VA Claims Insider Founder Brian Reese talks veteran benefits, the power of vulnerability, and why he’s so passionate about serving fellow veterans
In this uplifting conversation with fellow veteran and Beyond The Uniform podcaster Justin Nassiri, VA Claims Insider founder Brian Reese is as vulnerable as he urges veterans to be. The result is an interview that will not only inspire veterans and their families to seek support and change, but anyone else who listens.
Brian talks about VA Claims Insider, his new book You Deserve It and why he’s so passionate about empowering veterans to get the benefits they’ve earned for their honorable service.
But he and Justin also delved much deeper—into the mindsets and misconceptions that can keep veterans (and active-duty personnel) from seeking not only benefits, but the help they need to get better.
The bottom-line takeaways and tips Brian offers in this candid conversation will save military personnel and veterans a great deal of time and energy as they earn much greater compensation for their service. However, it’s not a stretch to say that some of this advice could also save lives.
Along the way, Brian shares his own struggles with radical openness and honesty, demonstrating the very vulnerability he urges veterans to practice in their lives in order to change, grow and fulfill their potential.
A few highlights and key topics Brian and Justin tackle:
Get to a doctor.
Brian focused on several top actions to take and mindsets to shift—noting with humility that all of these stem from mistakes he himself made. But he was emphatic that if you do only ONE thing, it’s get yourself to your doctor.
This is especially true if you’re listening and still in uniform, he says.
“Because even if you think your disability or condition is not too bad right now—maybe it isn’t, because your age 20, 25, 30. But your 60- or 70-year-old self will thank me when your condition is on record, maybe rated by the VA.”
Even if it’s rated 0 or 10%, he explains, if it worsens later in life you might be eligible for an increase. If it’s not documented in the first place, it gets infinitely harder to connect conditions back to service.
Yet for many active-duty personnel, going to the doctor is the lowest priority. “We don’t just not prioritize it, we actually conceal it. We don’t want to be the guy or gal tapping out and going on sick call. We don’t want the stigma of ‘broken warrior,’ where we can’t deploy.
“This culture in active duty causes us to downplay our issues. So you don’t go to the doctor, you aren’t getting help for your mental and physical conditions, and they’re not documented in service treatment records.”
But Brian points out that going to the doctor is how you get benefits for your honorable service.
If you’re active duty, guard or reserve, and you have sleep apnea, depression, anxiety—get a sleep study done NOW while wearing the uniform and get the document on record.
Brian also notes that the goal isn’t only to get rated and get benefits—that’s just part of it. The other goal is to actually get better. “We want you to get the benefits you deserve for honorable service and then get the care you need and get better!”
You deserve it.
This is more than the title of Brian’s new book—it’s a core mindset shift that is characteristically difficult for veterans to make. Yet it’s pivotal if veterans are to seek and receive the benefits and services they’re due.
Justin and Brian both affirmed the deeply entrenched beliefs in military culture that make those words extremely hard to hear, let alone say. Justin even admitted that when he heard the title of the new book, he felt himself immediately pushing back.
Brain affirmed how common this is, and that he himself once felt that way. But, he urged, this is a disservice to yourself, your family and your community if you’re not taking advantage of the resources that are there to help you.
Plus, the process is confusing and challenging enough; in order to persevere through it, you need the determination that comes from your conviction that you absolutely deserve benefits for having served.
Many veterans feel deeply just the opposite—that they don’t deserve it. “Almost all veterans tell themselves this,” says Brian. “it’s very much a part of the culture and military thinking:
‘Other veterans have it worse.’”
That may be true. But that doesn’t mean your needs or worthiness are any less! It doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it too.
“We need to stop feeding ourselves that lie,” he explains. “You wore the uniform, you took an oath to support and defend freedom—you do deserve benefits.”
And, Brian emphasizes, “Your benefits are mutually exclusive of any other benefits. Your benefits don’t rob anyone else of benefits. It’s not either/or.”
At one point, Brian shares about his own father asking him exactly what he does at VA Claims Insider. He said, “Dad, I give veterans permission to get the benefits they’ve earned for honorable service.”
His dad was initially taken aback: “How can you give them permission? What does that mean?” Brain explained how most veterans don’t give themselves permission, and need affirmation and support to let themselves ask and receive.
You are valuable.
Justin talks with Brian about entrepreneurship and building a purpose-driven organization. While Brian now serves veterans with multiple companies under one umbrella, he wanted to encourage veterans by pointing out how lost he felt at the time of his own transition out of active duty.
“I had no idea what i was going to do,” he says. “I knew I was capable, smart, and trained—but I also had a lot of anxiety about taking off the uniform. I was nervous, frustrated, depressed, worried about my transition and what next.”
After all, he notes, with the uniform on, “everything is provided for you. You’re taken care of, given training, told what jobs to do. I had forgotten, honestly, who I was and what I was good at. I was scared.
This is all too common among veterans, which is why Brian can’t state strongly enough the value that veterans provide and how well their mission-oriented, team-player experience translates in the workforce.
‘Whether you’re wearing a uniform now, or already a vet, companies are looking for you! THey want you to be part of their teams.”
He also wants to normalize the fear and frustration most veterans feel around the transition into the civilian workforce.
