Weekly QB: Veterans Affairs Situation Room

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Hi, how are you doing today?

I wanted to write a bit today about my experiences of the last week and things to look for in the future. Regarding future looks, we will continue to hammer on the VA about its statistics. There are audits coming out weekly that expose shortcomings. These will also be here.

We are following Spina Bifida and some of the issues veterans are having in getting benefits from the Dept of Veterans Affairs. It’s a real battle.

Beyond this, the majority of this article will focus on the economy in rural America. I just came back from northern Wisconsin and am deeply concerned about my roots.

Rural America will die if we, as veterans and concerned citizens, sit idly by and let it happen. I hope we unite to lead America out of the current depression.

Here is the news and my perspectives.

 

Over 10,000 Veterans Die Prior to Receiving VA Benefits

Just how is the VA doing in processing veterans claims? Well, that’s a great question. Only tech savvy reporters are able to discern the data. Otherwise, you need to wait for the Associate Press to cover the story. I don’t feel like waiting another year.

This week, we will focus on Accrued Benefits. Technically, the definition is, “Benefits not paid prior to the death of a Veteran or survivor based upon a pending claim at the time of death which is later granted.”

Here is my definition. Accrued Benefits are benefits that are supposed to be paid to the veteran but the veteran died while the VA was busy pulling its head out of its ass.

From January until June, the number of veterans who died prior to receiving their benefits increased by 20 percent. These are benefits they were due, according to the VA’s definition.

The total is more than twice as high as it was in June 2010. Two years ago, 4,256 veterans died.

In January 2012, 8,613 veterans died prior to receiving their benefits. By June, the number increased to 10,455.

I am unclear if the number is an aggregate since 2010, or if it is a tally based on the previous 365 days. Either way, veterans should not be dying prior to receiving benefits.

Rumor has it that the dirty secret about Accrued Benefits is that, if there is no heir to the veteran, that the benefits go back to the government. If this is true, the VA has an incentive to drag out the appeals process as long as possible.

Social security has a contrary approach, where the benefits “accrued” go into the estate of the deceased, and are then allocated accordingly.

I am troubled that a nation, such as ours, has agencies that knowingly withhold benefits from veterans. Christians like to tout that America is a “Christian nation.” If it is, Christians need to wake up and hold their elected officials accountable for this injustice.

Without a military, our nation would fall. Many Americans refuse to sent their children to war because of the treatment of veterans. This is a National Security issue, and it needs to be sorted out yesterday.

 

My Big Disability Compensation Win

We’ll start this off with some good news. I finally won my 10-year appeal against the Dept of Veterans Affairs. Strangely, I have been able to win numerous appeals against the Veterans Affairs without ever having to appear before the Board of Veterans Appeals.

The big takeaway for readers, document everything. If you are within 365 days of your separation from the military, file the disability immediately. Many awards happen because the servicemember filed within 1 year of getting out of the military. If you get denied, you’ll have a strong position later for an appeal.

It is vital to get your disability documented for two reasons. First, documentation and service-connection will help you get care from the Veterans Health Administration. Second, getting service-connection for all conditions will serve as a reminder to the American people that war is not cheap.

According to economist Joseph Stiglitz, the cost of the Middle East wars for taking care of veterans will be $700 billion. The total wars will cost over $3 trillion. Former Vice President Dick Chaney told us Americans that the wars in total would cost around $60 billion. We believe that asshole. Stigliz’s book is titled “The Three Trillion Dollar War.” Check it out if you want to know the real numbers of our wars.

Back to the disability claims. Here’s how I did this from a 30,000-foot view. I have injuries to my back, head, brain, soft tissue and central nervous system. I suspect the vaccines I was forced to take played a major component to the injuries that have become permanent. My disability rating is related to these things.

I initially filed for disability in 2001. My dad’s friend Jerry Stewart told me before enlisting to “document everything.” Jerry said my military buddies would give me shit, but in the end, I’d be the wiser of the fools.

