One veteran using Veteran Readiness and Employment was surprised last week to learn “EVERYTHING we do there is monitored and written about…”
Many veterans responding to the post were surprised about being “monitored.” They were also concerned that VA is not following consent requirements before conducting evaluations.
Before any evaluation, also called a forensic assessment or evaluation, a Veteran Readiness Counselor must secure written informed consent to collect sensitive and confidential information. VR&E does use a form, but that form does not satisfy written informed consent requirements. This may create an ethical quandary for the information taken and then used by the agency against veterans fighting for benefits.
But will VR&E change its ways to get written informed consent? Or, will they continue to let many unsuspecting veterans think they are presenting for a friendly therapy session with your buddy counselor?
Veteran Readiness Livestream
Veteran’s VR&E Experience
I’ll break this down in a second, but first, here is what the veteran had to say:
Anybody else get sent their entire Chap 31 file?
I think they goofed and sent me the WHOLE file, when I asked for records.
Lotsa good stuff in there I’m sure wasn’t intended for MY eyes!
I had NO IDEA they critique us on the first day when we go in to take those skills tests! There were SO many negative comments about how I didn’t dress up for it. I had no idea THAT was expected! I was simply going to a V.A. appt to take tests and talk about school/options.
But, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. EVERYTHING we do there is monitored and written about and can pop up in our claim files.
How To Make A VA Records Request
First of all, the veteran probably sent VA a Privacy Act request or Freedom of Information Act request or both for a copy of her VR&E file. The VR&E file used to be a paper file maintained at each regional office called a Counseling/Evaluation/Rehabilitation (CER) folder.
Documents contained in the CER folders about a person’s VR&E claim were digitized over the past few years. The program now stores those documents in VBMS, short for Veterans Benefits Management System. This is where VA stores what is called the Claims File or C-File.
GO HERE: Free FOIA Guide For Veterans
The VR&E file, formerly called the CER, is now housed within a C-File. Since the creation of VBMS until recently, a veteran’s records related to VR&E were not contained within the C-File. This omission most certainly resulted in some veterans not receiving the disability benefits because the VR&E file was not included.
I can go on and on about the back and forth I’ve had with the Board of Veterans Appeals to ensure the CER copies were included in the C-File, but I’ll save those stories for another day.
Initial Evaluation Report
Second, the veteran while reviewing the record came across the initial evaluation report and other documentation notes a VRC keeps on a veteran.
The VR&E program is supposed to follow various ethics rules. These ethics rules require notifying a person about the nature of the relationship.
The program has agreed to follow ethics rules promulgated by the CRCC, which stands for Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. This organization governs the conduct of Rehabilitation Counselors.
CRCC explains as the Scope of Practice within rehabilitation counseling as:
Rehabilitation counseling is a systematic process that assists persons with physical, mental, developmental, cognitive, and emotional disabilities to achieve their personal, career, and independent living goals in the most integrated setting possible through the application of the counseling process. The counseling process involves communication, goal setting, and beneficial growth or change through self-advocacy, psychological, vocational, social, and behavioral interventions.
There is more to it, but you get the gist of it.
VA calls your VRC a Veteran Readiness Counselor, now, but they were called Vocational Rehabilitation Counselors legally until 2022.
In case you are confused with the acronym soup, a VRC functions as a Rehabilitation Counselor, and most of them were trained into the specialty field through completion of a Master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling and a respective certification with the CRCC or similar. The CRC acronym stands for Certified Rehabilitation Counselor.
Is A Veteran Readiness Counselor A Type Of Therapist?
Third, veterans are not informed of what the “counselor” is doing and frequently confuse the role of the VRC with that of a traditional therapist who is also called “counselor.”
This is where things get dicey including for many veterans unaware of what the VRC is supposed to do with their case.
Due to a lack of information, many veterans attend their first meeting as part of the initial evaluation process without knowing what is happening. They do not know what they are saying is being logged into a system of legal records for use in legal adjudications until they die. Careless words spoken can and will be used against the veteran whenever it suits the counselor.
While the CRCC Code of Ethics reinforces that all CRCs are “bound to act in accordance with the Code,” many VRCs at VA including those who are CRCs sometimes fail to follow CRCC rules. This includes failing in the obligation to inform clients of the VRCs role and responsibilities.
Written Informed Consent To Monitor Veterans
Fourth, for more than a decade, VRCs were required to seek informed consent in writing prior to conducting an initial evaluation. Only in April 2021 did VR&E update its information form that tells the veteran the counselor “will conduct a comprehensive initial evaluation”. The veteran’s signature is required on the form.
But, the VA Form 28-0800 does not seek “informed consent,” which would require a consent line such as “By signing below, you consent to the comprehensive initial evaluation.”
Close but no cigar.
Prior to an initial evaluation, every veteran should be informed of what is about to happen and provide written informed consent since the process is a forensic evaluation. Despite changing the form, the agency still does not seek written informed consent.
VA requires a person to provide written informed consent prior to providing someone else with a copy of their records.
In Minnesota, a written informed consent form usually includes some grant of permission addressing the release and how the data will be used. For example, “I give my permission for FDA to release data about me to NIH as described in this consent form.” A Minnesota government agency must also provide a Tennessen warning notice on how data will be used.
In the VA Form 28-0800, VA provides no language indicating an evaluation is being consented to or permission on how any confidential or private data may be used.
Are Veterans Monitored?
Veterans are most certainly monitored by VA evaluators, examiners, police, Veteran Readiness Counselors, and any other VA employee with a grudge and access to a VA database on that veteran.
To our point, though, VRCs most certainly monitor veterans under their authority. This most certainly happens, but it’s part of required process to make a decision on whether a veteran is qualified for benefits.
That much is true and reasonable minus the grudge.
What is unreasonable is VR&E’s consistent failure to seek proper written informed consent from veterans so we understand what is going on and have the option to consent or not consent.
The ‘grant permission’ and ‘I consent’ part of most other consent forms is conspicuously lacking on the VA Form 28-0800 after over a decade of the form existing in various versions. Why does VR&E promote systems that keep veterans in the dark?
Some day, maybe we will learn why VA keeps veterans unaware of what VR&E is actually doing, that it’s a forensic examination, that the information in the evaluation can and will be used against you, and that the ‘counselor’ is not a therapist.
This kind of counselor is there to perform an insurance adjudication hit job on you.
In the end, VA is basically a large Workers’ Compensation insurance company for the Department of Defense.
VA used to be called the Bureau of War Risk Insurance (look it up) before that name proved too unpopular, perhaps – kind of like the Department of War that became the Department of Defense.
Do not go into any VR&E appointment thinking the VRC is your buddy. They are watching and monitoring you. What they see and write down will end up in your permanent file.
Get the benefits you need and get out.