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Marine Veteran Facing Homelessness After Illegal Reduction From 100% To 40%

Marine Veteran Benefits Reduction

One Marine veteran with a 100 percent disability rating from military sexual trauma (MST) is faced with homelessness this Christmas.

The veteran, Maria Jewell, came into our law office last week armed with a stack of letters from the Department of Veterans Affairs she just received. The single mother and MST survivor reviewed the documents and pointed out one glaringly obvious repeated mistake.

Her address.

Anyone familiar with VA knows the agency simply refuses to successfully connect its numerous databases containing addresses of veterans. A veteran could move five years ago, fully inform VA of the move, and then five years later, some database glitch would magically result in numerous notice letters going to the old address inexplicably.

Such was the case with Jewell.

On Way To VARO With Jewell

Future Examinations And Disability Reductions

Some of the veteran’s disabilities were not static including her PTSD rating. Every few years, VA will call back veterans with PTSD ratings to seek a new evaluation – – they call these Future Examinations.

The agency argues veterans with PTSD from sexual assaults will likely improve, so they haul many PTSD veterans back in for a new rating assessment.

Here, Jewell was apparently scheduled for a reexamination of her PTSD and other conditions, but the notice was sent to her old address. When Jewell did not show for the exam she did not know was being performed, the agency swiftly moved to reduce her benefits.

The second notice letter sent to the incorrect address informed her the agency’s “special review” mandated a reduction if she did not dispute the matter.

Last month, I received a trove of VA training presentations. The trove included one presentation addressing benefits reductions. Despite the PowerPoint saying this and that about a veteran’s right to due process, the transcript for the presentation said the goal of the adjudicator is simply to reduce.

So, without a supporting evaluation showing Jewell’s disabilities improved – – in fact, the agency’s own clinicians indicated the PTSD was chronic, for example – – an agency adjudicator simply looked at every angle to reduce the veteran’s benefits as far as possible.

The PTSD rating alone went from 100% to 0%.

Adding insult to injury, sometime later, VA sent a notice letter to the veteran that her benefits adjudication was adverse and that the agency would reduce the overall rating from 100 percent with Special Monthly Compensation S to 40 percent.

60 Days To Contest Reduction

She was given 60 days to contest.

That is the difference of around $3,400 per month to $600. The reduction was set to go into effect right now.

Of course, Jewell knew nothing of the reduction, or her right to contest the reduction within 60 days of the decision, because – – you guessed it – – the agency sent the letter to the wrong address, again.

By the time she showed up at our office, she was beside herself with grief.

Oh, and she also has a looming eviction if she’s unable to pay rent, which she cannot pay since she does not work.

VBMS Review At Regional Office

Brian Lewis and I escorted Jewell to St. Paul Regional Office to help her review her C-File within VBMS – – the local VA representative were swift and willing to help Jewell get to the bottom of the matter right away – – this was pivotal to understand how to explain what happened to a judge if the veteran was evicted.

The records available clearly showed the agency had the right address within the system but it sent the notices to the wrong address.

While neither Brian nor I am representing Jewell for benefits, we wanted to urgently get to the bottom of her pending dislocation. As a father myself, I cannot imagine being displaced due to an agency mistake while also having custody of a minor child.

No Case Management By VSO

The organization that is representing Jewell was some hybrid relationship between the MN County Veteran Service Organization and American Legion.

When asked, the accredited VSO told us American Legion, at least at St. Paul RO, does not provide case management. So, the fact that the VA repeatedly sent notice and reduced the veteran’s benefits to 40 percent was not their problem; it was the veteran’s problem.

At least, that is what the veteran’s own representative said to us.

Some of you may be wondering what it is a VSO may do if they have Power of Attorney, which is what they have if they are not providing case management.

What Happened After VARO

VSOs Get Paid By Quantity Of Claims Filed

The gist of it is most VSOs or NSOs have such a high caseload that they only perform basic form filing functions initiating claims. They generally will not develop a case or perform case management. Coincidentally, those same organizations get some form of compensation based on the quantity of the claims filed. In Minnesota, so we are told, the state’s VA pays at least some of the organizations, and apparently covers the wages of the employees, while the federal VA provides rent-free space to the organizations.

As an attorney, I can tell you I must provide case management including reviewing correspondence from the agency to be sure my client is aware of what is happening with their appeal or claim, at least as much as is reasonably possible with VA and its ever-shifting policies.

VSOs here in Minnesota generally do not provide that level of service despite the suggestion that the VSO will behave like an attorney with their Power of Attorney.

