Voting on the US budget has forced a show down in DC. What does this mean about your benefits? I’ll attempt to answer this question and more, here.
Hi and welcome to another edition of Monday Morning Quarterback. I’m your host, Benjamin Krause, creator of DisabledVeterans.org.
I just returned from a veterans law conference in San Diego, where I had a chance to speak with the best minds in veterans law. I was also able to talk with Tom Murphy, head of VA’s compensation program.
Following the conference, rumors surfaced that VA will cut disability benefits payments if the government shuts down. These rumors contradict their earlier position.
This MMQB will be all about those two things: veterans law and VA benefits cuts. I’ll tell you what VSO’s are saying publicly about VA’s benefits reversal last week. Spoiler alert: their public statements will disappoint most disabled veterans.
I will also touch on the future of veteran advocacy at the end. Last week, I wrote The Fix No One is Talking About. It started some good conversation in a LinkedIn forum. I’ll include one excerpt of that conversation here for all of you at the end.
UPDATE: S. 1564: A bill making continuing appropriations for veterans benefits and services in the event of a Government shutdown. Senator Sanders proposes bill to fund Veterans benefits. It has not passed as of Oct 1, 2013 – 11:37am CST. UPDATE: HR 3210: Pay Our Military Act. This passed and did get signed by the president on Sep 30, 2013. President also did a video message to the troops. UPDATE: VA clarification – Staffing for educational benefits will be cut. Payment of education benefit will continue for now. Staffing for disability benefits AND payment of disability benefits will be cut within a few weeks if no budget is passed. UPDATE: VA just republished their “Veterans Field Guide” after we circulated this post. The new version includes that disability payments will cease with a prolonged shutdown. http://bit.ly/1dSWuh1. The version on DAV.org is no longer current.
VA Statistics: 11 Percent of Veterans Dissatisfied
Last week, I attended a NOVA conference on my own dime in San Diego. NOVA is the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates, based in Washington D.C.
The organization supports lawyers and veterans advocates by educating them about the nuances of veterans benefits law.
This is important because of the huge push and pull between lawyers and VA regarding VA ignoring the law. This organization helps us know what VA is and is not doing correctly.
During the seminar, Tom Murphy spoke to the group. What he says matters because he is the head of VA Compensation. In other words, he is the guy responsible for fixing the system and the backlog.
During his speech, Tom told the group that 89 percent of veterans are actually satisfied with VA’s treatment of veterans. I would love to see where this number comes from, and so would everyone in the room.
To give some context, Tom made this claim in response to getting pounded by the room of lawyers over problems in VA regional offices across the country.
The problems exist because VA fails to follow the law or its own regulations on a regular basis, at least according to us. The disconnect is about just how many veterans are impacted by these bad decisions.
Strategically, Tom said this because he wanted to paint a picture for the room of lawyers and veterans advocates. His “picture” was painted to diminish our perception of the VA problem.
However, did he make a true claim?
Our perception of the problem is that VA has major difficulties across the board. However, according to Tom, the problem is only with around 11 percent of veterans.
Following that logic, if we only see such a small percentage, then our concerns should not matter as much as those in the vast majority.
Since, the vast majority says VA treatment of veterans is satisfactory, it is easy to then conclude that the veterans lawyers and advocates are trying to make a mountain from a molehill.
Now, I write this with the knowledge that Tom is a good guy. During this trip, he was nice enough to drop me off at my hotel. This wins him, or anyone, good guy points in my book.
I think he really wants to fix the backlog. I think he further wants to help veterans. I have met with Tom at least three times, and all three times he has come across as being a good guy who wants to give reasonable access to issues within VA.
In my gut, I do think his numbers are wrong. And, I’m going to do a FOIA to find out.
Please comment below if you think this is either accurate or inaccurate. We want to know what you think and why.
October 1: What Happens to VA Benefits?
On Friday, VA covertly released some bad news to the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees.
With a government shutdown, VA benefits would get cut after two weeks.
This news contradicted the Veterans Field Guide VA produced last week about what will happen if the government shuts down.
