Kicking Vets While They’re Down

VETERANS-AFFAIRS-HEADQUARTERS

A coworker once commented, after administering a particularly brutal Canasta defeat, “You have to kick a man when he’s down; you can’t take advantage of him when he’s winning.” While such win-at-all-costs thinking may be appropriate among friends during a lunchtime card game, there is no place for such cavalier attitude toward people in real need. Yet, that is exactly what the Obama administration is exhibiting with a proposed change in rules governing how veterans must apply for service connected disability claims.

backlogThe VA struggles to catch up.

As noted in a piece by N&F contributor, Kathy, the Obama administration is rightfully embarrassed by the backlog of disability claims totaling over 685,000, many of which have languished, unprocessed, for 125 days or more. The VA plans to reduce that backlog of severely delayed claims from over 59% to only 40% in 2014. One of the planned changes announced will be mandatory overtime for claims processors. Increasing the hours spent working on claims should result in more claims completed each week.

However, it would do nothing to slow the tsunami of new claims filed by our disabled warriors. One solution proposed by the Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs would be to move the burden from those processing the claims onto the shoulders of those seeking disability compensation.

Blaming delays on the veterans.

Under the current system, it is very easy for veterans seeking disability compensation to initiate a claim.  All that is necessary is filing an “informal claim” to start the process until the rest of the formal paperwork and documentation is completed and submitted for review.  That “informal claim” request can be as simple as a hand written note scribbled on a cocktail napkin stating the veteran has a service connected disability.

According to the VA, this ease of application is what contributes to the claims backlog, as processors spend time determining the nature and validity of each claim.  There would be no backlog if only it weren’t so easy to file a claim.  The Obama VA’s solution is to require veterans complete a standard form when filing for compensation or appealing a decision.

Burying veterans in paperwork.

There is no doubt on the need to transform how disability claims are managed. The VA, like much of the federal government, still relies heavily on paper records to track a veteran’s history of service, injuries, and illness. It is this cumbersome paper system, more than veterans applying for benefits, which slows an already inefficient process to a dead crawl. Processors must generate written records requests for each claim pending, and then wait, and wait some more, for responding bureaucracies to send the stack of required records.

The rule change states, “VA believes that using a standard form is a minimal burden to place on claimants.”  Yet, the proposed rule change would place the burden of collecting and forwarding those records on the applicants, freeing VA workers to determine claim status more quickly. Instead of making the VA transform its business model to become less inefficient, the proposed regulations would simply shift the work load to the veteran.

Benefits delayed are benefits denied.

While using a standard application form might seem reasonable, the implementation as proposed could cost disabled veterans substantial amounts in ‘lost’ accrued benefits. The VA generally pays benefits accrued during the time it takes from initial application to final determination. Usually several months, and sometimes years of back benefits are paid lump sum once the VA has made its decision. The key for calculating any accrued benefits lies with the date of first communication. The “informal claims” locks in that effective date for veterans as they gather supporting evidence, such as military and medical records for inclusion with the formal application.

Under the proposed regulation, veterans who put their claims in writing would have to completely fill out a standard form. The clock that determines how far back the government will pay, won’t begin ticking until the VA receives the successfully completed form. The real ‘gotcha’ being that “successfully completed” part. Even a simple typo or single omission could be cause for the VA to declare the application incomplete, and take months to resolve — all the while, the clock would be stuck on zero.

The VA’s new rule does make one concession for modern technology. Even if the form is incomplete, veterans who fill out an on-line version of the standard form would have up to one year to successfully complete their applications. However, this does little for those veterans who are severely disabled, homeless, suffering from traumatic brain injury, or do not have Internet access.

Time to act is running out.

The VA has not provided a timeline for issuing its final rule, but said it would take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. This rule change must never see the light of day. Write your Representative and Senators stating your opposition to this latest groin kick on our most valued citizens — those who gave all for our liberty.

