Lone Activist Wins VA Procedure Change

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VA procedure change

Benjamin KrauseVeterans Affairs director of compensation Tom Murphy announced his program is making a needed VA procedure change following pressure from lone activist turned veterans benefits attorney. The agency is now changing its language covering certain veterans benefits attorney agreements nationwide.

Who knew one activists lone voice could push VA to make a procedure change, or at least push VA past the tipping point?

The VA policy change is significant and will affect veterans benefits attorneys across the country and assist the process of accessing veterans files more quickly. The issue at play was VA’s requirement for veterans benefits attorneys to sign the Rules of Behavior for VA Contractors agreement before electronically accessing veterans’ files. Those agreements forced VA attorneys to sign away certain privacy rights in an unlawful manner.

That stakeholder referenced was none other than me taking on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for handcuffing veterans benefits attorneys on this blog, DisabledVeterans.org. And, I am very pleased VA is finally listening to outside-the-beltway activists like me. Many attorneys including myself hammered VA about the issue for over a year. After bringing the issue to the “courtroom of public opinion”, VA finally hit the tipping point and changed its tune in light of the embarrassing position it previously clung to.

RELATED: Little guy prods VA on claims backlog – Star Tribune

If you take nothing else away from this post, just know that VA is obviously watching what is going on here and making policy changes when common sense provides no other alternative. This means readers who post constructive or instructive comments may be able to influence policies all the way in DC.

Do you think they will keep it up? I hope you stick around to find out.

RELATED: VA Handcuffs Veterans Law Attorneys

Previously, VA claimed signing the Rules of Behavior prior to any veteran representative accessing the new Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). I pushed back on the issue for one year because of huge concerns with the agreement forcing me to waive client confidentiality. Here are the examples:

“I understand and agree that I have no reasonable expectation of privacy in accessing or using any VA, or other Federal Government information systems.”

“I consent to reviews and actions by the Office of Information & Technology (OI&T) staff designated and authorized by the VA Chief Information Officer (CIO) and to the VA OIG regarding my access to and use of any information assets or resources associated with my performance of services under the contract terms with the VA.”

“These actions may include monitoring, recording, copying, inspecting, restricting access, blocking, tracking, and disclosing to all authorized OI&T, VA, and law enforcement personnel as directed by the VA CIO without my prior consent or notification.”

I hammed the issue last Tuesday on DisabledVeterans.org and by Friday, Tom Murphy ponied up the VA policy change that will result in a rewrite its Rules of Behavior for veterans benefits attorneys. His policy announcement came during a presentation to the National Organization for Veterans Advocates (NOVA) at its spring seminar in San Francisco.

Problems with the Rules of Behavior agreements were pretty obvious, but many VA employees believed the agreements were fine for attorneys since Veterans Service Organizations all signed them prior to accessing VBMS. One example was my Regional Office chief information officer who wrote the following in an email to me:

“We will require the signed Rules of Behavior before a background check can be conducted, as well. Please noted, as we discussed during a phone conversation, the term “contractor” entails stakeholders, such as VSOs, CVSOs, not just federal contractors.”

What are some things you have done to change the dialogue with VA? Did you make a small change in your approach to a benefits employee that resulted in a win? What ideas do you have that could make a big difference for veterans in the long run?

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25 Comments

  1. I recieved a letter from Pam Heller Director of Health Information Management , with this story of how the VA is the owner of your records. She also cited 2410P-2 on how the VA stores your record for a period of 75 years despite your revocation of consent to authorize VA to hold your records. I recently had an issue with VA regarding the inappropriate use of a behavioral flag placed in my record 6 months after being barred for uncontested allegations. I wrote to the Secretary directly and he referred the complaint directly back to the facility , despite the regulation stating it could be appealed to the VISN network director. Ms. Heller is incorrectly citing statues under 5 USC 552A (A) (4) in which she wrote “ownership” is defined as VA property and goes on referencing Handbook 1907.01

    I told her that she needs to read up under the law and the Conspiracy Rights Act , where the VA is conspiring against Veterans under these privacy rules and your property rights by making and changing the rules under unconstitutional premise.

    Every veteran should file a copyright to their medical record so that the government cannot deseminate, copy or infringe on your rights under the benefit of doubt clause, when itis your inherit right.

