MMQB: Dispatch From Washington DC – My VA Challenge

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130422 MMQB Allison Hickey

Hi there and welcome to this week’s Monday Morning Quarterback. This is where I write about my thoughts and comments on veterans issues, broadly.

This week, I am writing my recap from my trip to Washington DC and wanted to be sure to write about the trip before I start to forget details.

I want to start out by offering my challenge to VA. I will forgo starting my legal career for a little while to come help fix VA from the inside. You can either hire me, and my “A-Team” of veterans to fix your stuff or fail.

Joe Galloway said it best Saturday night. “Rick is a friend of mine. If anyone can fix the backlog, Rick can. But I am not sure Rick can fix it.” He said these sad words after delivering a tear jerking keynote address about America’s failure to care for her wounded warriors at the 20th Anniversary of NOVA.

I met the man in person and can tell you that Joe is the real deal. He really has a heart for the American veteran after his experience in Vietnam. For those who do not know the name, Joe Galloway is the Texas journalist who, in 1965, jumped on a chopper and flew into the first major firefight between American and North Vietnamese forces.

This experience we recaptured in the timeless move, “We Were Soldiers.”

The point I want to make to anyone reading this who is a DC decision maker is that VA cannot fix the backlog without pulling in the veterans whom VA is obliged to help. Without creating a direct dialogue, unfiltered, with immediate executive leadership, the current leaders of VA will fail.

This means that SES VA officials would not filter the all disabled veteran A-Team I would pick. This A-Team would only report directly to Under Secretary Hickey and Secretary Shinseki. And, this A-Team would have the motto, “I pity the fool who blocks a veteran from their benefits.”

Aside from my VA challenge, I can probably summarize this trip with three words; advocacy is expensive. People who think DC will listen without pitching in their own fair share of cash are fooling themselves.

These kinds of endeavors cost money, and it should be no surprise that the reason DC tends to revolve around the interests with the deepest pockets is due to the fact that money really does make the world go round.

Now, I’ll jump into the remainder of the MMQB.

 

Veterans Stats: Helping Vets Ain’t Cheap

130417 Korean War

Rather than covering VA this week, I thought I would give the numbers to my readers on how much it costs to do FREE advocacy work in Washington D.C.

When I say free, I mean no veteran, no veteran organization, and no government agency paid me to do this. I was asked to come to DC to help with the backlog. I paid for the trip out of pocket because I care and truly believe that it will take the full commitment of each veteran in the veteran community to fix the issues within the VA.

Veterans talk a lot about how much they wish people in DC would just listen. Here is what these veterans do not realize. People in DC are busy. They have people from all walks of life pulling on them to take care of this fire or that fire.

Everyone is competing for attention and ultimately resources that are ultimately finite. The resources are both time and taxpayer dollars.

Given competing priorities, veterans issues generally get pushed to the back of the bus. Meanwhile, Big Oil, Big Pharma, Tobacco, Alcohol, and Defense, etc, tend to get more face time with Senators and Representatives.

Notice anything?

Lobbyists and lots of dollar signs make that happen. Veterans do not have lobbyists, at least to the same capacity. While fixing veterans issues sure makes a lot of people feel good, it does not cover the costs of campaigning for your seat.

So let’s put this into the context of cause and effect.

If you have the bucks to help get the person reelected, you will get more face time and your fire will get some water. This means that money talks and BS walks. That’s what it means. I hopefully do not need to point out what direction daily veterans issues fall.

Aggregate veterans issues do get a degree of attention due to media pressure. Individual veterans issues are just not a real priority unless the veteran is well connected or the particular issue is shocking enough to warrant positive press for the elected official.

Here is what it costs to advocate the VA for a guy like me who pays for everything out of pocket – this is what I spent on this trip from my student loan money.

The trip was over 9 days:

  • Round trip flight – $500
  • Hotel – $1400
  • Rental car – $250
  • Cabs – $100
  • Metro – $50
  • NOVA Conference – $150
  • Dinners – $300

Total Advocacy                    $2750

 

Result of Advocacy Trip

  • Policy input to VA was part of backlog fix
  • Meeting with VA Under Secretary Allison Hickey
  • Meeting with VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers
  • Meeting with POGO on VA backlog and contractor issues
  • Meeting with former GSA head Martha Johnson
  • Meeting with DAMA House Committee on Veterans Affairs
  • Met Joe Galloway (journalist depicted in movie We Were Soldiers)
  • NOVA 3-day Veterans Law Conference

I would say that the trip was a success. I’ll go into why I came to town a little later in this MMQB.

