Department of Veterans Affairs has done very little to promote advancements at the Board of Veterans Appeals including hiring Veterans Law Judges. So, I thought I would help out a little with this article.

One week ago, President Donald Trump approved the appointment of four new Veterans Law Judges (VLJ) to the Board. Generally, to qualify to become a VLJ, the applicant must have 7 to 10 years of experience working in veterans law and pass an intensive selection process.

We met with Chairman Cheryl Mason last week while I was in Washington DC for the bi-annual NOVA conference for veterans advocates. She is the first woman to hold the position, and gave us quite a lot of information about the Board’s present transition.

Barely anything is written about what the Chairman is doing to fix decisionmaking processing at the Board. The lack of publishing about Board progress is a problem.

Anyway, a few months ago, I wrote about the record number of appeals decided by the agency. Some attorneys have noted a lot of favorable claims coming out of the push while others indicate problems with some decisions.

Basically, the Board has adopted a new writing template that simplifies a Board decision and puts the decision at the beginning of the document instead of the end. The decisions are easier to read but the current joint remand rate from the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is reportedly higher.

The Chairman says she prefers the new system to the old system since veterans reportedly find the decisions easier to read.

You have to start somewhere, right? For the previous six years, the Board lacked a political appointee, and its culture slowly eroded, which included the creation of the racist Forum of Hate. The employees involved were fired, and the appellate organization rounded a corner to incorporate some of Bob McDonald’s customer service improvements into the culture.

Chairman Mason intends to fully right the ship through strategic hiring and advancements in client management software systems to better track claims through the appellate process.

As for the decision templates, the process will get perfected over the next few years. Meanwhile, the Board is adopting more systems from the Social Security Administration including evolving its existing case management system.

About the new judges, according to a VA press release:

Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that President Donald J. Trump recently approved the appointment of four new Veterans Law Judges to VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals

“Bringing on additional judges means the Board will be better staffed to conduct hearings and decide appeals properly in a timely manner,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Combined with procedural changes under the Appeals Modernization and Improvement Act of 2017 [AMA] and the hiring of more than 200 additional Board attorneys, this translates into better and faster service for Veterans.” 

Veterans Law Judges are presidential appointees and go through a thorough vetting process. After an initial screening, the chairman of the Board recommends a list of candidates to the Secretary of the VA. If agreed to, the list of selectees is forwarded to the White House for final approval. Once approved, the selectees are notified by the chairman and officially sworn in. 

The following Veterans Law Judges will assume their roles Oct. 14, and will begin holding hearings and signing decisions for Veterans and other appellants: Lauren Cryan, Evan Deichert, William Donnelly and Cynthia Skow. 

In fiscal year 2018, the Board issued a historic 85,288 decisions to Veterans — 61.6 percent more than 2017. Expanding the roster of Veterans Law Judges will allow the Board to continue issuing more decisions for Veterans, as VA prepares for full implementation of the AMA. This law transforms a complex appeals process into one that is simplified, timely and transparent by providing Veterans with increased choice and control. The AMA will go into effect on Feb. 14. 

The Board also hired hundreds of new attorneys to work under the VLJs. And, the Board is also hiring teams of paralegals through a vendor to properly index the records inside the current VBMS system. These two groups will support VLJs.

Basically, the VLJs manage large teams of attorneys to process the claims. In a given year, a VLJ processes around 900 appeals and holds over 200 hearings, and they need all the support they can get. Previously, the Board had around 92 VLJs and now they have 96.

Personally, I think they need to hire more VLJs or even augment their current workforce with Administrative Law Judges by exercising delegated authority from the VA Secretary.

In the next 8 years, the number of veterans appeals is expected to triple, so they better figure out how to add more decisionmakers and not solely focus on adding more support staff and software systems.

That aside, the Board seems to be moving in the right direction, and the new Chairman is open to at least hear out reforms.

Back to the headline, the agency’s public affairs department seems to be asleep at the wheel concerning promoting agency advancements like what is going on at the Board. The news of the new judges showed up only on the agency’s website and one quick blurb on Military.com.

That is not what I would call a good public affairs campaign.

