service connected and different benefits you can get for service connected conditions. So what non-service-connected pension is, is if you make certain requirements, which I think we’ll get into a little bit later. It’s a needs based program, if you’re familiar with social security disability, they also have supplemental income, which is a needs based program, so for non-service-connected pension essentially what that is, is if you’re totally and permanently disabled it doesn’t have to be a service connected injury or disease or whatever it may be that makes you totally and permanently disabled, but if you need certain requirements you can get a pension based on that. Even if it’s not service connected if you need, you know, certain requirements that we’ll talk about in a little bit.
Cindy Speaker: Okay, yeah, yeah that’s interesting and you kind of compared it to social security, so it’s all needs based, it’s not necessarily based on a disability, is that correct?
Nathan Guin: It’s based on disability but it’s not actually based on a service connected disability. It’s just based on your income and your total and permanent disability, and then how you served or the details of your service come into play in terms of your eligibility too. Only certain veterans can get non-service-connected pension.
Cindy Speaker: Okay. And let’s move on and talk about eligibility for non-service connected pensions.
Nathan Guin: Right, so basically, there’s a couple of different ways you can get it. If you’re enlisted for the first time prior to 1980, I think it’s September 1st 1980, what you need to have is 90 days service, continuous service with at least one of those days being during a period of war, so basically if you served at all during the Vietnam War, Korean War, things like that, if you served, period, you would have had at least one day, even if you were in there for more than 90 days you’d have had at least one day because all of those days would have been within a period of war.
After 1980, if it’s the first time you enlisted, then you have to have that requirement as well, but then you have to have served your full, if there was a minimum requirement, basically whatever your minimum service requirement was, most of the time it was 24 months, or if you were a reserve or guard or anything like that, if you served the full period of time that you were called up to active duty, or active service, then you would meet the requirements. That would be the service requirements as far as it goes for the non-service connected pension.
There’s other issues too so, each year they change the amount that you have to have under a certain amount depending on the size of your family, how many dependents you have things like that, your total income has to be under a certain level and what the pension does is, it makes up the difference. So let’s say for the sake of it that you can only have $10,000 income, I think it’s more than that, but let’s just say that for the sake of argument. You can have a max of 10,000 and you’re a veteran, you’re totally and permanently disabled, you can only bring in 5,000 a year, then they’ll make up that difference to bring you up to 10,000. And that will be over 12 monthly installments.
Cindy Speaker: I see, okay. So explain how it’s different from the service-connected pensions.
Nathan Guin: So yeah, so service connected disability compensation, is you have an event or injury in service, you have a current disability that related to that, and you have a medical opinion putting the two together. So non-service-connected pension is helpful even if you are trying to get service connection, if they haven’t granted service connection yet, but you meet the requirements, and you can still apply and be granted non-service connected pension, and that can kind of hold you over, so to speak, until you get service-connected for other things, or if you don’t, if you can’t get service connection for those other issues, then you still have that income coming in, so it’s kind of an alternative route, like a lot of the clients we have will be applying for service connection and unemployability benefits, and maybe they don’t meet the schedule or requirements for unemployability or there’s an issue with getting service connection but they are totally and permanently disabled or they have social security disability benefits already, then we can also apply for non-service connected pension. That’s just another way that you can help out the veteran and they can help out themselves if they want to file to court themselves.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah, yeah. Are there any circumstances where you actually collect both at the same time, the non-service connected and the service connected, or is that even permissible?
Nathan Guin: Yeah, as long as you’re not over the threshold amount for the pension benefits. So if you’re only getting the A benefits and they’re under the threshold amount, then you can get the non-service connected pension, as long as you’re totally and permanently disabled. In that case you would have service connected issues, but you would be disabled due to a non-service connected condition, if that makes any sense.
So presumably if you were service connected and you were totally and permanently disabled because of the service connected conditions, you would go for IU, and all that kind of stuff, through the service connected route. But if you were, lets say you had 10, 20 percent for your knee, but your service connect … you’re not serviced connected but you’re disabled because of your back and there’s just no service connection there, or you’re trying to get service connection, you can still get the non-service connected pension, while getting the disability benefits as well.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah, yeah.
Nathan Guin: If that makes any sense, it kind of gets jumbled up.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah, no, it does make sense and I think it’s good we’re talking about issues like this because would suspect that there’s probably veterans that do have the need for a non-service connected pension, but don’t realize it’s available to them.