What I would like to reiterate is that if veterans want to change the system, they will need to dip into their own pockets to push for change either on their own or to hire a lobbyist / advocate to do the same.

Not only did I pay for my own trip, but, if I had a normal job, I would have had to burn up vacation days to do what I did last week. Regardless, it was worth it.

Moving forward, I will likely start a veteran-centric legal practice to start paying for my student loans and future advocacy trips.

 

The Backlog: Meeting With Under Secretary Allison Hickey

“Can we meet?” That was the subject of an email I received from the Under Secretary back in February. What resulted was an email discussion about backlog fixes that led to the meeting with her last week.

Here is the good news. Friday, VA announced a similar proposal to what I and other veterans advocates suggested – start making decisions on the backlog right now. If the evidence is there to justify the decision, make the decision now.

We met last week on Tuesday to talk about the backlog just after I was listed in her “Big Brain” email. In that email, she requested that VA pull together the best minds inside and outside of the VA to help fix the backlog. I was listed under the category for critiques of VA who are also willing to help fix it.

I will organize this post about the meeting in two ways. First, I will talk about the general rumors I heard prior to our meeting. Second, I will talk about my actual impression and the topics I feel comfortable posting on my blog.

 

Hickey-ism Rumors

Pro-Hickey

These rumors were pretty good, and a big part of why I was willing to meet with her:

  • Allison Hickey is the best thing to happen to VA in some time.
  • She is a breath of fresh air in an agency that used to prescribe to the motto, “The beatings will continue until moral improves.”
  • She is a great boss who is willing to listen and make unconventional decisions outside of the box.
  • She truly wants to help veterans.
Anti-Hickey

These were the rumors I have heard that were negative:

  • Allison Hickey does not have the tools to handle the problems within the VA bureaucracy that will solve the backlog.
  • Some people around her do not respect her. She should step down.
  • She is about to go on administrative leave (I’m not sure why this would be bad, but it was a rumor).

Meeting Notes

Here are my comments about the meeting and the Under Secretary. Some of my following comments may seem strange, but I was cataloguing my impressions when I was there so that I could relay them to you all. So keep in mind that some things are relevant and other things are just impressions to help paint the picture for the readers.

Macro-view of Under Secretary Hickey

The Under Secretary cares about veterans and fixing the backlog. She is willing to make radical decisions to make that a reality. This is what I gleaned in talk with her overall, which confirms the first part of the rumors.

Despite the bad press as of late, she was much “nicer” than I would have expected. She is a visual thinker and can explain some problems through drawing them out. I have only met a few people who think like that, which impressed me right away.

The Under Secretary has good fashion-sense. Her office was clean and organized. The staff-members buzzing around her were attentive and friendly toward her.

In addition, they were friendly to me. I found this last part (“friendly”) to be surprising since I write primarily from an anti-VA, pro-veteran perspective. Nonetheless, the veterans and nonveterans working for the Under Secretary were very kind and personable.

On the down side, when I talked about what I do, the Under Secretary’s staff were of the mindset that they were already doing what I do. I asked the question, “How many of your staff members working in social media have advanced legal training?” Of course the answer was none.

Micro-view of Under Secretary Hickey

The meeting consisted of the Under Secretary sharing with me what her views, or rather what her staffs’ views, of the backlog are.

Let’s remember, the Under Secretary is like a quarterback for a football team. She is an expert on pulling the parts of the team together, but she is not the expert at each roll – no one could be. So, when I talk about what she said, I am really referring to what her staff members are saying to her, and that she is in turn relaying to me.

There are likely many great people on her staff. However, I am personally of the mindset that some members on her staff are feeding her inaccurate information. She did not relay this to me (other DC insiders did), however, after talking with enough people on the street after my meeting, I concluded that some people there have ulterior motives.

In aggregate, the problem of the backlog will take many fixes from many areas all at once. The electronic claims system is only a small part of the fix. VA will need to incorporate numerous strategies to bring about an effective change.

We talked about ways to improve the backlog immediately. I shared with her the possible solution of doing temporary grants of disabilities that are well beyond the 180-day window. On Friday, VA announced that it would start making grants of claims immediately, starting with the oldest claims.

