As a resident of the Sandhills and an Afghan War veteran, I urge all citizens to know what Veterans Guardian is doing for our community, and for thousands of veterans. I put these words down because I don’t like lies, slanderers, or bullies; and also, because I love veterans and military families…and I fight for them.

I retired in 2015; as a Fort Bragg guy I had some busted stuff after 23 years: plates and screws in my face, knee surgery, tinnitus, torn back muscles from Afghanistan, and I hosted a rare disease from Afghanistan for 18 months that irreversibly destroyed my digestive system before doctors found it.

I went to the VSO (Veteran Service Organization) at Fort Myer in 2014 to get help with my claim before leaving the Army. I signed over my rights to represent myself with the VA. This paid VFW member proceeded to make a mess of my claim and send it off to the VA. At the time, I had no idea how the VA claim process worked.

A year later, I was retired and had no recognition from the VA that my medical injuries were service connected. The VA, after two-hour-long waits on the phone, couldn’t even find my claim. My congressman’s office was no help. I didn’t even know about the VSOs in Moore County.

The VA office at Bragg said it couldn’t help. This went on for 2.5 years. I finally reached the VA Secretary under Obama and then Trump, but they couldn’t solve it. It wasn’t until Trump created a White House VA hotline that the VA miraculously found my claim and approved my service-connected issues.

My wife and I went through hell for 2.5 years and were poorly treated by many at the Fayetteville VA hospital and by the VA on the phone. I got VA recognition, but I was starting to believe what my Vietnam-era father-in-Law and uncle were saying: “the VA motto is deny, deny, until they die.” I swore off ever talking to the VA again, and really had no idea what my claim said. I did know they denied some important injuries that might require medical treatment later.

Enter Veterans Guardian. Right after I first filed my claim in 2015, I met Scott Greenblatt and he told me about what he was going to create after retirement. I too thought it sounded odd to create a business to help vets figure out the VA claim process, because there were VSOs that do it for free. I also found out in my 2.5-year journey that you get what you pay for.

After I got my initial claim back (2.5 years) from the VA, my neighbor, a veteran, asked me if I had any issues getting my rating and getting all my injuries accounted for. He had just joined Veterans Guardian and told me that his team would look at what the VA denied. For me that was screws and plates in my face causing my jaw to lock open and TMJ pain.

He convinced me to have faith in my fellow veterans. Almost the entire 100-person team at Veterans Guardian are either veterans or related to service members. They told me that I would owe nothing if they couldn’t get my claim fixed.

They told me the possible costs. They told me exactly what the multiple repayment options would be if they were successful, in writing, in a contract I signed. They kept me informed constantly. They used telemedicine just like President Obama championed for veterans so I wouldn’t have to drive all over the state with my busted back. They helped me prepare my claim and then I sent it off.

In two months, they had fixed everything that was missing and I got my new letter from the VA. I was satisfied and I paid them off in one lump-sum, because we knew what the cost would be and we saved our money so we could get a discount. The price was more than fair; if I ran that business I would charge more. They saved me from another journey through hell. They were my veteran family and they cared. They changed my life and brought me out of the darkness I was in.

I went to speak to the Veterans Guardian team this week when I heard all the negativity being spread about them. I told them my journey and thanked them for being there for me. I saw 10 members that helped me fix my claim and some of them cried when I thanked them. They feel like the world has caved in on them, while every day they are helping veterans battle the VA, the hardest battle some veterans will ever fight.

I told them to respond with facts and logic, not to get angry or to get down, but to tell the truth about their service to veterans, and the happiness they have brought to over 8,000 veterans.

This is our community; they are our people; do not turn on them based on rumors. I am proud of the work Veterans Guardian does. I will talk to anyone that has questions; we can hold a town hall to get educated if you like.

Jason Criss Howk is a Pinehurst resident and occasional contributor to The Pilot.

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