UPDATE: 10 hours after publishing this article, two news sources reported partisanship in the selection process of 8 individuals nominated for the positions. The White House reportedly rejected 4 of the candidates for political reasons.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. There were eight names that were forwarded to the President for appointment as veterans law judges. All eight had signed decisions as acting veterans law judges. Regrettably two of the nominees who were not approved by the president (even though they had exemplary records) were pro-veterans but because they did not contribute to his campaign, they were not chosen. Once again, the two most pro-veteran nominees were not approved and the four anti-vet nominees were approved. The other two were very neutral but leaning pro-vet nominees were also not approved.

    • Hey Elmer Fudd,

      Quite the aggressive statement with no source to back it up.

      In other words Total Bullshit!

      “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fd0ibgjyB4”

      • Gee Fudd,

        It is very clear that I am correct about you spreading total bullshit!

        Nice little response to Dan’s post, but it changed what you were claiming in your first post. And of course you don’t have any sources to back up your new statements again!!

        Total Troll Elmer Fudd, total troll!!!

        __

        Dan is right about you needing help from psych services, get some help looney tunes.

        “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FwPZ8w8P2rE”

      • You work at the board?

        Does that have anything to do with how you got your 100 percent schedular disabled Veteran rating?

        Or did you get for your undying support of the AFGE?

        Fucking Scumbag!

        “https://www.disabledveterans.org/2018/09/01/afge-wins-again-va-ordered-to-rehire-employees-fired-without-pips/#comment-106576”

    • Sorry Fudd, but you are full of shit!. maybe you need to go see a VA head shrink for your Trumpderangement syndrome

      • I find it amazing that if someone provides factual information concerning a part of VA, that person is attacked. Nevertheless, you all can contact the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (attention Chairman C. Mason) and ask how many attorneys applied for the positions. You will discover that there were eight individuals who were chosen after being interviewed by a committee. Each of the individuals who were chosen had been acting veterans law judges or had worked in the front office (the sixth floor) or had been back-stopping the Chiefs. Each person then had to provide additional information that was forwarded to the Secretary’s Office for review. Included in that questionnaire was financial data along with various questions, including a question on political history which may have been a violation of the Hatch Act. The individuals chosen were questioned by the Secretary’s Office and the eight names, along with their packets, were forwarded to the White House for approval. On or about September 6, 2018, the eight individuals were informed of the decision of the White House. The four individuals who indicated that they were affiliated with certain political concepts of the current administration were chosen to be Veterans Law Judges. The four individuals who indicated that they were no so affiliated were told that they had not been chosen. That is, even though the four non-chosen individuals may had more experience in producing cases, or signed/wrote better written cases, or were more likely to write/sign a case that was beneficial to a veteran, those individuals were not chosen.

  2. There is an implication that because the number of remands from the Board has increased that this is a bad thing. The Board’s number of remands have increased because some of the cases that are being presented to the Board are incomplete and missing information. Cases are being remanded because there is incomplete medical information (records or physicals), there is a lack of financial documentation on cases involving pensions, there is no information showing that the veteran was properly notified of how his/her case was being prosecuted, there are missing social security administration records, etc. By and large, if cases are remanded, they are remanded to obtain additional evidence that may assist in the granting of benefits.

  3. It is a revolving door. Remand, Remand, Refer, Refer. Stuck in the wheel 28 years and counting. No wonder no one finishes. It is designed to keep going until you are dead.

  4. After 29 years fighting the VARO and Board, I have learned they cover each other mistakes and these older ones will only teach the newer ones the old system. I don’t believe there is in help in the VA Department. They will continue to waste taxpayers money and deny veterans and widows what they deserve.

  5. Well – I don’t know what to think. I’m in the process of jumping on this hamster wheel, again. Last time I submitted as evidence books that are written about my medical issue, scholarly review journal articles that substantiate my claim, medical websites private as well as the VA’s own site, and finally I submitted a case that had already been awarded VADB which is the exact same issue that I am presenting and is used as the case that established precedence for my claim. The only thing I did not have was an outside expert medical opinion. Annnnd the clincher is that my case was closed because they said they never received the appeal form information which was submitted via a VA medical facility fax machine!

    Oh well, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, last a little longer – doesn’t
    mean it’s over cause your denied your dues. LOL

    Godspeed

  6. I will never understand why my own case of PTSD filed years after the triggering events went through without one single hitch. I was awarded 100% without appeal. I only presented my personal argument that talked about my life and how it had changed because of PTSD. First review is done and they continued benefits at 100%. Now I have terminal cancer so no more reviews and it is all set.