    Ms. Heller needs to be called out on this because she is making up her own rules and is trying to change VA practices under the guise of business necessity. If a veteran revokes consent. He should be able to purge or expunge his record from their system.

    By the way, isn’t it unlawful for general counsel to read the Secretary’s e-mail that I sent directly to him?

    I got a letter from general counsel citing specifics in the e-mail, but the secretary is telling the public and Congress that he meets with every whistleblower.

    Go figure, you would think someone from the 82nd Airborne would be true to their word. This is the reason why posers are so disgusting to me. It would be easier not to take the job of Secretary than to say you represent veterans and unethically use the Honorable name of the 82 Airborne to deceive veterans.

    Retire already!

    Signed,

    Your friendly neighborhood Corpsman

    • Good Morning CorpsmanuP! (@Tang1967), I am with you and the VA Sec. is a bold face liar. He may meet with some whistleblowers. He has not reached out too me yet and I was a whistleblower over 10 years ago…I am going to assume that because I am a Veteran, I am not considered a whistleblower??? Also, in reading Ben’s blog today, I always wondered if the VA had access to read what we are posting here which doesn’t bother me, what bothers me is that they have some type of access to whatever we are posting and some veterans on this blog current and former have been tagged by the VA and have beefed denied access to medical and hospitalization because they speak out against the VA. I hate that some attorneys call themselves veterans advocates and then sell our veterans out to the Department of Veterans Affairs…
      CorpsmanuP! (@Tang1967), could you contact me Danny Toliver, at (215) 264-8192.

      Semper Fi, 100% Disabled-Veteran

      • The very reason to file ethics complaints with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel in their jurisdiction. If you have an attorney acting unethically representing you, is just cause for such complaint. Congress needs to appropriate a fund for pro se representation, because the VA, NARA have control over records. This would be efficient for judicial integrity and efficiency and satisfy the requirement for benefit of doubt. Semper Fi Dan and thank you for your Devil Dog attitude! Yut! “The difficult anytime, the impossible by appointment only” I will call you later this evening if that is ok with you, around 6pm EST.

      • Very interesting since several lawyers who contacted us have already put in lawsuits themselves against the VA concerning signing these agreements since its unconditional and breakage of clients rights and privacy/confidentiality rights of lawyers clients Maybe your not the only one Ben ??!! or maybe your fellow lawyers should also be taking credit as well?? BY the way how do other 100% disabled veterans like myself get a $25,000 computer equipment being out of VA Vocrehab for 20 years and having or running business or non profit since we need one??

        Lee Horowitz, M.Ed, CAGS
        US Navy, Veterans Advocate Civil rights Advocate
        Centers for Independent Living CIL civil rights advocate with Disabled Veterans
        [email protected]

      • @Lee. First, as an activist, I fired up the press engine and pushed VA publicly to change the policy. Three days later, they announced the change. Note, most attorneys are not also activists. Behind the scenes and out of the public eye, as an attorney, I pushed VA for over one year to make the change but the local RO refused. So did a few other attorneys but many buckled under and signed the agreement while others just waited patiently. No other attorneys used the press route to publicly shame VA as an activist, hence the title. I did hammer on VA using the court of public opinion and three days later Mr. Murphy referenced the work I did at the NOVA conference and that the change would be made.

        Behind the scenes, I was informed that my technique of using media pushed the issue to the breaking point. But there can be no doubt that VA knew it was a dumb policy regional offices were clinging to, and like many other things, VA had little impetus to change direction in a quick manner until they got embarrassed. I may or may not have been one of the first people to complain about the ROB issue back to VA. I am pretty sure I am the first person to take the matter to the public via the “courtroom of public opinion.”

        Second, I am writing a book to help veterans do what I did with self-employment. I tracked my hours to see how much it would cost a veteran to hire an attorney to do what I did, which was navigate an appeal for self-employment benefits at the RO level for over one year. The total representation, had I hired an attorney, would have cost more than $40,000. So, given the complexity, it makes sense to write a book on it rather than a blog post.

  2. Good Job, Ben!
    However, make sure to read the ‘new and improved published version’ just to ensure the VA did not insert some other language that the VA could stretch into whatever they think it means…like the 40 mile as a crow flies Choice Program debacle.

    Activism DOES work and I really believe if WE Veterans were to become united in a cohesive, collective vote, it would be a formidable force to recon with.

