MMQB: If Government Shuts Down, Will I Lose My VA Benefits?

VA to cut benefits?

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. 1564A bill making continuing appropriations for veterans benefits and services in the event of a Government shutdownSenator 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 The version on DAV.org is no longer current.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.

Veterans Lawyer Chris Attig

Attorney Chris Attig and Benjamin Krause

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.

VA Director Thomas Murphy

Tom Murphy and Benjamin Krause

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.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/VeteransAffairs

Source: VA: All veterans’ benefit payments will be disrupted if a shutdown goes beyond two weeks.

 

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):

VA Explains Effects of Short-Term Shutdown

“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

Source: DAV

 

VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars):

The organization did not provide any public statement about the matter.

Source: VFW

 

American Legion

Legion: Shutdown must not harm defense

‘”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?

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Comments

  1. I cannot agree that Mr. Tom Murphy is in any sense pro-veteran. While he himself was in the military, he surrenders his conscience to VA policy demands regardless of law or regulation. In particular, Mr. Murphy directs Agent Orange exposure claims be denied for vets exposed outside Vietnam and states that “there is no conclusive evidence that TCDD exposure causes any adverse health effects.” Of course, the EPA, NIH, CDC, WHO and everyone with at least a second-grade education knows better and so does the Congress which passed the Agent Orange Act. Mr. Murphy directs the VA to IGNORE the legal requirement for a veteran to simply prove exposure to qualify for Agent Orange benefits. Mr. Murphy directs the VA to IGNORE all input from other government agencies and universities. Mr. Murphy directs the VA to IGNORE all scientists except VA physicians, and even there he directs that VA physicians who have confirmed their patient’s Agent Orange medical nexus be disregarded.

    Brothers and sisters, they are sneering at us.

  2. Randall Perdue says:

    I find it unacceptable that disabled veterans benefits will stop yet all of congress and the house politicians are still receiving their full pay and benefits during the shut down. If it were not for the Armed Forces of the United States this country would have been invaded and taken over years ago. I can’t find a job anywhere. I am basically homeless now, I live in someone’s car garage. My benefit check is so small that I can not even afford to eat everyday. That is pretty shameful that I have to live this way in the most prosperous country in the world.

    • Paul Casto says:

      I am absolutely tired of the VA and its position on us VETS I have been 100% disabled, and now am 90% disabled according to the board that does not seem to exist to me. I have 30% up at that board that has been there for about eighteen months. I checked I was told oh it is at the board right now at the beginning of this month, and these jerks say it is going to take 4 months to be read. Now they are talking about not paying us. We must suck really bad as a country when we have 1% of the people in power telling us 99% of the people with all the votes what we can and can not do. Pitiful!!!! I am sick trying to get a job that no one wants to give me, and I keep trying. I am totally ashamed that I ever served, and I really mean that now.

  3. Charles Vroman, Sr. says:

    I think you will find that Thomas Murphy’s figures are, indeed, backwards, and only about 11% of the Disabled Veterans actually approve of how the VA is handling everything.

    The VA, like any large bureaucracy, has way too many working pieces to actually function properly. The individuals that have carved out their own little fiefdoms of influence within the VA are the actual problem, as with any bureaucracy. They feel that they hold the power to control everything and, usually, these people happen to be at the choke points of the data flow. Find these people, remove them, and the backlog will ease drammatically.

    The government shutdown has been caused by people in a leadership position that have no business being in that position, similar to what we all have experienced at one time or another during our military careers. This infantile game that is being played out with our benefits and the economic welfare of our country is unconscionable. Unfortunately, unless there is an armed uprising forcing a compromising between the idiots playing these games, we are going to be subject to whatever the outcome of their temper tantrums are. It is not the Republicans, the Democrats, the President, the Senate, or the House. It is a bunch of spoiled rich kids, getting richer (because THEY are still getting paid) acting like spoiled brats because each of them can’t get exactly what they want.

  4. Ed Bancroft says:

    Come on… This is VERY simply. Mr. Murphy is Dyslexic! (I know, although the VA denied it) I too have the same affliction. ITS THE 89% THAT THINKS THE VA SYSTEM SUCKS. 11% have just given up, at least that’s my belief.
    I’m sorry as today is the first time I have found disabledveterans.org and I’m not up to speed with the current topics being discussed. This will change as of today, I have already bookmarked the site.
    As for me, I am afraid that I am slipping into the “Eleven percenter’s”. Frankly I am tired of being told, “If its not in your records then it didn’t happen”. In the 21 years I served in the Navy, if you said that you had anxiety or depression it was a CAREER ENDER! EVERYBODY KNEW THIS, yet 10 plus years of trying to get the VA to understand. I have just about given in. The funny part about it is; The VA funds my scripts for the hand full of pills I take every morning to keep me from eating the gun,,, REALLY.
    Oh by the way:
    On the 7th of June 1956. Congress CHANGED the ONE WORD from Shall to May RECEIVE gov. benefits. Shall is the way Mr. Abe Lincoln approved it back in 1865. I kinda like shall rather then may…..

  5. Bruce Knapp says:

    I am a disabled vet who is extremely unhappy overall with the VA – particularly with their continual screw up of my CRDP pay (despite me constantly doing the required forms about my 2 college kids – going on over 18 months) and their denial of claims ( forcing me to hire an Appeals lawyer). I can never get an accurate update as to status of these actions and meanwhile sit short $$ I am entitled to. Seems like VA actions claims so they can show they have been actioned, putting me further in a bind without resolution.

  6. I’m no where near satisfied with how the claims are handled, I’ve been waiting almost six years for my claim, and I’m getting worse, some days I can barely walk, and I only receive 20%. Their has to be a better method I just know more can be done, this is horrible. It’s very hard to find a desk job and exactly what need so yes of course I need my disability

  7. Great for some other than Veterans whether temporary or permanent. I represent a fraction of the 11 percent. I am dissatisfied with VA system after lost of the medical records for nine years (2001-2009). Just as well, the Veteran Advocates were not helpful and proficient in order to determine missing records. Even worse, the Veteran is left to defend himself or herself against Department of Veteran Affairs. America promise is deferred more than fulfilled for military service especially honorable.

  8. Ryan Kaufman says:

    I think the 11% of unsatisfied veteran is only the 11% commenting. I am a joe. When the government, who I signed my rights to states not, and I find it unsatisfactory, it has been drilled into me not to argue, complain, or question, simply to drive on. So I don’t comment, I don’t complain. I have been trained not to.

    • That’s all well and good but you DO need to realize the Veteran Administration does NOT fall under the “Uniformed Code of Military Justice”, nor do they even have to take an oath when appearing before Congress. All truth! Do you not think that this actually gives incentive for the VA to DEPEND on Veteran’s to simply NOT voice their ill-treatment, but certainly accept your alidades in a sick co-dependent kind of way?
      This is part of reason it is ONLY just *recently* that Vietnam Veterans are getting some due treatment and acknowledgment because people were intimidated by the VA System.
      I assure you there’s more than 11% dissatisfied Vets with way VA has handled their claims or done heinous medical errors such as in my case that has affected my life forever.
      Love my Country. Would love the VA more if they were held under the same UCMJ as all Branches of Military.

  9. Wanted to comment also on what Brian from DAV stated in, “…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….”

    Seems to ME that Brain is doing a bit of something that is called “Projection” in stating that, basically as a Veteran, I take it as QUITE condescending, at best, when IN REALITY, ***IT’S THE VSO’s AND VA*** THAT SHOULD BE PLACED IN THAT SENTENCE TO READ: “The problem lies in the human condition [OF OUR VSO's AND THE VETERAN ADMINISTRATION, HAVING TRAITS OF]; apathy, confusion, greed, frustration, lack of commitment, lack of conviction, political agenda, lack of talent, lack of training, etc….”
    Do you understand what I am saying here? It’s so much easier for them to place the burden of an “11% problem” entirely on the Veteran rather than acknowledge THEY have a fundamental problem. This is even mirrored in out dysfunctional Congress where in The House there’s about 40+ so radical Tea Party Republicans in which their behavior IS ACTUALLY **TREASON** by another name and means.

    Lastly, and this IS related to current state of affairs: How do you think these same so-called Representatives in The House would like it if ***every Bill sent from Senate*** included a stipulation (or held ransom) of removing Citizens United from the Constitution? The Supreme Court ruled on that just as they upheld the Affordable Care Act.
    Something to think about and certainly at Election Time.
    Washington D.C. needs an enema!

  10. Something **SMELLS** of a cover-up: Just how MANY (hundreds of?) Millions or more $$ **magically vaporized** under the *guise* of “Electronic Records Software”!? I also am suspicious about the VA simply making-up new rules on their own regarding government shutdowns and payments to Veterans, THEN taking the time **after-the-fact** updating their own published guidelines.
    This, Benjamin, IS A POSTER CHILD CASE-In-POINT for why the VA absolutely MUST have Congressional Oversight that INCLUDES taking an oath, and ANY such changes to contingency plans SHOULD be channeled through the Congressional Veteran’s Oversight Committee, right?!!???
    What makes this even more particularly scary from another point of view is; What’s to NOW prevent the VA from reducing everyone’s Disability Compensation, according to misspent funds, as in the aforementioned E-Records Software mess, essentially providing the VA a way to “pay for their blunders” literally, at we Veteran’s expense?

    Please look into this Ben, something smells a bit self-serving in the proverbial woodpile!

  11. You can translate “Brian’s” comment from the DAV as follows: “Any measure that reduces veterans dependency on our organization would not be a favorable outcome..er..uh..for the vets of course.”

    Is it possible or likely that the recent flip flop on disability comp could just be another political maneuver by supporters of the republican party? It’s a very big issue that will affect a lot of Americans…seems too good of a card not to play in this whole mess. So, what are the political affiliations of the big whigs that control the allocation of these funds? I really do not support either side in this mess but I think it’s pretty clear that this whole shutdown is a political maneuver by the republican party to advance it’s political agenda.

    I’m sick with this sh*t and feel like some seriously drastic actions need to take place to oust these hoodlums from our government and prevent them from causing anymore damage to this great nation and the people that have made it great.

  12. Brett Holt says:

    One more follow up. I got my Disability Compensation check today. I guess we will wait and see if November is as generous if we are still in a shutdown at that time.

  13. Brett Holt says:

    I have no idea who Tom Murphy is but he is NOT responsible for clearing the backlog. General Alison Hickey Undersecretary for Veterans Benefits would be the person responsible. I have had the displeasure of listening to her lie to me on numerous occasions.

    • Appreciate the vigor Brett. You’re right in that there are others responsible. It starts with the Secretary of VA. He is ultimately responsible for all things VA. Below him is Allison Hickey, head of Veterans Benefits Administration. Below her is Tom Murphy, Director of Disability Compensation. Tom’s sole responsibility is to make disability compensation work. Meanwhile, Allison Hickey is responsible for all benefits: GI Bill, Disability, Pension, VA Voc Rehab, etc.

  14. Please remember that the Congress and all three branches of the government will still get paid regardless of hoe long the shutdown last….so where is the incentive?

  15. In reference to Vet satisfaction, it’s about location. Those numbers wont be nearly that high in a lot of places.

  16. W. B. Cheney, III says:

    As I have said many times: the VA treats every compeleted Compensation claim as a theft of their money. “Wait until they die,” is not some catch phrase, its the mantra of the whole Department. So much for the mouthing aphorisms about supporting veterans. It’s all just propaganda, to keep the sheep quiet.

  17. I have been following the garbage. Both parties in both houses have passed a bill that keeps the payments for VA disability and pension flowing. There will be no stoppage. This goes for social security benefits also. They passed it over night. Haven’t heard on Medicare, unemployment, food stamps, Medicaid, WIC or others

So what do you think?