We also talked about how to better explain to veterans and the public what the issues are within the backlog. VA believes the public does not understand how complex the disability claims process is, and that if the public did understand this, somehow it would help.

I feel like this is an example of one area of misinformation being circulated from the Public Relations side of the house. Even if this issue were resolved, assuming it is even true, there would be no overall benefit to veterans directly.

Let’s think about this. One VA staff member has an assignment of drawing graphics and showing how the perception of complexity of the VA system somehow makes the backlog worse. I believe this is a waste of effort and resources because its focus is merely on public relations – trying to change the public perception of the backlog.

How about this, let’s just fix the goddamn backlog?

Conversely, VA should focus on educating veterans about how to get their benefits. This focus should be designed to help the veteran not need a veteran service officer or lawyer initially. Then, only after researching their own claims file and the law, they could help their advocate because they will understand what is going on and better understand what information the advocate really needs.

Let’s remember. No one will care more about the veteran’s claim than the veteran. Period. By helping the advocate by providing clear information, the veteran could improve their chances of winning the first time around.

As stated earlier, I would be willing to forgo starting my legal career to come into VA to design this educational platform from the veterans’ perspective. I think it would reduce the number of frivolous claims because veterans using the material would better understand how to submit their claims when the claim is realistic.

My next step would be to create an “A-Team” of tough mother-f-er veterans who have fought and won their benefits. These guys should be brought into VA as consultants to audit the systems and provide feedback immediately to the Secretary and Under Secretary.

Like I said before, some staffers in VA are filtering veterans’ true stories and not giving VA leadership the true picture of the problems within the bureaucracy. This problem could be bypassed to some degree if veterans were educated in the system.

I have developed the intellectual property necessary. VA could either pay me a lot to license the material, or they could hire me to come in as an employee for a little while to fix their systems. That’s enough about that.

Overall, I think the Under Secretary can “get it done” so long as she pulls in the right team members. She has some great people working for her now. For example, I like Tom Murphy, head of Disability Compensation. I think he is a no-nonsense kind of guy.

However, she will need to find and fire whoever it is that is undermining her attempts to fix this system.

 

VA Public Relations: Meeting With Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers

I also met with Assistant Secretary Dr. Tommy Sowers about VA’s public relations arm. Like the matter with the Under Secretary, I did offer my services to Sowers as well. However, I am 99% sure they do not want me to figure out how their PR system works.

Again, I put my money where my mouth is and did offer to forgo starting my law practice to come in to develop educational systems for veterans.

Before I get into my impression of Dr. Sowers, I want to give you some background.

Sowers graduated from Duke University. He went into the Army and became a Green Beret. While in the military, he taught at West Point and received a PhD from London School of Economics.

After the military, Sowers worked with IAVA for a little while. He ran for Congress but lost despite raising $1.5 million in campaign contributions. Then, he was selected by President Obama to take over the former role of Tammy Duckworth since Duckworth did win her campaign in Illinois.

When I was in town last week, Dr. Sowers was willing to meet with me.

The week prior, he called to interview me for a position within the VA public relations department. So, like Under Secretary Hickey, this was not the first discussion I have had with prior to the meeting last week.

We sat down in his office. He shook my hand and then kicked up his cowboy boots on the table.

I probably do not need to say much else beyond this. After all, anyone willing to wear cowboy boots in DC is a guy with guts, and I would drink a beer with anyone who has guts despite working in DC.

For those of you who do not get what I mean, I’ll continue by explaining what I thought of him. He was a smart guy who is personable. These two things seem implied since he did attend two great universities and run for Congress.

As for the job offer, that is to be continued.

I guess my point in brining this up is a reiteration of what I hope we are all willing to do. Just because we took the uniform off does not mean we stop serving. I personally feel very inclined to help from within VA for a little while, because I know I can help.

This does not mean VA would want my help. After all, I am a “big brain” who is critical about VA. I might hurt someone’s feelings by telling the truth.

 

Should Veterans Be Able To Hire Attorneys?

While in DC, I heard a rumor that the DAV veteran organization was calling on Congress to limit the ability of lawyers to get paid for helping veterans get their benefits.

Basically, DAV wants to cap the amount of money a veteran’s lawyer can get paid.

This would have one result; lawyers would not solely represent veterans like they do now. This also means veterans would have to rely on nonlawyers in developing their claims that will get denied by VA lawyers later.

Would you trust a nonlawyer to go up against a trained VA lawyer?

