Tales of the VA: Part Two

A service connected veteran with a pending claim is in bad shape these days. The latest unconfirmed rumor is that all claims processing will be on hold until June. There are no news reports or investigations into the rumor, since the media is more concerned about Trump’s lying, Trumps tonsure or the BRITISH royal wedding.

The rumor has legs because we are being told that there will be an answer about our claims in “two months”.  This is obviously not a logical deadline and it makes no sense at all.

The problem is that veterans with pending claims are normally given random time frames and vague information about status of our claims.

How backlogged are veterans claims? Try 450,000 as of this month. Two factors: the increasing number and complexity of Iraq and Afghanistan cases, and the recent decision to expand compensation for Agent Orange veterans have flooded a system that cannot accommodate the new workload.

Of course, the wiser ones of us never try to go it alone. We get help from the most aggressive and effective Veteran’s Service Officer (VSO) that we can find.  Sometimes, we get ripped off for years of benefits because we cannot find a good VSO.

Even then, we sit in the dark with no idea as to whether our claim will be approved or denied. If the claim is denied (and many are automatically denied just for kicks), we file an appeal and go back to sit in our dark spaces.

An inquiry was made to the White House as to why we are supposed to sit in the dark for well over a year when no other government agency gets away with such secretive, random, and uninformative behavior. We should be able to know, at least every month, what is going on.

The White House sends lots of announcements and appeals from lower level staffers. The First Lady wants our support for a program, but no response to the inquiry has been forthcoming. A “contact me” page for General Shinseki seems to have been left off the VA.gov site.

One forum discussion indicates that he has not been that responsive to direct communications from vets, anyway.  So, while the General is getting some good marks for his overall work, uncommunicative executives are never highly regarded.

One very old myth goes like this: The veterans files are lined up in a vertical file cabinet. When a veteran goes it alone and calls their regional office to check on their claim, their file is pulled, the conversation is held and the file goes to the END of the line of files, where it has to start over and work forward from the beginning.

The cases and files that are first in the lineup were the ones where the veteran did NOT call to check. They eventually get processed. The veteran who checks once a month is sent to the end of the line, again and again where absolutely no work will get done for years.

Of course this is an unconfirmed story, but it has been repeated to me by several insiders over the last twenty years. Thus, the story has some very long legs.

There have been real VA scandals:  Two years ago, $24 million in Information and Technology office personnel bonuses, some of which were improperly given, led to an investigation of a retired VA official.  More recently,  claims documents were found in a shredder bin at the Detroit Regional offices.

The worst scandal is that no one, not even the hard working and long term VA employees know how to clear the backlog.

The biggest American disgrace is that only the “popular” soldiers are in the news and on people’s minds. These are the combat veterans who get the “popular” service connected conditions. The truth is that, for every photogenic and immediately threatened combat soldier, there may be a thousand more who work behind the scenes.

But Americans and the media pretend to not be aware of the “invisible” soldiers.

Support soldiers are exposed to toxic substances, work with highly explosive or volatile substances, and  work in horribly hazardous workplaces that don’t exist in the “real world”.  A workplace accident or injury in the military can be PHENOMINAL!

No soldier can sue in the same way as a civilian when there is damage from abuse of authority or damages from medical malpractice, denial of care or substandard care.

The VA is our only worker’s comp system, our only court,  and our only way to get justice and compensation for our service related conditions. And there is such a long history of lowballing soldiers, keeping us on a 40 year old compensation schedule, tying our cost of living increases to Social Security, and denying whatever could be denied, that it is a very dry appreciation for anything that we finally get.

Ironically, once we are in the system, the system works very well.

In the institution’s defense, the VA is charged with rooting out fraud and will not compensate for conditions that have no proof or factual support or for most preexisting and non duty related conditions.  Conditions that result from risky behavior or while on leave are also not service connected. Thus, the public trust is protected.

The claims processors are, right now, getting hundreds of new claims to pile on top of the hundreds of claims that they are already wallowing through.