Confusion About Power Of Attorney Assignment

Adding to the complexity was the veteran’s lack of knowledge that the American Legion was her representative. Apparently the local CVSO simply had the veteran sign the backside of the VA Form 21-22 without fully explaining the nature of their relationship with the Legion.

Things got weird when we tried to meet with the Legion representative to see what they planned to do to fix the problem. We ended up being referred to the MN Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) instead of the Legion office.

In Minnesota, the Legion has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the MN Department of Veterans Affairs where an MDVA accredited representative actually does the work and is paid for by the state. The individuals have some kind of dual appointment under the MOU meaning the government employee is also a VSO.

Does this make sense?

The veteran thought she was represented by the CVSO.

The veteran’s Power of Attorney was actually transferred on the 21-22 front side to the American Legion without her knowledge or understanding.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her and not reflected on the 21-22, the veteran’s representation was actually accomplished by a government employee of the MDVA. Again, when asked about how the matter fell through the cracks, we learned the MDVA representatives do not provide case management.

Do VSOs Do What Attorneys Do?

Instead, the veteran would need to jump through hoops to get the matter rectified, if possible. Circa 2017, I would have worked the matter myself by many VA accredited attorneys stopped representing Minnesota veterans for benefits appeals because the state passed a law pushed by CVSOs – – so we are told.

That law basically says VA accredited attorneys must force their prospective clients to sign a Disclosure Notice. That document states the veteran understands the services they plan to pay an attorney for would be provided by a VSO or CVSO for free:

You must sign this form if you wish to pay for services that you could receive at no cost from a Veterans Service Organization, the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs or Minnesota County Veterans Service Officer.

Additionally, if I advertise on a billboard or similar, I would need to publicly say the same – – that a VSO does what I do for a fee.

Failure to comply with the unconstitutional law can result in a fine of $1,000 per day.

What happened to free speech? How about a right to contract? Did veterans lose their right to hire an attorney whenever they like by merely being a veteran?

As a consequence, I no longer represent Minnesota veterans for benefits and will not until the law changes. As a VA accredited attorney, I am not bound by state law related to representing veterans before the federal agency, but I’m not going to bother getting hung up by local cowboys.

Again, the entire matter with Jewell highlighted how wrong the law is when it comes to free speech, a person’s right to the representation of their choice, and the federal preemption of a state to get involved in federal matters already delegated by Congress for regulation by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

Attorneys provide case management, and we can provide representation on appeals to a court. Generally speaking, no state CVSO can do that. But the law precludes me from representing a Minnesota veteran even to the Supreme Court unless the unconstitutional disclosure is signed, first.

When the law passed, legislators were not informed the federal agency already has federally preempted authority from Congress to govern representation relationships between private attorneys and veterans. And, the state agency’s own policy researchers were completely unaware of the conflict when it was drafted.

It was a mess.

Now, CVSOs, VSOs, and NSOs all have a necessary place in the system – – and many are great at their job in that context. They handle the initial claims applications for a variety of things, which is not an area of practice attorneys generally work within as we cannot earn a living, legally, representing veterans until they’ve been denied benefits.

However, when it comes to complicated appeals representation and issues of legal argument, CVSOs, VSOs, and NSOs generally lack training and resources and training attorneys have to develop complicated appeals.

Crazy town.

Maybe it’s the extreme cold here in Minnesota that makes folks get a little squirrely.

As for Jewell, hopefully, the matter will get resolved quickly without losing her apartment.

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38 thoughts on “Marine Veteran Facing Homelessness After Illegal Reduction From 100% To 40%”

  1. stephanie m mathews

    We have the same this going on we went from 80 to 20 it hurt us to we lost our house one of our cars

  2. You stated that VSOs get paid for the number of claims filed, how I wish that was correct.

    I have no idea how other states operate but in NC, this is not the case.

    I have been a VSO for 10 years and I have never been paid by the case load.

    1. Hi Rick, I appreciate that you wrote this and added some information to the bottom of the article to clarify. There are great CVSOs, VSOs, and NSOs out there. Also, the article points out that we’ve been told the “organizations” get some kind of monetary payment based on the number of claims filed, not the individual person. We are digging into this more deeply.

  3. Okay I’ve actually got a question?

    How is she doing? Does she need immediate assistance? We can contact local CVMA there and help out.
    We need to take immediate care of our Warrior Sister.

  4. Where to begin?

    First, my experience with the VSO was negative. I ended up filing my claim and won. In addition, I don’t want the VSO to have access to my personal information when they do not assist with resolving anything. So I will check to see who is representing me and have them removed.