Dennis P. O’Neil

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23 Responses to Kicking Vets While They’re Down

  1. Why can’t the government be run more like a business so that people can actually do their job in the first place?

    • That would make too much sense, and decrease the bureaucratic payroll, and downsizing government is NOT an inherent option, since the days of Andrew Jackson.

      • What does even mean, “since the days of Andrew Jackson”? Since when did Andrew Jackson have anything to do with government expansion?

        • To the best of my weak-minded memory, Stonewall Jackson was one of the LAST presidents to DOWNSIZE the existing government, BY INTENT.

          • WHAT!? *utterly confused* “Stonewall” Jackson? I’m sorry, but now I’m just laughing.

            Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was a Lieutenant General in the Confederate States of America. He was killed in 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia. He was never a politician. Now I understand that you said you had a weak-minded memory, but that was downright gold what you said. 🙂

            But the reason why I was so confused by your statement about Andrew Jackson, was because I thought that Reagan had decreased the size of government significantly, and he was over 30 years ago!

            • Andrew Jackson
              7th U.S. President
              Andrew Jackson was the seventh President of the United States. Based in frontier Tennessee, Jackson was a politician and army general who defeated the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Wikipedia
              Born: March 15, 1767, Waxhaws
              Died: June 8, 1845, Nashville, TN
              Presidential term: March 4, 1829 – March 4, 1837
              Spouse: Rachel Jackson (m. 1794–1828)
              Vice presidents: Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun
              Nicknames: King Mob, The Hero of New Orleans, Old Hickory

              Sorry – NOT “Stonewall”, but “Old Hickory”

              • Okay, since now we seem to have finally got down of who we’re talking about :), I did some research on his “downsizing” of government. Apparently he decreased government spending a lot in order to pay off the national debt. He also decentralized big banks and forced them to pay in hard currency to curb inflation. But unfortunately when he did pay off the entire national debt, two years later, America entered it’s first economic crisis because of decentralized banks and it entered a depression. Since then, we have had national debt. That’s what I learned.

  2. VA denied my claim for hearing loss due to military service over 45 years ago. And no matter what I did, they refused any responsibility. Hence, my name for the VA is “The Screw You, Vets~! Administration”

  3. Kathy says:

    Glad you posted this, Saltwater, although it’s the kind of story that gives a person a knot in the pit of the stomach.

    It leaves me shaking my head that it can take months or years to process a veteran’s claim, yet an executive order can be on the books in a matter of hours. Backward nations have nothing on us.

    • Saltwater says:

      The story is more distressing when considering that at the same time the Obama administration is placing extra hurdles for our disabled veterans to clear, they are making it easier for illegal aliens to receive government assistance by Executive Fiat.

  4. Mrs AL says:

    Take a bow, Saltwater. This is very important and thanx for your post.

    Let’s see, those in the military are to take orders and carry out those orders in what I would guess are specific time-frames (time-frames may not be correct as I have never been in the military.)

    Soooo … what would happen if the military decided they could complete their missions within THEIR time frames?

    Pine cones abound within any bureaucracy!

    • Saltwater says:

      Their failure to adhere to specific time frames is problematic in itself. Even more shameful is the VA considering 60% task completion a noble goal, as noted in Kathy’s related post. So much for American exceptionalism.

  5. garnet92 says:

    Fortunately for me, I was not disabled during my military years, so I’m not familiar with the formal process, but I still have a problem with the statement “The key for calculating any accrued benefits lies with the date of first communication.” Why is it not the date of the disability? And, perhaps the solution is to require a real application, not a paper napkin, but just enough information for the VA to search records to verify authenticity. I can understand that some form errors might make verification difficult or impossible, but the disability started on the date of injury, not the date of application – or am I misunderstanding something?