With the backlog “fixes” of last week – basically rushing to make decisions on claims – VA is now hiring over 100 more attorneys to work on appeals. I think this should be a sign of bad moons rising.

Meanwhile, DAV wants to limit access to lawyers by veterans.

This makes me wonder just who DAV is advocating for. Is it advocating for the interests of veterans? Or, is it trying to increase veteran demand for more veteran service officers?

Regardless of the answer, the timing is interesting. Right before VA implements fixes that would result in huge numbers of poorly decided claims, DAV wants to limit access to lawyers.

What I will say about the lawyers who specialize in VA claims is that they generally do not make “the big bucks” like the lawyers on TV. They do not make “the big bucks” like lobbyists. They generally do not make “the big bucks”, at all.

However, for many of these lawyers, it is a way to make a good living while helping veterans. Veterans have traditionally needed help, especially now that claims are more complicated then ever before.

I’d like to raise another point. VSO’s had a monopoly on the VA adjudication system from the 1940’s until 1988. Even then, lawyers were capped at $10 until recently.

In 6 years, veterans law has changed radically. Every year, VA is being further pushed to provide the “nonadversarial” disability system they have for so long claimed to administer.

Instead, it looks like the DAV wants to continue the old status quo of veterans by limiting veterans’ access to legal representation.

I think the DAV high hogs should, like me, put their money where their mouth is, “Take a pay cut before you limit veterans’ rights.”

Here are the yearly earnings (total compensation which includes salary) of the top paid DAV officials. The full compensation break down is within this excerpt of DAV’s Form 990 for 2011 linked here. The full IRS Form 990 is on their website.

Name of Key IndividualTotal Compensation
Arthur Wilson$353,519
Barry Jesinoski$346,450
Christopher Clay$325,890
J. Marc Burgess$263,185
Anita Blum$254,726
Joseph Violante$250,520
Garry Augustine$240,358
David Gorman$208,130
William Saunders$160,458
Total$2,403,236

I want to hear from veterans about this topic through commenting after this post.

If you think these salaries are reasonable given the progress DAV has had in fixing the backlog, then I would love to hear from you.

If you think veterans should have equal access to lawyers, just like VA, then I would love to hear from you, too.

Either way, veterans should share their voice.

 

House Committee on Veterans Affairs – DAMA

I had a chance to meet with Rory Riley at the disability subcommittee again. For those who do not remember, Rory is the first person to invite me to DC, back in December 2011.

Prior to her invitation, I had never thought of advocating for veterans on Capitol Hill. As a result of her calling in “out of the box thinkers,” now veterans have been getting more benefits more quickly.

So, to Rory, “thank you” for including me and other veterans like me. I think we need more people like you in DC who are not afraid to upset the apple cart once in a while.

The Committee will be holding round tables next month about disability compensation and the electronic medical records system problem.

 

Alvin L. Young Agent Orange Collection

Dr. Young was one of the country’s experts on Agent Orange and its use in Vietnam and prior to Vietnam.

Upon his retirement, Dr. Young donated 200 boxes worth of research and material to the US Department of Agriculture. The information now sits in the USDA Special Collections outside of Washington DC.

On this trip, I made a point to schedule a visit to review this special collection. At this time, I do not have time to write about everything I found.

What I will say is that I was the third person in 2 years to view the materials. How interesting, right?

VA is still fighting to provide service connection for certain diseases and congenital diseases TCDD caused (that’s the bad stuff in Agent Orange). Yet, no one is reading the research.

To me, this calls into question VA’s decisions on the subject.

The big questions are as follows. What did we know? When did we know it? These two questions are answered within the material on file in Young’s collection.

Beyond this, VA’s attempt to stonewall these veterans is nothing more than to limit the cost of the war.

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19 Comments

  1. Great update: Thanks! There is a lot to digest. My advice/warnng is that others have received similar offers and end up getting sucked in to the system and then become part of the system rather than maintaining their integrity. My immediate advice is value your independence and integrity.This may and probably will change once you were to go to the “inside”. Great job, Ben! It has been a pleasure to participate in your facebook site over the last couple of years. Just remember that Washington has a way of swallowing and changing people; Even those with great ideals!The VA is probably the 2nd largest bureaucracy in our government. Please do not become a face in the crowd. Veterans have come to resct your work and your opinions. Don’t lose what is most important to you….veterans and their need for benefits! Good-Luck!

