Find the Best VA Compensation Lawyer Near Me: A Comprehensive Guide
Are you a veteran struggling to get the compensation you deserve? Whether you’re dealing with a denied claim, navigating complex paperwork, or facing other legal obstacles, it’s essential to find a trusted VA compensation lawyer near you. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about VA compensation lawyers and how to choose the right one for your case.
In the following sections, we will cover various aspects related to VA compensation lawyers, including their role in the process, the benefits they provide, and how to locate the best attorney near you. So, let’s dive in and ensure you have the necessary information and guidance to secure the compensation you rightfully deserve.
Understanding VA Compensation: What is it and who qualifies?
VA compensation is a financial benefit provided to veterans who have suffered disabilities or injuries during their service in the military. This compensation serves as a way to acknowledge the sacrifices made by veterans and help them cope with the physical, emotional, and financial consequences of their service-related conditions.
Qualifying for VA compensation requires meeting certain criteria set by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These criteria include having a current disability that is connected to your military service, receiving a disability rating from the VA, and providing evidence to support your claim. The types of disabilities that may qualify for compensation range from physical injuries to mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Determining Eligibility for VA Compensation
Before diving deeper into the process, it’s crucial to determine your eligibility for VA compensation. Start by gathering your military service records, medical records, and any other documentation that can support your claim. This will help establish a strong foundation for your case and increase your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.
Once you have gathered the necessary documents, you can consult the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) to understand how disabilities are evaluated and rated. The VASRD provides a comprehensive list of disabilities and their corresponding rating criteria, which the VA uses to determine the level of compensation you may be eligible for.
Obtaining a Disability Rating
Obtaining a disability rating is a crucial step in the VA compensation process. This rating reflects the severity of your disability and determines the amount of compensation you will receive. To obtain a disability rating, you will need to undergo a medical examination conducted by a VA healthcare provider or a private physician approved by the VA.
During the examination, the healthcare provider will assess the impact of your disability on your daily life, workability, and overall health. They will consider factors such as range of motion, pain levels, cognitive impairments, and any other relevant symptoms or limitations. Based on their evaluation, they will assign a disability rating, ranging from 0% to 100%, with higher ratings indicating more severe disabilities.
Gathering Supporting Evidence
Supporting evidence is crucial in substantiating your claim for VA compensation. It helps establish the connection between your disability and your military service, proving that your condition is service-related. The evidence you provide should clearly demonstrate how your disability occurred or was aggravated during your time in the military.
Some key forms of supporting evidence include medical records, service records, witness statements, and expert opinions. These documents can provide a comprehensive overview of your condition, including its onset, treatment history, and impact on your daily life. Additionally, they can help establish a clear timeline of events and demonstrate the nexus between your disability and your military service.
The Role of a VA Compensation Lawyer
When dealing with the complex and often bureaucratic process of filing a VA compensation claim, having a knowledgeable VA compensation lawyer by your side can make a significant difference. These lawyers specialize in handling VA disability claims and are well-versed in the intricacies of the system, ensuring you have the best chance of success.
Guidance and Advice Throughout the Process
A VA compensation lawyer will guide you through every step of the claims process, providing valuable advice and ensuring you understand your rights and options. From gathering the necessary evidence to filing the claim and appealing a denial, they will be there to navigate the complex legal landscape on your behalf.
These lawyers have an in-depth understanding of the VA’s rules and regulations, allowing them to identify any potential pitfalls or errors that could jeopardize your claim. By leveraging their expertise, you can avoid common mistakes and maximize your chances of receiving the compensation you deserve.
Gathering and Presenting Evidence
One of the most challenging aspects of a VA compensation claim is gathering and presenting the necessary evidence to support your case. A VA compensation lawyer will help you compile all relevant medical records, service records, and other supporting documentation, ensuring you present a comprehensive and persuasive claim to the VA.
These lawyers have experience in identifying crucial evidence that may strengthen your case. They know what the VA looks for when evaluating claims and can ensure that all necessary information is included. Additionally, they can work with medical experts and other professionals to obtain independent evaluations and opinions that support your claim.
Handling Appeals and Denials
If your initial claim for VA compensation is denied, a VA compensation lawyer will assist you in navigating the appeals process. They will review the denial decision, identify any errors or omissions, and develop a strategy to strengthen your case on appeal.