    Next, I agree with another comment regarding the stress and frustration the veteran has to tolerate when attempting to obtain VA benefits. I don’t understand, if one is able to substantiate proof of the claim, then provide them their benefits! What happens instead, the veteran receives the run around and the VA denies accountability for their part in delaying your benefits. For example, when I filed an additional claim I presented it with personal medical evidence, peer review journal research, utilized their own statements that substantiated my claim and listed a similar case that have already been awarded VA Benefits which set precedence for my claim. Denied. Now I have to go at it again and obtain a Non-VA provider’s assessment as evidence which cost me even more time and money. Just so that eventually, I will receive what I am entitled which I will receive, because my claim is valid. I’m not a criminal and trying to swindle the government.

    Finally, what does it say about an organization who exploits those who are the least able to defend themselves, those that are sick and wounded? That is not the United States I honored and served. It is loathsome and disgraceful. Just saying

    Peace out

  5. Hello Mr. Krause. I wish I lived in MN or you could practice law in AR. I have a similar situation as Jewell. I had a 100% permanent and total rating from the VA until I refused the sexual advances of a female Regional Office employee who, was not even my case worker, down to 50% then to 60% after I contested. Long story short, I only recently learned from my mental health worker that my rating couldn’t be reduced unless fraud occurred. Believe me, I committed no fraud. I just saw the fella who originally wrote up my case and he told me the same thing as the mental health worker. He was familiar with the particular and potentially fatal chemotherapy I was getting. I had to work and finally retire with IU. I was rated at 90% t & p with 100% compensation. I am grateful for the change in rating but can’t help but be bitter with VBO thinking about all the money I was robbed of. I’m afraid to trust any VBO agent or VSO’s.

  6. Fubar HurryUp&Wait

    Ben, thanks for helping a vet in need, brother.
    Truly. Thank you. Stay blessed.
    Unbelievable news you’re reporting !
    It’s holiday season and Christmas time and the VA is throwing people out of house and home. What is this world coming to. Sweet baby Jesus !!!
    Really ?!?!?
    Can’t they at least declare a ceasefire on the poor vets during December ?

  7. from the story and as I said, the 5 year mark, they disable you for 5 years, during that 5 years they will either retire you permanently at that stable rating, or they will reduce you from treatment. If she didnt stay put when she got out they will send mail to your former address if you didnt notify them, secondly if she wasnt a P&T across the board, they will reduce you, you have to call them and ask if you are a P&T-if not then you are 100% reducible after 5 years.

    1. No, Christine. I kept up my addresses at the DVA. The AOs and the DROs purposefully looked for addresses that were more than a year old in my file so that the Post Office wouldn’t forward the mail. I had received payment for benefits at my new addresses as proof the letters were sent to the wrong addresses. Plus the AOs and DROs that did that had to look to older information in the file in order to do that.

      I’ll bet it is the same with this case and will be easy to prove by Ben. Letters and visits to the DVAMC which changes the addresses online for both the DVAMC and DVA Benefits Divisions.

  8. So I guess we’re all facing a reduction in benefits in the future. Typical VA move.
    Guess I need to find a veteran attorney in New Mexico for any future need.
    Thank you for helping her Ben

  9. Dear Mr. Krause,
    Please don’t lump all CVSOs together, there are good ones and bad ones just like there are good lawyers and bad lawyers. I am a CVSO in South FL and I am not paid based on the number of cases I do. I work very hard and very long to ensure that the Veterans I assist receive the best case management I can provide. I have accreditation with several Service Organizations, American Legion, DAV and so on, but I have no allegiance to anyone but the Veterans I serve. If a Veteran has a legal issue I won’t hesitate to refer them to an attorney. Most of the Veterans I see don’t have the financial resources to hire a lawyer for an initial claim and most, basically all, of the attorneys in my area won’t do an initial claim pro bono. As I’m sure you know, Veterans aren’t supposed to be charged for an initial claim anyway. I receive a minimum of two weeks residence training from the VA yearly and do at least 4 hours a week of ongoing training. Bottom line, we both want the same thing, fair treatment for Veterans. Rather than throw all CVSOs under a bus, lets’ see if we can work together to that end. Sincerely, Andy

    1. Andy, if you are as you say you are, you are one of the few. Most are satisfied and probably pressured by their own receipt of compensation to delay and assist to deny. The reason is $$$,$$$,$$$,$$$ because of lobbyists representing those warned about by President Eisenhower. The military industrial complex interests in providing hardware not consuming veteran compensation. The hardware they produce is also consumed but it provides benefit to CEOs and stockholders. There is a huge competition for budget $ and the only thing being given to the veterans is in private contracts which limit the contractors.

