Friday, February 13, 2009

URGENT: Mobilize to meet Congress at home!

Folks, this sort of sneaked up on us, but we caught it just in time.

Congress goes home to have townhall meetings for the next week.

This is the perfect opportunity to lock in support for the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009. Call your Representative and Senators' local offices to determine their schedule next week and take them a copy at your best opportunity to make direct contact with them.

This is perhaps the most critical moment in our fight. Congress leaves town, probably exhausted by the struggle to pass the Stimulus Bill. They want to get home for the Presidential Holiday and district meetings.

That means it is a working break for them. At home!

You need to do some leg work to track them down and pick your best moment to get to them.

As always, please return and indicate your success on the two polls at the top of the right sidebar.

This is it. It's General Quarters time. So man your stations and be prepared for action.

Thanks, folks!

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Restructuring the DVA: Part Two

News reports indicate Congress is being asked to fund an increase of 55,000 new employees for the DVA. Some will go to staff new Rural Health Centers and others will go into the Claims Process system.

We think that without a viable training program, this is merely throwing good money after bad. It grows government where it is not necessary, adding to the bureaucracy.

Instead, we believe a wholesale change in the training and personnel administration of employees of the DVA is what is called for.

Here is what we propose:

NVLSP Involvement
We would like to see the National Veterans Legal Services Program [NVLSP], an organization that already trains people in the DVA Claims system, in conjunction with input from the DVA and the various Veterans Service Organizations, develop a classroom training program for employees of the DVA and Veterans Service Officers from the Veterans Service Organizations [American Legion, VFW, AMVETS, DAV, Veterans of Modern Warfare, FRA, V V A, and so on.] This warrants a grant from Congress to fund the NVLSP's effort and a warrant from the same authorizing legislation that allows the NVLSP to be the final arbiter in any issues raised by either the DVA or the VSOs.

The NVLSP would also be responsible for training the training staff comprised of DVA Instructors, and Veterans Service Officers from the various Veterans Service Organizations. Trainers would be licensed and would participate in training classes as instructors in various regional locations across the Country. Expenses for the VSOs would be funded by their Veterans Service Organizations, but wages for training classes will be paid from the DVA Budget. The classes where trainers are trained will lead to Trainer's Licenses. The training of VSOs and DVA Claim Processors will result in Professional Licensure, required to serve in either capacity. Refresher training shall be required every five years in order to renew the license.

The Program
The training program puts the Veterans Service Officers into the same classrooms at the same time as the Claims Processing Personnel from the DVA are trained. That way, every claim processor, and every VSO is on the same page when handling claims. Further, some portion of each training class will be required by all administrative staff. The Secretary and the Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries should also be required to complete the same training course as the VSOs and the Claims processors in order that all shall know what is required of the Veterans to complete a valid claim for benefits. The medical staff personnel employed in any medical or administrative capacity shall be required to attend the classes so they may also see what the Veteran must go through before they even get to the Doctors and Nurses, and medical administrative staff. Finally, legal staff should also participate in the training program to see first hand the fruits of their labors. Finally, attorneys and paralegals that work with Veterans Claims and as Veterans Advocates may take the training also, and should be licensed as well. Their expenses incidental to the training should be at their own expense, including the cost of the training, as they earn money from what they do.

The Details
The course will be covered over a two week period, with classes lasting 6 hours each day, with a half our break at mid-morning and again at mid-afternoon, and an hour for lunch. The last hour of every day is spent in review exams, review and Q&A sessions. The classroom work ends at the end of a full day of review and preparation for the final exam on the second Tuesday. The final exam is on Friday. The Practical Exam, where test claims are filed by the instructors, to be processed by the students on Wednesday and Thursday.

Successful completion of the course is required for licensure. Failure will result in the individual waiting until a review course is available, a 7 day, shortened version with the last five days the same as the full course. A second failure will result in termination from the VSO program for VSOs, or from Claims Processing positions for DVA Claims processors. The DVA may provide alternate employment for those refused licensure, but at no time may that employee ever become a part of the claims process system at any level.

The Kelley Principle
The indomitable Charles Kelley of the website 2nd Battalion, 94th Artillery, is a strong and dedicated advocate for change in the DVA. He emphasizes, among other things, a standardization of ratings, and a common sense/logical approach to claims. If, he posits, a claimant has a head injury and the claim processor approves the claim for 50%, then identical cases of head injuries should automatically be approved for 50%, and after that, if any varations are warranted, a deeper examination of the claim may be in order. I like to call this system of establishing case precedents, the "Kelley Principle".

This, in its simplicity is a major key to reducing any backlog in claims processing. We have embraced his concept from the start, and see it applied here as part of the training.

We believe the claims process should go through a number of steps.

  • Step One: Examine the claim for eligibility based on military record and search for possible service connection.
  • Step Two: Validate Service Connection and select the portion of a claim liable to generate the highest rating. Apply the "Kelley Principle" to DVA System records of precedents and if applicable, assign a temporary rating and approve the claim, so payments begin and medical coverage is authorized in the shortest time possible.

  • Step Three: Examine and validate the claim for variations in the initial rating based on current examinations by DVA Medical Staff, adjust accordingly. Increase the rating of the claim based on other and/or secondary conditions as precedents warrant, again checking the DVA System for "Kelley Principle" precedents. Adjust the rating accordingly and approve or deny as the claim warrants.
  • All of the above subject to review by supervisory staff at each level. Each step is handled by an increasingly senior claim's processor.

    Advancement of these licensed personnel shall be based not just on seniority, but an acceptable level of claim reversals on appeal, or by supervisory personnel, and a satisfactory claim completion rate.