These lawyers understand the specific legal requirements for successful appeals and will ensure that all necessary documentation, legal arguments, and supporting evidence are submitted within the designated timelines. They will represent you at hearings and advocate for your rights, increasing the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
In some cases, the VA may offer a settlement instead of going through the appeals process. A VA compensation lawyer can help negotiate a fair settlement on your behalf, ensuring that you receive the maximum compensation possible for your disability.
These lawyers have experience in assessing the value of disability claims and can provide an objective evaluation of the settlement offer. They will advocate for your best interests, taking into account the long-term implications of the settlement and any potential impact on your future benefits.
Benefits of Hiring a VA Compensation Lawyer
Enlisting the services of a VA compensation lawyer offers numerous benefits that can significantly improve your chances of a successful claim. From increased expertise to enhanced advocacy, these attorneys provide invaluable support throughout the entire process.
Maximizing Your Chances of Success
The VA compensation process can be complex, and even a small error or omission can result in a denied claim. By hiring a VA compensation lawyer, you tap into their specialized knowledge and experience, giving you a distinct advantage. These lawyers understand the intricacies of VA regulations, know how to interpret medical records, and can spot potential weaknesses or gaps in your case. With their guidance, you can present a compelling claim that maximizes your chances of success.
Reducing Stress and Burden
Dealing with a VA compensation claim can be overwhelming, particularly if you’re already coping with a disability or injury. By hiring a VA compensation lawyer, you can alleviate much of the stress and burden associated with the process. These lawyers handle all the paperwork, correspondences, and negotiations on your behalf, allowing you to focus on your health and well-being. They will keep you informed at each stage of the process, ensuring you understand what’s happening without the added stress of handling it all yourself.
Expertise in Navigating Appeals
If your claim is denied, going through the appeals process requires a comprehensive understanding of VA regulations and legal procedures. A VA compensation lawyer has the expertise to navigate this complex terrain, increasing your chances of success on appeal. They will review the denial decision, identify any errors or deficiencies, and develop a strong legal strategy to present your case effectively. By having a lawyer by your side, you can navigate the appeals process with confidence and significantly enhance your likelihood of a favorable outcome.
Access to Medical and Professional Resources
VA compensation lawyers often have established relationships with medical experts, vocational rehabilitation specialists, and other professionals who can provide independent evaluations and opinions to support your claim. They can help you obtain the necessary medical evidence, ensuring your disability is properly documented and assessed. These resources not only strengthen your claim but also provide additional credibility and weight to your case.
Representation at Hearings and Meetings
When dealing with the VA, there may be hearings, meetings, or negotiations where your presence is required. Having a VA compensation lawyer by your side ensures you have skilled representation throughout these proceedings. Your lawyer will advocate for your rights, present your case persuasively, and protect your interests. This level of representation significantly increases your chances of a successful outcome and ensures your voice is heard throughout the process.
How to Choose the Best VA Compensation Lawyer Near Me
Choosing the right VA compensation lawyer is a crucial step in ensuring the success of your claim. With so many lawyers out there, it can be overwhelming to find the best one for your specific needs. However, by considering certain key factors and conducting thorough research, you can make an informed decision.
Identifying Relevant Experience
When searching for a VA compensation lawyer, prioritize those with relevant experience in handling VA disability claims. Look for lawyers who specialize in veterans’ law or have a significant track record of success in handling similarcases. Experience in this specific area of law demonstrates a deep understanding of the complexities and nuances involved in VA compensation claims. It also means they are familiar with the VA’s rules and regulations, increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome for your case.
Assessing Track Record and Success Rate
An essential aspect of choosing the best VA compensation lawyer is assessing their track record and success rate. Look for lawyers who have a proven history of achieving positive results for their clients. This can be determined by reviewing their past cases, client testimonials, and any awards or recognition they have received in the field of veterans’ law. A lawyer with a strong track record of success is more likely to deliver favorable outcomes for your claim.
Seeking Recommendations and Referrals
Word-of-mouth recommendations and referrals can be invaluable when selecting a VA compensation lawyer. Reach out to other veterans or organizations that specialize in assisting veterans and ask for their recommendations. They may have firsthand experience or knowledge of lawyers who have successfully handled VA compensation claims. Consider joining online forums or support groups for veterans to seek feedback and advice from individuals who have been through similar situations.
