Archive for December, 2008

Every Once In Awhile…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

…We come across an informed opinion.  Here’s one that we think is pretty insightful:

VA Played Fast and Loose With the Facts – So, How Good Are They Really?

Tip For Filing New VA Benefits Claim

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Maybe you have heard or read about new investigations that revealed that thousands of critical claims documents have been shredded at VA offices all over the country.

What I rarely see mentioned by the VA or VSOs is an online tool that will provide an electronic “paper trail” of submitted claims.

For filing your claim for VA benefits go to:

http://www.vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp

After you have filed your claim electronically you will have a confirmation number and you can print out your filed application.

This guarantees that you have proof that you filed in case your claim has an “accident” involving a shredder.

Good luck, and if you want send me a note if I can help.

I Still Pray – Kasey Chambers

Friday, December 19th, 2008

I still cry for baby Jesus

And I still pray when I'm alone

And when I'm lost He'll come to find me

Because He died to save my soul

When I can't walk He's there to carry

When I speak He hears my words

When I wake and I have nothing

He sends me gold, frankincense and myrrh

I still cry for baby Jesus

And I still pray when I'm alone

And when I'm lost He'll come to find me

Because He died to save my soul

When I cry my tears of sorrow

When my heart will only ache

And if I'm troubled when I'm sleeping

He will hold me until I wake

I still cry for baby Jesus

And I still pray when I'm alone

And when I'm lost He'll come to find me

Because He died to save my soul

Because He died to save my soul

Because He died to save my soul

(Because there is, after all, a reason for the season)

Brazil (Or: A Series Of Unfortunate Events)

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Ron Paul, on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), said: “Any nation willing to ask its men and women to risk their lives serving overseas must also be willing to take care of them when they come home. Veterans deserve dignified care, and we can’t provide that with a VA that is run like the Postal Service or the IRS.” Ron Paul gets it. He is a Veteran, doctor, and humanitarian. But probably most relevant to this discussion is his knowledge of our Federal Government. When he says that the VA is on par with the USPS and IRS that is significant.

Allow us to illustrate. We present a story of fictional Navy Veteran Lars Harfagre (any resemblance to a person living or dead is purely intentional). Lars spent thirteen years in the USN and had Wartime Service in Lebanon, Arabian Gulf, and Somalia.

While watching the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather (he didn’t have cable) one evening he learned that Veterans returning from service in the “Gulf War Theater” were experiencing significant health problems. As he listened to the list of symptoms being rattled off he had an “O shit” moment. He was personally experiencing many of the symptoms that he had just heard listed.

Flash forward to Saturday, December 6th, 2008. Lars is sitting quietly in his room, drooling a little onto his stained pajama top, watching ESPNHD. The only channel that he can watch without crying or throwing something. He is interrupted by Bubba’s Mail Call. He gets a letter from the VA Pension Management Center Milwaukee and assumes, incorrectly, that it is the annual announcement of the new pension rates. What he finds in the envelope is something that will take his figurative breath away.

We now have to go back to April 1997. Lars has been learning about what is being referred to as “Gulf War Syndrome”. He has had a Gulf War Registry Exam at the VA and has been counseled by the Missouri Veterans Commission (MVC) to submit a claim to the VA for service-connected disability benefits because new laws were enacted to provide benefits to Gulf War Veterans with so-called Gulf War Syndrome. Having lineage that runs through Lake Wobegon, Lars was above-average in the ability to use new-fangled World Wide internets to learn about stuff normally relegated to CSPAN. So he looked up the applicable laws and filed his claim in accord with.

When Harfagre filed that claim he listed several symptoms and stated that he believed those symptoms, combined, represented Gulf War Syndrome and he should be granted benefits on the presumption afforded him by law. Going on twelve years later, he now knows that it’s not the law that is important; Rather, it is how the VA interprets the law that is important. VA, contrary to the law, chose to separate the symptoms into several different issues and then began denying them one-by-one.

Stunned and discombobulated, Lars sought help from the MVC, as they were the designated representative on the claim; However, now that the claim transmogrified from something simple to something complex, the MVC expressed regret that there was nothing they could do because they chose to help people with simple claims, low-hanging fruit, that would easily increase the total dollar amount of claims they brought into the state. That way they could claim to really be helping Veterans because they were the representative on a Gazillion dollars worth of claims. Lars learned that this practice is not the sole providence of the MVC. Turns out that a whole lot of groups that purport to be fighting for the Veteran are actually just taking credit for work that they didn’t spend much efforting on.