Nathan Guin: Yeah, that true. In my experience a lot of times we’ll be … yeah we’ll look over case or a potential case and say well it may not be great for XYZ or maybe it needs more information, maybe we’ll have to work on it but have they filed for non-service connected pension, they’ve already got the amount for unemployability, and that’s something we call up the veteran and say hey, we may need more information to evaluate your case for service connection, but you really need to look into filing for non-service connected pension, because that’s another way you can help yourself out.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah, yeah.
Nathan Guin: And those people aren’t aware that they can even do that.
Cindy Speaker: Right, right, right. Well and there’s, you know, I feel like you’re teaching me so much as we kind of go through this series, and I hope that those of you that are watching, we have a whole playlist full of these presentations and shows that Nathan has done, but I’m just thinking about so, suppose if someone has a ratings, I forget what it’s called, a ratings evaluation, or whatever, they’re ratings are relatively low, and they’re not going to get a fair amount, is there ever a time when you would recommend, look, you’re ratings low, maybe you should go for the non-service connected? Would that ever happen?
Nathan Guin: Yeah we do that sometimes it just depends on the circumstances and what service connected, how much they get, and you can do both at the same time like we talked about earlier so you know, if somebody says while I know about unemployability but it’s my back and I’m pretty sure it’s my knees are the ones I’m service connected for and either you’re trying to get the back service connected or maybe there’s no shot, maybe it’s something completely different but they have social security for that, or they are totally and permanently disabled, then that’s another benefit that we can kind of apply for and they can still get their money for other disability benefits for whatever their service connected for as long as they’re not over that threshold amount, and still get the non-service connected pension for outside injuries.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah, this is complicated stuff, it truly is. At what point do you recommend a veteran getting an attorney involved in this process?
Nathan Guin: Whenever they want to, I mean it’s really their prerogative if they want to deal with it on their own they can.
Cindy Speaker: But what do you think is the best time, early on, at what point?
Nathan Guin: Well as an attorney, the earlier on the better. We can’t be engaged on any case before a rating decision is given so you have to apply first to get a rating decision.
Cindy Speaker: Wait for the ratings decision.
Nathan Guin: Any time after that, you can reach out to an attorney, obviously I would highly recommend that. But that’s a little bit biased. But really in any case, at any point after you put in your initial claim, even if you haven’t got a rating decision yet, you know, you can reach out to somebody and touch base with them before you get that. Any time after your initial denial is good time. I would say, you know, probably the earlier the better just because then you have more bites of the apple with your attorney, and you’re not going into it alone for as long. But really it’s up to the veteran, but we’re more than happy to help anybody at any stage in the process.
Cindy Speaker: Yeah, Nathan, I know that you work with claimants all over the country, you’re not just in Alabama, you’re all over the county, do you have to go to that … how does it work in terms of court, do they have to go to court for these things, is it all done through paperwork. Do you have … What in terms of proximity, do they have to come to you, do you have to go to them? How’s that work?
Nathan Guin: So it’s actually a great system, I’m licensed in Alabama but since I’m VA accredited I can practice in any VA in the country, or even if there’s one in Guam, I mean, yeah I guess that technically is, but in territory states, whatever, most of the time what we’ll do if they’re close enough we can get a hearing, there’s always an option to waive hearings for the court veterans appeals, we have some veterans that are in California or Connecticut or Idaho, and a lot of time what we’ll do is take those cases on the contingency that if it’s just to cost prohibitive to travel for a hearing, and if they’re okay with that, if the veterans okay with that, then we’re happy to help anybody wherever they are, there are some travel limitations in terms of appearing at hearings, but always an option for the veterans even if they’re far away, a lot of our appointments are by phone so there’s a number of different ways we can handle any case anywhere, as long the veteran wants us to handle it we can help them out.
Cindy Speaker: Great resource, great resource. Nathan how can they reach you if they have questions, if they want to engage your services?
Nathan Guin: So there’s three really good ways to get in touch with us the first would be at our website, www.GardbergLaw.com, you can call us 251-343-1111, and that’s our home office here in Mobile, and they can also, if they want to email us some questions they can go to firstname.lastname@example.org, and they can email things to that, questions or paperwork, or how do I get started, all that can go to that email as well, and we can help you out from there.
Cindy Speaker: That’s fantastic. Well those of you that are listening, you have questions, you have comments, put them right on this post in the comment section, we’ll get Nathan to answer them for you, and we also encourage you to look on our Facebook page at the videos, because we’ve done, Nathan has done quite a few of these on various aspects of veterans disability law, and I think they’ve been tremendously valuable. So Nathan thanks for being with us again.
Nathan Guin: It’s no problem thank you for having me, I’m looking forward to the next time.
Cindy Speaker: Me too, alright thanks everybody and we’ll talk to you again soon.