Battling the Veterans Benefits Administration for benefits is almost second nature to many Armed Forces personnel.
This is a story that highlights some of the incredible problems there are for vets who are trying to deal with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VA). It involves a case we heard about where a retired Marine Sergeant was shot in the head in Vietnam, which resulted in spinal-cord surgery that landed him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The Marine was told by a VA doctor to file to get funding that would allow him to adapt his home and car to handle his wheelchair. Flash forward to 2010, and the Marine is still fighting to get his claims dealt with, since all that has transpired in the last ten years was what appears to be a monumental run around of claim denials, a few rounds with legal interpretations, and dealing with the government bureaucracy. This Marine would get some straightforward information from an Arkansas injury and Arkansas accident lawyer, practicing personal injury law and veteran’s benefits.
Over the last ten years, the Marine took matters into his own hands and went ahead and did his home renovations to the tune of roughly $6,000. He also got his driver’s license suspended; not one of his finer moments, but he noted with some humor that the VA told him he could not drive without special equipment and then told him he couldn’t have that very same equipment for a service related disability. This Marine is definitely not alone in his fight to get his claim honored.
There may be some light on the horizon in the form of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who has indicated he wants to clean up the inefficiency and clean out backlogged claims. Sounds good on the surface, but what about the error rate for processing claims? The error rate is actually not the problem in and of itself; the problem is that the whole system needs overhauling (much like the health and immigration systems).
Dealing with the backlog of claims may be nice, but rushing to move them out doesn’t address the underlying problems when it comes to staff making errors. Hustling things along will only mean the claims may be processed faster, but with a higher error rate, because no one is taking the time to make sure they are right the first time.
Overall, Shinseki wants to hit an accuracy rate of 98% by 2015, which also sounds fantastic, but do some math first to figure out what that really means. Let’s say the VA processes 2 million claims; that means a 1% error rate would be 20,000 vets. That’s a whole lot of problems for the vets.
If you find yourself in the revolving door trying to deal with a VA claim and don’t feel like you are getting anywhere, contact a seasoned Arkansas injury and Arkansas accident lawyer, practicing personal injury law and veteran’s benefits. It may be the best thing you have ever done for your health.
If you thought the VA was a cheap date when it comes to acknowledging claims, consider the fraud they deal with constantly.
In a recent article, we talked about veterans being denied medical claims possibly because of VA budget concerns. That might make some sense when one considers that over $100 million has been ripped off from you – the taxpayers – since 2003 by contractors who masquerade as disabled vets. That’s a whole lot of money that could have been used to settle vets’ medical claims.
The story goes that the Veterans Benefits Act (2003) was designed to offer sole-source government contracts to disabled vets who owned businesses. Someone blew the whistle on this rip-off and there was a huge investigation which did precisely zero. The rip-offs still continue today. Widespread fraud every year and for some reason, the government lets it happen. Would they have a reasonable, rational explanation for that? Chances are they wouldn’t, but it might be interesting to hear what they have to say.
The government is in fiscal disarray and US taxpayers and vets are paying for that mess in a very personal way. If fraudulent contractors posing as vets continue to dine out on our money, what does that say about the checks and balances that are supposed to be in place to ensure fairness? What does that say about the government’s commitment to resolving the country’s financial mess?
Unfortunately, current laws don’t have any penalties in place for this particular type or kind of fraudulent scheme. In fact, if you can believe this, the awarding criteria for the program is based on the honor system. Yes, the honor system. All companies that are applying for funds have to do is check a box on a form that says they meet the VA criteria and they’re in business. Follow-ups, you ask? No, no one confirms their eligibility.
The bottom line here is that government contracting officers know about this and don’t do anything. There is a move afoot to introduce legislation to criminalize misrepresenting a business as being owned by a disabled vet, when in fact it is not. Someone certainly needs to do something about it, as the people who are pulling this stunt are stealing money that is supposed to go to vets.
A new act may finally provide the kind of care and support veterans and their families deserve.
Just last month a piece of bipartisan legislation quietly passed into law – the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act (Caregivers Act). While the title might not say much about what it contains, the bill is designed to not only improve, but reform veteran’s health services.
The intention is that wounded vets get more support, as well as their caregivers (that includes family or others). Of note is a provision that expands care for female veterans (over 1.8 million), one that offers improved mental health services and one that provides increased access to health care for veterans living in rural parts of the US.
This type of legislation has been a long time coming and it is hoped it will make an enormous difference in the lives of those who volunteered to fight for their country; its right, its freedoms and its sovereignty. Many vets are hard pressed to get the help they need when they return from war zones.
Unfortunately, many veterans are injured in ways that cannot be “seen” – post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, anxiety, etc. – and because no one can “see” their injuries, they are often shuffled around from pillar to post without getting the medical help they need. Filing for disability is typically a major undertaking. Many times veteran’s claims are denied and often it is many months, if not years, before a claim is resolved.
