Howard Wahlen: A Vietnam Veteran who survived a war and now has to survive the VA.

Howard on a bike during near White Sands Missile Range.

Howard Wahlen grew up outside Los Angeles before he was sent to Vietnam. He saw some pretty serious action there, serving in the 716th Military Police Battalion. He got out and made his way to the Midwest, where he settled in Independence, Mo., and raised his family working as a painter.   He still lives there and now he takes care of his grand-kids. Like a lot of veterans, over the years he came to rely on the VA medical system to provide him some healthcare. But like all too many, Mr. Wahlen survived Vietnam only to get injured at the VA hospital.

Howard on leave from basic training, with his sister and brother, in Whittier, California.

Mr. Wahlen filed a Federal Torts Claim Act (“FTCA”) claim for medical malpractice against the VA medical center. With an FTCA claim, a veteran must first send a special form, commonly available at VA hospitals, to the VA that spells out how he was injured and the medical negligence he contends the VA committed. It’s called a “Form 95.”  The VA then decides whether it will pay the claim.  If the VA says “No,” only then can the veteran file a federal lawsuit against the VA. The form also asks for other information, including how much the veteran is asking to be compensated.

There are many pitfalls  for the unwary who choose to pursue an FTCA claim on their own. Too many pitfalls to detail here. My only advice to you is to not go it alone. Find a lawyer to help you. Frequently you can win the claim in the administrative process and receive a significant amount of money without the cost and need of a federal lawsuit.

In addition, you can also seek compensations under “Section 1151.”  A Section 1151 claim works differently. It is the equivalent of a normal claim for VA compensation, and if you win the claim, you are then rated between 0 and 100 percent and paid accordingly.  The VA requires you to now prove that the VA was negligent — and it is hard to get the VA to simply admit that their own doctors were negligent.

In Howard’s case, we’re battling the VA to concede that the VA should not have performed a medically unnecessary procedure that resulted in a lot of avoidable pain and suffering. He felt like he was used as a guinea pig. He can still tend to his yard and watch his daughter’s children, but he probably will never be 100 percent again.

Howard always tells me that if I write down my goals I’ll have a much better chance of accomplishing them. He always tells me to write down, “Be Happy.” I think it’s good advice for anyone.  If you recognize Howard and would like to get in touch, give me a call.

Howard Wahlen, third from the right, in a truck on the way to the firing range at White Sands Missile Range.

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