  2. Sounds like a productive trip!

    In regards to legal representation by lawyers, I am definitely for that option. I myself am using a lawyer for my appeal, and not only have they been on top of things, I have learned a lot about the process, the common pitfalls, the hard and easy parts, and how to conduct myself when dealing with the VA when it comes to exams. I also believe that a party who stands a financial benefit in your claim serves as a source of motivation.

    In regards to DAV salaries, I definitely think they’re overboard. Given that they do not pay for the training if the Service Officers (they get Voc Rehab eligible Veterans so that their benefits pay for their 18 month training program – I know because I considered going into the program and did a round of interviews). One would hope the money they save would be reinvested better than in the pockets of the Big Cheeses, but seeing those figures are mind-blowing.

    If you are looking for any other people to help in your endeavors, I would be more then willing to help.

  3. No lawyers? Bull Shit! I am a life member of DAV. I had no idea they paid themselves such huge salaries. And, they will hear from me about trying to take away my right to a lawyer in fighting back against the VA./

  4. The DAV was rude to me and they refused to help me just like other so called VA organizations. Being a female OIF disabled war veteran is hard. I hired an attorney because the VA reps that are free are worthless. Like the old saying u get what u pay for.

  5. I agree with Tom. I would assume that if hired by the VA in some form or facet, they will then have the ability to muzzle your advocacy. You will then be absorbed into the system and become less of a threat. Even though you attempt to break through the red tape, your efforts will just entangle you, only to bind you up. Can you contract with them instead?

  6. Hell NO their salary should be lower. As long as some of these people been on the job they have made over half-a-million dollars and the veteran has nothing. How is this FAIR? It is NOT!

  7. I’m glad to hear of your love affair with General Hickey, all I know over is what I see when she appears before Congress and as you said in your article she is just passing on what other people tell her and she does not sound very convincing when I watch her try to explain it to Congress. I got me a lawyer to handle my claim and apparently I got the wrong one because by the time I was done he has lost most of it and never got to the Veterans Administration according to e-benefits for 9 months so I took a copy of what I had to the DAV and they help me reconstruct my claim (my appeal) and submit it before my year was up. That was enough to get me drop from 30% disability to zero and now I’m appealing that decision on my own without anybody’s help. I do submit my claims through the DAV but I do all the work myself. I think the local service officers here at the DAV are more interested in having a beer than they are working on claims. They have posted hours on the door but most of the time who sit out there for hours waiting for them to open up and they never show up.

  8. “Let’s remember, the Under Secretary is like a quarterback for a football team. She is an expert on pulling the parts of the team together, but she is not the expert at each roll – no one could be. So, when I talk about what she said, I am really referring to what her staff members are saying to her, and that she is in turn relaying to me…”

    This quarterback would be an asset to a a rural pee wee team in football or a great starting pitcher for a little league team in baseball based out of Cuba [no seriocomic politics here – but a point on material & philosophical poverty] with the budget of the NFL and MLB combined.

    I am concerned with a question you may or may not have asked; that question being: “Do you think we trust retired officers with the benefits of the blue collar veterans?”, that would be a great question.

    Those pigs from DAV making 300K+, who did they sucker to get that money? Was that payout from a previous insurance scam or just the DAV ongoing scam and theft of recent OEF/OIF VETERAN donations?

    God damn plastic pigs eating from a platinum jeweled honey trough.

    Hornswogglers! The fucking lot!

  9. I am a life member of DAV. I have spent time with many vets of Nam & Korean wars, being of the Korean era myself. When the door was opened for the Agent Orange thing I saw many vets that had booze & marijuana problems due to the wars making it impossible to hold a job. As well many had this problem befor the wars & was tickled to find something to blame it on with the wars & then later with Agent Orange. I with a partner started a small business & had the misfortune to hire a couple of these men. I was so disillusioned with vets & their baggage. Then I met some at VA Hospital & after talking to them & their realities I became a vets advocate again. How can even a trained doctor see thru all of the pretenders. I spent weeks with these afore mentioned vets befor it was obvious they did not want to work & would do anything for a free ride with enough income to support their booze & smoking habits ? Not only are they trying to milk the system they are making it very difficult for those having a real problem who lives in a nightmare & often have a near impossible task of proving it. In my life’s experience there have been more phonies than those in real need of help.