Statistics relating to veteran’s care indicate that at least 21% of active duty, 24% of retired or separated service members and 15% of those in the reserves are being cared for by a friend or family member who had to quit their job to care for them full-time. The Caregivers Act offers these caregivers assistance and support to handle the stress (mental health services and counseling) of caring for a disabled vet, as well as respite care for families and other caregivers. This new legislation’s intent is to provide health care and a service stipend for caregivers living with wounded vets from the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
Many laws have been passed to help vets, all with seemingly good intentions. Unfortunately, most were ultimately watered down to the point of being completely ineffective by the courts’ interpretations. Only time will tell whether or not this new Act will accomplish what it says it intends to accomplish.
Veteran Gets Full Disability for Water Contamination
In what may be a first, a former Camp Lejeune Marine received full disability as a result of water contamination on the base during his service.
This is a first, and may be just the tip of the iceberg. It involves a former Camp Lejeune Marine who is suffering from a rare blood disease as a result of historical water contamination of the base’s water system. The former Marine is one of a small group of veterans to get full disability for the contamination.
“Former Marine Buckley was astonished to get the compensation, and even more surprised that his claim was granted in full. Usually, trying to get compensation out of Veteran’s Affairs it like pulling hen’s teeth,”said Michael G. Smith, an Arkansas injury lawyer, practicing personal injury law and veteran’s law in Little Rock Arkansas.
This was by no means an easy victory for the 46-year-old Marine veteran. May 10th, 2006, was a signature day for the former Marine who became ill very quickly and just made it to a hospital emergency room where he promptly collapsed. He wound up being in a coma for ten long days. At the time he fell ill, his contract with the Marines had been over for at least 20 years.
“Oddly enough, the Marine was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is a very rare and usually incurable cancer. It also normally affects a different demographic than Buckley was in. Although the doctors who diagnosed him knew what he had, they were more than confused since it’s usually elderly people who contract this; ones who worked with certain chemicals,” added Smith. At the time Buckley fell ill, he was only 42 years old.
The doctors weren’t the only confused people in this piece; so was Buckley, as he had never been exposed to the kinds of chemicals that could lead to multiple myeloma. Then one day he received a newspaper clipping in the mail from his sister. “It was an article about contaminated Camp Lejeune drinking water that had been laced with benzene and other toxic chemicals from the 1950s to the early 1980s. Benzene is a primary cause of multiple myeloma,” Smith stated.
Turns out that a fuel spill in 1984 at Lejeune’s Hadnot Point polluted the water and it had much higher levels of benzene than records indicated. Buckley had lived on base for a year and a half in an area serviced by Hadnot Point water pipes. There were no other reasons why he would have contracted multiple myeloma.
His appeal was granted because his advocate had letters from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, patient treatment reports that showed no risk factors for this disease, other than being at Camp Lejuene and other pertinent information. “It was pretty clear that the water contained not only benzene, but TCE, PCE, DCE, vinyl chloride, radioactive material, pesticides (DDT), etc. All these compounds are known carcinogens. The upshot here is that his disease was directly linked to his military service,” said Michael G. Smith, an Arkansas injury lawyer, practicing personal injury law and veteran’s law in Little Rock Arkansas.
“While it may be difficult to chase down a favorable decision at times when dealing with the VA, it can be done by building a solid and well documented case. In this instance, justice was done. If others in similar circumstances also choose to file, there is every likelihood they will also succeed to varying degrees based on the facts of their case,” commented Smith.
Learn more by visiting http://www.Arkansaslawhelp.com
Not many Veterans realize that PTSD may not be recognized for benefits: a strange state of affairs indeed.
“PTSD, otherwise called post traumatic stress disorder, is a member of the family of anxiety disorders. It typically develops after a difficult or terrifying incident: a car accident, child abuse, murder and rape, or war experience in the trenches,” explained Michael G. Smith, an Arkansas injury lawyer and Arkansas veteran’s benefits lawyer, practicing personal injury law in Arkansas. The way it usually manifests itself is by giving the body it bedevils a continuous loop of the event over and over – a flashback – often accompanied by emotional detachment.
One thing to understand about PTSD is that a traumatic incident need not happen directly to a person who suffers from this. It may instead happen to witnesses of horrific events. PTSD is quite common in high risk occupations such as police officers, ambulance attendances, EMS personnel, SWAT personnel and war veterans. “They amount of horror and destruction they have witnessed knows no bounds, and they’ve seen brutal sights they live with daily,” added Smith.
While there is treatment available for PTSD, the VA seems to go out of its way to make it difficult for veterans to receive compensation, except in the most obvious cases. “Let’s consider the example of an infantryman who steps on a landmine and loses at least one limb while in combat. The VA would likely award benefits in a case such as this, and do it fairly quickly,” Smith pointed out.