    When I have read stories online about folks frustrated with the process it becomes clear that many are not making their own case. I mean by this that many present documents, doctors findings, and so forth but how many folks shoot themselves in the foot by not making their own case strongly? The problem I think sometimes is that it is hard to make a case you are weak or sick. I pointed out that over the years I had struggled with alcoholism, morbid obesity, failed relationships, and an inability to keep a job long. I do live alone and pointed that out. I have been disowned by my daughter and pointed that out. I have walked off the job because of anger and pointed that out. In fact I did a character assasination on myself to point out how screwed up my life was.

    I emphasized the truth that my social skills suck and every friendship newrly always crumbles. What I did not do was blame ANY of my social problems on other people or just poor luck. I placed the peg of blame squarely on PTSD. I researched every symptom and provided example of how each had devastated some part of my life and so forth.

    Combined with medical records to confirm the actual injuries sustained the guy who decided my case commented in a way that left little doubt why he awarded 100% first try. This came YEARS after the triggering event and I even pointed out this too insofar as my fear and shame and regret had kept me silent. In fact I pointed out it was a VA medical examiner who I went to for a foot problem that saw my questionaire answers marker “decline to answer” on several questions who ultimately insisted I file a claim. Oddly enough I was told that declining to answer sensitive questions was a strong point in determining the truth of the matter.

    Is it possible that vets are just not good at making their own cases? Are PTSD survivors showing up with family in tow and trying to explain then that all social functions are abnormal? During questions do vets get defensive about why they do not get along or keep a job, or are they open about themselves being the defective party? Are they blazing alcoholics like I became and decided to sugar cost what life is like for a pathetic drunk?

    I have much experience writing argument and I set out to write the best argument for my case and it made me feel small and petty. In fact that was the strategy was to beat myself up over my life decisions and relate it all back to symptoms of PTSD. In fact except for VERY old hospital records of treatment there was simoly no other records. No witnesses or buddy statements or any of that stuff.

    However I read all the time that a PTSD rating of 100% is hard to get the first try. I have to wonder if vets need a course in just how to write their own arguments instead of solely relying on doctors. My own argument was the only evidence besides the records of injury MANY years prior that they had to go on. The man deciding the matter said simply, “The veteran made a lengthy and credible account of how PTSD had impacted his life…” and so forth. He noted that some statements had mild inconsistencies but that after a lot of time that this was understandable. I am not tooting my own horn here regarding writing skills because what I said was true. I did what is VERY tough for many men, let alone Marines to do; I outlined in detail my personal failings and blamed it on nobody except me and then point by point related that to PTSD. I painted myself as a complete loser in life and the decision was that I was “totally socially deficient”. IN FACT the very fact that I had been receiving PRF letters designsting me a Cat One Violent and Disruptive Patient was also taken as evidence of complete social dysfunction! That is right – by continuously labelling me as a Cat One disruptive patient the VA essentially assured the decision according to one of my counsellors. It was a bitter pill to swallow to use something I despise, the PRF system, to my advantage in the VBA decision and I pointed out clearly, “… in fact even now I am followed by armed federal agents when I seek healthcare as a direct results of the symptoms of PTSD…”

    Could it be that vet groups need to focus on classes on just how to present your own story? In fact I was awarded SSDI at the same time and submitted the same arguments to that judge. Again, no appeal necessry and as with VBA my benefits have been reviewed and continued.

    The key seemed to be to present every aspect of the argument from the viewpoint of a victim of disease and made zero attempts to justify my life failures. I have come to believe that many vets simply cannot make the jump fully in relating their story that paints themselves in unflattering light but this is exactly what seemed to be needed.

    Odd is it not that the PRF system likely is what turned the corner in my argument about how typical PTSD symptoms had caused the PRFs and instead of punishing me as was the intent the VA bolstered my case unwittingly in a huge way by engaging in this.