The VA is one more of the nation’s institutions that was damaged beyond repair by the Bush II administration. And now, silly chicken-hawk Republicans are trying to gut the budget. Republicans must never have had to drive for two hours to get care in a crumbling VA hospital with old pus on the walls and facilities that look  like the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Some claims involve records that were burned up, lost, stolen, modified or held incorrect information.

Some claims involve terrorist attacks from decades ago, that occurred in friendly countries.

Some claims involve mentally ill veterans who have difficulty in processing any reality, let alone the realities of their service from 30 years ago.

Some claims involve the very young soldiers who have little life experience, little education and little help in planning for the drastically changed lives that lie ahead of them.

The oldest veterans come from every war, every dirty war and every secret war since the first Secretary of the Veterans Administration started decorating his office.

The youngest veterans have trouble growing facial hair, could get away with wearing training bras, or are living away from home for the first time in their lives.

There have always been some basic rules that any active duty soldier must follow before and immediately after they leave military service.

The first rule is to never assume that the Veterans Administration will deny compensation and pension for illness or injuries.

Sometimes, preexisting conditions are aggravated while in service. Sometimes,  service connected medical conditions do not manifest until the solder has left the military.  Sometimes military doctors fail to diagnose or recognize a medical condition. Sometimes there is medical malpractice, denial of care or poor management of hazardous or toxic work. Some of the work is experimental and unprecedented. Some of the work is in politically unstable foreign environments, extreme environments, and the worst environments.

So never sit in the dark. Never go it alone. Never give up the fight. Never leave a vet behind. Never violate the promise and never break the contract.

Here are some bits of advice that will help with veteran’s claims and benefits.



BEFORE LEAVING MILITARY SERVICE:

Get a complete physical. Make sure that the appropriate specialists and primary doctors take a last look at any existing medical conditions. Make note of even the smallest symptom or problem and make sure to bring them up during these final physicals and doctor’s visits.

Make your own copy of your complete medical record even if you are healthy.

If you plan to use the GI Bill for your continuing education, do your research and know what has to be done before you leave active duty.

In case there are no jobs available,  find out what Federal, state and local programs and services are available to tide you over.

Do try to start some form of savings program at least a year before leaving active duty.

AFTER YOU LEAVE MILITARY SERVICE

As soon as possible, visit your local Veterans Service Officer (VSO), register there,  and get counseling about benefits.

One of the last documents that you will receive during out processing is the DD214. This document is the “birth certificate” for proof of your military service. Each branch of the military has their own version of this form.

You will NOT want to go through what it takes to get a replacement for one of these, so make many copies and store them safely.

File a copy of the DD214 at your local county offices. Make sure to keep the original safe and secure. This document may be needed for employment, VA benefits, veteran’s job and education programs and other reasons.

IF THERE IS A SERVICE CONNECTED CLAIM OR ISSUE

Find a good VSO and never try to “go it alone”.

Never assume that it is all  “hopeless”.  Never stop fighting.

If a VSO is lazy, discouraging or anything less than a pit bull, then find a new one.

Ignore advertising by lawyers or firms that promise help. You should not have to pay a lawyer to file and follow up with your claim. VSOs are paid for by the state and they provide their services for free.

Do not fall prey to scams.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Check online or with local veterans groups to find out if an advertised service is a scam.

In some cases, a veteran will need to seek legal counsel, but those cases are either rare or are very complicated.

SENIORS, SPOUSES, DEPENDENT CHILDREN AND THE ELDERLY

Visit a benefits adviser at your nearest VA facility or Veterans Service office and get some counseling.

A lot of veterans, their spouses, their dependents, and their primary caregivers are completely unaware that VA Aid and Attendance,  will provide financial help for low income veterans who need home care.

Dependent children are entitled to some benefits. Compensation and Pension is adjusted for dependent children. Spouses of deceased veterans must know about their benefits.

Benefits Checkup has a way to find every Federal, state and local program available to seniors, including veterans. The person’s income and other non identifying information is entered and a list of programs with contact information will come up.

VISIT THE VA.GOV WEBSITE AND GET TO KNOW HOW IT WORKS

The VA.gov website goes into excruciating detail by providing all of the  complete regulations in PDF form. There is also official news and information about special or little known programs.

Never give up. Never leave anyone behind.

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