    • I was surprised when Tom mentioned my points at the NOVA conference in front of 400 attorneys and veteran representatives. Rumor has it they were going to include me in a new rollout beta of the VBMS platform, but I have not heard anything formally from the agency yet.

  3. .I have said it MANY times; I look to Ben Krause for leadership in the fight against VA. There are TWO things that VA fears, those are lawyers and journalists, and Ben is BOTH.

    • Larry, I have been one with empathy, intuitive and a sponge for knowledge. But, if I sense an alarm bell within? I bring in one who doesn’t miss a pause, a word, or a reaction to a quesI know how they work, but one thing I hate, never talk to me because you’re a male and I am not. ion. My logic? Be ten steps ahead always, trained that way. Not only that I am one who thinks how to be kind to those often unseen hard workers use praise. I often have used this phrase; “THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX.” Request your records, specifically
      CD format unless you have a device that can scan faster. You can always print them, but know enough that little cool thing we call thumb drives, a great tool as well. However I was as in past tense, willing to assist? Not now! because the damage done and the idiot award needed, my life will never ever be the same.
      I AGREE, VETERANS NEED TO STAND AS ONE, AS WE WERE SO TRAINED. BUT WHY MUST A LAWYER GET A BIG CUT IN ANY DAMN WAY? FILING FEE, PLUS TIME, PLUS ANY SECOND USED BILLED BY 15 MINUTE INCREMENTS? YES, SCHOOL IS EXPENSIVE BUT MY LIFE HAS WAY MORE VALUE THAN ANY EDUCATION! I think I should charge my fees, lost moments to cherish with grandchildren, pain that I would only wish on two people, before none. Hey, they need to OWN IT! Because as I said to my own, “manners a must, no choice, if you lie? OWN IT. RESPECT? IT ISN’T A GIVEN TO ANYONE AND I DO NOT CARE HOW OLD YOU ARE, RESPECT IS EARNED AND NEVER EVER A GIVEN TO ANYONE ESPECIALLY IF DEMANDED, CALL MOM, SHE HAS HER CAPE!”
      I do appreciate all Ben has done. Yet trying to get wrongs righted, boy did Hickey screw that up!
      Ben, do you see what is lacking in all this? Your Veterans who need assistance without every damn shark waiting to take a major chunk out of what a VETERAN HAS EARNED! I know the drill, I also don’t like a male talking as if I have no brains. Ask anyone who knows me well, “boy you better get ready because she can go
      Nonstop and will make you wish you never ever spoke to her in that manner!” I wasn’t raised stupid, nor will I deal
      With a person who thinks its okay. Hey, you think I am bad? Oh I have one who can cut you down in less than 30 seconds! “Well trained, well educated college done in 3 years, but sweet she is just never ever underestimate anyone’s thinking, because that HAS BEEN THE WHOLE VA GAME!

  4. Well first of all I did not work in the Intel field at all so as far as I am concerned once those records are in my hands I may do whatever needs to be done. See other doctors, damage done by one idiot who left out “disabled” so screwed up my body, its on THEIR HEADS! In fact one doctor had it right at the VA but another didn’t like him, do they give “idiot awards out?” A nurse who went into the records and changed it, caught, can prove it, fight they want? So bring in how many REAL DOCTORS IN A FEDERAL COURT THAT WOULD DEFINITELY SHAME THE VA? I do not lie, not a drug addict, feel that second C&P scheduled by Hickey was to cover their asses, but won’t in anyway all, in fact it will look exactly as stated “PROOF I HAVE, FLAWED LOGIC YOU DO.” They have a long long way to go before I buy into we are all better now! Especially since I got an email that stated I made a complaint on October 29, 2014? Um not? Way before that, but as I had been doing the pain from hell for about 30 hours, can’t sleep, drugs won’t help, I wrote with my right hand, leftie I am but do use both field in every single space with being obnoxiously rude after the damaged they caused me. You want to fight a case Ben? You’ve won one for Lawyers, which most are sharks, I have all the info needed to prove it, and a doctor who stated sue it. This isn’t just benefits, this too has tort laws all over that damning VA record, I know, because you stepped into my world now, more than a Navy Doc as we often got called but moved and continued on many different levels. A record like this at a real facility? They would be goners when done. Slander my character calling me an opioid addict? Dude! I haven’t had any for weeks! In fact addiction needs to have some updating but never call me something I happen to be studying and a PROFESSOR STOPS TALKING AND TELLS ME TAKE A PAIN MEDICATION BECAUSE SHE CANT TEACH WITH MY PINCHED UP FACE? I hate pills. I hate them a whole lot, and with a good reason to, because they don’t do much to help nights of no sleep, yes even with sleep pills. Pain so bad my blood pressure goes back up again ( pain related) stroke level high. 172/112 ain’t a cool reading. Poorly
    trained staff? Do you know some have a heart attack and feel nothing? Impress me, take on a VA! My records requested, stated why, no lie, but again I didn’t work intel so I am NOT BOUND BY A LAW LIKE THAT IN ANYWAY. INTEL IN THE HOUSE? YUP, HE IS. Oh and just FYI? Find the gatekeepers of all I have? Good luck with that one, I have
    MANY MANY FRIENDS!