  10. Now we’re talking MONEY! It’s a start, Ben, but I don’t know how far you will get by cozying up with the VA people who shouldn’t have to be greased or cajoled into doing what the taxpayers are paying them to do. It should be obvious to any veteran right now that if the VA decision makers and the organizations who kiss up to them want this claims backlog to go away, the problem would have been solved a long time ago. You see, the VA and the VSOs don’t want the problem to go away because solving (or pretending to solve) the problem is THE BIG BUSINESS, bringing in huge paychecks, not only to the executives but to the contractors as well. The suffering veteran IS the commodity – the more pain inflicted on the veteran means more money coming in from taxpayers and from charitable people. Americans love their veterans, you know! Like I have told you before, you cannot change the system until you expose the criminal enterprise within VA Procurement. It is the only way!

  11. They should be ashamed of themselves with that salary. 15 years of DAV and legion “help” got me nothing. Within a year of lawyer help now at 100%. THAT is why they want lawyers out of the pictures. The fees are nothing compated to those salaries. There is also a cap on lawyer fees. The legion also refused to help when the form they sent to regional office was lost. Told I didn’t pay dues to get assistance. Listen carefully, all evidence points to these organizations on the dide of Uncle Sam and no YOU! Get a lawyer and save time and years of money owed.

  12. SHOULD VETERANS BE ABLE TO HIRE ATTORNEYS? I just finished rereading this portion of this posting by Ben. I am not sure what good it did to post the salaries of the top DAV & other veterans organizations officials did, other than to anger veterans and lord knows we have enough to be angry about. I do know what it costs to live in D.C. or stay there as Ben posted the $ expenses from his recent trip. Me, I want quality people in those organizations and the salary helps attract quality people to those organizations; many of which are attorneys, accountants etc etc. What do you thinK it cost to attract top notch people to live & work in DC? HOWEVER, THAT IS NOT WHY I AM WRITING THIS!!!!! The DAV’s main point was not about decreasing attorney access. It was about the amount/%tage that attorney’s could charge for claims assistance! Attorneys generally charge a %tage of the amount received: generally 33-60%. The DAV took the stance of limiting the amount (%tage) an attorney could charge (of an award) for their services. P.S. I am a lifetime member (35 years) of the DAV who believes in them and am NOT asking for my dues back. From my point of view, the DAV is the best (at least with claims) of all the veterans organizations that I belong or belonged to!

    • For the record I am both a member of DAV and a member of NOVA (an org for nonprofit and for-profit lawyers and other vet reps).

      Tom, you raised some good points and illustrated my point. We need to be careful when criticizing how much people earn unless we know the context. There are some assumptions in your comment that fall flat. First, it assumes Arthur Wilson, et al, are in DC. Keep in mind, DAV is based in Kentucky, and their trips to DC are part of their operating expenses for the org, not their compensation. Now, people in DC is somewhat angry because they have rarely if ever seen DAV higher ups at a Committee hearing much less on the Hill except once a year. So, like Waldo, where in the world is Arthur Wilson?

      Second, I have never heard of a Veteran Law attorney charging 60%, ever, never ever, ever. Attorneys get “rich” in other fields. They most definitely do not get rich representing disgruntled veterans. Now, most attorneys do travel to DC and their trips to argue before the court do come out of the fees charged to veterans. Most attorneys charge 20% contingent fee (they get paid only if you win), because that is the only amount of money VA will pay the attorney directly. Otherwise, the attorney needs to get the money from the veteran directly. Some attorneys charge 30%.

      However, let’s play with the numbers. Let’s say an attorney charged a flat fee of $6000 for their claim with the anticipation that the vet would win $40,000. Unfortunately, the veteran wins only $10,000 after the attorney works the case for 5 years and puts in 100 hours, travels to DC to argue in front of the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, etc. That would be 60% of the award. However, attorneys would be out of their mind to charge a flat fee because they do not know how long or how much work will go into the claim. NOVA, for example, strongly discourages charging flat fees.

      Should the attorney not get the money after working for 5 years, paying for travel out of pocket, etc? Tom, this goes to your point, we need to know the context before we point fingers. My point in the article was that DAV should not cap attorneys fees in the same way Social Security fees are capped. In that instance, I believe you can only “make” $6k per claim as a maximum. Keep in mind, SS claims are 18 months long. VA claims take 5 years and are more difficult because the VA fights dirty to keep vets for benefits.