Considering Communication and Accessibility
Effective communication is crucial when working with a lawyer on your VA compensation claim. During your initial consultations, pay attention to how responsive and attentive the lawyer is to your concerns and questions. Assess their communication style and ensure they are accessible and willing to keep you updated on the progress of your case. A lawyer who prioritizes open and transparent communication will provide you with peace of mind throughout the process.
Exploring Costs and Fee Structures
Understanding the costs and fee structures associated with hiring a VA compensation lawyer is essential. While some lawyers may charge an upfront fee, others work on a contingency basis, meaning they only receive payment if they successfully secure compensation for you. Discuss the fee structure during your initial consultations and ensure you have a clear understanding of how much you will be charged and when payment is due. Be cautious of any lawyers who make unrealistic promises or demand payment upfront without a clear explanation of their fees.
Checking Professional Credentials and Associations
Before finalizing your decision, verify the lawyer’s professional credentials and associations. Look for lawyers who are members of reputable organizations such as the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) or the Veterans’ Advocacy and Benefits Association (VABA). These associations often have strict membership criteria, ensuring that their members adhere to high ethical and professional standards.
Trusting Your Instincts
Ultimately, trust your instincts when choosing a VA compensation lawyer. Consider how comfortable you feel communicating and working with them. Remember, this lawyer will be your advocate throughout the process, so it’s crucial to have confidence in their abilities and trust their judgment. If something feels off or if you have any reservations, it may be best to continue your search until you find a lawyer who truly aligns with your needs and goals.
Researching Local VA Compensation Lawyers
Once you have a clear understanding of the key factors to consider, it’s time to start researching local VA compensation lawyers. This step is crucial to identify potential candidates who have the necessary experience, expertise, and track record to handle your claim successfully.
Online Search and Directories
An online search is an excellent starting point to find local VA compensation lawyers. Use search engines and legal directories to compile a list of potential candidates in your area. Look for lawyers who explicitly mention their experience in VA compensation claims or veterans’ law on their websites or listings.
Review Websites and Testimonials
Review websites and testimonials can provide valuable insights into a lawyer’s reputation and the quality of their services. Look for websites that allow clients to leave reviews and ratings for lawyers. Read through these reviews to gain a better understanding of the experiences of past clients. Pay attention to both positive and negative feedback to get a balanced perspective.
Professional Referrals and Recommendations
Consider seeking professional referrals and recommendations from other legal professionals or organizations that work closely with veterans. Lawyers who specialize in other areas of law may be able to provide recommendations based on their knowledge of the legal community. Additionally, organizations that assist veterans may have a network of trusted lawyers they can refer you to.
Bar Associations and Legal Directories
Check with your local bar association or legal directories that specialize in connecting clients with lawyers. These resources often provide comprehensive information about lawyers, including their areas of expertise, credentials, and contact details. The bar association can also confirm a lawyer’s active license and any disciplinary history.
Initial Screening and Consultations
Once you have compiled a list of potential VA compensation lawyers, it’s time to conduct an initial screening. Contact each lawyer to schedule a consultation or phone call to discuss your case. During these consultations, pay attention to how responsive they are, the level of interest they show in your case, and their overall communication style. This will help you gauge their professionalism and compatibility with your needs.
Ask the Right Questions
Prepare a list of questions to ask during the consultations to ensure you gather all the necessary information. Consider asking about their experience with VA compensation claims, their success rate, their approach to handling difficult cases or denials, and their communication practices. Additionally, inquire about their fees, retainer agreements, and any potential additional costs associated with your case. These questions will help you evaluate each lawyer’s qualifications and determine if they are the right fit for your needs.
Assessing Experience and Expertise
When choosing a VA compensation lawyer, it’s crucial to assess their experience and expertise in handling VA disability claims. This ensures that your lawyer has the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate the complexities of the VA compensation process effectively.
Years of Practice in Veterans’ Law
Look for lawyers who have dedicated a significant portion of their practice to veterans’ law or VA compensation claims. The more experience they have specifically in this area, the better equipped they will be to handle your case. Consider lawyers who have been practicing veterans’ law for several years and have a proven track record of success.
