Congress Looks to Change Disability Compensation System

With some estimates approaching $1 trillion to care for veterans of the current wars, and changes within the labor market, Congress has turned its sights to changing the disability compensation system. Starting this January, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs will renew the conversation on how to improve the current disability system.

While the focus on disability benefits is timely, one lingering question remains, “For whom are the changes intended to benefit?” During a time of budget crunching, it appears to some that Congress is trying to keep veterans from cashing a blank check the Bush Administration wrote when it started its wars in the Middle East.

Current estimates estimate the cost of the war on the taxpayers to be approaching $1 trillion to care for the veterans impacted. This dwarfs the Bush Administration estimates of $60 billion for the war in total expenditures. These wars were supposed to be quick and cheap but have become the longest and most expensive in history.

Two areas of primary focus by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs are: 1) decreasing processing time; and 2) changing the rating system to reflect modern impact of disability on work. Their stated goal is to increase efficiency in the rating system and decrease the rising backlogs.

Rory Riley, attorney and House Committee staffer, stated the Committee is investigating recommendations from the 2007 Shalala Report, the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) report by the Army, and others for guidance.

In its specifics, the Shalala Report (co-chaired by Bob Dole and Donna Shalala) calls for the restructuring of the disability compensation system. The basis stated for change is that the labor market is no longer affecting disabled veterans as much. Therefore, the amount of disability paid out by the Veterans Administration (VA) should be adjusted to reflect the actual impacts.

The IDES report evaluates the model for disability rating used by the Army on active duty personnel after a serious injury or condition impacts the service member permanently. The report points out that the current Army process is still flawed with extended delays costing the Department of Defense over $800 million.

In addition to the reports, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs is calling on veterans within the ever-growing veterans’ advocacy community to provide comment to Congress for insight into problems faced by veterans in trying to receive their benefits in a timely manner.

Within these reports and others is the basis for changing the current model with the claimed goal of increasing access to veterans’ benefits by reducing system delays and inefficiencies.

Regardless of the reports the Committee looks to, it must acknowledge the problem of accuracy. According to the National Organization of Veterans Advocates, if veterans’ claims did not contain errors 80 percent of the time, the issue of backlog could evaporate. Since the VA has an impossible time with the current system, changing the system midstream with the current backlog seems like a horrible idea.

While no one doubts the need for changes to the current disability model given different ways disabilities impact veterans in the work force, the focus needs to be put squarely on accuracy of initial decisions. Through increasing accuracy, the VA will decrease appeals and increase the perception of fairness currently lacking within the model the VA purports to veterans.

Meanwhile, the VA is looking to decrease inefficiencies caused by changing their current requirement to provide veterans with Due Process. For example, Thomas Murphy, current head of Compensation and Pension for VA, recently pointed to turning the disability process paperless as a solution.

Under the current system, the VA is required to “deliver notice to claimants of the information and evidence necessary to substantiate their claims.” The VA has stated that this requirement is too difficult and removing physical “notice” requirements would allow the claims process to be faster. Under this plan, the VA would only be required to possibly email veterans notice of procedures.

In a day and age when the VA has been caught shredding veterans documents and evidence, moving to a paperless model for Due Process seems rife for further fraud. The VA would be able to claim it provided veterans with notice without evidence, since there would be no existing paper trail. Additionally, correspondence can merely be deleted, no shredder needed. Veterans without computer skills would easily slip through the cracks since they will not be able to access email effectively. All the while the VA will be able to deny claims since they did “deliver notice.”

Is this a good deal for veterans? In this scenario, it looks like the changes are intended to benefit the VA and the government’s budget. On its face, these changes look like nothing more than letting the fox guard the hen house. And that fox is very hungry.

Again, the problem is not speed when the disability awards are inaccurate the first time around. The VA’s quest for speed has caused enormous problems with accuracy. This has resulted in countless veterans being wrongfully denied the benefits they earned in service to this country. Unfortunately, Congress and the VA may potentially fail to address the key issue of accuracy by illogically focusing on speed. This assumes the motive for the changes is solely to help veterans get their benefits.