      Capping fees in this way would limit the number of attorneys willing to practice in Veterans Law. In the end, let’s get vets their benefits. I do not give a damn how we get there. But we need to keep moving forward.

    • Tom L., I was a fan (from your first post) until you revealed your true self on this second post. The proof is in the pudding and this VA/VSO Partnership Pudding stinks to high heaven! The smell is indicative of a rotten core! This problem didn’t just happen yesterday. If the VSOs, with their political clout and financial muscle really wanted the system to work for the veteran as intended, they would have made it happen a long time ago. The evidence – the rotten pudding – says the DAV and the other VSOs do not want the system to work. Why? Because the status quo is too lucrative – for them. They cannot sell a happy, satisfied veteran as an object of charity. Too keep the money coming in, they have to present the face of a veteran struggling to survive. It is just like cancer – with the billions of dollars coming in from donations, don’t you think they would have found the cure by now? Go online and you’ll find how the FDA has been suing every doctor, who on their own, without assistance from big pharmaceutical companies, have found effective therapies using natural substances. Natural equals NO drug patents equals no profits for BIG Pharma – got it? The cancer victims have the FDA and the gazillions of cancer-this-and-that charities to thank for this non-progress. The veterans can count on their VA and the bazillions of “charitable” “service” organizations to make sure their second-class citizen status remain unchanged for life. While you’re online please Google “Veterans Affairs Fiduciary Program” to keep informed of one of the many cruel ways the VA and the VSOs maintain absolute control of a veteran’s life. And yes, the VA and the VSOs don’t want to change that program too, no matter how corrupt the program is. Why? There is a lot of money in that program – $3.1 Billion Dollars of veterans’ money, as of two years ago (See US House VA Committee Hearing about this program in 2011). And Tom, maybe you can do your fellow veterans a favor and ask your DAV friends if DAV and other VSOs are benefitting in any way from the proceeds from that $3.1 Billion Dollars being held in trust. If they say no, then ask them, How come you are doing absolutely nothing to reform the program or provide legal help for those veterans trying to get out of the program? What I’m trying to say is that you need to open your eyes to what is going on. Start listening to the screams coming from the VA’s torture chambers – there’s a good chance one of these veterans may have been a service buddy of yours.

  13. To Steam Whistle & Ben:
    Thanks for your quick response to my post. While not perfect, I am simply stating that there is no such thing as a “perfect organization”. That is whether you belong to the DAV, NOVA, APA or MENSA or whatever. It is just that some organizations are more corrupt or controversial than others. Veterans issues in America are on the front burner or as I tell veterans every week: “there has never been a better time in my 41 years of being a veteran than right now”. That doesn’t mean everything is ok! I went thru this in the 70’s with Viet Nam Vets and history is repeating itself because we did not learn from those errors! Plus, younger vets weren’t around. to remember that. There are times when I believe in the famous Shakespeare quote: “The first thing we do is kill all the attorneys” (no cut intended, Ben). We are at a time and place with veterans benefits where some major remodeling can really take place. What we as veterans should be doing is unifying on the need for change and Veterans Benefits Administration is the place to start. I do not participate to criticize my fellow vets. I am here to see if we can unify, collaborate & work towards a better future. I work inside that system and see the good, the bad and the ugly. I want to positively participate in making this better for all veterans and especially those filing claims for disability. In my 41 years of being a veteran, this looks like as good an opportunity to improve the system as I have seen in a while…continue!

  14. As far as I am concern. I would take what the under secretary says with a grain of salt. She is an Political appointee. The big problem is as many major companys go the high level management don’t tell the top the whole truth. So they need to cut the top full time management so the information gets to the top currectly. Till many in the VA do there jobs nothing will get fixed. As far as the new temp claim system that what should of been done all along. It was my understanding that when you summit a new evidence the reg. office was suppose to look at it and see if the VA desition was way off by he new evidence. IF the Reg. offices did that then you would not have as many VBA claims at the time. But the reg offices will not re review a claim that has new evidence.
    Ben your site is well needed.Why cant we start a non profit to pay you and another lawer to lobby congress for vets beneifits. I am a member of DAV and They realy have done very little for me. Just turn in my claims and I have do all the work till this point. Iam 30% with major ankle problems and left ankle needed replaced.