    • Dennis. I just read your write up. It was interesting. It sounds familar. Letters are tough to write, keeping track of appointments, evidence, and making an arguement. All while you are an injured veteran, and disabled former soldier. This can be so so tough. Most injured vets, and disabled former soldiers I found through my experiences, if they do not have a pitbull, friend, wife, doctor, advocate, and or family member backing them up on their journey through the VA. Assiting them in the VA appeals and benefits process. Well. Most likely they will get screwed, to some degree. It’s been my experiences here with the VA in Ohio. I met some bad VA doctors both sinister and evil in nature. One I’ve mentioned on here. I do understand you Dennis. Thanx you for your wisdom, experiences, and sharing with us. I wish you luck in life Dennis. Respectfully, Injured/Retired Veteran Ohio.

    • Thank you for sharing all this Dennis. It is helpful to hear this perspective. Sometimes I just got to face the music and realize that its up to me to describe the pain and confusion and frustration going on inside. And facing is probably the road to healing as well.

  7. Dennis, I’m sorry to hear you are not well.

    I always think about you, when I write about the Disruptive committee.

    I will continue to think about you and other veterans whom have been accused and punished by the VA Disruptive committee.

    I will fight until all veterans are free from being accused and punished by an agency who is harming innocent veterans.

    The VA has no business acting as part of our justice department ! None of these people have the right to punish anyone.

    That is why people like Ben, have to go to school, to practice law in the United States.

    I have found a law firm willing to help veterans who have been falsely accused and punished for something that happened.

    So, if you know or anyone knows any veterans who have been falsely accused and punished within the last year !

    Please call the Berry law firm at 402-378-9337, ask for Mr Francisco.

    They are willing to bring a Class action lawsuit against the VA concerning the VA Disruptive committee and how they have steipped away all of the veterans civil rights, human and constitutional rights away.

    One day my friend ! Veterans will no longer be punished by the VA, for anything !

    God bless !

  8. Using the Federal court system is akin to attacking a well-fortified position protected by minefields, complete with smoke, bad weather, swamps and other evil characters. I have yet to hear anyone challenge their decisions by insisting they are rooted in fraud, and therefore are inadmissible. 85% of WW1 veteran claims were denied under Charles Forbes while he embezzled $200 million from 1921-1924. If that is not fruit of the vine I don’t know what is. That, creating multiple classes of people, lack of RICO charges against those deliberately distorting cause and effect which results in the wholesale genocide of a targeted group of people – crimes against humanity definition in the world court. I was talking with someone about the VBA and their culture of denial while they are paid well with benefits, an protected by their union, and their disability is much easier to get and is appropriate to the world now. Federal railroad employees have over a 90% approval rate for disability the first go round, and they average $3,000 a month. We talked about the lack of violence against the VBA, which we believe is a testament to the character of the US veteran. He reminded me they have families, too. I replied that doesn’t mean a damn thing to me – so do we and they don’t give a tinker’s damn. And oh by the way, almost 2 million of my brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam are now deceased – ahead of normal mortality rates. Finally, the former director of the OMB agreed the taxpayers are spending a lot more money by telling vets no than if they agreed. We could save a large chunk of the $5 billion allocated for administrative costs telling us no, and then forcing other Agencies to pick up the tab expending more administrative costs over and above the program costs that must now be expended because the VA said no.

  9. As I continue to tell my Veterans, clients ,and speak at Community, American Legion, and other Veteran meetings dealing with the VA is a battle and we are at war with the system. The tactics of Delay ,Discourage and Deny are carved in stone. The past two Secretary of Veterans Administration and the current Secretary Mr.Wilke all conspired to do damage to our Veteran Community, in 2015 with a looming 800 thousand claims sitting for more than 3 years Mr.McDonald attempted to persuade Congress to rewrite legislation so he could clear the desks the plan he proposed would have cleared 90% of the claims for lack of new and material evidence, Congress said no he implemented the National Work Cue which is a disaster if you have more than one condition,Mr Shukaly knowing that the Choice Program was underfunded was going to terminate I.U. for all Veterans 65 years or older because they would be receiving Social Security, fortunately Attorneys stopped him ,Mr.Wilke put together the Blue Water Veterans compensation plan to start Compensating the Vietnam Navy Veterans everyone was elated until we learned how he planned to pay for it. Veterans using their Certificate of eligibility would have to pay a one time charge, last word is that it is being re-done. When you have Employees bieng told that all they have to do is show up on time, do the bare minimum of work, don’t make waves, and do not worry about screwing up we have you covered for 20,30 years and they can collect a pension it will not change.

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