Hi there, and thank you for checking in this week for the Monday Morning Quarterback.
Talk has really heated up these past few weeks about the backlog and how to fix it.
At the end of last week, House Democrats stepped up to the plate with a cocktail of solutions. In total, House Democrats proposed 10 bills.
This week’s MMQB talks about some of these and a little clip from John Stewart at the end. Here is what we are going to talk about:
- VA hiring tons of attorneys
- Lawmakers write strongly worded letter to President Obama
- Democrats propose 10 new bills
- Rep. Tim Walz proposes “Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act”
- John Stewart hammers Fox News’ hypocrisy on Constitution
First, I am very glad some people are doing something about the issue. But, we have been into this administration and VA leadership for 5 years.
Why now? Why was this not done earlier?
Here are some things I believe.
I believe our government is out of control. I do not believe the backlog will get fixed. I believe Democrats are too easy on VA leadership. Meanwhile, I am not sure Republicans want it fixed right now.
I believe the Veteran Vote is something both Republicans and Democrats should be afraid of if they do not fix the systemic problems within VA and other parts of the government.
We really have two competing views of our government right now. Either there is a massive conspiracy to run it into the ground. Or, government is run by a bunch of smart and dumb people who collectively make stupid decisions on a regular basis. Either way, the government seems to keep getting bigger while simultaneously running out of money.
It’s like a teenager on a spending spree with their parents’ credit card, except in reality, the teenager (not the parent) will need to pay down the debt.
What if managing “government” is like taking a family picture, except worse?
On Saturday, there was a family on the Arch Bridge trying to pose for a family picture on the Mississippi River.
We stopped to avoid running in front of the camera, but the husband grumbled, “Just keep walking, it’ll probably take another 2 hours before we can take the picture…” while he waited for all the family members to hustle into position.
This made me wonder about government.
If it takes a small family forever to just take a silly picture in some kind of unison, what does that say about the ability of our country to actually have a central government manage the lives of 300 million people all at once?
If a family could not take a “family picture” with 10 people in a coordinated fashion, is it realistic to even try to have a central government or is the experiment of central governance nothing more than an expensive pipe dream that eventually will fail?
Maybe the dream of fixing our government to help it serve its customers is even more hopeless than getting 100 people in the same camera to all look at the camera at once.
One veteran gave the following quotes from Thomas Jefferson when we talked about the family picture metaphor over the weekend. Maybe within these quotes lies the answers to much of what ills America and her veterans.
“My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.”
“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
Speaking of too much government, let’s talk VA numbers from its upcoming hiring frenzy.
VA To Hire Over 100 New Attorneys
This is the big question.
To get some context, here are the current numbers on the backlog:
As of March 30, 2013, the VA had 885,068 claims pending. 613,876 claims were backlogged:
- The backlog is defined as a claim taking over 125 days to decide.
- Vietnam or Gulf War Era veterans make up 60% of the claims in the backlog.
- Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make up 22% of the claims in the backlog.
- Over half (61%) of the claims in backlog are supplemental claims from veterans for whom VA has already completed at least one claim.
- 77% of veterans with supplemental claims in backlog already receive monetary compensation for a disability
When in DC two weeks ago (the day after VA announced its backlog “fix”), I heard a rumor that VA plans to hire over 100 attorneys within its Board of Veterans Appeals. This is a lot of attorneys.
In light of Under Secretary Hickey’s announcement on a quick backlog fix, there could be problems on the horizon.
As some of you may know, VA plans to resolve many disability claims very quickly. If VA consistently decided claims in a fair manner, this would be great news.
After all, VA and Veteran Organizations have claimed the disability claims process is nonadversarial. This means that VA will always decide in favor of the veteran whenever there is a question of doubt or 50-50 odds that a statement or claim is true.
But, we all know that anyone who says the disability claims process is nonadversarial is a liar or severely confused.
In reality, 60% of all denied claims were wrongly denied. Over 70% of successful appeals at the Veterans Court are awarded EAJA fees. EAJA fees are only awarded when VA cannot show that it took a substantially justified position on the law in its previous denial.
Back to the VA hiring numbers, why would VA be hiring over 100 new appeals attorneys?
I think they plan to hire the new attorneys because they know they will screw up the majority of claims that are about to be rushed through. Otherwise, given the sequestration, why would they be hiring so many new attorneys as employees?