    • I would like to explain my situation and then follow it up by giving you information about what is happening to Veterans all over the Country. For my neck of the woods, I have to contend with the Veterans Administration in Oakland, CA.
      They are located at:

      Oakland Regional Office 1301 Clay Street, Room 130 N Oakland, CA

      I served in the United States Navy for 20 years as a Ship’s Serviceman and also as a navy Photographer and retired July 1998 at the Naval Hospital at NAS Lemoore, CA

      In 1996, while attached to the USS Anchorage LSD-36 we were on the Persian Gulf and I was responding to a Snoppy Alert as Photographer going from the Bridge to the Signal Bridge up the ladder when I fell from the top step loosing my footing and falling 15 feet into the hard metal skidded deck below.

      As a result, I was unconscious, I had broken two ribs, messed up my back, and had a concussion on my head, as well breaking all the bones in my nose. To this day I do not remember that fall. However the Commanding Officer Paul C Cassani was on the Bridge with the Exec. Officer Lt. Commander Michael J Carlin when I fell.

      It was reported that I had did a complete flip falling on my face and rolling over. I spent 7 weeks in Sickbay, on the ship and upon arrival back I was sent to physical therapy. I returned to active duty and was transferred to NAS Lemoore when I finished my career with the navy, having retired in July 1998
      In 1998 I applied for VA Disability for my legs, arms, ankles feet, and other disabilities I suffer from still today, including Nerve damage from the fall in 1996

      I currently have 50% disability from VA and have requested TDIU or what is referred to as 100% Disability from VA. I no longer work and since 1998 when I retired, I have still not been rated for my ankles and feet and other disabilities from the VA Administration in Oakland, CA

      Under the guidelines of VA Law says:

      “ A Veteran is entitled to a 100% disability rating if he can establish that his service-connected disability(ies) preclude him from obtaining gainful employment. In VA Law, such claims frequently go by the abbreviation “ TDIU” referring to a TOTAL DISABILITY RATING BASED ON INDIVIDUAL UNEMPLOYABILITY

      Under VA Law, A Veteran can qualify for a TDIU rating any time “ One “ or more of his Service-Connected disabilities prevents him from obtaining employment, “ REGARDLESS OF THE PERCENTAGE OF HIS DISABILITY RATING”

      I have met those guidelines and yet VA still refuses to give me my disability. I have since 1998 when I retired, filed claims, and filed appeals over and over and over as well as many other Veterans have.

      I have had many VA Pension exams, I would like to discuss two of those because it is related to the irresponsibility of VA at VA Hospital Fresno, California

      I have a medical disability called Dermatitis which I received while working in the darkroom ion the USS Prairie AD-15 in 1984 while working with darkroom chemicals, there appeared to be a pinhole in the glove and thus I contacted that.

      On a Pension exam related to rather I should received additional compensation, At VA Hospital Fresno, CA I was told to my face that I was a liar and that I did not have Dermatitis which was already clearly stated in my Medical Records. I told him that I did and again he called me a liar and thus my increase of Disability was denied.
      I then stopped taking my medication which is Dapsone and within one week I broke out with boils all over my body. On the back of my legs, on my knees, elbows, groin area, buttocks, area, and head. I went to the emergency room at VA Hospital Fresno, CA and they documented that It covered 85% of my body including my head.
      I was in great pain and yet I had to prove I was not a liar. The Emergency room staff Doctor acknowledged what I had as well as my dermatologist . On many occasions in calling Claim Representatives at VA in Oakland at 1-800-827-1000, they have acknowledged these medical records and yet refuse to rate me

      On another Pension Exam at VA Hospital in Fresno, I was yelled at to get down on my knees when I could not because of back pain. The Doctor yelled at me because I refused and when I complied as much as I could, they documented in my Medical records, falsifying intentionally that I was fine and I was not. He was a liar

      I have been working to get my Social Security Disability and after being denied, I got an Attorney called Binder and Binder to represent me. At my Court hearing, the judge commented about the Pension exam where the Doctor had yelled at me and stated I was fine.

      It was because of the falsifying of my Medical Records that resulted in denying me also Social Security Disability that I was entitled to. I worked 40 years and put into Social Security and they denied me my disability because of the lies from So called doctors at the VA Hospital Fresno, Ca and this is why I have sought to fight them back on the internet through the use of Graphics

      Go to Goggle and type in ” Veterans Administration Oakland, CA ” and click on images

      That is how I am fighting back all over this Country to every major City where a VA Hospital is until VA fixes my problem.

      I am Jerry Ballard USNRet Tulare, CA (559) 331-7780

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