4 Powerful Ways to Improve Our VA Claims – From Veterans Court decisions

With 10 years of representing Veterans before VA Regional Offices all around the country and the BVA, I have a firm belief that Veterans can improve their VA Claims by following 8 Steps to Improve their VA Claim A recent non-precedential opinion of the Veterans Court seemed to follow those Steps in  pointing out the flaws in a BVA decision.
Guest Post from Veterans Law Blog
A recent non-precedential opinion of the Veterans Court seemed to follow those Steps in  pointing out the flaws in a BVA decision.
I’m going to teach you how the Veterans Court taught us the value of 4 of those Steps in a Vietnam Veteran’s PTSD increase claim:

General Facts of the Thomas Case.

The Veteran – who served in Vietnam from April 1969 – November 1970 – challenged the VA’s decision to grant an Impairment Rating of 10% for his  PTSD.  The Veteran thought he was entitled to a higher rating, above 50%.
The Veteran included — among other things — the following evidence in his claim:
  1. A statement from his wife that he “sat up all night waiting on the enemy”.
  2. VA Medical exam documenting suicidal and homicidal thoughts, hearing noises that sounded like booms
  3. A VA Medical exam that diagnosed the Veteran as “malingering”
  4. A private medical opinion that diagnosed PTSD, and documented poor short-term memory, poor coping skills, and an inability to handle changes in stressful situations
  5. A VA Medical Exam that documented intrusive daily thoughts of Vietnam, twice weekly nightmares, difficulty sleeping, problems concentrating, and detachment from others.
  6. VA Exams that documented hearing non-existent gunfire, isolation, jail time for fighting with his wife, and more.  The Veteran for example, did not know the 1st US President, concluded that 5+4 equalled 20, and thought the colors of the US flag were red and white.
  7. A private medical exam with a GAF Score of 49, and a statement that the Veteran was “adequately reliable” in the information he provided, given his level of functioning due to the mental health condition.
  8. A VA exam which “Un-diagnosed” malingering.
  9. A lot more favorable — and unfavorable — medical evidence, from private and VA practitioners.
The BVA, in 2012 (3 years after the most recent denial of the claim in 2009), concluded that the Veteran was not credible, and (this point may be arguable) that anybody who relied on the Veteran was not credible, and gave a “thumbs-up” to the VA on its denial of the increased impairment rating for Post Traumatic Stress (PTS, or PTSD).
In 2014, the Veterans’ Court vacated and remanded the BVA Decision.
The Veterans’ Court was concerned with the BVA decision: a common theme running through the decision is how the BVA assessed the evidence — not the weighing of it (the Veteran’s Court cannot weigh evidence).
Instead, the Court thought that the BVA did not properly assess legal issues related to the evidence-something that is wholly within the bailiwick of the Veteran’s Court.
And that is where the Court’s lesson begins.
[Editorial Note: The Court’s decision was not intended as a lesson — it was an opinion based on the law and facts of the case.  Reference to the “lesson” in the Court’s decision is based on my assessment of how other Veterans can LEARN from this case, and improve their OWN VA Claim or Appeal, hopefully, before it ever gets to the BVA.]

Lesson 1: Get your C&P Exam Results IMMEDIATELY after the exam (Step 2: Get your Claims File NOW!)

If you wait to  see your C-File until you are at the BVA – or worse, before the Veterans Court – you will have very little time to get evidence in the record to counter very negative evidence like a diagnosis of malingering.
I recommend that Veterans request their C-File from the VA shortly after the VA C&P Exam.  If you already have your C-File, then request the 3 documents that comprise the C&P Exam: the VBA Request for an exam (formerly, the VA Form 2507), the Examiner’s notes, and the Opinion itself.
This eBook has instructions how to get not only your C-File, but also all 3 documents that comprise the VA C&P Exams in a way that the VA MUST comply with:

Lesson 2: You must use “5 Star Evidence”.  (Step 5: Use 5 Star Evidence)

The 1st Star is Competence.   Competence is largely about WHO can offer certain evidence.
The 2nd Star is Credibility. Credibility is about the WEIGHT that the BVA should assign to individual “pieces” of evidence.
In this case, the BVA appears to have — without explanation-decided that any evidence (except the VA Medical evidence) that relied on the Veteran’s statements lacked CREDIBILITY.
What saved this Veteran was 2 things: first, he had a LOT of COMPETENT medical and lay evidence from a lot of sources that recorded their first-hand observations — not just echoing what the Veteran said.
Because that evidence was in the file, the BVA’s error started when it gave less weight to competent evidence that it thought lacked credibility, without explanation.
Lesson? If lay evidence is the bullet, and medical evidence is the rifle, when you are trying to service connect and/or properly rate a mental health condition you will need a LOT of bullets.
In this eBook, I have 2 worksheets that will help you identify as much Lay Evidence of Symptoms and Limitations as you can, as well as a template for a Sworn Declaration that may save you the costs of Notary Fees while demonstrating the credibility of your lay evidence:

Lesson 3: Fight the Right Battle on the Right Battlefield (Step 6: Choose Your Battlefield)

The Veterans Court reviews LEGAL issues.
The Veterans Court cannot weigh evidence (unless the BVA weighing was clearly erroneous — and those decisions are rare).
Since the BVA Weighs evidence, you need to be spending that 2.5 year period between decision and BVA Hearing getting as much lay and medical evidence into your file as you can.
Submit the evidence in a way that makes it easier for the BVA Judge to see why you have the better facts than it would be for the BVA Judge to deny your claim.
If you get a bad C&P exam calling you a mooching faker with PTSD, go out and get a private exam/opinion.  Ask that examiner diagnose your condition, review all of the evidence in your C-File (and say that he/she did that review), ANDoffer an opinion as to the adequacy — or inadequacy of the VA Exam/Opinion.
You can learn about the stages of the VA Claims Process – and what happens at each stage — in this eBook:

Lesson 4:  A Diagnosis of Malingering is an Atomic Bomb in Your VA Claim. (Step 7: Get Help)

Malingering is a “medical condition” in and of itself.
Though there are strict criteria for diagnosing it which are not often followed, and criteria that need to be distinguished from other conditions or symptoms of other conditions (such as complex avoidance  strategies or hyperbolic cries for help), it is a dangerous diagnosis to carry through the VA Claims Process.
It cannot be left unanswered, in my opinion.
I have a real problem with the word ‘malingering’.
First, I have only seen ONE soldier ‘malinger’ in the last 20 years.  Its just not that common in the Veterans’ community — this is a group of people who have “fulfill your mission despite your personal pain”pounded into them from Day One of Boot Camp.
Here’s the story of the 1 Malinger-er that I knew.  The soldier smashed his fingers with a fire extinguisher to get out of a Field Training Exercise. Joke was on him, in the end. He got busted a rank AND had to go on the exercise anyway — working as the Colonel’s radio operator due to his busted fingers.
This particular Colonel was a notorious pain-in-the-a** to work for.  In fact, it was rumored that he had a Layer of Hell named after him.  One of these days I’ll have to tell you about his escapades.
Second, one Veteran recently told me of a VA Doctor who said that 60% of Veterans are malingerers, and that his cure for the backlog was to dismiss all PTSD claimants as “malingerers”.
That’s some scary stuff to hear from a medical professional.
Aren’t they supposed to treat — not judge?
And how do you know if your PTSD condition is in the 40% or the 60%? Seriously, that’s a scary comment from a VA Doctor.
Any time you see the word “malinger” in your case — or any word that suggests malingering — the best thing for you to do is get in touch with an attorney ASAP.  That is going to need to be fixed, or its going to haunt your claim — as it did Mr. Thomas’s – for years.

The Thomas Case

[pdf-embedder url=”https://hadit.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/12-3448-thomas-v-shinseki.pdf”]

VA Clears The Air On Doctors Talking To Veterans About Marijuana Use

Do you trust the VA to discuss medical marijuana? Many veterans don’t, VA docs can’t prescribe, they can, it says, discuss how it might interact with other medications or how it might effect pain management or PTSD symptoms.
VA providers are still NOT permitted to refer veterans to state-approved medical marijuana programs, since the drug is illegal under federal law, with no accepted medical use.
So do you trust VA?
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/01/09/576577596/va-clears-the-air-on-doctors-talking-to-veterans-about-marijuana-use
Related
https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/12/16/jeff-sessions-marijuana-216109

14 Questions: VA Disability Benefits Claims

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When a Veteran starts considering whether or not to file a VA Disability Claim, they tend to ask many questions. Over the last ten years, the following are the 14 most common basic questions I am asked about when it comes to filing Veterans Affairs Disability Claims. [Reprinted here with permission from Veterans Law Blog] 

1. What benefits do you get from a VA Disability claim?

You can get several major categories of VA benefits when you file a VA Disability claim. 

  • One category is the “Non-Service Connected Pension,” available to extremely low-income veterans with disabilities. 
  • Another category is education benefits. 
  • A third category is burial benefits. 
  • A fourth category is health care benefits. 
  • And the category that is the focus of this post – and the Veterans Law Blog – is disability compensation for diseases, conditions, and disabilities that originated in military service.

(Note that you do not need to show that military service CAUSED the disability – Congress long ago recognized that Veterans should get benefits even if a disease or disability that wasn’t caused BY service has its origins IN service.