Lars hired a lawyer in May of 2007 to take over as the representative on his now numerous claims. On August 12th, 2008, the lawyer sent a fax to the Nashville VA Regional Office (that’s where part of the claim was). The fax consisted of a cover sheet and a letter and stated that the original documents and other evidence would be sent by mail. The letter was very clear in what it was referring to. The Nashville VA stamped both faxed documents as “Received” on August 12th.

The news of the past couple of months has been chock full of stories about critical claims documents found in shredder bins at several VA offices all over the country. One could speculate that numerous Veterans have died waiting for benefits that, because their claim was shredded, were never “officially” applied for. It is perfectly reasonable to wonder how many Veterans of the Korean War who are not capable of self-advocacy, and trusted in the system, are being denied benefits that they are entitled to because a VA employee thought it acceptable to shred the claim instead of working it. But I digress.

So, on December 6th, Lars received a letter from the Milwaukee Pension Management Center. In addition to the letter there were three other pieces of paper included. Two of the pieces of paper in the envelope were the cover sheet and letter that the lawyer faxed to the Nashville VA Regional Office. That’s right, the Nashville VA sent, in the mail, two pieces of paper that were supposed to be added to the file that was in Nashville, to Milwaukee. Both pieces of paper were stamped “Received” by the Milwaukee VA on August 27th, 2008.

On August 12th, 2008 his lawyer faxed two pieces of paper to the Nashville VA. At some point after that an employee of the Nashville VA decided that the fax should have gone to Milwaukee. Despite the fact that it was clearly stated in the letter from the lawyer that it was related to an issue that Nashville was responsible for. The Milwaukee VA received the two pieces of paper on August 27th, 2008. Between August 27th and December 2nd, the day that the cover letter from Milwaukee is dated, the two pieces of paper made their way around Milwaukee. For over three months the two pieces of paper worked their way around Milwaukee until a VA employee decided that Lars was the person that should have the papers. Because, as the cover letter states, he does not have any claims pending.

Harfagre is confused about the statement that there are no claims pending. There are numerous claims pending and he is now wondering if the VA shredded all of his claims documents too.

Harfagre tells us that over the course of the nearly twelve years that he has been fighting the VA he has had other Veterans medical records placed in his claim file, and that decisions on his claims were the result of someone else’s information erroneously applied to his claims. Also, he has received other Veterans medical records and appointment information commingled with mail sent to him.

Lars has requested help numerous times from his elected representatives but they routinely tell him the same thing. That is they cannot “make” the VA adhere to the law. All they can do is request information from the VA on the Veteran’s behalf and then pass anything they receive to the Veteran. He has also requested help from the VFW but they have also hesitated to advocate because of the complexity of the case. Even the private lawyer Harfagre hired is struggling to manage the whole case.

And if all of that isn’t enough, he tells us that he has been charged copays for medication that should be copay exempt. He has recently been successful in getting the VA to stop charging the copays but he has been unsuccessful in getting a refund of the several hundred dollars of payments made in error. He states that employees in the business office are unaware of the VA policy that exempts Gulf War Veterans from being charged copays for medications prescribed for symptoms that may be related to Gulf War Illnesses. The VA pharmacy manual clearly states that these medications should not be charged a copay.

When asked what he attributes this myriad dysfunction to, he states: “Transparency, accountability, and training”. He feels that unless VA employees from the Secretary down to the new hire are held accountable, and that all VA employees and representatives who work on claims are thoroughly and properly trained, nothing will change. As far as transparency, Harfagre said that is a huge obstacle to real reform in the VA. He states that instead of transparency, we currently have the VA using their Public Affairs people trying to prevent bad press, and if they do get bad press those Public Affairs people will lie in an attempt to shift blame. What the VA needs, he says, is a Michael Tucker. He is the Army General that went into Walter Reed and said the bureaucracy stops now. He squared away Walter Reed and someone like him needs to go into the VA and say “enough”. When asked about the prospective new VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, Lars said that his lineage also runs through Missouri and that Shinseki would have to “Show Me”.

And that other piece of paper in the envelope from Milwaukee was a form for Lars to make his “X” on and it has to be witnessed by two people.

I’m Sorry

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

To all of the good citizens of Illinois, I apologize.  I voted for Rod Blagojevich for Governor in 2002.  In my defense, he did promise ethics reform.  I realize now that the kind of reform he was going to do to ethics included selling the open US Senate Illinois seat to the highest bidder.

Massive VA Fraud Case

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

A Veterans Administration employee and 13 other people have been charged with conspiring to steal nearly $2 million in disability claims. All but one of the defendants is a veteran.

Truly Sad.