Here’s my concern. Maybe the increase in errors is caused by the VA’s insatiable need for speed is the goal.  Maybe, given the large forecasted costs to care for the veterans of the current war, bureaucrats realized the Bush Administration wrote a check the US government cannot afford to cash. Or rather, a check they do not want veterans to cash. Just maybe.

So, it looks like the New Year will not only gave veterans and returning military personnel a bleak economic outlook but possible changes to the current disability compensation system.

Let’s not let this opportunity pass by without speaking out to Congress. If you have a story to tell Congress about the VA, please email us at: screwed(at)disabledveterans.org.

Voc Rehab Survival Guide Benjamin Krause is an award winning investigative reporter, Veterans Benefits Law attorney, and disabled veteran of the US Air Force, where he served in its Special Operations Command. He attended Northwestern University and  the University of Minnesota Law School using VA Vocational Rehabilitation.

While in law school, Benjamin won his decade-long fight for full disability benefits and now helps others do the same with this website and his guide, the Voc Rehab Survival Guide for Veterans. Since its first publication in 2011, the guide has helped the veteran community receive millions in untapped benefits through the VA Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment program. 

Connect with Benjamin on  Google+,  Twitter,  Facebook and LinkedIn.

Comments

  1. rflem173 says

    Robert
    I am a documented survivor of the worst friendly fire incident in the entire Vietnam War. The 500 lb. bomb dropped (1 of 2) on the command post of 2/503, 173d Airborne on Hill 875 on 19 November 1967. When I came to I was sucking in hot ash and debris. I was burning, bleeding everywhere. I had no idea what had even happened. I was deaf. Almost everyone around me was dead. Most had their limbs torn off. Bodies were stacked up at the base of the tree. No there isnt anything wrong with me, just ask that Hawthorne woman at the VA. She knows Everything. I was recently diagnosed with TBI. After the blast I spent four days with no medical attention, no food, no water, and then spent the next four days sleeping with the bodies and the parts. I have been living with that in my thoughts and dreams every day since. It has gotten worse since 9/11. Look it up on the computer. I filed a claim for ptsd in 2005 and was awarded 30%. The 30 something female Phd. who conducted the C & P’s expertise was in the area of homosexuality. Im not sure how that applies to the field of heavy combat. While I was being “Treated” by the VA I was being given GAF scores in the 60-65 range. At the same time I was being charged with “Assault on a federal police officer” , a felony. Which they were well aware of. My personal Dr.s were giving me GAF scores in the 30-35 range which they totally ignored. Several times after receiving the decisions back the Dr.s reports were not listed as evidence as though they were never submitted. I believe they were shredding my favorable documents so that they would not have to give me an increase. Today I received an increase from 30 to 50 percent. Whoopee. An experts viewing of my records would prove it. I have been asked to return to the VA for treatment but how do you trust them after the GAF score debacle. One VA employee gave me a 59 GAF score and called it a “gift”. This while I was fighting felony charges. I worked and carried a gun. Slept with one. Did everything that you will find on a list of things someone with full-blown ptsd will do. And oh, by the way, Im a 65 GAF. Just ask those brainiacs at the VA. Just dont be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I could go on for a long time about the VA. My complaints are mostly about the regional office and the mental health people who forgot who they are supposed to be helping. I have three statements in my files from a couple Colonels, a Command Sergeant Major and a Major saying where I was when the bomb blew. This is also because I was sitting near a Medal Of Honor Receipient Chaplain Charles Watters, .So I am still fightingthe VA. Its almost 0200. What am I doing up? Only someone with ptsd would be up doing this.

  2. Sam says

    I started the BDD process as early as possible with my Army PCM conducting an extensive retirement physical, with labs, hearing, vision. Now my head is spinning dealing with the VA Comp and Pen side. I fail to see or understand how someone in the VA side I’ve never met, scene, or spoken too, can effectively give me a proper physical as I recieved while still in uniform. I don’t see how duplicating efforts is beneficial or cost effective, but who gives a shit right?, its just the hard earned tax payer’s money coveringthe VA’s duplication of efforts!, and the vet’s suffers in the end. I can’t believe what I’m seeing, the VA system back logs themselves with their own procedures and policies. Guess they got to justify their books! Can’t believe whats at the end of a 20 yr career. I’d like to clean the VA’s system up in order to take care of our Soldiers and stop duplicating efforts. I have to laugh at this VA system.