  • When it comes to a VA Disability claim for service-connected disabilities, the primary benefit is financial. Once you prove to the VA that your current medical condition, disease, or disability is related to your military service, they will assign a percentage of disability to that condition – using a complicated table and formulas. That percentage of disability translates to a monthly dollar amount. 10% equals one amount….20%, another amount, and so on and so forth.
  • You can look at the current VA Disability claim compensation amounts by clicking here (assuming the Department of Veterans Affairs hasn’t restructured their website, as they commonly do when it gets a little too easy to navigate).
  • In addition to the basic rates of compensation mentioned above, you can get additional compensation for different scenarios you raise in your VA Disability claim. 

Here are just a few:

2. How do I file a VA Disability claim?

It used to be that you could file a VA Disability claim for a service-connected condition, disease, or disability just by writing your claim on a piece of paper – a famous anecdote that floats around the Veterans’ community is the Veteran who wrote his claim on a square of toilet paper while in prison.

This is no longer the case: filing a VA Disability claim has become increasingly complicated, like many other things in this world.

Generally, filing a VA Disability claim requires a series of actions:

Step 1: Filing Phase

You can first file an informal claim for benefits using the required Veterans Affairs Form. If you formalize your claim within one year of that informal claim, the Veterans Affairs treats your informal claim as a formal claim. (You can see where this is headed. One of the things that the Veterans Law Blog works really hard to do is to show you a way to cut through all of this fog and file a VA disability claim that is more likely to get granted, award you the proper benefits, and do so in the shortest time possible.) The rules and steps get goofier and goofier as we go through the steps.

Step 2: Development Phase

You can let the Veterans Affairs develop the evidence to support your claim – officially; they have a Duty to Assist the Veteran in developing certain claims in limited situations. Or, you can be more proactive and develop your OWN claim, filing what is called a “Fully Developed Claim” for VA Benefits. Theoretically, these claims are supposed to be decided more quickly, and for the most part, they are. But by developing your own claim and using the knowledge, information, and tools I share on the Veterans Law Blog, you can set your claim up for more thorough decisions, more proper decisions, quicker decisions, and worst case scenario, if you have to appeal, a better chance at winning your claim on appeal.

Step 3: The Decision Phase

Veterans Affairs will decideC&P (Compensation & Pension) Examinermedical doctor that will decide if your diagnosed conditionhow bad your condition is, percentage-wise
denial or a grant of benefits

4 Pillars of a VA Claim:

  1. Pillar 1: Are you eligible to file a VA Disability claim for compensation benefits
  2. Pillar 2: is the medical condition – or conditions – in your VA Disability claim related to your military service? (This pillar is often called the “service connection” or “nexus” element of your VA Disability claim)
  3. Pillar 3: To what degree does your disability impair your ability to seek and hold work or engage in average daily living activities? I call this pillar the “Impairment Rating.”
  4. Pillar 4: What effective date are you entitled to (it is the effective date that governs how far back in the past your benefits will be retroactive). Some Veterans call this “back-pay” or “past-due benefits,” depending on how long you have been battling the VA. They can often go back decades. A colleague of mine just won a case for a Veteran with service connection granted all the way back to the 1950s, for example.

Step 4: The Administrative Appeal Phase

If you are not satisfied with the VA’s decision in step 3, you can appeal. The first step in the administrative appeal is optional: you can seek a review of your VA Disability Claim by a DRO (Decision Review Officer), or you can “perfect your appeal” by filing several forms in a particular sequence and on a specific timeline. You can get a review by a Veterans Law Judge (VLJ) at the BVA (Board of Veterans Appeals).

  1. You can have that review in an in-person hearing in DC, a video conference hearing from a VA facility near you, or submit a “brief” with “exhibits” and have the VLJ review your claim “on the record” before it.
        1. Deny your appeal (also known as affirming the VA Denial of your VA Disability claim);
        2. Grant your appeal (also known as reversing the VA Denial of your VA Disability claim).

Step 5: The Court Appeal Phase

Step 6: Judicial Review phase

Suppose you are not satisfied with your CAVC Decision. In that case, you have a limited opportunity for judicial review at the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals (Fed Circuit) and then the Supreme Court of the United States. The Fed Circuit only has the ability to decide PURE questions of law… I’d be willing to bet that 80-90% of Fed Circuit decisions in Board cases are “Rule 36’s”….decisions without a written opinion, typically because the Court does not have jurisdiction over the appeal.

Getting review at the Supreme Court is much harder, and appeals to both courts can be costly filing fees alone at the Federal Circuit cost $500, and the cost of copying and filing the brief and the record of proceedings below costs between $2,000 and $5,000. Hence, attorneys and Veterans tend to be more conservative about appeals to these courts.

3. When do I file a VA Disability Claim?

Ideally, you want to file your VA disability claim within the first year after leaving service. (Learn about the one VA Program I like – the Benefits at Discharge Delivery, or BDD, Program)

However, most conditions do not get diagnosed for years or decades after service. In those cases, if you are filing an original VA Disability claim (i.e., for the first time), you should file at least the informal claim mentioned above as soon as you suspect your condition is related to military service.

This protects the earliest possible effective date for your VA Disability benefits.