Of course, I was denied for almost everything. They gave me a 10% rating for “limited range of motion of the lower back.” They completely ignored my military medical file. I filed a Clear and Unmistakable Error appeal. They agreed and awarded 20%. I filed a Form 9 formal appeal based on the denial for the other conditions. The Veterans Affairs lost the first faxed appeal. It was later resent but ignored the Veterans Affairs Regional Office in Minneapolis.

Then the battle began. From here out, when I say “appeal” I mean one of two things. I either filed a Notice of Disagreement or a request for an increase. The end result can be the same, but the route one takes to get that end result can be wildly different.

The Veterans Affairs sent me to study Economics and Writing at Northwestern University. I attended under Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment. Then, Northwestern’s undergrad program was rated 10th in the nation. Its economics program for undergrads was in the top 3.  And, the writing program was excellent. Now I think we’re 12th behind Dartmouth.

After graduation, in 2007, I was equipped with excellent math, writing and research skills and filed my first real appeal: a request for an increase for back pain. They bumped me up due to longstanding history of Sciatica.

I then filed for a head injury I received from being jumped while on active duty. That bumped me to 50% when they found brain scarring and among other effects. I appealed that and was awarded an even higher rating. I appealed that and bumped the numbers up.

Veterans Affairs then sent me to law school on Vocational Rehabilitation because I could not hold entry-level employment. My disabilities were a roadblock because firms would not hire disabled veterans in Portland, Oregon, for the kind of work I was qualified to perform. Employers respond negatively when you tell them they will need to provide certain accommodations due to existing disabilities.

Right before law school started, I filed for increases based on new and material evidence and documented my claim like a law student would. We went back and forth, but last week I was just awarded my final increase for cold exposure, causing Raynaud’s, from being stationed in Grandforks, ND.

Since I filed disability for the condition in 2001, Veterans Affairs gave me a CUE award. This means the condition should have been awarded in 2001 but was improperly denied.

Veterans Affairs is still denying responsibility for the Form 9 they lost, but at least it is in my file. A VFW veteran service officer looked over my file and said it was not in there. I personally went to the Ft. Snelling Regional Office and asked to look over my file. When I did that, a Veterans Affairs claims adjudicator walked down with my file. We found it.

I was also able to speak with her about the specifics of my claim, which is part of the reason they awarded the claim for cold weather exposure when they did. Had I not done that, I may have needed to go to the Board of Appeals to sort it out.

There are two reasons it is important to get service-connection for all service related injuries. First, it will improve your chances of getting care for those injuries from the Veterans Health Administration. Second, it lets the American public know that war is not cheap.

Vietnam era veterans grossly underreported their injuries. Perhaps the reason was due to the tough guy, John Wayne bravado all men during that generation felt they needed to emulate. Of course, now these guys are coming out of the woodwork with problems but are unable to document their conditions because so much time has gone by.

To all new veterans, do not ignore your conditions. You have 1 year from the point of separation to document all presumptive illnesses and injuries. If you blow this window, you must have proof that the condition was documented while in the military. If the documentation is lost, you will be screwed.

As for the good news, I have two great things happening. First, I will be able to focus on veterans advocacy for the rest of my life. Second, I will have a law degree from the University of Minnesota, a great law program.

In the purest of ironies, the VA funded my disability claim. The more I had to fight, the more I understood administrative law. The more I understood the law, the better I got at appealing. I maximized my veterans benefits through the fight.

I hope some of you follow in my footsteps. We need of veterans to become attorneys. As attorneys, we will be able to combat the system in place now that screws so many of us.

The funds I receive from my disability go right back into this business, to build awareness and employ as many vets as possible.

 

Economic Collapse of Rural America

For those who don’t know, I grew up in rural northern Wisconsin in the town of Winter, WI. Last week, my dad wanted us to travel back there for a quick vacation and came away from the trip deeply troubled about the future of America. Without a rural America, cities will die from lack of resources or become dependent on foreign countries for food. It’s a big deal.

What I saw was this. Local economies in rural Wisconsin are dying. Walmart and other mega corporations came in and killed local businesses by artificially lowering prices. This is a practice Walmart has been accused of for years.

Super Walmarts provided crap food grown and made by “big agro.” Big Agro in Wisconsin is destroying locally owned farms. Walmart also provides goods mainly made in China. All the goods are provided at bottom dollar prices.