Needless to say, this was certainly a disappointing revelation following my hope that the backlog policy solution would help.
My unfortunate theory found support in recent comments within the Washington Examiner. In the column “Watchdog,” journalist Mark Flatten reported that many veterans’ groups think the backlog fix is “all smoke-and-mirrors.”
AFGE union head Ronald Robinson, claims the “new” backlog fix is nothing more than a cover-up to make sinking statistics look better.
Robinson told the Washington Examiner that, under the new plan, the old cases will be considered closed once the provisional rating is issued. However, if the veteran submits new evidence to contradict the decision, VA will consider it a new claim. The new claim will then go to the back of the bus until the other old claims are resolved.
Peter Gaytan, executive direction of the American Legion, said he is worried that the backlog fix will cause greater problems. His concerns seem justified given the possibility that the new policy will result in more rejections and lowballed claims grants.
So in short, it sounds like the backlog policy fix is nothing more than playing politics on the hopes, dreams, and difficulties of disabled veterans.
House Democrats As Savior Of Veterans?
Last week, 26 lawmakers sent a letter to President Barak Obama about the backlog.
These lawmakers, who all had military experience, argued that “VA is clearly on the wrong track.” The letter went on to point out the obvious, that the work “is not the progress that veterans and taxpayers expect.”
In a counter move, House Democrats came forward with 10 different bills aimed at fixing the backlog or some other troubled benefits program. The bills are all aimed to battle the backlog in some fashion.
Overall, the proposals are aimed at the following:
- Quicker transmission of DoD medical records to VA
- Making partial decisions as each claim is verified
- Providing more information on filing options
Fighting for Veterans: Taking Action on VA Claims Backlog
Here are the specifics of the proposals from House Democrats. Rather than reinventing the wheel, here are their proposals in their entirety straight from the House Democrats page:
“This legislative package seeks to bolster VA’s current efforts to modernize and foster further innovation in order to get veterans’ claims and compensation settled faster. Some bills would have an immediate impact, some over the next two years, and others are designed to be long-term approaches to prevent future backlogs.”
VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency Act (Rep. Kirkpatrick) – requires DoD to provide certified, complete, and electronic records to VA within 21 days.
IMPACT: Would substantially reduce the amount of time spent waiting for DoD to provide information in a timely manner.
Claims adjudication Centers of Excellence (Rep. Michaud) – requires VBA to establish a pilot for Conditions Adjudication Centers of Excellence that would focus on the 10 most complex and time consuming medical conditions.
IMPACT: The pilot would utilize the highest performing offices to adjudicate the most difficult medical conditions, such as PTSD and TBI, encouraging the VA to specialize claims processing by condition, reduce the time it takes to adjudicate these conditions, and decrease the error rates on difficult claims.
Pay veterans as medical conditions are adjudicated (Rep. Titus) – requires VA to pay for medical conditions as they are adjudicated in an electronic system.
IMPACT: Currently, veterans receive payment when all medical conditions within a claim are fully adjudicated. This legislation will require VA to pay veterans as individual medical conditions are adjudicated, which will pay veterans at a faster rate.
Expedite claims processing by educating veterans on the quickest route to receive their decision (Rep. O’Rourke) – provides veterans with information regarding VA’s timeliness for adjudicating claims in different formats such as paper application or online utilizing the Fully Developed Claims program.
IMPACT: Would encourage and educate veterans to utilize methods that may increase the timeliness of their claims.
Encouraging the automation of certain VA claims (Rep. Kuster) – requires VA to provide an annual report to list those medical conditions that are processed in an electronic automated fashion, the feasibility/consideration for adding additional medical conditions, and any barriers barring VA from adding those medical conditions that are not automated.
IMPACT: The reporting would require VA to consider how and if any of the medical conditions that they adjudicate could be automated or simplified. Any work that can be automated or simplified will allow VA to focus limited resources on the more challenging workload.
H.R. 1521 (Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney) – extends VA’s authority to contract for medical disability examinations by five years.
IMPACT: VA’s ability to have contractors provide medical exams increases the availability and timeliness of those exams. VA needs the support of the contract exams to reach the goal of processing all claims within 125 days by 2015. Without this reauthorization, VA medical examinations would overwhelm the VA health-care system.