If you are filing a claim for increased compensation, you want to file the claim for increased rating as soon as you believe your condition is worsening.

4. Where do I file a VA Disability claim?

Technically, your VA Disability claim is filed with the VA Regional Office for your geographic area.

However, you can file your VA Disability claim online through the eBenefits portal for Veterans, or, if you want to be sure that you create a paper trail for your claim to make sure the VA does not lose it, you can file it by sending it to the Evidence Intake Center (also known as the VA’s EIC in Janesville, Wisconsin).

5. Who Can Help Me with a VA Disability Claim?

Anyone that you trust can help you with a VA Disability claim.

However, nobody can charge you a fee for filing your VA Disability claim – attorneys and accredited agents are only allowed to charge a fee for filing or helping you in your VA Disability claim after the VA has denied the claim.

So, while an illegal immigrant can hire an attorney to fight deportation whenever they can afford it, Veterans who served our country in uniform are not legally allowed to pay for an attorney or experienced professional accredited agent’s help until the VA denies them a benefit.

While a criminal charged with a crime has a constitutional right to an attorney, veterans who fought and bled to preserve the Constitution are prohibited from exercising their right to hire and pay an attorney or experienced professional until the VA screws them over first.

Some national organizations, like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and the American Legion (Legion or AL), have what are called “Veteran’s service representatives” or VSOs that volunteer to help with filing initial claims. The quality of work or help you get varies widely, and I’ve seen both extremes: VSOs that do amazing work for free and VSOs that pull the rug out from under their “client” or “member.

Organizations like the Paralyzed Veterans Association (PVA) and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) get consistently high marks for the work they do for their members.

6. How Long Does a VA Disability Claim Take?

The amount of time that it takes for the VA to decide on a VA Disability claim can vary greatly and depends on a lot of variables: how difficult your claim is, how many conditions you include in the VA Disability claim, how well your claim is prepared, whether your claim is a Fully Developed Claim or not, how big your VA Regional Office is, etc.

Here are some general rules:

  • If you click here, the VA says that time is 114 days (ish) for a Fully Developed Claim and 121 days (ish) for a non-FDC claim. In 10 years of representing hundreds of Veterans and talking with tens of thousands more, I’ve never met a Veteran that got a decision in 125 or fewer days. I’ve met a couple that had a decision within 3-6 months. Most Veterans should plan on the process taking about 12-18 months, from file to decision. And that’s not counting the appeals.
  • If you are bored or like looking at small numbers on mind-numbingly complicated spreadsheets, click here to see how long claims are currently taking in your geographic region. These spreadsheets are consistent with everything the VA does….hard to understand, loaded with jargon, and obvious number juggling to hide problems in the system. Pour a scotch or glass of wine.
  • Claims for VA disability benefits that are filed with smaller urban and rural VA Regional Offices are faster than VA Disability claims filed with larger metropolitan VA Regional Offices.
  • Once you file an appeal, it can take 3-10 years to get a decision, depending on variables that are too numerous to list here.
  • Veterans can speed up the timeframe by filing well-developed and well-documented Fully Developed Claims, as we teach here on the Veterans Law Blog.

7. How Do I Check the Status of My VA Disability Claim?

That, right there, is the million-dollar question.

The VA will tell you to call their VA toll-free number 1-800-827-1000 to get the status. Veterans that use this approach find that they can enjoy their favorite hobby while waiting to talk to someone at the VA: some Veterans relax and enjoy 2-3 hours of hold “muzak,” others read the week’s newspapers or a few magazines, and others have actually written a book while waiting on hold. If you are among the patient and lucky few that get through to a human being on the 1-800 line, here are some tips and pointers on how to get more value and information out of the call.

The VA also suggests that you check your status on eBenefits. Be forewarned, though – eBenefits is a glitchy and inaccurate tool. For example, if you log into my eBenefits account, it shows that the VA held a hearing on my VA Disability Claim 2 years before I filed it. That’s a true story, folks. Now that is efficiency – maybe the VA will start a new pilot program: the pre-claim denial process.

Be careful what you see on eBenefits it’s not always your claim status, it’s not always accurate, and it’s rarely up to date.

8. How Are Benefits in a VA Disability Claim Calculated?

I wish I could tell you that the VA simply added up your disability ratings from individual conditions to reach your total disability rating and paid you according to that rating.

But the VA doesn’t do it that way. They use a unique “VA Math” system to “combine” your individual disability ratings into a total. Then they award a monthly compensation amount corresponding to the resulting total impairment rating.

You can read more about impairment ratings here – Veterans have much more control over these ratings than they have been led to believe. I teach Veterans how to improve or maximize their ratings for a TON of conditions – knee/arthritissleep apneaPTSDTinnitusHearing LossFibromyalgia and Chronic FatigueGulf WarMigrainesDiabetesParkinson’s Disease, and many more!