    • Saltwater says:

      There are really three major problems that amplify the negative effects of the others.
      The first is the method of application. I agree that accepting a plea scribbled on scrap paper is hardly the best way to start the process. Moving to a standard form makes sense – it formalizes a claim in a manner which should lead to more efficient and expedient processing. The current system can have a claims processor spending a great deal of time trading correspondence with a claimant, just trying to figure out the nature and basis for the claim.
      The second being the antiquated reliance on reams of dead trees. Fully implementing a computer based system would do wonders for streamlining the process, as exchange of electronic records and communication would take only a few hours or days instead of several weeks (months?).
      The third of course is that “ticking clock”. The start date for a disability is not always so clear cut. True, a service member may be able to pinpoint that time down to the minute in a case of traumatic injury, such as loss of limb. However, many service connected health issues do not manifest until years after the initial cause – victims of Agent Orange exposure from the Vietnam era, and Gulf War veterans just now showing symptoms related to use of depleted uranium in projectiles are two quick examples. In my case, degenerative hearing loss, due to too much time around Navy jets and high speed/high volume fans used to cool electronic equipment, took almost two decades before I became aware of the problem. In cases of slow to develop symptoms, starting a claim at time of first report seems an equitable compromise. However, the proposed system “improvement” would move that time back from first report until the VA has made a final determination that a claim was valid.

      • The VA said my hearing was same as when I went in. But worked on the flight line for three years, without hearing protection, or closed windows, and jets and prop acft warming up right outside the windows.

        VA denied my claims, stating that hearing loss would show immediately. After 45 years of insanity, I quit trying. Hope you have better luck~!

  6. Clyde says:

    Good post, Salty. You can bet your ass the lowliest piece of shit bureaucrat doesn’t get the SAME screwing over that those who TRULY served do.

    • Saltwater says:

      Although I am loath to rush in defense of bureaucrats as a whole, most of those working in the bowels of the VA are former military, many with their own service connected disabilities. They struggle along, operating under restrictive regulations, using inadequate tools and methods. I can no more blame them than a master carpenter tasked with framing a house using only a crescent wrench taped to his left foot. It is the bow tie bass turds, with the big offices and bigger egos, who are at the crux of this shameful failure to serve those who served us.

  7. Terry says:

    Good article, Saltwater.
    I am continually surprised at all the negativity directed at the VA.
    Apparently I am among the lucky ones that has a local VA healthcare facility that actually gives a crap. I have had nothing but 1st rate services and medical care in the 7 years I have been enrolled. Ours runs like a well-oiled machine, and the majority of the staff are Top-Notch.
    I do live in a major military area, and our Rep. Jeff Miller is a staunch fighter for veterans affairs. so I’m sure that helps a lot.

    That being said, I am well aware of the problems other areas have, and have heard all of the nightmare scenarios that some vets who are more needing and deserving of 1st rate care than I, have had to endure. I pray we will soon get an administration that doesn’t despise the military and our vets, and they will ALL be able to receive the same great care that I have.

    • Saltwater says:

      Thank you for the positive perspective. Yes, it is easy to tar all VA operations with the same brush while ignoring those areas where it performs admirably. Unfortunately, until the VA admin folks finally move away from their tried-and-true, 1940s way of doing business, public perception of their systemic incompetency will remain high. As my Master Chief used to say, “It only takes one ‘aw shit’ to wipe out a thousand ‘atta boys’.”

  8. CW says:

    My comments are going to follow two different paths here. On the one hand I absolutely agree that the gov’t should be doing everything it can to streamline the process of providing disability and medical assistance to our injured vets. But I was alarmed and suspicious at the number of claims. 685,000 just in the backlog? Something doesn’t smell right to me and when I did a bit of looking it seems there’s potentially an awful lot of fraud going on. As a taxpayer this really angers me but as someone who cares about vets who’ve truly been injured or disabled it really infuriates me because the last thing they need is to be tarnished by people who are gaming the system AND draining the funds they need. Fraudulent claims increase the backlog and delay care and benefits to the people who really need them. Conservative advocates for vets should be a leading voice against this type of fraud.

    • Saltwater says:

      Excellent point, CW, there are most likely many fraudulent claims clogging the system while valid claims sit amidst stacks on desks. However, the tactic proposed by the VA would do little to purge those bogus claims.