  5. Ben, can you work your magical hammer to bring continuous public awareness to the VA scandal about the VA whistleblower who exposed the billions of dollars of cost overrun at the Denver hospital project? The cost overrun was the subject of the hearing last week by the House VA Committee. The whistleblower’s name is Adelino Gorospe. He was fired by the Head of VA Procurement Glenn Haggstrom 3 years ago for speaking up about the fraud waste and abuse in VA procurement. He believes that applying unrelenting pressure on the VA’s money managers will bring lasting reforms on the VA, especially if it results in the President and the Department of Justice calling for criminal investigations on the disappearance of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money. Please?

  6. All Points Bulletin to veterans: The fraudulent federal ticket the VA cops issued me a couple of weeks ago was just dismissed/cancelled. Besides the hoop jumping process the $275 extortion/ticket offered, my wife and I ignored that BS. You might want to pay attention because according to our Congressman’s office (Doug LaMalfa, California, US Rep.), namely Erin Ryan, she told us: “The VA Cops have taken over the VA all around northern California and [elsewhere around the country].” Anyway, the local VA Outpatient Clinic Administrative Director, Eve Dutra-See (Chico, California) who was the intended victim of an assassination plot by sniper, came to the aid of me and my wife. She contacted the VA Police leadership at the VA Hospital that oversees our local VA Clinic VA cops. Bottom line is, this means a VA Outpatient Clinic Admin Director has the ability to get one of these bogus tickets dismissed. My wife and I had been called in to the local VA clinic to identify a sniper conspiracy criminal suspect, we did so, then the VA cops and private VA security guard contractors jumped on me just before I got to my car to get out of there, AFTER the VA cops and guards went psycho on us. It turns out that the VA cops are co-conspirators in this assassination plot, and if that is not the case, they are simply way past incompetent. We found out today from patient advocates, caregiver support staff (i have a pending claim for caregiver assistance), and other VA staff including the intended victim that: one or more of the sniper conspiracy suspects fed false info to the VA cops, but the VA cops had plenty of proof already that it was false. That is, when I refused to accept the sniper rifle and ammo from their demented little group they tried and succeeded in temporarily spinning the whole thing back on me. This could go on and on, but it centers on vets and disabled vets who mess with drugs and are just plain idiots that think it is a good idea to murder a Federal employee just because they don’t like her. I know the VA is very, VERY unpopular these days, but murder is NOT the way to address the problem of getting the VA on track to help us vets like they are chartered to do. We have seen other vets being set up and hauled away on stretchers like they did to me. Fortunately the intended victim of these flipped out vet brothers of ours who are really totally out their minds on the the stuff they buy at the local head shop/restaurants (pot laced with LSD, meth, etc.): the intended victim came to my rescue and to that of my wife. Church leaders, including a very prominent nationally prominent one, signed a petition for me that we didn’t even have to use except by word of mouth that we had a petition circulating about how VA cops had framed me. It sounds like a small thing to get a $275 ticket, but the scam is this: you have to pay it and admit guilt though they know they framed you, or get a federal court date where they will show up with their Glocks and tazers to frame you again, or option 3 which is: i don’t know, don’t recall what option 3 is: my ptsd is acting up right now from writing about this krap. i am going to surf for pictures of waterfalls now, and fuzzy puppies, the only ptsd therapy i am going to ever get as the VA continues to block me from medical care though i am 100% service-connected. at least their extortion/beat the krap out of you for saving a despised VA clinic director’s life ticket is gone. now they will no doubt show up at my house pretending they didn’t know it was dismissed, like when the VA arranged the similar false arrest of my wife very recently, and one of our boys before that, and the other fled the country before they could figure out a way to frame him for one of their psychotic episodes. the VA is not out of control, they are flat out psycho and the VA cops are preying on all vets now and they will set you up if they get the slightest chance. don’t trust them on anything, including if they ask you to pick out a sniper suspect from a photo line up. pure insanity!!!!! what will they think of next? carving hearts and kidneys out of vets they murder with the wrong/unnecessary surgery? no, wait, they already do that. like over 100 mysterious deaths in heart surgery at the private hospital in Redding, California near the VA Outpatient clinic there where they also have tried to get me arrested while i desperately seek ptsd therapy. crazy bastards! God is in charge, and He will bust them, including McDonald and all the top leadership if they don’t find a way to get their insanity and abuse of us vets under control now.