In my 5+ hour video training course, “How to Prove the 4 Pillars of a VA Claim “, I teach Veterans how to prove the 4 Pillars of a VA Claim, including a lot of specific ways to prove the degree of disability you experience and get the highest rating possible.

9. Are VA Disability Benefits Retroactive?

Yes, they are. The question is, “how far do they go back”?

There is a whole set of rules that helps the VA decide how far back in time to go to pay retroactive benefits. These rules are called the effective date rules, and there are hundreds of them.

There are a few general guidelines; it’s not all the rules for every type of VA Disability Claim effective date, but it should give you an idea of how much you have NOT been told about VA disability benefits over the years.

  • In most VA disability claims, the effective date will be the LATER of the date you filed your claim and the date the entitlement arose. Click here to learn more about what that means.
  • If you file your VA disability claim within one year of leaving service, your effective date will typically be your date of separation from military service.
  • Claims for Increased compensation rates follow the general effective date rule, except that if you can show that the worsening of your condition started to occur BEFORE you filed your claim, you can get up to 1 year earlier.
  • In some cases, if the law changes while you are trying to prove a claim or after you’ve been denied a claim, and your claim is granted pursuant to that change in the law, that makes it easier for you to win (in other words, the change in the law is a “claim liberalizing rule”) you may be able to get up to 1 year prior to the date of your claim as your effective date.
  • Suppose you reopen a previously denied claim by submitting New and Material Evidence, and you win the reopened VA Disability claim based on military records, military service records, or military medical records that were previously unavailable to the VA or that the VA neglected to get in the prior claim. In that case, you can use the effective date rule in 38 CFR 3.156(c) to get an effective date of your original VA Disability claim date.
  • Suppose you submit New and Material evidence within one year of the date your rating decision denied your VA Disability claim. In that case, your claim is “open and pending” until the VA issues a new ratings decision. If your benefits are granted based on that new and material evidence, your effective date could be the original date of your claim. This is a dangerous path to take, though, because if the VA denies your claim because the evidence wasn’t New and Material, then you may have lost your original effective date if you did not file an appeal within that same year after the VA Ratings Decision.
  • If you are a “Nehmer Class Member,” meaning a veteran exposed to dioxin (aka, Agent Orange in Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, or other places), a whole set of effective date rules apply due to the VA’s settlement of a class action lawsuit in the 1980s. These are called the “Nehmer Rules,” and they can get pretty complicated pretty quick.
  • A survivor who files a claim for survivor benefits (DICservice connection of the cause of death and substitution, for example) will get survivor benefits retroactive to the date of the Veteran’s death if they filed their VA Form 21-534 within one (1) year of the Veteran’s death. If they file the claim for accrued benefits within that year, they may be able to get retroactive benefits paid to the date of any VA Disability claim or appeal pending on the date of the Veteran’s death.

10. Are VA Disability benefits permanent?

I’ll answer this question along with #11.

11. Are VA Disability Benefits Permanent?

Generally speaking, they can be.

If a medical condition substantially improves, the VA can propose to reduce your disability compensation benefits to different levels. The rules that they have to follow to do this can differ depending on certain factors, but here are a few considerations; you can click here to learn more about how the VA tries to pick Veterans’ pockets by reducing benefits and get an idea how to stop it.

  • The VA can only reduce “continuous ratings” (those that have been in effect for 20 years or more) after showing that they were awarded based on actual fraud by the Veteran.
  • There are three types of ratings in VA Disability claims that are considered “protected” ratings, which the VA cannot reduce without showing first a “substantial improvement” in your medical condition.
  • Suppose a VA Disability rating is considered “unprotected.” In that case, the VA can reduce it, but they have to send you notice of their intent to respond, give you an opportunity to respond and submit evidence and, if you request it, provide a hearing. The timelines on this type of reduction are pretty friendly to the VA and pretty hard for the person filing the VA Disability claim to understand, no less follow, so be ready to move quickly and do plenty of legwork to understand what is happening and how to stop it.
  • If you are incarcerated for more than 60 days, on the 61st day, the VA can reduce your VA Disability compensation to no less than 10% and must reinstate it after your release from jail. Click here to learn more about each time of rating and how long they stay in effect.

12. Are VA Disability Benefits Subject to Child Support?

Yes.

In every state I am aware of, VA Disability benefits are considered income for calculating child support.

Child support laws differ in each state, so there may be nuances from state to state how much is subject to child support, particularly when military retirement payments offset a portion of your VA Disability benefits. The best thing to do is get out ahead of this situation by talking to a local family law attorney and making sure you do right by your kids, state law, and federal law.

If you need a referral to a family law attorney in Texas or Arkansas, fill out a support ticket. I know a lot of family law attorneys in both states and may be able to give you a couple of referrals.

13. Are Benefits From My VA Disability Compensation Claim Taxable?

Nope.