Success in Similar Cases
Ask the lawyer about their experience and success in handling cases similar to yours. Inquire about cases involving disabilities or injuries that are similar in nature or involve similar legal complexities. A lawyer who has successfully handled cases like yours is likely to have a better understanding of the nuances and challenges specific to your situation.
Continuing Education and Specialized Training
Truly exceptional VA compensation lawyers strive to stay updated on changes in veterans’ law and VA regulations. Inquire about the lawyer’s commitment to continuing education and whether they have participated in specialized training or seminars related to VA compensation claims. This demonstrates their dedication to staying current in their field and providing the best possible representation for their clients.
Membership in Relevant Organizations
Membership in organizations such as the National Organization of Veterans Advocates (NOVA) or the Veterans’ Advocacy and Benefits Association (VABA) can indicate a lawyer’s commitment to veterans’ law and their dedication to upholding high ethical and professional standards. Membership in these associations often requires meeting strict criteria, ensuring that their members possess the necessary expertise and experience in handling VA compensation claims.
Peer Recognition and Awards
Consider any peer recognition or awards received by the lawyer in the field of veterans’ law. Such accolades can provide further validation of their expertise and success in handling VA compensation claims. Awards or recognition from reputable legal organizations or publications demonstrate the respect and esteem the lawyer has earned from their peers.
Evaluating Client Reviews and Testimonials
Client reviews and testimonials can provide valuable insights into a VA compensation lawyer’s reputation, the quality of their services, and the satisfaction level of their clients. Evaluating these reviews can help you make an informed decision when choosing a lawyer to handle your VA compensation claim.
Review Websites and Online Platforms
Review websites and online platforms dedicated to legal services are excellent resources for finding client reviews and testimonials. Look for websites that allow clients to leave detailed reviews and ratings. Read through these reviews to gain a better understanding of the experiences other clients have had with the lawyer. Pay attention to the specific aspects of their service that clients praise or criticize.
Consider the Overall Consensus
While individual reviews provide specific insights, consider the overall consensus among clients. Look for patterns or common themes in the reviews. If multiple clients consistently mention positive experiences, it may be an indication of the lawyer’s competence and client satisfaction. Conversely, if negative reviews consistently highlight similar issues or concerns, it’s essential to take those into account when making your decision.
Ask for References
If you have narrowed down your options to a few lawyers, consider asking them for references from past clients. Speaking directly to these clients can provide a deeper understanding of their experiences and the lawyer’s performance. Ask the lawyer for references from clients with cases similar to yours to gain insights specific to your situation.
Seek Personal Recommendations
Personal recommendations from friends, family, or fellow veterans can also be valuable when evaluating a VA compensation lawyer. Speak to individuals who have gone through the VA compensation process and ask about their experiences with their respective lawyers. Personal recommendations often come with a level of trust and reliability that can help inform your decision.
Consider the Scope of Reviews
When evaluating client reviews and testimonials, consider the scope of the reviews. Take into account the number of reviews available for a particular lawyer. A larger sample size provides a more accurate representation of the lawyer’s overall reputation. A lawyer with a larger number of positive reviews may be more reliable than one with only a few reviews, even if the few reviews are positive.
Balance Positive and Negative Feedback
While it’s natural to focus on negative reviews, it’s important to maintain a balanced perspective. Pay attention to both positive and negative feedback to get a comprehensive understanding of the lawyer’s performance. Consider the specific circumstances and issues mentioned in negative reviews and evaluate whether they are relevant to your case or if they are isolated incidents.
Consider the Date of Reviews
Take note of the dates of the reviews, as older reviews may not accurately reflect the lawyer’s current performance or practices. A lawyer may have made improvements or changes over time, so prioritize recent reviews to gauge their current reputation and service quality.
Use Discretion and Critical Thinking
While client reviews can be informative, it’s important to approach them with discretion and critical thinking. Recognize that individual experiences may vary, and what may have worked for one client may not necessarily work for another. Consider the specific needs of your case and how they align with the feedback provided in the reviews.