  7. Ben, how can you put your name in the hat to be chose to be the next VA Secretary cabinet member? There is no one else like you anywhere. We will all back you up if you start looking into it.

  8. 04/22/2015

    Dear Benjamin Krause,

    Intent

    “A determination to perform a particular act or to act in a particular manner for a specific reason; an aim or design; a resolution to use a certain means to reach an end.”

    “Intent refers only to the state of mind with which the act is done or omitted.”

    Criminally insane VA officials operate with impunity and Congress is helpless! Why? 19,500 dead every year, 293 dead at Phoenix for over a year now —no one is asking Gannett about those numbers—everyone is spitting out 19 or 35 or 40 [take your pick]—hell, we know now in Wisconsin 33 are dead; so the new numbers should be 52 or 68 or 73 and the other number is now at 326.

    There is no intent!

    Let us not forget about Bruce Wallace’s words on 03/31/15, “The VA is not just out of control, they are delusionally dangerous and are victims of their own medical incompetence and administrative and police screw ups. they are running a drug pushing operation in these clinics and they all must be drug tested and the ones selling it and distributing it and using it must be arrested and prosecuted. they are dangerous as hell.”

    You cannot make a contract with a criminal—101 Business Law

    No contract is binding

    This organization must be changed.

    It will take all of us!—as I had stated for months!

    Tom Murphy, Adelino Gorospe, Frye, Foote, etc…..everyone!

    Good Work!

    Sincerely,

    Don Karg

  9. Ben & others, dare i say, i know a few legal professionals who will not sign *any “waiver of privacy/confidentiality” with the VA.

    if veteran already has the records it won’t be any problem for legal reps and maybe legal reps have other ways to get data from VA when helping a veterans’ claim than say, get onto the VA computer system.

    glad so many legal professionals WILL NOT be signing away with VA!

  10. Thanks, Ben, for your continued activism!

    I have a question on an unrelated matter. My appeal is now with the VLJ. I have noticed a recent spate of activity on my account on eBenefits, and I am wondering if I might be close to a hearing date.

    My issue is that when I’ve tried to call the number listed on the eBenefits website (1-800-923-8387), I have not received an answer for the past week. Although like every other veteran out there, I’ve been frustrated by trying to call in on other numbers, I’ve never had any problem connecting to the appeals line. I even got a recording that this number rings to a Verizon wireless phone! Seriously — a single cell phone for inquiries on this number?

    If any vet knows another number or alternate way to contact the appeals court, I’d appreciate it if he/she would share it.

  11. As a Caregiver to my 100% s-c Vietnam infantry combat-disabled Vet husband, I have fought long and hard with the VA and it is wonderful to have found your inspiring info. I was drawn onto the site by your thoughts on DROs.

    We were told (CV14-0547 LEK-BMK HID US Dist Ct Declaration by VAPIHCS Beneficiary Travel Officer David G. Pangelinan) that he had submitted our appeal to the BVA but we have grave doubts. I was trying to find out the details of the RO appeals process and came across the DRO review that I really wasn’t aware of.

    Thank you so much for fighting for all of us! Our individual voices are so small (thank Congress for 511 blockage to justice!) and the odds against us so great that you are a ray of light in the darkness of the DVA.

    BTW – We have two other FTCA cases in HID Civil.

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