At least not under Federal law. Amounts paid to Veterans or their families for education, training, subsistence allowances, clothing allowances, disability compensation, and/or pension payments are not taxable by the Feds.

As to whether these benefits are taxable at the State level, consult your state’s income tax agency, as the answer will vary state by state.

14. What Conditions Are Most Common in a VA Disability Claim?

The VA actually publishes a report of the conditions it service connects, the average ratings for each, and more. Click here to check out the report.

If you don’t have the stomach to read MORE VA propaganda – and honestly, who can blame you – here are the Top 10 conditions that the VA reports as being part of most original VA Disability Claims ((click on the links to see information published on the Veterans Law Blog about these conditions common to VA Disability claims)

Here are some other conditions that I see very frequently in many a VA Disability Claim (click on the links to see information published on the Veterans Law Blog about these conditions common to VA Disability claims)

Most Common VA Disabilities Claimed for Compensation:   

tinnitus-005.pngptsd-005.pnglumbosacral-005.pngscars-005.pnglimitation-flexion-knee-005.pngdiabetes-005.pnglimitation-motion-ankle-005.pngparalysis-005.pngdegenerative-arthitis-spine-005.pngtbi-traumatic-brain-injury-005.png

AGAIN! Roanoke VA office cited for mishandling veterans’ claims

Sen. Kaine said, “These findings don’t enable veterans and Congress to have trust in VA’s performance. I will be asking the Veterans Affairs to provide confirmation that no veteran suffered any financial harm from these mistakes.”

I couldn’t agree more with Sen. Kane. I am finding it impossible to believe anything they cite as statistics, their track record on cooking the books is long and scandalous. It brought us the VA CHOICE program, which they cannot seem to manage.

Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General for the third time in seven years determined the Roanoke VA Regional Office mishandled veterans’ disability claims.
Auditors found the appeals staff closed case files by claiming veterans with multiple appeals withdrew some of their claims when they had not. Staff then merged all of a veteran’s claims into the oldest case file, which made it more difficult to process each issue, but boosted the Roanoke office’s clearance rate and placed appeals managers in line for bonuses. Read the Full Article 

https://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/roanoke-va-office-cited-again-for-mishandling-veterans-claims/article_9af077ba-df15-51ac-8f85-3adb4ececedf.html

VA Asking Veterans to Return Benefit ‘Overpayments’

[no_toc]Keeping the bills paid, the kids feed and a thousand other things you have to worry about each month, the last thing you need is for your income to disappear and then be saddled by a huge debt. If VA overpaid you they have every right to inform you and work out a repayment plan, but they should not have the right to put a family in a desperate situation because of their errors.
In the story below Daniel faces a huge burden because the Veterans Affairs sent a letter informing him of the overpayment to an address he lived at 35 years ago, he never got that letter, but he did get the demand for repayment.

“The VA’s debt management center sent Daniel a letter in 2016 stating it paid him $18,000 more than what he was “entitled to receive.” “Once I retired, I still had children and a wife, and in 2006 they said you didn’t have them anymore, according to their records,” he said. The Veterans Affairs told Daniel he never updated nor returned a dependent verification form sent to him. “They said they sent it,” he said. “I never received it, never.” When Daniel called the Veterans Affairs to question the debt, he found out the Veterans Affairs sent the dependent verification form to an address he lived at 35 years ago.”
https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Veterans-Affairs-Asking-Veterans-to-Return-Benefit-Overpayments-463782433.html
More on VA overpayments on our VA disability claims forums. 

Repayment Of Overpayment By Va Due To Va’s Mistake – Veterans …

https://community.hadit.com › … › Eligibility – Veterans Compensation Benefit Claims

Jul 31, 2014 – If the VA prevails in the reduction, it appears the error made by the VA has resulted in the overpayment of thousands of dollars to the veteran. No mention of fraud by the beneficiary in this case. QUESTION: In a situation where the VA determines it has overpaid disability compensation to a veteran as a result …

tdiu Overpayment Of $6k – Veterans Compensation Benefits Claims

community.hadit.com › … › Veterans Compensation Benefits Claims Research

Sep 21, 2007 – Terry Higgins said back on July 18, 2006. “Dear veterans & Friends. I had a VA overpayment of over thousand dollars. I went to the VBM and photo copy the letter with the regulatons that say if an overpayment occures by the VA and its not the vets fault. The VA eats it. I did not have to pay. Terry Higgins.”.

ptsd Back Pay Confusion Possible Over Payment. – Veterans …

https://community.hadit.com/topic/61912-back-pay-confusion-possible-over-payment/

I just received my back pay for my disability claim, but I have not received my official decision letter yet. According to ebenefits I recieved 70% disability for my PTSD. The amount I received in back pay was much higher than 70% would have given me. It is the amount that 100% would have given me. I read that it might be …