“Unfortunately, if the PTSD is a result of traumatic experiences in the battlefield and the veteran gets out alive and without major injuries, the VA has been known to deny their claim because PTSD is not as obvious as a physical injury, although there are psychological tests for it. In reality, the vet may desperately need psychological/psychiatric help to handle what they have seen. When the VA says no, this is a wrongfully denied claim that the veteran is entitled to have approved,” stated Michael G. Smith, an Arkansas injury lawyer and Arkansas veteran’s benefits lawyer, practicing personal injury law in Arkansas.
This isn’t the only problem with PTSD and returning war veterans making claims. The system itself is so convoluted and complex that very few attorneys want to practice in this area. Instead of taking months to resolve claims in the VA system, it could end up taking years. This is just one of the major reasons to consult with a skilled veteran’s benefits lawyer.
Learn more by visiting http://www.Arkansaslawhelp.com
Michael G. Smith is an Arkansas injury lawyer and Arkansas accident lawyer, practicing personal injury law and veteran’s benefits law in Arkansas. Learn more by visiting http://www.Arkansaslawhelp.com
Before applying for Medicaid and VA Non-Service Pension Benefits, check to see if having both will act to disqualify getting Medicaid.
“While it’s true that the VA Non-Service Pension Benefits does help with eldercare, which can be very costly these days, having these benefits may greatly affect a pensioner’s ability to qualify for Medicaid in the area of assisted living once the pensioner’s benefits have run out,” said Michael G. Smith, a Little Rock injury lawyer and Little Rock accident lawyer, practicing personal injury law in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Having the VA Non-Service Pension Benefits really does help in terms of having extra income, however the pensioner needs to carefully check applying for it first, before making that decision. Having the extra money might not be in their best interests if they think they may require Medicaid before needing a greater level of care. “The thing to keep in mind is that once the veteran is awarded the additional income, the vet or surviving spouse can’t stop the benefits to qualify for Medicaid, which may cause some significant problems,” added Smith.
Consider the example of Mary Buetel who lived in a memory care assisted living community. That community organization helped Mary get VA surviving spouse benefits which increased Mary’s income to roughly $2,600 a month. That money combined with her savings helped her to pay for the community care she received.
Unfortunately, at the going rate of about $3,850.00 a month, her savings were running out quickly and Mary was faced with a real dilemma. Even if the community organization participated in the Medicaid waiver program, Mary would not qualify because the extra money she received from the VA put her well over her state’s Medicaid threshold. Mary doesn’t need long-term nursing home care, but because of her income, she may have no other alternative.
What happened here is that the person who helped Mary get her benefits in the first place didn’t pay much attention to or didn’t understand the possibility that Mary may need Medicaid once her assets were dried up. “The difficulty here is that when living providers arrange for VA benefits for their residents so that they have extra income, it is a violation of federal guidelines for an “interested” party to pay someone on the vet’s behalf to arrange this kind of service. In cases like that, many living providers have found themselves in a position of being liable,” Smith explained.
In fact, the specific regulation pertaining to situations like this reads as follows:
Federal Regulation 38 CFR 14.636: Payment of fee by disinterested third party. (i) An agent or attorney may receive a fee or salary from an organization, governmental entity, or other disinterested third party for representation of a claimant or appellant even though the conditions set forth in paragraph (c) of this section have not been met. An organization, governmental entity, or other third party is considered disinterested only if the entity or individual does not stand to benefit financially from the successful outcome of the claim. In no such case may the attorney or agent charge a fee which is contingent, in whole or in part, on whether the matter is resolved in a manner favorable to the claimant or appellant.
It can’t be stressed enough that veterans and their families need to know the “right” information before they make financial decisions that may have a major impact on their life and ability to be able to find proper care situations. “Yes, the additional income is nice, but if it comes with a hefty price tag and penalty later, it bears some serious research up front by a disinterested third party, such as a qualified lawyer,” commented Michael G. Smith, a Little Rock injury lawyer and Little Rock accident lawyer, practicing personal injury law in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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The Supreme Court on April 21, 2009 struck a blow to veterans seeking to dispute medical claims denied by the Veterans Affairs Department. Reversing a lower court decision, the justices found that veterans must prove that any alleged mistakes made by the VA ultimately resulted in the denial of their claims. The lower court had ruled that the burden was on the VA. The case is Shinseki v. Sanders.
Challenges to the sufficiency of the notice given to vets by the VA in connection with a disbility claim has historically been a fertile source getting the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to remand cases where claim had been denied. This ruling will probably do away with most notice arguments, because the vet is required to show that the defective notice changed the outcome of his or her case, which is not possible in most instances.
Vets have to work for legislative changes to bring this archaic system into the 21st century.
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