  3. John Chi says

    You can have service connected connected disabilities that prevent you from leading a normal healthy life (both physically & mentally) but when push comes to shove it all epends on what and how the C&P Dr. writes up his findings and then it gets placed in the hands of the VA rating Board and many of them have absolutely no clue what combat can do to an individual.

  4. Gerrie says

    My husband has been rated O%compensation for service-connected hearing loss with 10% tinnitus. Since the service in the 60’s, he has developed worse
    and worse loss of balance. The VA has his claim for vertigo, and wants it
    connected to his hearing loss and tinnitus from his military service. My
    husband’s first physician has been dead for apx. 15 years. We have no chance
    of getting information leading to a successful claim when we know the symptoms were always there one way or another, but cannot connect it to firing very heavy field artillery. It’s bad enough that the VA believes he is not hard of hearing enough for their guidelines, now we have to live with this
    problem. He was only in his late teens and early twenties when he served in the Army and the National Guards, but now that he is older age will be the
    determining factor.

  5. David A Castaneda says

    Too many years of being not being held accountable have left the VA with an “Untouchable” attitude. Even as the leaders are being replaced with new incomers, the problems that have existed are so entrenched in the system that it is next to impossible to assume that any changes the incoming leaders bring with them are going to make any difference whatsoever. This is going to be a long row to hoe unless there are some drastic changes at the upper levels. I just don’t see it happening anytime soon but one can hope. I have used the adage of a child with a bag of candy being told to share with his/her brothers and sisters. It has never been more clear to me than that. and now with the change from paper to electronic data and the chances of data corruption and loss for disabled veterans who apply for benefits, I can only see more of a bottle neck than ever. I am sorry but people, I got nothing. Absolutely nothing to tell you. Except that we need to fight the good fight and make those who have delayed benefits while profiting themselves accountable to their actions. I wish us all good luck.

  6. Robert Inman says

    I am rated at 80% with Individual Unemployability with rating moved to 100%. This took my Congressperson to get involved as well as with the SSADI end of things years before the VA stuff and even THEN, with Soc Sec SSDI you are either 100% or nothing, YET the VA does not/will not even recognize another Gov’t. agencies findings–amazing! My situation and plethora of health issues are indeed Service-Connectected, with a handful of non-service conditions. I also happened to be one of those “luck ones” that rec’vd. letters that the VA sent thousands of letters out one more than one occasion that suggested you get tested for all the Hep A,B,C AND HIV due to “unsterile surgical practices”…which in the end, believe it or not, THAT was rated 0% SERVICE-CONNECTED, yes, ZERO…but Service Connected all the same…ONLY to be rated higher “when it causes significant health problems!”…verbatum! I now do NOT use the VA Health System, rather Medicare, pay all my premiums AND medicare Pt D Drug Plan prem’s AND extremely high drug costs because of the JOKE the VA has for PSY Dept. Dr’s that like most of the M.D.’s in other VA practices, one simply cannot get past the language barrier at least 90% of the time. My brother is a Vet as well and he has had the same experiences! Now, get this fellow Veterans: Did you know that the VA does us a further disservice by saving $$ by hiring mostly foriegn M.D.’s (am NOT talking about the nurses AT ALL), and those VERY foriegn M.D.’s have MOST if not ALL of the required Medical Residency REQUIREMENTS W A V E D???!!! My brother and I confirmed this in different ways and recently, the civilian Gastro M.D. that talked to me before having Colonoscopomy told me he used to be an OFFICER/M.D. Active Duty years ago and he could not get a job at the VA because he was “overqualified”, and he told me that “most” of the VA’s M.D.’s could not get a job in the USA without having at least three years of the required residency. My infectious Disease Dr., whom is a formost researcher, PhD., M.D. and until the early 80’s worked for the CDC in Atlanta and she told me I am SO much better off not using the VA and am a firm believer I may not be around to date if I had. The VA treated my peripheral neuropathy with such old school meds I was so allergic of that my calves down looked like a was a swollen mutant from a circus, yet the Lyrica could not be approved because it was not on “formulary”…that was my last straw and started utilizing Medicare ONLY and paying for ALL my responsible copays because one cannot place a price on one’s sanity! I love my Country all the way but when we STILL have people from Viet Nam and even Korean War fighting for their benefits and they are not “trying to work the system”, Congress needs to think before they engage in such “unwinible wars” about all those living soldiers that are fighting FOR all our freedoms and taking proper care of them post-war! History unfort. repeated itself to a degree because it was the then-USSR/Afghani War that financially drained and facilitated the break-up of the USSR. Most on here probably know this by all the equipment setting in desert STILL that Russia just left and it was not like USSR was not a formidable enemy in those last days of the Cold War!
    Yes, the problems need to be addressed at the TOP–from Congress downward rather than the perpetual kicking the can down the road. In my case, the VA had the audacity to BLAIM the manufacturers of medical equipment for “not being more specific in what sterilization procedures were to be utilized”!!! Sterile means sterile–there’s no derivative or deviation to that procedure! Yep, I am indeed working on a book about my good and bad experiences in my career and on a positive end-note: I firmly believe we would not have this war on all the USA’s streets in all the stealing, shooting, carjacking,–pretty much all drug-based–if we required everyone to serve at least two years of military service! Core values seemed to have disappeared and cannot blame this on the economy because MOST of these punks doing all this have been on public assistance three generations!! We Vets ALL get drug-tested–why not make that a requirement for ALL public Assistance!!!???