H.R. 1623 (Rep. Negrete-McLeod) – requires VA to provide numerous data points in an online setting that would better detail the backlog, the timeliness and accuracy of VA regional offices, and timeliness and accuracy of adjudicating specific medical conditions.
IMPACT: The reporting would provide both the VA, the public, and policy-makers with better clarity on the backlog and the specific claims that are proving to be a challenge. This additional level of detail was not available in the legacy paper system. VA indicates that this level of clarity should be available in VBMS. This would insure that VBA builds in the capability of understanding the workload at this level of granularity and ultimately may lead to gains in efficiency by better understanding the backlog and ways to address it.
Require VA to maximize the use of private medical evidence (Rep. Walz) – amends title 38, United States Code, section 5103A(d)(1) to provide that, when a claimant submits private medical evidence, including a private medical opinion, that is competent, credible, probative, and otherwise adequate for rating purposes, the Secretary shall not request a VA medical examination.
IMPACT: Would conserve resources and enable quicker, more accurate rating decisions for veterans.
Require annual reports on VA regional offices that fail to meet backlog reduction goals (Rep. Meng) – requires annual reports on VA regional offices that are not meeting their administrative goal of no claim taking longer than 125 days with 98% accuracy. Details would be required explaining why the office did not meet the goal, what they need to meet it, and how failure to meet the goal was considered in regards to the VARO Director’s performance appraisal.
IMPACT: The reporting requirement would serve as a motivator for leadership to meet their administrative goal. It would also provide additional information in regards to the backlog at the individual VARO level and the information could assist policy-makers in considering additional solutions to reduce the backlog and provide better services to veterans.
Require Detailed Reporting on VA Information Requests to Federal Agencies (Rep. Ruiz) –requires VA to track all information requests to other federal entities.
IMPACT: Would require VA to provide quarterly updates to Congress in regards to the timeliness of other agencies in fulfilling their information requests. Veteran’s claims are often untimely because VA is waiting for other agencies to provide information. By having more definitive data, VA and Congress can work to reduce these bottlenecks.
Congressman Walz: Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act
Minnesota’s Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) circulated an email for feedback on his proposals.
The goal of the Walz proposal is 2 fold regarding the backlog:
- Private Medical Opinions: To use more private medical evidence for quicker ratings results. The proposal would restrict Secretary Shinseki’s ability to order new evaluations if a private medical evaluation is probative. A probative opinion will carry weight enough to render a decision for the veteran’s claim.
- Interim Decisions: Create authority to award interim decisions at the 30, 50 and 100 percent levels. This would allow veterans to receive benefits like vocational rehabilitation and VA home mortgage loans more quickly. These claims would be granted when there is at least the minimum level of evidence on which to base a claim.
Here is the language of the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.
Provide some feedback below in a comment. What do you think Republicans and Democrats should do to help fix the backlog?
Fox News Versus The Constitution
I wanted to include one section that is not really veteran centric, but something that all of us veterans should be aware of.
Last week, Fox News went on a tirade against the Constitution that stuck many as being shocking. For me, given Fox’s strong position on the 2nd Amendment, I would have assumed that their talking heads would also support the rest of the Bill of Rights.
Not so, according to clips put together by none other than John Stewart.
For the record, I love watching The Daily Show with John Stewart. Between the satire of Stewart and Colbert, I am quickly concluding that we get more news from comedy these days than from the news.
Here, Stewart had me at Beetlejuice:
For reference, the first 10 amendments invovle:
1 – Protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, as well as the right to assemble and petition the government.
2 – Protects a militia’s and an individual’s right to bear arms.
3 – Prohibits the forced quartering of soldiers during peacetime.
4 – Prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause.
5 – Sets out rules for indictment by grand jury and eminent domain, protects the right to due process, and prohibits self-incrimination and double jeopardy.
6 – Protects the right to a fair and speedy public trial by jury, including the rights to be notified of the accusations, to confront the accuser, to obtain witnesses and to retain counsel.
7 – Provides for the right to trial by jury in certain civil cases, according to common law.
8 – Prohibits excessive fines and excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.
9 – Protects rights not enumerated in the constitution.
10 – Limits the powers of the federal government to those delegated to it by the Constitution