Initial Consultations: What to Ask
Once you have narrowed down your options and identified a few potential VA compensation lawyers, it’s time to schedule initial consultations. These consultations are an opportunity to speak directly with the lawyers, ask relevant questions, and assess whether they are the right fit for your case. Prepare a list of questions to ask during these consultations to gather all the necessary information.
Experience and Expertise
Inquire about the lawyer’s experience and expertise in handling VA compensation claims. Ask how many cases they have handled, their success rate, and any specific specialties or areas of focus within veterans’ law. Understanding their level of experience will help you assess their ability to handle your case effectively.
Approach to Handling Cases
Ask the lawyer about their approach to handling VA compensation claims. Inquire about the strategies they employ, how they gather evidence, and their methods for presenting a compelling case to the VA. Understanding their approach will give you insight into their legal and tactical abilities.
Communication and Accessibility
Effective communication is crucial when working with a lawyer on your VA compensation claim. Ask about their communication practices and how accessible they will be throughout the process. Inquire about their preferred method of communication, whether it’s email, phone calls, or in-person meetings. Assess whether their communication style aligns with your preferences and needs.
Case Management and Timelines
Discuss how the lawyer plans to manage your case and the expected timelines for various stages of the process. Inquire about their availability and how frequently they will provide updates on your case. Understanding how your case will be managed and the projected timelines will help you anticipate what to expect during the course of your claim.
Fee Structure and Costs
Be transparent about discussing the lawyer’s fee structure and associated costs. Ask about their billing methods, whether they charge an hourly rate or work on a contingency basis. Inquire about any additional costs that may arise during the process, such as fees for expert opinions or consultations with medical professionals. Understanding the financial aspects will help you make an informed decision while considering your budget.
If you haven’t obtained references from past clients already, ask the lawyer if they can provide references for you to speak with. Speaking directly to past clients can give you valuable insights into the lawyer’s performance, communication style, and overall client satisfaction.
Case Assessment and Potential Outcomes
Ask the lawyer for their initial assessment of your case and potential outcomes. While they may not be able to provide specific guarantees, they should be able to provide a general understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your claim. Assess their ability to provide clear and realistic expectations for your case.
Legal Fees and Retainer Agreements
Discuss the specific terms of the lawyer’s legal fees and retainer agreements. Inquire about how they structure their fees, whether they require an upfront retainer, and how billing and payment will be handled throughout the process. Ensure that you have a clear understanding of the financial aspects of working with the lawyer.
Understanding Fees and Payment Structures
When hiring a VA compensation lawyer, it’s important to understand their fees and payment structures. Clear communication regarding fees will help you manage your expectations and avoid any surprises during the process.
Some VA compensation lawyers charge an hourly rate for their services. This means that you will be billed for the time they spend working on your case, whether it’s attending meetings, drafting documents, or conducting research. Hourly rates can vary depending on the lawyer’s experience, location, and the complexity of your case.
Contingency fees are a common payment structure for VA compensation lawyers. With this arrangement, the lawyer only receives payment if they successfully secure compensation for you. The fee is typically a percentage of the total compensation awarded. If the lawyer does not win your case or secure compensation, you will not owe them any fees. Contingency fees provide some financial relief, as you don’t have to pay upfront legal fees while pursuing your claim.
Additional Costs and Expenses
It’s important to discuss any additional costs or expenses that may arise during the process. These can include fees for expert opinions, medical evaluations, or obtaining necessary documentation. The lawyer should provide a transparent breakdown of potential costs and inform you of any additional expenses that may be required for your claim.
Retainer agreements outline the terms of the lawyer-client relationship and the financial arrangement. If the lawyer requires a retainer, it means you will be asked to provide an upfront deposit to secure their services. The retainer is typically placed in a trust account and used to cover future legal fees and expenses. The lawyer will bill against the retainer as they work on your case, and you will be responsible for replenishing the retainer if it runs low.
Discuss the payment schedule with the lawyer to understand when and how they expect to be paid. Some lawyers may require monthly or quarterly payments, while others may bill you at specific milestones in your case. Ensure that you have a clear understanding of when and how you will be billed, as well as the accepted methods of payment.
Fee Agreements in Writing
It is essential to have any fee agreements or retainer agreements in writing. This ensures that both you and the lawyer are on the same page regarding the financial aspects of your case. Review the agreement carefully and ask for clarification on any terms or conditions that you do not understand. Having a written agreement provides clarity and protection for both parties involved.