In exchange for giving us such great deals, they provide low paying jobs without benefits. All the dollars we spend there go back to China, to Wall Street bankers and shareholders, and to foreign currency hedge bets.

They do not have a vested interest in local businesses. They don’t care if your schools have students in them. If a community dies at the hands of Walmart, it just closes shop and reopens in the next neighboring community.

Meanwhile, let’s take a look at local businesses. Local businesses keep their money local because the owners are local. They pay taxes. They buy their toilet paper at the local store. They buy their timber from the local mill. They send their kids to the local school.

They provide good paying jobs to local employees. Those local businesses and employees pay taxes that support our local schools and other local businesses. In areas that possess all necessary natural resources, local economies can become closed loop systems that do not require big government and big businesses to provide services beyond electricity and gas.

I like this world. It’s a world where citizens want their local industries and companies to thrive. These citizens grow to become leaders, politicians and military members whose primary focus will be on supporting that same community from where they came.

Here is a little of my background and why what I’m about to say should matter to many of you.

At its zenith, northern Wisconsin was a bustling region full of opportunity for any young man strong enough to swing an ax or pull a crosscut saw. Within the region commonly referred to as “Happy Land,” logging communities grew 1000 percent overnight with loggers struggling to find a place to sleep, dreams of prosperity pulling their strings. This was at the turn of the last century. In the late 1970’s, the dreams waned with the decline of the industry and overall economy. What once served to enable dreams seemed to vanquish them with surprising efficiency.

It was at this time my parents decided to move us out of the precarious suburbs of Chicago, from one plighted region to another, with the hope of finding the good life, free of gangland danger and an overreaching government. Many families moved there for the same reason.

Meanwhile, many old families, after realizing the irony of the region’s nickname, fled back to the city. Houses were left vacant, dirty dishes on the table.  Vehicles and tractors were left in driveways. Happy Land (Sawyer County) left an impression on me that forever caused me to wonder why. Seeing the result of dreams crushed has always made me sensitive to the plight of others.

We found an abandoned boarding house on 20 acres with a hand pump and one outhouse. For some time my mother would heat water on the wood stove for my sister and me to bath in. Over the years, my parents worked to try to provide the life we then lacked with jobs barely earning enough to reach the poverty level. My father would leave us for weeks at a time to find work in neighboring communities. He provided the best that any parent could with no high school diploma during a recession.

On our trip back last week, we learned that the town of Winter, WI, is dying. Its lifeblood, the local school, has been so squeezed for funding that comes from taxpayers. Insiders now believe it will close in 5 years.

State tax dollars have dwindled so much so that Wisconsin can no longer afford to keep small rural schools like the Winter School District open. Northern Wisconsin is place of pocket communities that form union schools. Traveling to bigger schools is impossible because each neighboring school is at least 30 miles in any direction. The other schools cannot afford to pick up the bus route to shuttle the students to school.

A closure of the Winter School District will decimate the local economy, property values and lives of the families that have settled there some 100 years ago.

While Winter, WI is dying, we heard rumors that the local bank, Chippewa Valley Bank, has been using a tax loophole. The loophole allows the bank to move funds out of state to avoid paying capital gains to the state.

If true, this would mean that many banks statewide have been “offshoring” money to other states to legally avoid paying taxes. Instead, it uses the funds to continue to grow its banking operation. What were once 4 banks are now 10.

So, while the Chippewa Valley Bank is growing bigger than ever, the communities in which the bank started are dwindling because they lack necessary tax revenue for routine expenses.

Here is how this works. A bank like this takes its profits, moves them out of state and does not pay taxes. Local businesses, however, pay the taxes that support the local community and the local school. The bank in turn makes a profit on the local businesses by charging interest and fees on the money it lends.

The bank’s money goes out of the community. The local business’ money stays in the community.

This is a small example of why it is important for consumers to support local businesses that keep the money within the community.

By supporting mega corporations like Walmart or big banks, rural American consumers allowed money to move outside of the local economy. The effect of this consumer decision is that local businesses collapse.