      For example: The Phoenix/Cheyenne VA crisis landed Health Net and $10,000,000.00 plus contract to provide Choice Benefits. I have a $2,500.00 Choice bill I ended up paying to maintain my credit. Health Net refused an audit by the DVA IG. Apparently there was an escape clause in the finale contract. The top 5 executives took down $25,000,000.00 per year with the top executive getting over half of that. What did the lobbyist get that was the former supervisor/trainer of both the Phoenix and Cheyenne DVAMCs get out of that? No one has looked beyond giving the Director of the Phoenix DVA getting a new post.

      In my 45 years as a veteran claiming benefits and trying to obtain benefits for veteran victims of organic brain syndromes I’ve had 3 VSO reps that were moderately informed and willing to try. No one represented me well in my two trips to the BVA. The last was an attorney, who wouldn’t claim CUE, didn’t see the evidence of whistle blower retaliation in the record, accepted the BVA Judge’s assertion at the hearing that the record was complete in spite of my challenges that it was incomplete and that probative evidence was missing that was in the hands of the DVA Medical Division.

      If you know an attorney who has been successful representing CUE and 1151 cases, I am able to pay for the initial consultation. If you know a firm who is willing to look at a class action for the veterans who had cerebral malaria, I can point them in the right direction to develop a case including the deliberate deceptions by the military and the DVA (publicly recorded) that would put aside any SOLs.

      [email protected]” Put up or shut up.

    2. Hi Andrew, I appreciate that you wrote this and added some information to the bottom of the article to clarify. There are great CVSOs, VSOs, and NSOs out there. Also, the article points out that we’ve been told the “organizations” get some kind of monetary payment based on the number of claims filed, not the individual person being paid based on quota numbers. In Minnesota, apparently some, many, or all MN CVSOs put the American Legion into the VA Form 21-22 as the POA instead of the CVSO. Many veterans believe their representative is the CVSO in error. Also, in MN, the Legion has a relationship with MN DVA where the state’s representatives do the work for the Legion at the Regional Office. So, the CVSO two parties away from the action at the Regional Office. I understand this kind of relationship occurs in other states, too, but possibly between different NSO depending on the state. Meanwhile, veterans are confused about who is doing what.

  10. Had the same problem in my 1992 and 2003 reiteration of the 1992 Claim. But it looks purposeful to me given the other whistle blower actions such and loss of medical file, then loss of probative evidence plus refusal to provide evidence and instead providing only copies of the contested reports. As in WNL radiographic reports of old injuries, and WNL reports of EEGs that were inconsistent with previous EEGs.

    Filed first case against the DVA in 1987 in the U S District Court of Central CA, timely congruent with the loss of my medical record, arguing that organic brain syndromes from TBI, Blast Exposure and Cerebral Malaria were being miss diagnosed as “adjustment disorders”.

    Fortunately for many, the TBI and blast exposure disabilities are now recognized. Blast exposure is a “Johnny come lately” addition to the TBI diagnosis with a new video being shown to DVA practitioners. But cerebral malaria victims are still being denied compensation and treatment for their TLE symptoms. DVA even refuses to do EEGs and neurobehavioral testing on cerebral malaria victims in their first exams.

    Too bad Ben doesn’t do class action or won’t refer us to a class action attorney. I have only the TBI with TLE residuals. TBI compensation but the TLE was not compensated until. Would only be rated at 10% after treatment but neurologist said “he wasn’t sure” though he treated with a successful outcome. All epilepsy must be confirmed so the easy way out is to treat it and deny confirmation by the DVA. TLE = temporal lobe epilepsy.

  11. Hi Ben !
    Thank you so very much for helping this veteran !!!
    I only understood half of your article but I do know that I live in fear of dealing with the VA again in my lifetime ! It seems absolutely clear that all of the odds are against you. If I have a future problem with them, you will be the first person I call !!!

  12. Veterans who read this does the website get email from Senators or Representative and you never gave your email address and asked for money?

    1. Who holds the VA immediately accountable? I’m so saddened to hear this story. This situation would be ENOUGH for me to file another claim — AGGRAVATED PTSD. But really, WHO HOLDS THE VETERAN’S ADMINISTRATION ACCOUNTABLE? All veteran’s who SACRIFICED for this country livelihood’s are at stake!!!

  13. I asked VA’s 800 number rep how to remove the Legion from representing me.

    They told me that I have to appoint someone else.