Overpayment due to VA oversight and waiver – Veterans …

https://community.hadit.com › … › CUE Clear and Unmistakable Error

Nov 6, 2015 – Could I possibly get a waiver due to the VA not processing the request to remove my daughter and me advising them that I was being overpaid and them paying her for additional months of school despite her asking to not start her pay until August 2014? Does anyone have a sample hardship letter? Please …

Is There A Statue Of Limitations On Debt To Va? – Veterans …

https://community.hadit.com › … › Eligibility – Veterans Compensation Benefit Claims

Aug 2, 2011 – The VA is attesting that I was overpaid for my dependents because they never received notification of my divorce. At one time, I did have documentation of the package that I sent to the VA showing that my wife and I divorced, but I no longer have this. I had the postage receipt which of course, probably …

Suspected Overpay Or Pay Error – Veterans Compensation Benefits …

https://community.hadit.com › … › Veterans Compensation Benefits Claims Research

Sep 7, 2011 – MY question then is this: does ANYONE know how to contact the VA by telephone and either. question the provenance of an electronic deposit or alternatively report an overpayment so that. it can be returned to the proper authority/department? I very much appreciate your patience and indulgence with this …

Va Debt Collection – Veterans Compensation Benefits Claims

https://community.hadit.com › … › Veterans Compensation Benefits Claims Research

May 22, 2013 – The letter stated I recently received a letter explaining why (I never got any letter), and there has been a change in my benefits thus resulting in an overpayment. I called the VA Collection center to find out why. The have no record of a reason why, they just collect money, I called the 800-827-1000 number, …

Will The Va Notify Me If I Was Overpaid On My Pension? – Veterans …

https://community.hadit.com › Specialized Claims › VA Pensions

May 25, 2010 – I am concerned here though-as to why you fear an overpayment on your pension ? I see you get 10%-do you mean you get 10% VA compensation? Or do you mean you are 10% service connected but the pension is the greater amount so you receive the pension? Is it possible that the 10% is way too low?

ptsd Help Me Understand This Letter About … – HadIt.com Veterans

https://community.hadit.com/…/53950-help-me-understand-this-letter-about-recoupm…

Nov 22, 2013 – That could impact on what I stated above,but in any event I interpret that statement in your letter as so similar to my case that I do believe VA must stop the recoupment and possibly award you retro due to overpayment of the recoupment, since they awarded SC at 100%. Hopefully others will chime in …

Bad Paper Discharge? Mental Health Options Limited

When you get an other than honorable discharge or a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge, you lose virtually all of your access to Veterans Affairs benefits.

From the article

When service members separate from the military, their futures depend on something called a characterization of service. There are five different possibilities: honorable, general under honorable conditions, other than honorable, bad conduct, and dishonorable.

Other than honorable” means the service member has had a pattern of misconduct or has been convicted by a civilian court of a crime.

Meanwhile, “bad conduct” and “dishonorable” result when a service member commits a felony-level offense. Those two categories, the lowest on the military scale, are also known as “punitive discharges.”

Military discharges are a reward system. Serving without bad behavior or crime earns service members support from the VA. But if they cause trouble, they’re mostly on their own.

In July, the Veterans Affairs revised its policies and began offering 90 days of emergency mental health care to veterans with other than honorable discharges – people who it says are at greater risk of suicide and homelessness.” Continue Reading …

https://tpr.org/post/without-honorable-discharge-mental-health-options-are-limited
 

Veterans Affairs exploring idea of merging health system with Pentagon

Basically they would like to merge VA with TRICARE. Can’t imagine that going going well.
Congress – not consulted
Veterans Groups – not consulted
Studies Done – none

My overarching concern is these are very dramatic changes in the way health care is delivered to veterans,” said Carrie Farmer, a senior policy researcher on military care at Rand Corp., who has conducted wide-ranging research for VA. “There haven’t been studies on what the consequences are in terms of both costs and quality of care.

Never mind that Veterans Affairs serves a very different population with different requirements. Louis Celli, director of Veterans Affairs and rehabilitation for The American Legion raises the very real concern that a move such as this would likely shift costs unfairly onto service-connected veterans. Why does he think that? Because something very similar happened with TRICARE, retirees promised free care at base hospitals, but then TRICARE began offering insurance to use private-sector care and TRICARE beneficiaries co-pays are now on the rise.
My concerns are many, but top most is that if we are forced into private care it will go from the promise of free care to service-connected veterans to a premium/co-pay situation and then they will want us to thank them for doing such a great job keeping the co-pays low.
Remember that it is possible that the government does not have your best interests in mind and they are currently on the hunt for cost saving measures and veterans frustrated with a system they can’t or won’t fix are a ripe target for this con.
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/veterans-affairs-exploring-idea-of-merging-health-system-with-pentagon

“Forever GI Bill” Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017


From Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Veterans Benefits Administration
Dear Fellow Veterans and Colleagues,
As you know, the recent passage of the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017, also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” enacts several changes to the GI Bill that will positively impact Veterans and their families. Some of the changes became effective the day the law was signed, some next fall, and some in the future. In the months to come, I’ll be updating you on how this new law impacts VA education benefits and what actions Veterans may need to take.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the legislation that immediately went into effect with the President’s signature, and what it means for you.