Across the country, many veterans are worried that their benefits will get cut. If you’re like me, you probably rely on your veterans benefits to supplement your income. A cut would be catastrophic.
Last year, I recall Democrats across the board claiming issues like this one would only impact veterans benefits in a limited way. In short, cuts to veterans benefits were not supposed to happen, by and large.
Now, we are hearing a different reality coming from DC. Before coming home from San Diego, I came across a Veteran Affairs Facebook post:
“As VA faces the possibility of a government-wide shutdown beginning October 1, the department continues to review and update its field guidance and contingency plan in conjunction with the applicable legal requirements and circumstances.
Under the department’s contingency plan, the majority of VA employees will continue to provide many vital services to our Veterans. For example, all VA medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational in case of government shutdown.
VA has also [exempted] claims processors working in the Veterans Benefits Administration, so that VA can continue to process claims and beneficiaries will continue to receive their payments. However, those benefits are provided through appropriated mandatory funding, and the most recent guidance is that funding will run out by late October. Under a prolonged shutdown, VA will be unable to make any payments.
You can read the VA’s contingency plan online at http://1.usa.gov/15BGOOT.”
Similarly, the Washington Post journalist Steve Vogel relayed some bad news.
Vogel wrote, “The Department of Veterans Affairs told congressional officials Friday that all benefit checks it issues, including disability claims and pension payments, will be disrupted if a government shutdown lasts for more than two or three weeks, according to congressional sources.”
Vogel went on to point out that the statement from Veterans Affairs contradicts its own manuals and what veterans were previously told. The briefing, “… represents a significant change from what the [committee members] were previously told.”
Personally, I find this release to be curious for one reason.
Mainly, VA has known for some time that this could be a possibility, and it announced contingency plans as recently as last week that did not contain this alarming news.
For that reason, I am puzzled as to why VA would reverse its position at the last minute. VA does, after all, know that many veterans are dependent on their benefits to pay for their living expenses.
Failure to allow veteran an opportunity to plan seems irresponsible, at the least.
Worst-case scenario, there is something behind the scenes at play trying to manipulate the emotions of veterans, which could explain the last minute reversal.
My best guess is that the last minute switch is designed to push veterans to get political.
I like the idea of veterans being political. I don’t like the idea of veterans being blackmailed with their benefits in order to do it.
That is an immoral tactic, an inexcusable when it comes to our country’s treatment of her veterans.
What do VSO’s say about VA Benefits Reversal?
VA’s new change of position should be a cause of alarm for all veterans.
Given that VSO’s are the protectors of veterans in Capitol Hill, I assumed all VSO’s would address the matter head on.
Even if the Legion and VFW fell somewhat short, I certainly expected DAV to be on the ball. After all, its entire membership consists of disabled veterans. Many of these members would be in peril with a cut to their benefits payment.
However, after checking around with the three biggest VSO’s, I was disappointed. None of them mentioned VA’s reversal, leaving their members completely in the dark.
DAV provided a link to VA’s Field Guide, which contradicts the later statements of VA and the Washington Post article above.
Here is what the three largest VSO’s had to say:
DAV (Disabled American Veterans):
“The Department of Veterans Affairs has issued a field guide for how a short-term lapse in appropriations would affect veterans health care and benefits programs and services. However, it is unclear how a protracted government shutdown would impact veterans. Download Field Guide”
VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars):
The organization did not provide any public statement about the matter.
‘”The political impasse that is threatening to shut down the U.S. government cannot and must not compromise the readiness and welfare of our armed forces and their support personnel,” said Dellinger.
“The Pentagon briefed the American Legion last week about the possible effects of a government shutdown on military pay and civilian support duties. The Department of Defense said that servicemembers’ Oct. 1 paychecks would be issued as usual, but pay after that date could be threatened by a government shutdown beyond the first week of the month, even though troops would be ordered to remain on duty. On the civilian side, what are termed “essential operations” – such as fire, police security and combat operations – would continue regardless of a government shutdown, but as many as 400,000 other civilian employees supporting the military could be temporarily furloughed. Pay for furloughed civilians would be issued only by an act of Congress, said the Pentagon.”
Source: American Legion
VA Fix Follow-up
Last week, I wrote, The VA Disability Fix No One Is Talking About.
In the article, I support coming up with new ways to help veterans. It is clear to some that the current model of help delivery is falling short. Otherwise, there would be no backlog.
So, my goal of the article was to point out that VA and VSO’s are not educating veterans in a comprehensive manner. Further, I pointed to some solutions using technology that could help bridge the gap.
I explained my plan to VA Director Tom Murphy last week after writing about it here. He liked the idea and the fact that my educational plan would be accomplished cheaply and efficiently.
Some comments on DAV’s LinkedIn forum caught my attention.
One particularly caught my attention. The author seems to imply that we should not educate veterans individually about their benefits.
The reasoning given is that veterans suffer from the human conditions, “The problem lies in the human condition; apathy, confusion, greed, frustration, lack of commitment, lack of conviction, political agenda, lack of talent, lack of training, etc….”
Here are Brian’s words:
“I appreciate your enthusiasm, research, and argument. A pool of veterans who understand their benefits would be a great outcome indeed! The problem lies in the human condition; apathy, confusion, greed, frustration, lack of commitment, lack of conviction, political agenda, lack of talent, lack of training, etc….
Not all vets are lawyers, nor are all ready to take up a new battle right after the last, especially a battle with no training or opportunity to challenge and perfect newly developed skills or working theories. I would consider the worst possible scenario would be a 1/2 educated group of VA Law 101’s, with limited background in legal thinking or reasoning processes, to begin self-advocacy en masse. People have separate, and at times, very exclusive talents that are either complimentary or contradictory. I can’t fathom the additional confusion that sending ½ trained troops into the field without a senior liaison to guide them.
I view the VSOs in this capacity. They are the subject-matter-expert for the argument. They receive training and a outcome-based evaluative return on their training or new theory. A self-advocating veteran, has no caseload for comparative analysis, will only support their claim from their individual point-of-view, rather than an appropriate foundational point-of-reference. I’ve been down that road personally, it is a very helpless road.
While I’d appreciate everyone having the opportunity to become a “professional” veteran, it is unlikely most are interested. Often the interest only comes after multiple hardships, personal trauma, or other hinge-point in their reintegration into the civilian society. Much like Rabbi Jaron, I also work with vets, who with any number of personal demotivators, lose interest in their own claim before they achieve positive outcomes. In addition, many simply don’t have the time or ability to respond to what life throws at them, let alone time to learn a new system of rules and regs.
All this said, the VA system will continue to be broke, lateral with the rest of the government. Training resources won’t make much of a difference under the same reason that many other things don’t matter to an individual. The solution isn’t in non-complimentary benefits training that will breed unworkable personal assumptions and misguided efforts. The solution will be found in our (Veterans Service Providers) ability to collaboratively engage and beat on the drum until the government’s ears hurt. The solution is found in our politician’s office, the polls, and in a commitment to be selfless and accept sacrifice over surety. The solution is in each local veteran, from all eras, taking care of each other by sharing this information and getting the new vets to a professional veteran (VSO, DVOP/LVER, etc…) who can help. Even this is easier said than done.”
Here is my response:
“Brian, good points, and they illustrate my position. I just spoke with Tom Murphy, head of VA Compensation, about this issue at the NOVA veterans law conference.
My guess would be that Tom [would] generally agree with you. He would also agree with me. Tom told me a lot about his take on VSO’s. He generally thinks they are doing a good job. He also liked my idea of comprehensive education tools for veterans willing to do the work. There is ample room for both positions, especially in light of the backlog.
For veterans willing to do the work, there should be educational tools helping them do it in an effective manner. Further, just the fact that our current “educational tools” require a person to become a “professional” veteran should indicate that would we have is not enough. You need to read and write to win a claim. If the resources are there, this process should not require a ton of individual time. Once they develop their claim, then they can bring it to a NSO to have them review their work. Or, they can go it alone.
When it comes to educating motivated, intelligent veterans, my question is, “What are we waiting for?”
What do you think?