    Now, I cant remove the do nothing Legion, nor can I represent myself.

    Go figure.

    1. You should be able to simply “withdraw” their POA in writing. Sign and date the memo, and then hand that to your Legion rep. They should withdraw.

    2. You can also do it online at VA.gov. If you decide to represent yourself just put yourself down as a new representative or find one you have more faith in.

      Been there and done that. The DVA will not drop the AL from your file. They’ll continue to send the AL info on your claim instead of to you or your new rep. You just have to get it and do your own filings continually stating you have ask the AL to withdraw. The DVA has copies of the withdrawal letters from my former attorney. I finally got a letter from the Attorney who represented me at the BVA for a quick $30,000.00 fee deducted from my presumptive slam dunk appeal for TDIU. The letters were copied by both me and the attorney to the DVA. The Evidence Center FAX is rarely accepting Faxes so they are probably in that 5 mile high stack of documents Ben reported on that are waiting to be scanned. Or simply have not been reviewed and correction entries made.

      I’m now going it alone at the CAVC. The Court does not send info to my former attorney because she never filed an appearance, but every filing from the DVA GC does copy her. I get the DVA filings from the CAVC clerk by email.

    1. I completely agree with you. The VA is working very hard to keep their cost/expenses as low as possible, even though it is a cost to the Veteran.

      I have literally been trying to get a muscle relaxer and can’t, I have been told by the Pharmacy they don’t have room to store the medication I need. In stead I am forced to take a medication that is borderline controlled substance.

  14. Thank you Ben for helping that veteran.

    Maybe, VSO’s, NSO’s, etc., need to be kicked out of VA buildings like the unions!
    Or, maybe they should pay a hefty rent, like the unions are going to have to come Jan 31, 2020.
    In reality, these service organizations do as little as possible for vets! Look at the DAV for example. The state and national officers stole as much as they could from their own members. Reference: *”Davreform.org”*
    This is why, in my opinion, vets are getting screwed constantly by VA employees. And there’s really not that much which can protect the vet!
    Here’s another reason not to trust a veterans’ organization.
    A few months ago, I received a VA letter. Basically explaining “IF I am working, according to the social security office” my disability rating will disappear. (Paraphrasing)!!!
    I went to the community VSO member. It was explained to me and another veteran the following; Because of “…illegal immigrants using social security numbers ILLEGALLY of Americans…”, we “…vets could be screwed!”
    There ya have it.
    I’m “100% total and permanently disabled. And yet the va could receive notification, from the social security office, that I’m working, and without “due process”, my disability compensation could disappear!
    Right now, there’s little a vet can do to remedy this situation until it occurs!

    1. Yes, one federal agency will report to other agencies. Then those agencies will follow their rules which are available in your determination package.

    2. Their exchange of information can be incorrect and punishes people. That’s a problem and they must not have considered that when they came up with those rules of exchanging info., even if the info. is wrong.

  15. To Veterans who read can telled me if a Veterans is 100 percent service connected such as our decease Senator John McCain would not used the VA for nothing.

    1. Phil,
      “Songbird McCain” didn’t use the VA anywhere, especially in his district, because that’s where the scandal came to light!
      He used the Mayo Clinic, and other civilian healthcare providers, because he was a multimillionaire! Remember, he married into the ($300 million dollar worth) family who owns Hensley and Co. and Anheuser-Busch products (this bud’s for you!)!

  16. @Ben.
    Thank you for providing such clarity on the roles of key players in developing veteran’s claims. This would be a great stand alone topic to keep in the permanent display of linked files for veterans to access when visiting your site.

    1. Just want to note that every state is different and the level of support available from VSO’s is also different. I personally think it is great that lawyers have to tell veterans that there a free services available if you don’t want to hand over a percentage of your back pay. Wish my state would pass such a law.

  17. Great read and thanks for helping. Her Benjamin. One question was the veteren permenant and disable and also, did the veteren get any email for the medical notices on her mynavy account.

    Thanks

      1. Three times, yes I said 3 times I received a letter from St. Pete, FL VRO that somebody picked out my file, reviewed it and decided to reduce my 100% to 40% also reducing individual ratings on my primary and secondary conditions without any medical exam. Also when I was awarded 100% after yrs of battle with VA, someone reduced my rating to 80%/90%/90% on the same day of the 100% award.
        Talk about illegal bs. The $$ Congress allocates to the VA is meant to go to our healthcare and disability compensations, not to be stolen, or lavish parties or to consider the money as their personal checkbook. What they do at VA is called a FELONY.

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