  • The 15-year time limitation for using Post-9/11 GI Bill – The 15-year limitation to use benefits is removed for Veterans who left active duty on or after January 1, 2013, children who became eligible for the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship (Fry Scholarship) on or after January 1, 2013, and all Fry Scholarship eligible spouses. There is no action you need to take; if eligible, the limitation is simply removed for you.
  • Restoration of Benefits due to School Closure – We are now authorized to restore benefits and provide relief to Veterans affected by school closures or disapprovals. If you attended courses or programs discontinued from January 1, 2015 to August 16, 2017, and attended an accredited institution of higher learning, and did not transfer any credits to a comparable program, entitlement will not be charged for the entire period of your enrollment. The law also provides separate criteria for partial benefit restoration for school closures after January 1, 2015. To apply for restoration, we will develop a web page with instructions, information, and a form to complete and return. I will update you when this page is available, and we’ll post an announcement on our main GI Bill page and social media sites.
  • Independent study programs at career and technical education schools covered by GI Bill – This allows anyone eligible for GI Bill to use their benefits at an accredited independent study program at an area career and technical school, or a postsecondary vocational school providing postsecondary level education. A bit of background on this provision: before the passage of this law, most non-college degree programs weren’t approvable if any portion of it was online. This change allows those programs to be considered for approval even if some or all of the instruction is online/not in a classroom. There is no action for you to take here, as these programs will go through the normal course of approval by the appropriate State Approving Agency. Any new programs will be added to our GI Bill Comparison Tool.
  • Reservists who had eligibility under the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) and lost it due to sunset of the program will have that service credited toward the Post-9/11 GI Bill program – We are in the process of identifying the approximately 2,800 Reservists affected by this and will send them letters with instructions.

I will update you when the letters go out, and what to do if you did not receive a letter but feel you may be eligible for this restoration. We will also post more information on the GI Bill web and Facebook pages.
These changes will greatly benefit our nation’s Veterans by providing expanded access and opportunity to access education benefits. I will continue to update you as we work out the details of this legislation.
As always, thank you for your service.
Regards,
Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC 20420

VA concealed mistakes and misdeeds by staff members entrusted with caring for veterans.

In 2016 medical the G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery received 2 stars and the Gulf Coast VA received one start. In 2017 it remains the same. There are veterans that will tell you they receive excellent care and there are veterans who receive awful care. We must put more weight to the veterans whose care is subpar no matter how excellent it may be for other veterans. You are only as strong as your weakest link. The VA for years respond with “a lesson learned” when things go terribly wrong, but then the next thing happens and they say again “a lesson learned” but it clearly is not being learned if it gets repeated.
Secret wait lists, sterilization issues, and more seem to repeat no matter how many “lessons they learned”.

Watch the video below and read the full story here at Clarion Ledger

Looking back here’s a story from 2013
https://www.cnbc.com/2013/11/11/whistleblowers-shed-light-on-va-abuse-allegations.html

Department of Veterans Affairs Fast Facts

Here is a look at the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Read the full list here

Facts:
There are 18.8 million veterans in the United States, according to the most recent statistics from the US Census.
More than nine million veterans are served each year by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Health care facilities are made up of 1,065 outpatient sites and 170 VA Medical Centers.
President Donald Trump has requested an appropriation of $186.5 billion for the department in the 2018 Budget.
Timeline:
1789 – The new US government passes legislation ensuring pensions for disabled Revolutionary War veterans.
1812 – The Naval Home, a facility for disabled veterans, opens in Philadelphia.
1833 – Congress establishes the Bureau of Pensions to assist veterans.
1862 – During the Civil War, Congress passes a bill allowing the president to purchase land for national cemeteries. Between 1865 and 1870, 70 national cemeteries.
March 1991 – The VA orders Veterans Affairs Medical Center, in North Chicago, to stop performing vascular and orthopedic surgeries after the deaths of more than 40 patients in 1989 and 1990. After a review of the cases, the VA accepts responsibility for the deaths of eight patients.
1996 – President Bill Clinton orders the VA to provide benefits to Vietnam veterans who develop prostate cancer or peripheral neuropathy after a National Academy of Sciences suggests there is a link between those diseases and Agent Orange exposure.
2006 – Two teens steal a laptop computer and external hard drive containing the personal information of approximately 26 million veterans from the home of a VA data analyst. The laptop and hard drive are later recovered and FBI testing suggests that the data was never accessed. In 2009, the VA pays $20 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by veterans.
February 2009 – The VA notifies more than 6,000 patients who went to Alvin C. York Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that they may have been exposed to infection. Read the full list here

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.kpax.com