Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Tale of Two Veterans

We have two stories about Veterans that will be of interest to many. We believe neither is fictional. We believe both are true accounts. One story is from a Veteran who works in a VA Regional Office [RO], and has written to us about the anti-Veteran mindset of lower level management and as a result, some raters in the Department of Veterans Affairs [DVA] claims system. The other is a Blue Water Navy Veteran, whose experience is from the other side of the desk.

We will keep both of these folks anonymous to protect them, one because his job is on the line and the other because his claim is currently pending. Yes, folks, there is a real threat to both of them from the DVA.

Our Blue Water Navy Veteran has been chasing his claim for years - since 2003. He and his wife are near destitute from paying medical bills that should have been covered long ago by the DVA Compensation system. But like most Blue Water Navy Veterans, the rejections keep coming, and appeals don't go anywhere, and the claims keep getting re-filed.

On a recent visit to the Regional Office he made a request to see his file. After filling out the papers he waited two hours until he was called back. The VA Claims person stated he could not open the file. It was labeled "Sensitive Level Seven". He was asked if had ever worked for the DVA. The answer was no, never. The Claims person said that was the only reason a file would be labeled "Sensitive Level Seven", and that he was not cleared to open it. Apparently a "Sensitive level Seven" indicates a person employed by the DVA, locked tight to protect the privacy of the employee. Our Veteran never worked for the DVA.

A search was made for someone with the clearance to open the file. Again he was asked if he had ever worked for the DVA. Again the answer was no. When that person opened the file, our Veteran was informed there were no open claims in it, all had been denied. The file was never opened the entire time it went through the claim process, because no one had authority to open the file, it was simply denied repeatedly. That went all the way to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, for which our Veteran had to hire an attorney. Further, they were told:

“all the claims had expired. You have no claim pending with the VA at all, there was no action on the claims, no appeals, nothing” [‘despite there BEING action on every file, every claim, every appeal, every request for records, etc’]”….any claims person at the VA could ‘Classify’ a file as such” [sending it to la-la land’] “…it took someone in Washington with the clearance to conduct a review, and IF agreed, then to remove it…call Washington to get it removed…"

Our Veteran was never told who to speak to in Washington.

A quick call to the attorney and a suit was immediately filed against the DVA.

All of you with denied claims should check to see if your claim file is closed and labeled with a security level. It may be one easy way for the DVA to simply "deny, deny and wait for them to die."

Our other Veteran is an employee in a Regional Office. He has worked claims, and reviewed claims. His story is one of frustration with his peers, his managers, and what he calls "the culture of the DVA".

In his letter, he tells of claims handlers who purposefully rate claims low, for example, rating a PTSD claim at 50% when it clearly met the 70-100% level. Others find reason after reason, legitimate or not, to deny Veterans claims.

He writes:

"When the Secretary came out last year and told us that VA was going to be advocates for veterans, not adversaries, I was told to disregard that, it will never happen. The Secretary said that he was going to change the culture of VA. So far I have seen not one scintilla of evidence that anything has been done to change the culture - at least not among those who rate disability claims. All of the energy is directed at getting rating decisions done - the numbers. There is no effort to make sure claims are fairly rated - just that they are done correctly - i.e., don't miss any issues, don't forget to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's"."

He also reports on a general attitude of disgust for those Veterans filing claims for PTSD. He writes that the DVA needs to address that issue because it is "...causing ratings to be woefully diminished or denied and were creating an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance of such attitudes..."

He writes:

"The prevailing attitude is still, if there is anything there that can be used to deny or diminish a rating, that's what is done. Our training to "grant if you can, deny only if you must" is just lip service. There is no reality in that at all. Raters know that the best way to avoid errors on quality review is to lowball ratings or deny claims. Period...So, what is a veteran to do with this kind of stuff going on?...I'm still waiting for the Secretary and VA to address the issue of culture change within the VA. The primary focus, in my humble opinion, on culture change, has to start on the rating teams if anything positive for veterans is ever to be accomplished. I'm not optimistic at all."

We were neither shocked nor surprised at what we read from this person. If you work with Veterans long enough you get to hear lots of stories, some horror stories, some not.

What we get from this, and from our second Veteran's letter is that there are some ROs where the anti-Veteran bias glares as bright as the sun, ruining the lives of many of the Veterans caught in its glare. Apparently, our DVA employee/Veteran is working in such. And that is a shame. Here we have a Veteran trying to work the system properly and he is forced to do so in an environment that is the antithesis of positive help for Veterans. [And can you imagine what it is like for that worker?]

We get email from DVA workers from ROs around the country asking for advice or clarification on things, and we have worked directly on occasion with some very positive claims personnel, who truly are trying to help their Veteran claimants. One even made the point that there were many "good" workers out there who genuinely cared about the Veterans and did what they could to help them. We agree. Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough to make the horror stories that Veterans have about their experiences with the DVA claim system the exception and not the rule.

We've mentioned before that if two Veterans with identical backgrounds and identical health profiles apply for benefits in two different ROs, one will likely be denied, the other will likely be approved. There is no consistency. There is no standardized training. And there is obviously no legitimate review of anyone's work being done above low level management.

We like the current Secretary. We would love to see him succeed at his attempts to improve the DVA. We wish we could help. But apparently his underlings have him walled off, and THEY make the policy decisions. What a sham, and what a shame.

We hope to follow up on these stories sometime in the near future.

Stay Bette Davis once said on the silver screen, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!"


”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 Obama 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

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  1. Lou Lwowski SKCS(SS), Retired18:19

    Just curious? That there may be any USS Scamp (SSN-588) sailors that were aboard on 12/25/1971 out there who have had injuries or associated medical issues that stem back to this deployment?

  2. Lou,

    We would recommend that you post that request on the Scamp's website as your best bet.

    Good luck!