  7. Donald Marshall says

    I have no faith in a system that is broken from the top down. If you don’t fix the top (Congress) then the bottom will never work correctly. I have a claim in for the Board of Veteran’s Appeals from June 2008 and it has not even left the regional office. I have been waiting 11 months for a claim for Unemployability I am 80% disabled and was told by my VA doctors that I could not return to work. I have not worked since 2008, I have lost my family, and now facing home foreclosure and bankruptcy. Within the next 90 days I will be homeless. Just another homeless Vet that the VA will have to throw 100,000’s of dollars to figure out why I am homeless and creating a system for dealing with someone that they created. But I will never give up the fight it I do they win. God bless and goog health to you all.

    CPL Marshall
    US Army 1982-1992
    Multi-abled Vet. 80%
    Being all I can be Army strong.

  8. Fred Wagar says

    Be careful when you here that Congress is looking to “improve” the VA system. The latest “improvement” is now under discussion and consists of outsourcing VA claims. Yep, have a company you want to put together and can convince your congressional buddy you can do a better job of doing claims work than those pesky government workers. Then hire a ton of people, charge the government to do claims work, then lo and behold, there’s cost over runs. Think it’s not possible. Sorry folks, the process has already started. At least those corporate big wigs will make a ton of money. Veterans will still be waiting, or worse yet, get someone in a cubicle that has not idea what veterans go through. Then see those claims denied! Good luck!

  9. Gordon Frink says

    I retired from the US Navy and get a 40% disability. I think it’s egregious that I have to finance my won disability. The thing that is really frustrating to me is that I feel as though I am so small I can’t do anything about it. I feel like as thought a tank is going to attack me and I have noly a pea shooter to defend myself. I m sure this has all been done by design.

  10. David Davis says

    The government belongs out of the patient evaluation business. Sorry but most of the VA appears to be compensated for denial of benefits. This includes their PA’s, raters, doctors, and all the others in the chain. I see a future where there is a form that you choose the doctor to have your comp done at. This way it can be recorded,, you can have someone with you and you get a copy of your exam and results within say 2 weeks. The process then eliminates 60% of the DVA. It eliminates most of the time delays. You still have the right to appeal. Let some of these people get as you say to veterans real jobs. I believe that the Veterans admin is a service organization responsible for veterans health and well being as it is, it is just the opposite in many areas not because of lack of funding but lack of oversight.