What does Walmart do with the money? It also offshores the money and invests it in hedge bets against the dollar or other currencies its bankers believe are dropping in value.

Here is the biggest part that chaps my hide. Even the wealthy owners of stock in businesses like Walmart and Chippewa Valley Bank need places to live. They live in places like Lake Owen, Round Lake, and others. These business owners need local businesses to provide services to their cabins. They need local road crews to fix roads. They need local police to keep their properties safe.

So, while these business owners rely on laws that allow them to “offshore” their profits to avoid taxes, they rely on the taxes paid by local business owners and citizens to fund their lifestyle. It’s terribly ironic.

This is your take away. When you shop, pay a little extra at the locally owned store. When you bank, be sure the bank keeps the money in state and pays local taxes on profits. After all, everyone is in the same boat. We all live in the same country and in the same states as everyone else. If the state fails, we all fail with it.

Back in Winter, WI, my dad’s old business has gotten much smaller as the economy tanks. One world-class log cabin maker is looking for work in North Dakota on oilrigs. No one needs cabins in this economy. The place where I lived, grew up, and shed blood is about to close its doors to become just a memory of what was.

As veterans, we have the ability to pull together in a way civilians do not. We have resources like disability paychecks, retirements and pensions. We can use that money to start local businesses and become local leaders in the communities where we live. While we cannot do it alone, we need to start pulling together to pick our country back up before it fails.

 

Quotes of the Week

Top Customer: Under Obama, Fed’s Holdings of US Debt have Jumped 452%

Under Obama, the Federal Reserve has become the single largest owner of U.S. government debt. When Obama entered office, entities in the People’s Republic of China were the largest holders, followed by entities in Japan. At the end of January 2009, China owned $739.6 billion in U.S. government debt and Japan owned $634.8 billion.

By the end of March 2012, China’s holdings of U.S. debt had grown to$1.1699 trillion and Japan’s holdings had grown to $1.083 trillion.

Together, the Federal Reserve, China and Japan had increased their holdings of U.S. debt by $2.2445 trillion since Obama took office.

The total U.S. government debt grew from $10.6179 trillion to $15.6233 between Jan. 28, 2009 and April 25, 2012. Leaving out the intragovernmental debt—which the federal government owes itself—the publicly owned part of the U.S. government debt has climbed from $6.2955 trillion to $10.8607 trillion, an increase of $4.5652 trillion.“

http://cnsnews.com/news/article/top-customer-under-obama-fed-s-holdings-us-debt-have-jumped-452

 

Cost to Lunch with Warren Buffett: $3.5 Million

“The cost to dine with investor Warren Buffett has apparently spike in value, with one deep-pocketed bidder forking over nearly $3.5 million during a charity auction.”

– Josh Funk, AP Business Writer

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/cost-lunch-warren-buffett-35-million-16531435#.T9YoD-JYuOC

Luckily, Warren Buffet only pays 17.4 percent in income tax, so only around $600,000 of that dinner will be paid in taxes.

 

Obama speeds up air strike against Syria

“US President Barack Obama has ordered the US Navy and Air Force to accelerate preparations for a limited air offensive against the Assad regime…”

-DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

http://www.debka.com/article/22073/Obama-speeds-up-limited-air-strike-no-fly-zones-preparations-for-Syria

 

We’re looking through the sites at a war with Syria. The reasoning is the “humanitarian” crisis. In Chicago, we have 60 shootings every weekend. The number of homeless in the US is growing quickly. Maybe we should stop spending so much money policing the world and focus on fixing out country. Let’s end these wars.

 

Things I care about: The United States of America

I’m really worried about the health of the United States of America. I love this country and at one time handed Uncle Sam a blank check for up to and including my life. I do not want the sacrifices of my brothers and sisters who had to pay the ultimate price to be in vain.

I grew up in rural America, where people lived out their lives as well and as happily as possible. When I go back to rural America, I see nothing but the latter stages of a dying culture.

This is sad, and it does not need to be this way. My hope is for my daughter to grow up in a country better than the one I grew up in. I am determined to make that dream a reality, or to die trying.

So help me God.

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