Taking the First Step: Hiring a VA Compensation Lawyer
Now that you have gathered all the necessary information and conducted thorough research, it’s time to take the first step and hire a VA compensation lawyer. This decision marks a significant milestone in your pursuit of the compensation you rightfully deserve.
Review Your Options
Review all the information you have gathered during your research and consultations. Consider the lawyers’ experience, expertise, track record, and their alignment with your needs and goals. Assess the communication style, accessibility, and overall impression you had during your interactions with each lawyer.
Trust Your Gut
Trust your instincts when making your final decision. Consider how comfortable you felt communicating and working with each lawyer. Evaluate their professionalism, empathy, and commitment to your case. Choose a lawyer you feel confident in and trust to advocate for your rights and interests.
Notify Your Chosen Lawyer
Once you have made your decision, notify your chosen lawyer of your intent to hire them. Discuss the next steps, including signing any necessary agreements and providing the required documentation. Your lawyer will guide you through the process and initiate the necessary actions to move your claim forward.
Provide All Relevant Information
Cooperate fully with your lawyer by providing all relevant information, documentation, and records related to your claim. This includes your military service records, medical records, and any other evidence that supports your case. Clear and open communication will ensure that your lawyer has all the necessary information to build a strong claim on your behalf.
Follow Your Lawyer’s Guidance
Throughout the process, trust in your lawyer’s expertise and follow their guidance. They will provide advice and instructions on how to proceed, including gathering additional evidence, attending medical evaluations, or attending hearings. Your lawyer will navigate the legal complexities, advocate for your rights, and ensure that your case is presented in the best possible light.
Stay Informed and Engaged
While your lawyer will handle the legal aspects of your claim, it’s important to stay informed and engaged in the process. Regularly communicate with your lawyer, ask questions, and seek updates on the progress of your case. Beingactively involved will help you understand the status of your claim and allow you to provide any additional information or insights that may be relevant to your case.
Patience and Persistence
The VA compensation process can be lengthy and complex, and it may require patience and persistence to achieve a favorable outcome. Trust in your lawyer’s expertise and the strategies they employ. Be prepared for potential delays or setbacks along the way, but remain persistent in your pursuit of the compensation you deserve. Your lawyer will continue to advocate for your rights and work diligently to secure a successful outcome.
Collaborate and Communicate
Maintain open and collaborative communication with your lawyer throughout the entire process. Respond promptly to any requests for information or documentation. Be proactive in providing updates on any changes in your condition or circumstances that may impact your claim. Collaboration and effective communication will help your lawyer build a strong case and ensure that your interests are effectively represented.
Prepare for Hearings and Meetings
If your claim progresses to hearings or meetings with the VA, your lawyer will guide you on how to prepare and what to expect. Follow their instructions and provide any necessary information or documents to support your case. Attend these proceedings with your lawyer and trust in their ability to present your case persuasively and advocate for your rights.
Trust the Process
Remember to trust the process and the expertise of your lawyer. It can be frustrating at times, but understanding that the VA compensation process is designed to be thorough can help manage expectations. Trust that your lawyer will navigate the complexities and advocate for your best interests, working towards a fair and just resolution in your case.
Review and Appeal Decisions if Necessary
If the VA initially denies your claim or offers a compensation amount that you believe is inadequate, discuss the possibility of reviewing or appealing the decision with your lawyer. They will guide you through the necessary steps and represent your interests during the review or appeal process. Trust in their ability to construct a compelling argument and present your case effectively to the appropriate authorities.
Celebrate a Successful Outcome
If your claim is ultimately successful and you receive the compensation you deserve, celebrate this significant achievement. The process can be challenging, and securing a positive outcome is a testament to your perseverance and the diligent efforts of your lawyer. Take the time to acknowledge and appreciate the successful resolution of your claim.
By following this comprehensive guide, you are equipped with the knowledge and understanding to find the best VA compensation lawyer near you. Remember that each case is unique, and finding the right lawyer who aligns with your needs and goals is crucial. With the support and expertise of a skilled VA compensation lawyer, you can navigate the complexities of the VA compensation process with confidence and increase your chances of securing the compensation you rightfully deserve as a veteran.