Brian created his passion project Hire Veterans to connect transitioning veterans with companies who want what they have to offer. It’s free for active duty and veterans.
It’s okay to not be okay.
This interview explores not only the importance of permission to receive benefits, but also to not be okay.
One of the most vulnerable stories Brian shares is about how he avoided the doctor—the very thing he now exhorts active-duty military not to do—and denied that he was struggling.
Deployed to Afghanistan on a 13-member combat team, he was spiraling downhill from insomnia, depression and anxiety. He couldn’t sleep due to panic (the team was under constant rocket fire). He hadn’t slept in seven days when one of his best friends showed up, and in tears, the first thing Brian said was, “Please don’t let them send me home.”
His friend walked him to mental health services, and he did get help while deployed. His terror that his commanding officer would freak out, or that he’d be sent home—” none of that happened. This saved my deployment and my life, 100%,” he says.
“It doesn’t matter how big or strong you are or if you’re a Navy SEAL. No one is immune to this stuff.”
It’s deeply ingrained in military culture that “everyone else comes first. Bull. Take care of yourself first, or you can’t take care of anyone else.”
In keeping with his unswerving commitment to vulnerability and authenticity in every moment, Brian also wants veterans (and active-duty military) to know that everyone struggles—veterans and non-veterans. And that even after you get help, there are times like that.
“I still struggle with PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger and panic attacks. There are days I struggle to get out of bed and be productive. I run a large company with an incredible team, and I have to tap out sometimes.
Asking for help doesn’t come easily to veterans (or active-duty personnel) but this is something that also has to change in order for veterans, their families and their communities to be served. It’s another “programming” that must be rewired, a “natural inclination that doesn’t serve us.”
Brian urges, “We need you. We need your potential. It matters that you get help.”
Be uncomfortably vulnerable.
It’s worth listening to this dialogue just to hear the refreshing depth of honesty Brian demonstrates. He doesn’t just encourage veterans to be vulnerable—he paves the way by walking the talk, so unflinchingly that others can experience just how powerful an effect it has.
Justin noted himself that he felt more trust in Brian, and it drew him closer as they talked. It cultivated respect and trust—the exact opposite of what we fear when we’re vulnerable.
Brian acknowledges that it’s only been the last five years that taught him the power of “unabashed raw real open vulnerability.” He talks about the swift and amazing level of trust this builds, and how with trust, you can lead—and with leadership, you have influence.
Brain also talks candidly in the interview about his own experience with alcohol and drugs—abusing them for years to escape physical and mental pain. “Of course I came to learn that, duh, I was absolutely an alcoholic and drug addict. It took me years to fully be able to admit that and be honest and vulnerable, to realize that “If i don’t get sober, I’m no good to anyone else—my family, veterans or teammates.”
“Until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of change, you won’t change. For me, I woke up in an alcohol and drug-infused craze with bags under my eyes, I looked and felt horrible. I realized: I gotta make a change or I’ll end up dead.
“You have to really be willing to be that brutally honest with yourself.”
Rather than hindering him, Brian believes that his self-honesty led to building a team of 125 people supporting 1500 veterans a month, where “we have the privilege of serving those who served.”
Knowledge only becomes power through action.
Brian explains that he wrote this book to be “the book I wished someone had written for me.”
“A year before I took off my uniform, if only someone dropped this on my desk and said ‘hey man, here’s your playbook.’ This details step-by-step actions for you to get the benefits you deserve for your service. Federal, state, nonprofit and for-profit resources for veterans and their families. Health, education, real estate, discounts, and more. This is a compilation of the best of the best.”
But, he adds, “it’s an action book. My fear for this book is that veterans buy it and let it sit on the shelf and don’t open it. I’ve done that—I buy books I haven’t even opened the cover yet.
Brian also challenges the old adage “knowledge is power.”
“I think that’s misleading. Knowledge is knowledge, and power is power. Knowledge becomes power through action. I want to equip and inspire you and your family to take action.”
“It shouldn’t take an advanced degree and years of struggle and 10,000 hours on the job to get the benefits you deserve for your service. We have an inadequate education system for veterans. Google doesn’t do it. You get a rabbit trail of clickbait.”
He admits, “I didn’t even know the Department of Veteran Affairs existed until I attended the mandatory assistance program class.”
Brian’s ultimate goal with this book, and at VA Claims Insider, is” to make military disability easy—an oxymoron, I know! But we’ve boiled the complicated process that is the VA disability claims process down into eight steps that happen for you and family over 30 days. It can happen very quickly.
“But you’ve got to take action.”
You can change.
Brian emphasizes that You Deserve It and his company’s coaching isn’t just about getting you all the benefits you’re owed—it’s about becoming the best version of you. “At VA Claims Insider we say we celebrate life change.”
“I want veterans to avoid the mistakes I made. I didn’t know what was available to me, I didn’t think I deserved it, and I wasn’t honest with myself. But whether you’ve made mistakes too or you’re just now transitioning out of service, you can get the benefits you deserve, you can get better, and you can change your life.
This inspiring interview is full of compelling stories, compassion, encouragement, and wise advice. Also find out more about the book here and about VA Claims Insider’s support for veterans seeking a higher disability rating.
About VA Claims Insider
VA Claims insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible independent medical opinions and nexus statements (medical nexus letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.