    It is highly recommended that all claim personnel be Veterans of the United States Military.

    Positive Results 2
    We think the adoption of this policy, should Congress embrace it, is a common sense no-brainer. It effectively addresses the regional variations in claim ratings and denials, and provides a clear structure to the claims process. It additionally places everyone in the claim process system except the Veteran into a standardized system that would provide the same results for identical claims at any Regional Office in the Country. It would simplify the claims process, and eliminate the backlog. It would be an efficient method of serving the Veterans of this Nation.

    VNVets

    ”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

    "The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

    "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

    "It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

    Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.

    Saturday, February 07, 2009

    Time to Start Restructuring the DVA

    Congress's hands are not clean over the Blue Water Navy issue. They have consistantly passed budgets over the years while the DVA takes appropriations away from Veterans to build new facilities. We refer mainly to costly 'Rural VA Health Centers'.

    Consider:

  • The DVA had to have money appropriated in its budget to acquire the land for these centers.

  • Then they had to have money appropriated to construct them.

  • Then they had to have money to staff them.

  • Now they have to have money to keep them running.

  • This is a very costly program.

    Consider the alternatives, however. Not having them forces the Veterans to travel very long distances to receive diagnosis and treatment for any conditions thay have or develop. They have to travel to VA Hospitals...

    OR,

    ...Congress could authorize the issuance of a Veterans Health Care Card, with coverage levels based on DVA Categories of eligibility, and with a payment schedule identical to the one Social Security uses for Medicare. There would be no deductibles or copays for full coverage. The Veterans would use the card at any and all medical facilities they choose, and the medical provider would be barred by law from billing the Veteran for any difference in fees and costs. Prescription coverage would be the same as they have with the DVA, based on categories of eligibility.

    The DVA could then sell those costly Rural Health Centers, applying any moneys realized to the next year's infrastructure maintenance budget to repair and modernize any DVA Hospitals to begin to switch their primary role to that of long term care. Staff reductions will further reduce the budget.

    What could be the advantage of this system?

    Politically, the Democrats will embrace it because it is a step closer to universal health care. The Republicans will embrace it because it shrinks government [hundreds of administrative clerks are far cheaper to pay for than thousands of administrators, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and therapists].

    Medical professionals will embrace it because it does not force many of them to take any experience and training they garnered while serving in the Armed Forces and work within the DVA healthcare system. They can work where they want, and their expertise will be spread throughout the nation and be available to all, not just Veterans.

    Veterans should embrace this plan since it allows them to go to their family doctor for treatment, and their local hospital for emergency and long term services.

    This would reduce instances where Veterans go to DVA Hospitals in an emergency only to find they have no Emergency Room, or to be turned away because of a snafu, or by an undertrained staffer who just doesn't care, forcing the Veteran to seek emergency care at a local facility that is NOT DVA, and then be forced to pay the bill.

    Chances are, the Veterans contemplating suicide will receive better judgement on examination in Emergency Rooms of civililan facilities and not be turned away. They would likely receive better care after admission as well.

    Mostly, though, this would eliminate many of the "cracks" that Veterans fall though in their health care system. Quality of care varies greatly from DVA Medical Facility to Facility, making treatment a hit or miss reality for the Veteran. Many of the staff at DVA facilities are simply overburdened, and have become callous to their patients.

    Positive Results

    Let's get the DVA out of the business of being the ones who treat all of our Veterans and into long term care only, and whatever period of time a wounded warrior needs to transition from the active Military to Veteran status and be ready to go out into the civilian world.

    Finally, by freeing up money in the DVA Budget by stopping the acquisition, construction, staffing and running of DVA Rural Health Centers, and divesting itself of them using the above concept, perhaps the DVA could spend more money, time and effort in paying the benefits to Veterans that they fight so hard to deny. It is time to zero in on the DVA and force massive changes in its thinking, and operations. This is one step, and it starts with Congress.

    VNVets

    ”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

    "The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

    "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

    "It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

    Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.


    Wednesday, February 04, 2009

    Something to Ponder

    We played around with some numbers last week and came up with some figures that were quite surprising.

    Assuming 100% disability from 1/2003-12/2009, for 10,000 Veterans, the lump sum would come to a little over $2.1 billion. That's max. It will be far less than that because few of the claims will be 100% and not all the claims will cover that time span. If both bills pass, I doubt we are talking more than 5,000 Vets. Ongoing annual claims for 10,000 Vets at 100% will be more than 345 million starting in 2010. Again, that is a maximum figure. That is just pension payments. Medical coverage would at least double the figures. And this is only for Vietnam era Veterans.

    Remember, those are very high estimates, far higher than will actually occur if the legislation is ever passed.

    And the longer the legislation is delayed the more expensive it will be and the more difficult it will be to enact it.

    The Senate stimulus bill is offering over $3 billion to the House Veterans Committee. Our legislation, both bills, could easily be covered by the Stimulus packages, and CERTAINLY would stimulate the economy.

    Now here is the dilemma. You see the potential cost of some 5-10,000 Veterans -- just a small segment of the total Veterans population receiving benefits currently.

    Consider the cost if the DVA [actually, the US Taxpayers via the government] would be forced to pay everything it SHOULD pay to all Veterans who have a claim. Do you think we would ever go to war again?

    Do you think, perhaps, that the powers that be may realize that, and act to prevent it?

    VNVets

    ”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

    "The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Bush Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

    "With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

    "It follows than as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

    Copyright © 2005-2009: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Fifth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved.