Dispatch from Washington DC

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“I have been following your blog for some time,” said Rory Riley, staff attorney for the Committee. I received a call before Christmas from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs to answer some questions they have about what disabled veterans think. “We need more input from veterans who know the veteran community.” She went on to invite me to come to DC for a hearing in late January to talk with the committee about real time problems veterans are facing.

Everyone likes boots on the ground – and my boots are in the thick of things as a disabled veteran and investigative journalist. Armed with your letters and my own research, I took their invitation and booked meetings with over twenty Congressmen and Senators, plus one hearing for my first trip to the Capitol Hill.

Going to DC, I knew that this year the hot button issue for veterans’ rights would center on the disability compensation backlog of over 1.3 million disability claims.

I knew that the “fix” for the disability backlog has been elusive and I took the trip to see for myself just how in the weeds the bureaucrats really were in finding a solution.

Despite my low expectations, what I found still surprised even me.

One Big DC Takeaway

For those who don’t know – DC is hard. How could I get anyone to listen without seeming like a guy yelling in a room? Then there’s the actual issue of just getting to twenty meetings on both sides of the Capitol Hill.

Any newbie to DC quickly learns of the obstacle course that is the Hill: tunnels, paths and metal detectors can trip up even the most skilled explorer. I was no different. Plus, finding your way between the offices proved at least as tricky as navigating the different personalities and partisanship.

As if juggling the different perspectives and running back and forth is not hard enough during your first trip, navigating one’s way around the tunnels is something else entirely. I felt like a gopher on a golf course. All the tunnels look alike when you’re in them. One staffer told me after working there for years that she still gets lost on occasion. I thanked her for helping me feel like less of an idiot for not using a map.

Once I got the gist of the tunnels and the Hill above ground, making it to meetings on time wasn’t nearly as stressful as trying to think up ways to get staffers and elected officials to pay attention. At times, it turned into more of an educational opportunity than a meeting.

What I never realized before is that there’s a constant fire within our nation, and Congress is our fire department. Congress and their staffers get pounded daily with calls and meetings requests. Putting out these fires requires long hours and constant meetings with numerous staffers and anyone under the sun with an issue or interest.

You can’t put out one fire without pulling resources from another. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is aware that our veteran population is hurting, especially the disabled veterans. But, these days, everyone is hurting, whether you’re unemployed or sick or homeless. It’s not just a veteran thing. This creates a problem. How, when everything is on fire, do I convince a Congressman or Senator to focus on my fire? This is particularly true for Senators.

By the end of the trip, I figured out how to get people to care about our issue and solution for veterans – voters and dollar signs. My economic background came in useful to communicate numbers that everyone understood. “How big is that voting block and what kind of money does that bring into my district?

Meeting Breakdowns – Responses from the “Deciders”

Our first meeting set the tone for the rest of the trip. Steve Robertson with Senator Bernie Sanders’ office told us straight off what the Secretary Shinseki was touting as the silver bullet – convert the paper files into electronic files. Once the files are electronic, the backlog will practically disappear.

Shazam. Problem solved. I guess the trip was unnecessary. Or was it?

On the surface, this appeared to be a reasonable idea. After all, isn’t technology supposed to save us from ourselves? A quick “under the hood” during the Veterans Affairs Committee meeting and a little logic soon dispelled this myth of IT and electronic files.

VA Director Thomas Murphy testifying before Congress. Benjamin Krause on right.

During House Committee on Veterans Affairs (subcommittee Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA)) hearing on the disability compensation system, we heard the Veterans Administration (VA) and Veteran Service Organizations (VSO’s) dance around the central question. What will effectively solve the 1.3 million-claims backlog?

Director Tom Murphy, head of Compensation and Pension, articulated the best tap dance I’ve seen in some time. Even Gregory Hines would have been impressed. Mr. Murphy is certain converting from paper files to digital files will be the primary solution to the backlog. Meanwhile, he was unable to explain why VA disability ratings are so irregular. When pressed, he reverted into questions of semantics and stalling.

In my mind, I was developing a question of my own, “With low staffing, poor training, and questionable accountability, how can converting the same file into an electronic format somehow lower the appeals rate? “

As most people following the issue know, the pig in the python is really the high appeals rate due to poor decision-making. The problem causing the backlog is the poor quality of decisions with no accountability for making bad ones.

Unfortunately, no silver bullet was identified except one – that the paper to electronic file conversion would solve the crisis. I began to feel like everyone was really looking for the Lochness Monster – seriously.

The remainder of our meetings came up with a similar theme, “Electronic files will solve the problem because Secretary Shinseki says so.” The person would go on to state, “We believe the Secretary is really trying to make it better.” It was at this point I began to be surprised. While this may be true, everyone is ignoring the bureaucratic snafu that is the VA.

Secretaries come and go, but the people in the VA are there for life, not by appointment but by sheer willpower. Those are the individuals running each Regional Office like a sheriff from the Wild West. “Around these parts, this is how we do things.” This explains “Twinkle Toes” Murphy and his tap dance around explaining why Regional Offices provide erratic disability claims ratings despite clear mandate from DC.

We spent the rest of our time as Myth Busters. Unfortunately, we did not have the power or time to bust this myth into pieces and convince lawmakers to look at realistic solutions that will work. But I’m not complaining. We did raise an eyebrow or two from key lawmakers and staffers, which is a great start.

Following the hearing, we met the House Committee on Veterans Affairs staffers. We talked about how to fix small problems to help veterans get their claims. The committee staff was concerned about disinformation online. Many people have played armchair lawyer and written a great deal of information that can hurt rather than help your claim. So, their idea was to create a site that provides accurate information to veterans and rates other resources.

From left to right: Benjamin Krause, Congressman Mike Michaud, and Patrick Bellon.

At a meeting with Congressman Mike Michaud, he expressed deep concerns about the veterans within his state. He pointed out that the Targus Regional Office has one of the highest ratings among all VA’s compensation and pension programs. The Congressman attributes this to the fact that a VA job in Maine is considered a high quality job. After visiting with him and his office, I think it has more to do with the people of Maine. They have a clear commitment to each other and the success of those who serve.

Congressman Phil Roe from Tennessee, like all of the Committee members, was very concerned with the backlog and its impact on disabled veterans. VA Secretary Shinseki had just met with Dr. Roe earlier in the month and reassured him that the backlog would be solved with the electronic file transition.

Congressman Phil Roe (TN-R) with Benjamin Krause and Patrick Bellon

I asked Dr. Roe if he knew anything about the STAR quality control problem since its main office is in Nashville, TN. He, like most in D.C., was unaware of this audit program established by the VA because the issue has not been brought to the forefront by many DAMA hearings.

STAR is the VA audit program that makes sure the VA is accurately deciding disability claims, but this is a case of letting the fox guard the henhouse. While STAR claims an accuracy rate of 84 percent, audits from the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and National Organization for Veteran’s Advocates (NOVA) point to error rates as high as 80 percent of total claims. That is a lot of mistakes when the VA is deciding one million claims per year. The VA has not released specifically how STAR measures accuracy or what that really means.

We received a warm welcome from Senator Begich and his office. For those who are unfamiliar, Alaska has a relatively high veteran population when compared to other states. The Senator, being very familiar with the plight of veterans, was excited to help garner support for different solutions we discussed.

Senator Mark Begich following meeting with Krause and Bellon.

To start with, he vowed to speak with Secretary Shinseki to see how often the VA has awarded temporary ratings, if at all. VA has the ability to approve a temporary disability ratings for veterans when the claim has been pending for over 180 days. If they have not been using the authority in an effective way, the Senator said he would help veterans get relief in any reasonable way possible, including supporting an executive order to mandate early payouts.

The meeting with Congresswoman Linda Sánchez’s office revealed that she is a woman who puts her money where here mouth is. Staffer Melissa Kiedrowicz stated the Congresswoman is particularly concerned about VetSuccess, commonly known as Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment. Constituents in her district in California requested improvements to the program that she has taken into consideration, such as increasing eligibility.

The Congresswoman is also considering other areas for improvement, such as creating greater benefit transparency through educating veterans about their benefits. DisabledVeterans.org will present her with a tiered approach to providing disabled veterans with a guide to help them get the most out of Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation.

Senator Jay Rockefeller’s Senior Legal Aide, Barbara Pryor, was kind enough to meet us before normal hours. This is very atypical for most staffers and was a clear display of Senator Rockefeller’s commitment to his veteran constituency. Pryor expressed that the Senator is very concerned about Mental Healthcare and the sizeable lobby supporting For-Profit colleges.

She went on to treat me to the biggest “ah-ha” of the trip. No executive official will testify on anything unless it’s cleared by the White House’s Office of Management and Business. So, no matter what questions the Committees ask, the bureaucrats must tap dance. I guess that softened my opinion of Mr. Murphy’s tap dance. “No wonder nothing gets done.”

It made me realize much of these committee meetings is the merely have the illusion of progress and service. Not to say that is the case with DAMA and the hearing I attended, but it gave me a deeper appreciation for the process and the fight we veterans will have to engage in to get “change” to come to the VA.

Later, we made a point to take time at Senator Jim Webb’s office to thank him for his hard work in passing the Post 9/11 GI Bill on our way to meet with both Senator Moran’s office and Senator Johann’s office.

From there, we moved on to Senator McCain’s office, where we met with Defense Fellow Todd Ladwig from the Navy. These men and women who are participating on the Hill while on active duty are incredible advocates for military and veteran issues.

Meetings with staffers from the offices of Congressman Mark Amodei, Senator John Boozman, Congressman Doug Lamborn, and Senator Richard Burr all followed the pattern of sincerity in wanting to help, but not necessarily having ready answers or workable solutions.

Lastly, we trekked to Senator Isakson’s office. I might add, true to good Georgia form, I had an ice cold Coca-Cola in my hand within seconds. It was a relief from all the running and a true example of charming southern hospitality. Our conversation with his office rounded out our day, talking about ways to help veterans while staying within the budget.

Now that is something politicians from both sides of the aisle can agree on.

Veterans as a DC Powerhouse

Here is what I learned. In DC, there are delays to talk about the delays. No one is giving an inch on fixing the problems with the VA and policymakers aren’t even focusing on the right issues. The VA is completely controlling the ball and blocking and tackling those who attempt to gain clarity on the issues as though the VA is hiding some darker truth under the hood.

To solve this crisis, we as veterans will need to rise up and take a look under that hood. This can be accomplished through running for office, becoming advocates in our communities, educating non-veterans about the system, or thinking outside of the box entirely. I am a proponent of the latter since nothing has worked to fix this 60-year-old problem.

Meanwhile, many veterans don’t understand how much power they have and neither does DC. The problem of VA backlogs and disability and benefit claims not only impact the veteran, it impacts the community and state where the veteran lives economically.

Here’s what I mean. Veterans are voters. Many veterans have family members who care about veteran issues. Many small business owners are veterans or know veterans. Veterans’ issues are a nonpartisan way to unify and vote collectively for real change.

Veterans and their respective family members comprise over 60,000,000 people in the US. This is approximately one-fifth of the total US population. Imagine if all these people consolidate votes and dollars behind politicians pledging to honor our country’s commitments to veterans; things would get done. And one better, maybe a united community of active veterans could turn this country of ours around.

To do my part, I will be back in Washington DC during the week of March 10 to announce the Veterans Pledge. The Veterans Pledge will increase transparency by asking politicians on both sides of the aisle to support veterans and their veterans’ benefits without typical partisan bickering and politics as usual. This way, veterans can vote for elected officials based on their actual support for this country’s veterans.

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23 Comments

  1. Hi,

    Just a little word of encouragement. You are doing a great service for our Veterans and” Thank you” for your service.
    Keep up the good work.

    Kitty

  2. Thank you for your advocacy and especially for sharing your personal insights. I, too, have been on “the Hill” and found it difficult to navigate.

    Your thoughts gave me pause to reflect.

    Please contact me at your convenience.

    Samuel Hargrove, Chair
    NAMI NC Veterans and Military Council

  3. Thank you for your article. The VA is putting off the senators and representatives by saying that the backlog of VA claims will disappear once the VA files go paperless. The same thing happened with the Social Security Administration. However, going paperless created problems and did not solve the backlog of claims. First of all, most disability reviewers had become speed readers of the paper files because of many years of reading the paper medical files. When the medical files were placed on the PC, speed of reading slowed down greatly. Most reviewers felt they were forced to read at the fourth or fifth grade level. Reading from the PC screen was much slower and labored, and resulted in eye strain and headaches. Moving from page to page was a slow, frustrating process as one had to wait on scrolling down for each page. No longer could the reviewer flip through the file for key locations by the use of hands. Many long-term, productive employees retired because they could not use their skills any longer. While administrators publicly were saying that the new system would be more efficient, the insiders knew better.

  4. I want to thank you from one understanding vet to another. We need people like you and I am very thankful to have caring people like you on our side. You make me proud to be an American. I know its not easy what you do but keep up the work you do it means a lot and is greatly appreciated. Take care my friend.

  5. If Tom Murphy isn’t getting anything accomplished, is it because he’s looking for a new job? He posts his resume at link-in. Was he an enlisted soldier in the Army for 10 years full-time from 1989-99, prior to getting his BS and MBA? He’s not a long-term private sector employee as implied in his VA bio. In fact, why was there a six month gap between his last position at Home Depot and his VA Regional Director’s position? Was he fired by Home Depot? Looks like the VA recruited another “teflon” C&P Director like Mayes. Lots of talk but no action.

    Last year, it took the VA just 10 months to plan and purchase $12 billion in new computers and software. Why, then, does it take them up to 10 years to decide one veteran’s claim for disability that may have a lifetime value of $100,000 over 20 years? What’s his answer for this?

    ———————————————————————————
    Tom Murphy’s Overview
    Current Director, Compensation & Pension Service at Department of Veterans Affairs
    Past Regional Director, San Juan & US Virgin Islands at Department of Veterans Affairs
    Director Merchandise Planning at The Home Depot
    Director of Sourcing (COE Leader) at The Home Depot
    Store Manager at The Home Depot Sr Engineering Manager – Common Systems Planning at Qwest Communications Logistics Manager at Department of the Army Administrative Manager at Department of the Army Training Manager at Department of the Army Human Resources Generalist at Department of the Army see less

    see all
    Education University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
    Colorado Christian University
    Recommendations 6 people have recommended Tom
    Connections 218 connections
    Tom Murphy’s Summary
    Results-driven executive with extensive experience identifying, negotiating and managing global supplier relationships with a focus on increasing margin, reducing costs and ensuring alignment with corporate objectives.

    – Ambitious and dedicated with expertise in merchandising, operations management and marketing as well as excellent communication, presentation and interpersonal skills.
    – Proven ability to analyze supplier facilities and determine capability to meet production requirements.

    Tom Murphy’s Experience
    Director, Compensation & Pension Service Department of Veterans Affairs Government Agency; 10,001+ employees; Government Administration industry

    August 2010 – Present (1 year 7 months) Washington, DC

    Lead the Compensation & Pension Service of the Veterans Benefit Administration. Oversee the Policy, Proceedure, Training, Quality and Business Management functions for the administration’s 15,000 employees working in this service.

    Regional Director, San Juan & US Virgin Islands Department of Veterans Affairs Government Agency; 10,001+ employees; Government Administration industry

    August 2009 – July 2010 (1 year)

    Responsible for the delivery of all Veteran’s Benefit Administration benefits to veterans living in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands

    Director Merchandise Planning The Home Depot Public Company; 10,001+ employees; HD; Retail industry

    March 2007 – February 2009 (2 years)

    Ensured consistant execution of Product LIne Reviews including all pre planning activities. Coordinated Category, Class, and SKU level analytics to optimize performance. Provided insight and support to pricing analytics and category management. Worked in partnership with Global Sourcing to seek out innovative products and maximize costs.

    Director of Sourcing (COE Leader) The Home Depot Public Company; 10,001+ employees; HD; Retail industry

    February 2006 – February 2007 (1 year 1 month)

    Directed sourcing activities for a $2.2 billion business with accountability for evaluating suppliers, negotiating deals and reducing supply costs. Travel regularly to evaluate viability of worldwide market opportunities, build strong vendor relationships and initiate category expansion opportunities.

    Store Manager The Home Depot Public Company; 10,001+ employees; HD; Retail industry

    February 2002 – February 2006 (4 years 1 month)

    Entrusted with full accountability for sales, operations and profitability of the flagship store with $64 million annual revenue. Supervised eight direct reports and 275 associates. Had full P&L accountability.

    Sr Engineering Manager – Common Systems Planning Qwest Communications Public Company; 10,001+ employees; Q; Telecommunications industry

    October 1999 – November 2001 (2 years 2 months)

    Direct the common systems engineering and planning function in 5 western states with 25 engineers and a support team in the field. Executed an annual budget of $125 million.

    Logistics Manager Department of the Army Nonprofit; 10,001+ employees; Military industry

    July 1997 – October 1999 (2 years 4 months)

    Charged with managing the logistics operation of a 170,000 square foot training site with accountability for financial analysis, budget forecasting and implementation. Created marketing strategies to expand customer base.
    – Increased site usage by 25%+ in one year by focusing one exceptional customer service; efforts resulted in additional funding.

    Administrative Manager Department of the Army Nonprofit; 10,001+ employees; Military industry

    July 1993 – June 1997 (4 years)

    Headed a 24-member cross-functional team providing administration, logistics, training and operations support for a 400-person organization.

    Training Manager Department of the Army Nonprofit; 10,001+ employees; Military industry

    November 1992 – June 1993 (8 months)

    Entrusted to manage training and operations of a 400-person organization with accountability for short-term and long-term planning.

    – Overcame extremely limited funding by initiating creative strategies to train large groups at lower costs.

    Human Resources Generalist Department of the Army Nonprofit; 10,001+ employees; Military industry

    September 1989 – September 1992 (3 years 1 month)

    Oversee general human resources services for a 600 person operation to include, benefits administration, training, staffing and classification.

    Tom Murphy’s Education
    University of Colorado at Colorado Springs MBA, Marketing
    1999 – 2001

    Colorado Christian University BS, Organizational Management
    1998 – 1999

  6. I lived in the DC metro area for over 20 years and tried to work some issues with my Congressman and got passed off to some staffer that had all of my paperwork then ran off to ride a bus around the country supporting gay rights. My paperwork was lost and that just made the process with the VA last even longer. You know I contact the Congressman they move my file to the back of the pile.

    This is the problem with the claims process.
    I file for disability. They send me some paper work to let me know that they have my file and is there anything I would like to add at this time. It you say yes then they receive that paperwork they have to send another letter telling you that they received that and is there anything else that you have to add to your claim…… you see what is happening.

    Let’s say I am a VA employee and today I get 10 cases. I send out 10 letters and wait 30 days for a response. The next day I get 10 more claims send out letters day after day and for 30 days I have done nothing with 300 claims but send out letters. I wonder how they become backlog? 300 x let’s just say 1000 raters most likely more. That’s 300,000 claims in 30 days and no one has done anything but send out letters.

    This is not the anyone’s fault in the claims process. It is mandated by Congress.

    Let’s say that I am lazy and hate my job because I have this mountain of claims on my desk and I need credit for the week. I get credit just for moving the claim along so I sit down and look at the claims and just need some bit of additional information. So I send out 50 letters that week to the Veteran requesting additional information, don’t think that happens I have a pile of them. This get’s me my credit for the week and my boss off my back.

    If you go back a few years the IG for the VA audited a half a dozen regional sites and found claims files in the shredder bins, hidden in work spaces, claims closed because the Veteran did not respond to one of their letters (this happened to me, But I had the card from the Post Office showing that they had received it and when).

    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 we have to throw 100,000’s of dollars creating a system for dealing with that.

    You are doing a good thing for us. We are the one’s with no voice that volunteered to defend this great country and always believed that our government had our backs in the event things went wrong. That dose not appear to be the case now dose it?

  7. Hi,

    Just wanted to express my thanks to you ,the veterans need someone like you who is not afraid to go after the va’s total joke of handling veterans claims. Just wanted to know what ever happened to quality of life compensation?. It must of been shredded.
    thanks

    michael tkalcevic

    • Hi Mike,

      Quality of Life is still in discussion mode. I wrote a bit about it and will make comments at a later date. But yes, QOL is still being talked about. Though, my hunch is that it won’t make it very far.

  8. To whom it may concern. I feel the VA Hospitals have improved a lot over the years. You no longer have to wait hours and hours for services. I go to the Long Beach VA and they do a great job. It much better than the private sector. I can order my meds on line thru e-benefits and they get here fairly fast. The only thing i have trouble with is the San Diego VA Regional office. I know they have lots of claims but doesn’t veterans have something called due process? I submitted my claim in March of 2010 and still waiting for a final outcome. Thank You

  9. HI BEN , THANKS FOR YOUR EFFORTS, WE STRONGLY SUPPORT YOUR POSITION. WHEN ASSISTING MY FELLOW VETERANS AT MY HOME OFFICE (NO CHARGE); MY PRIMARY GOAL IS TO WRITE A GOOD CLAIM WITH SUPPORTING INCIDENT SUMMARY AND OF COURSE IN ACCORDANCE WITH TITLE 38. I DO NOT LET THEM WAIST THEIR TIME IN PRESUMPTIONS, WE GO STRAIGTH TO DETAILS……BUT AFTER ALL THAT IT TAKES TWO, THREE, FOUR YEARS FOR THAT CLAIM TO RETURN TO THAT VETERAN; AND FOR SMALL DETAILS ARE DENIED (SOME). THE VIETNAM VETERANS WITH THE NEW DECISION (AUG, NOV 2010) ON PARKINSON ETC WILL SEE THAT CLAIM IN A YEAR OR TWO…THAT IS NOT FAIR AND FINALLY AFTER REQUESTING THE PROPER RECONSIDERATION IS FAINALLY (HAVE PORTION) APPROVED. NOT 50% AND OR MORE LESS THAT 40%. AND THEN WE HAVE TO GO BACK AND FIGHT WITH THE SYSTEM.

    THANKS AGAIN. JORGE 787-365-8895

  10. Thank you for the work you have done and are continuing. The “Hill” is definitely an experience and the labyrinth beneath is a proverbial beast. I am an advocate who believes in bringing all the pieces together and everyday I find out there are more pieces to the puzzle of Veteran’s Administration. That coupled with politics and funding you need a lot of understanding or you can get swePt up in the tsunami of bureaucracy.
    First changing to paperless system will have no effect on claims. The system would have to become an automated claims system based on three or four tiers which uses a paperless system for the process to work. Ive worked in medical and property insurance along with working in financial services and banking industry. It’s a behemoth! It’s doable but the thought will be that people will lose jobs so no one is “really” going to support it. Also depending on the person who is selling the product and how well they negotiate brings in the other issue. The government is a contracting and bidding organization so the best product may not even compete. The tap dance you saw is what I see as a patient at the VA as an advocate on the ground guiding other veterans and what I saw in DC. Their are too many systemic indicators and sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s been designed that way. Their are highly trained people who could offer the corrective measures. Then there would be a whole other process to implementation and making sure there was follow through. The tools are there the specialists are here the collaborative networks are here but the process is obtrusive and the agency nor the Hill can allow for that type of scrutiny.
    Your work and it’s impact on veterans their families and the community at large is very needed and appreciated. Please keep going forward!
    BriGette McCoy

  11. Ben. While the powers that be all claim to be supporting our vets, (And indeed most of them actually are doing something?) This should not be an issue. These are items promised to the veteran from the day he put pen to paper and set himself above the average US citizen. Yes! Veterans are ABOVE the average after having put themselves on the firing line. Some of them never came back. Some of them came back broken. And some of them came back seemingly unaltered but none the less “Less” than they were when they entered military life. It has become akin to the treaties made with the native American tribes during the 1800’s Lots of promises and little in the way of a payout. “Keep on moving out of the way and we’ll get to you as soon as we can.” Everyone on the “Hill” promised to care for the vets upon their return to civilian life. Either admittedly or inadvertently by inheriting these said promises from their predecessors. As representatives of the US populace they now have a responsibility to uphold these promises. Up hold them for the veterans and uphold them for the civilians who voted them into office on the premise that veterans were going to be a prominent issue in their tenure in office. Keep banging away at them Ben. Do not let them forget their promises nor delay resolution to them in order to keep it on the record that they were indeed working on the issue? You have my faith behind you. Yeah. That should carry you over the top. Huh? Anyway, Until I get to a point where I can join you in our struggle, You have my faith and support.
    Sincerely,
    David A Castaneda
    Lincoln City Oregon

  12. Great article Ben, and thank you for your efforts getting this issue into the spotlight it so richly deserves to be in.

    The biggest issue with the Vocational Rehabilitation Program is that you cannot “Double Dip” (go to college on the VA’s dime and get your GI bill money at the same time), and the infitessimally small living stipend the VA gives you while in the program (last time I checked it was only $500 a month), that’s barely enough to cover the cost of gas to get back and forth to school.

    And if you’re in a full time degree program taking a full class load one really needs to be able to focus all of their off time and energy into the learning process which means no full time job, which means no money to pay rent, utilities, car payment, insurance, or for food. Which makes the $500 a month the VA gives you pretty much a slap in the face, and probably means you’re going to have to make a choice between being homeless and going to school to get that college education.

    Senator Isakson is a good and decent man that genuinely cares what his constituents have to say, my family and I have regular email conversations with him (as well as with Senator Jack Kingston).

    One thing about the VA disability rating system that really gets me is that they can rate two people with the same health problems differently. For example; I have more severe medical issues than a friend of mine had (sleep apnea, two heart attacks in a one week period, COPD, need both hips replaced meaning I can barely walk most days, diswualified sea and submarine duty, versus him only needing to have a stent to open an artery, he did not have a heart attack, nor did he get disqualified from sea or submarine duty), I got a 70% rating while he got a rating of 100% with Individual Unemployability. He also got a disability rating from the Navy, while I got nothing other than my fleet reserve transfer paper work.

    Another issue that needs to be fixed is the way that the DOD hires. Being a disabled vet and (supposedly) having hiring preference I should be offered a job that I’m clearly qualified to do (exactly the same as my former military job) than someone that has no experience doing that job. Yet after 6 years of trying and being told I didn’t have enough experience (I have 20 years experience doing that exact same job in the Navy) I am still forced to live paycheck to paycheck (in a job that the doctor says I shouldn’t be doing because of the stress on my heart) and worry if I’ll be able to pay the light or water bill as well as having food on the table on a monthly basis.

    Thanks for letting me vent Mike.

    Keep up the good fight!

  13. I have tried for nearly 20 years to get a Federal Government job. I am 80% disabled and have applied for, just guessing over 500 Federal jobs. Some jobs are hiring 10 to 15 people. I have had over 100 interviews but have yet to offered a job. The bottom line is friends and people on the inside get the jobs and it you don’t apply for a job digging a ditch or clean bed pans to make those connections you will never get hired. Veterans preference is just a label so that the hiring authority get’s you in for an interview so that they fulfill the required mandate to interview x number of Veterans. You have a better chance of getting hired if you apply not using Veterans Preference.

  14. Ben;
    Only Veterans can fix the VA’s shortcomings. We have a wealth of talent out there, we need a serious commitment from the VA to hire disabled Vets, not just another song and dance which has been the norm for too long. Too many civilians with no understanding of the unique needs of Veterans. Disabled Vets can be hired without competition but no-one knows how this is done. There is also the misconception that anyone with a disability cannot be hired because they are disabled. How can they work proficiently or successfully when they are disabled.
    We really need to open this door of opportunity. We earned this right but yet this program is abused and shunned by all. What an opportunity for us but no-one cares. I have inquired at Homeland Security, Army Corps of Engineers, Veterans Administration, and no-one seems to know what I am talking about nor do they want to find out what I am talking about.

    • You can actually get hired by direct appointment, as a 30% or more Disabled Veteran but you have to find someone that will push for you to get the job. Once I was given an job under the Veteran’s Rehabilitation Act and another time I was given a job by Direct Appointment. The Fed Gov Civilians make it as difficult as possible for these two things to happen. Unfortunately, I had to take a disability retirement due to my many multiple disabilities. It really is unbelievable how much Federal Government Agencies discriminate against Veterans and Disabled Veterans. You will find this out after you apply for over 300 jobs and get two interviews and thankfully I got hired by a Fed Gov Agency, but in a temp position. It took over three years to get in and then I had to fight to get a higher position. The only reason I was interviewed was because I had a Master’s Degree which at the time, only qualified me to be a GS-9. With the direct appointment I went from temp to contract to full-time permanent employee and to GS-12 in less than 2 years. People said I couldn’t do it, but I did and it can and should be done. I should have started at a GS-12, but you can only get that if you are lucky, because others have been put in a GS-12 position that were way less qualified than I was and the interviews and the selection for government jobs internally is rigged and they already know who is going to get the job, so I decided to stop applying for them and figured, with my 30% or more Disabled Veteran status, if they wanted me to have the job, they could just give it to me. Oh, by the way, I just found out that you can’t get the full amount of social security disability and disability from the Federal Government. Congress passed a law that said that and I got stuck with a $42,000 “overage” that I have to pay back at $600 a month for 73 months. Maybe better to not go with the Federal Government and go private sector if you can make more??? Food for thought anyway!!! It will be put on my blog at http://www.veteransdeniedbenefits.com in the upcoming months and a bunch of other stuff too. Good luck to all!!!!!

  15. Thank you Ben for the blog, for putting your va claim on file. I modeled my claim the same way after seeing your claim, thank you. Also yes, the DRO (descision review officers) at the regional office is the worst VA experience I’ve had to date. Vets should be prepared for this, not fun. Good luck to all.
    Tim Lagenor
    Eugene, Or.

  16. After reading this D.C. advocacy event for so-called strategies on tackling the massive backlog, I have not read or heard one comment about actuarial statistics on how many veterans, now or recently deceased over the past number or margin of years (5, 10, 15 etc.), who were rated, that the V.A. will no longer have to pay-out on? Its all about the numbers, and all the other stuff is just dumb shit, make-shift work, to appear like these ass-wipe bureaucrats are earning the public tax dollars. What the hell is the attrition rate. If our true veteran advocates, the legislature, the V.A. and the GAO were all to sincerely inquire and fully disclose, I believe this revelation would truly disclose exactly where the dedicated tax dollars are being squandered.

    I’ve been F-#?ed around by the U.S. Navy and the V.A. now well into my 36th year — I shit you not; from one administration to another since 1978, doing nothing but shifting resources from one source to another, like a frigen shell game; and the unwritten priority on bureaucrats minds are, what’s the best way to kept or maintain our department (jobs). Its not about efficiency, its about “protectionism.” This is were the lions share of the waste goes. The V.A. have been re-making and re-inventing “mouse-traps” and the “wheel,” ever since the “Pendelton Civil Service Act” was established. The problem is not the “mouse-trap” nor the “wheel;” instead, it is the neanderthal mindset of the technical and communicative skills of the leader, within the V.A. hierarchy.

    Whoever may read my comment, I would hope you would ask, and press for the the hard question: What is the “Attrition rate of deceased rated veterans, say between post WWII through Gulf War, and the current backlog of veterans awaiting to be rated !!!!!

  17. Dealing with the VA is like going to collect a horse you bought and paid for. The VA, first, can’t find the horse. You insist that they look further. Then, they find the horse and bring it out for you to see. But, before handing over the reins, they break three legs and cut the foot off the fourth.

    The methods are quite simple. Don’t read what’s written or better yet, misread it so you can keep going back and back to correct the old and the new errors. When that tactic runs out, apply the wrong regulations. This is simply the second verse of the same song: Delay, Delay, Delay. I’ve been trying for the last three years to get what I earned 32 years ago. How do you fix a broken system, that likes being broken, and doesn’t want to change? The VA, above all else in my opinion, is not about Veterans. It’s about keeping ones job at any cost, making it to retirement, and never looking back.

  18. Thank you Sir for your help, your insight and your willingness to help all Vets. We need help. The VA as we can see and read are ran by people that care less about Vets. I am 63 and have been fight, fighting the VA for PTSD from combat ops in Vietnam. I can find no orders, no orders or any paperwork concerning me or my duty status while in Vietnam and Cambodia..boots on the ground like in Nov 1970. So, what happens although I have 33 year’s of confirmed PTSD on record by VA and private sectored psychs..the tell me to fuck off because I cannot produce orders or any in country places. They claim they have NO records concerning me except for when I arrived and the day I was discharged.Honorable Discharge. So, where was I? I am wearing out. I did things ordered by this country that no 18 year old boy should do and carry the weight for the rest of my life. I take pills to sleep, pills to function through the day and pi;;s to socialize when needed. I look at that photo of the head of the VA in DC and my heart sank. I am up for my last Comp & Pen…..I have lost what has kept me going all these year’s and that is “hope”. Thanks again mu Brother, and I hope that your efforts pay off for those in need and for your self. I admire you, and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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