  11. Malpractice Prevention says

    I left the military 5 years ago. Upon exiting I received about as much care and concern as I did the whole time I was in (NEXT TO NOTHING). I see the VA as a malpractice prevention organisation. I don’t care if you were the best corpsman/medic in the entire military, it still won’t excuse the poor healthcare I received while serving. The best care I ever received was my referrals out in town and that only happened twice in 10 years. One of them resulted in my military PA telling me he didn’t know what to do for me. The civilian doctor specifically wrote what my problem was and how to go about mending me. After getting out of service I read my military doctor’s statement for that visit and he didn’t write anything close to what he said to me. He basically stated he found no problem with the patient and that the patient seemed quite healthy. WOW seriously I had blood work done and it was right there in black-n-white what was wrong. Guess what?!?! The VA saw the conflict between the doctors notes after I pointed them out and now I am rated 60%.

    I agree with some of you that some VET’s are sure to work the system, but, that is happening everywhere. I have personally known entire families to live off of state aid and section 8 for 3 generations. Oh and yes they were doing drugs, nothing hard but none the less they were wasting whatever money they received on drugs.
    If you want to cut a budget, lets cut out all this flagrant abuse of the Social System. My Wife’s eldest son (not my blood) has a girlfriend who had a child prior to meeting him. Well now they have a kid together. Neither have a job and she applied for Food Stamps (SNAP), WIC, and TANF. She is receiving over $500/month just for food from SNAP and we haven’t found out the money she is going to receive but in any case it is bu11$h1t that they can get these benefits. All they do all day is smoke pot and play video games. They barely even look for work. I think anyone using these programs should have to write a 500 word essay on the reason why they should be aided. Also commit to random drug testing at their own cost. If you are not an abuse victim or some other significant case then screw you. Get a job! Sure some people have lost their jobs in this economy but there are plenty not even trying to gain employment. Employment is what drives the economy back up into the positive.

    One last thing. I was in the Virginia Employment Commission office the other day trying to correct my identity theft (Someone working under my Social!) and a man stood up when his name was called. The two women in front of me started complaining that they were there before him. Then the VEC worker explained that he is a VET and VET’s get priority. The VEC worker left and they continued to complain. Then I stepped in proudly stating I am a VET and our unemployment rate is upwards of 12%+ and that is a justified reason in itself that we get priority. Furthermore we stood up in defense of this country so that should give us the privilege to go before you considering we have given something for this country and you going to work and taking care of your kids isn’t giving to the country, it’s just what we all do as people. Plus I said they probably should consider what they say about VET’s when they live in one of the highest populated areas of military and veterans. One of them stated they weren’t asked if they were a veteran and I replied I wasn’t either so maybe that should be corrected, although when you walk in looking militant with a clean haircut, shave, and at least somewhat physically fit then you are a dead ringer after you say “yes ma’am yes sir”.

    REMEMBER THESE ARE JUST MY JUDGEMENTS AND OPINIONS. I RESPECT YOURS AND THEREFORE YOU SHOULD RESPECT MINE. SO BE KIND IF YOU RESPOND TO THIS.

  12. Rob says

    First off all there is a lot of fraud going on with compensation. too many veterans claiming ptsd. Ptsd has become a common word now, everything is blamed on ptsd. a non combat vet is exposed to a few ieds that a convoy the veteran was in an explosion went off half a mile down and the veteran has ptsd!!! really????!!!!!! also, compensation should be awarded based on a scale depending on the cost of living where the veteran resides.

  13. JJ says

    Red……..

    You cannot get angry. People are people and it will be rated differently because much is “up to the rater”. They’ve wronged me big time with the denial of almost everything on my first claim. Instead of anger we need to educate ourselves on the process, all be it, the VA should be able to do their job but they are unable to do that so we must do it for them.

  14. rtyrell says

    AGAIN, heres the bottom line. If you do NOT have a service connected disability,WITH a VA RATING, you have no reason to piss and moan because if the VA is not supplying you with health care. Just because you were IN the service[regardless of Branch] does NOT qualify you for health care from the VA.[DD-214 does not lie]. You can run around and tell everyone that you were a navey seal and you did three tours ,whereever, you did this and you were there,BUT, the[DD-214] does not lie. So, remember this when you are at theGOLDEN CORRAL pissing and moaning about the VA, [the DD-214 does not lie]. I think the GOLDEN CORRAL should request to see your DD-214 , before you get a nother free ticket to ride, AGAIN. It sure would be ALOT less crowded in there.

  15. anthony hofmann says

    24 years of service active and reserve combined, right foot surgery while on active duty 1988 got 0% in 1999 after retiring Army Reserves. Filed in 2009 for increase do to right foot getting worse severe limp and arthritis swelling causing gate problems to knees, hips, and lower back. Sent 3 letters from the top surgeon for foot/ankle at the Cincinnati VA and they still say the doctor does not no my medical history from the past (unbelievable) also not a combat veteran so i feel i am on the back burner.(THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE) no,thanks for nothing……………..

  16. Rick says

    Red Hoffman you are absolutely correct! I served prior to Desert Storm, I agree with you as I do feel as if I have been placed on the ‘back burner’. My physician is a middle eastern female and does not listen or communicate well.

    Kathy all you have to do is request a reevaluation and this can be done every three years I believe. Find an advocate such as the DAV, American Legion, or the VFW to work for you as an intermediary.

    I was discharged in 1993 and have been reevaluated twice upon my request and have moved from 30% disabled to 70% in 2007.

  17. kathy says

    Could you write a more left leaning piece?? Bush started 1 war with congressional approval (that Obama signed onto) and explained it would not be a quick war. Obama has gone into Libya, Afghanistan and Africa with no Congressional approval at all, saw no mention of that in this article and lots of finger pointing at Bush. Bush had Congressional approval including McCain, Romney, Hiliary, Obama and the other fingerpointers but I guess that’s easy for the left to overlook and forget.

    Unfortunately, the disability ratings are done when the personnel are discharged, not taking into account future issues and if anything arises after the discharge evaluation, its hell to get the VA to help or pay for anything.

  18. Bill Beavers says

    I must admit that the VA has been straight foward with me–I still have several appeals on going, but when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer they upped my disability to 100%–I guess I was in the right place at the right time–However, I opted to use my Medicare and my private insurance for treatment, so as not to have to drive 100 miles to Columbia, SC–I get my treatment at the Cancer Center in Greenville, SC—BUT–what if I didn’t have private insurance? I bet the CC in Greenville would not have taken me–

  19. Red Hoffman says

    The problem is the ‘human factor.’ Soldier ‘A’ and soldier ‘B’ get out of service with identical medical/mental problems. They both file claims. Soldier ‘A’ gets given a disability percentile of 40% while soldier ‘B’ gets rated at 70%. The difference is quite a bit of cash and other benefits available to each of these two soldiers. Whenever a soldier gets ‘denied’ a disability claim, this is sometimes so mentally stressful that their condition gets worse. I have been a patient of the VA since 1996. Since then and up until the second war in Iraq, my treatment at the VA had been top notch…in most departments. Since 2006, I have seen VA treatment drop so far downhill that I might as well just sit home and wither away. It appears that if you served prior to Desert Storm, you have become a ‘back burner’ type patient that does not get the treatment they deserve. I have had to involve a Congressperson to straighten out problems with the VA on two different occasions. Shit…I am done….the anger level has shot up out of site.

  20. Eric Hughes says

    The problem is that a determination of disability is a LEGAL question, not a medical question. Military doctors can not gauge disability benefits any better than a turnip. It takes legal professionals to do that. But a legal professional can’t gauge how sick a veteran is on discharge, it takes a medical professional to do that. The problem is the real shortage of people who are both medical and legal professionals.

  21. Glenn Ford says

    I see nothing wrong with having the military doctors gauge the disability percentage of each wounded veteran before his or her release from active duty and their disability income being based on their current rank and pay upon release, with a guarantee of increase whenever the military gets an increase. They are still soldiers who voluntarily gave to their country and should be compensated accordingly; with their disability already set upon mustering out.
    Then the VA could be released to work with ‘special cases’ or ‘latent symptoms’ as they occur.

So what do you think?