Veterans Roundup: The VA Still Struggles with a Disability Claims Backlog and Mishandled Claims by MST Survivors, Our Tribute to Sen. John McCain and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Hundreds of Thousands of Veterans’ Appeals Dragged Out by Huge Backlog
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), The Wall Street Journal
Statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs and reports from the VA inspector general confirm that the backlog in adjudicating disability claim appeals have led to a host of challenges for the department, including years-long waits for veterans. Chief Judge Robert Davis, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, calls the system for veterans who have filed an appeal on their disability ruling “horribly flawed.” In an effort to achieve system-wide change, the VA has increased funding and personnel to improve the technology used to process claims. Despite these investments, veterans find the appeals system confusing and difficult to navigate. As a result, many veterans feel they need a lawyer to distill the complex system into digestible information. This system has also negatively impacted the daily lives of veterans who file claims. Lawrence Acree, a U.S. Navy combat veteran, reported battling depression as a result of going through a series of disability appeal hearings. VA spokesperson Curt Cashour stated that the agency plans to review 80,000 cases in 2018, a record for the department. As of this month, VA data shows that 238,000 claims remain in the department’s backlog. –NJ
Bottom line: Like so many stories surrounding the VA, this one is both positive and negative. In the positive, they are actually making progress on improving things and the numbers do show increased resolution of cases thanks to a focus on adding more personnel and dollars to dealing with it. Of course, it’s just not happening fast enough for many veterans who have already waited sometimes four years. There is some hope on the horizon in the view of many inside and outside the VA with the passing of the Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act last year that has not been fully implemented yet. In the end it’s up to a tenacious veteran to fight for his or her benefits with the help of the many veterans service organizations or, unfortunately, an outside attorney. The next story in this newsletter takes a bit of air out of the optimism and highlights the complaint of many veterans that in the rush to solve these cases critical mistakes are being made and veterans are being forced to fight over issues that should have been approved. The fight goes on. –FPW

Sexual trauma claims by veterans wrongly denied by VA, investigation finds
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA TODAY
A recent report released by the VA Office of Inspector General revealed that the agency wrongly processed hundreds of military sexual trauma claims, including 1,300 mishandled claims last year. Statistics show that each year nearly 12,000 veterans submit petitions to receive sexual trauma-related PTSD benefits. The inspector general report shows the VA failed to offer the proper training to staff and team members tasked with reviewing the claims. The department ceased its quality control audits on the sexual trauma claims review process in 2015. The investigation also reported that the VA’s training materials remain outdated, with the most recent revisions taking place in 2014. In light of these findings, the inspector general issued a series of recommendations to the department to improve its internal review processes such as reviewing all denied claims and mandating training for all those who touch the claims review process. –NJ
Bottom line: Given that the VA responded to the inspector general’s report by saying that the agency will comply with the recommendations, it seemingly admits a degree of wrongdoing, or acknowledges that its policies and processes haven’t adequately addressed military sexual trauma claims. It would seem that in an effort to streamline processes and ultimately save resources, the VA took a gamble on how do that, and in the process, put at risk some of the most vulnerable populations that they serve. As Ruth Moore, founder of Internity, a nonprofit dedicated to helping survivors of military sexual assault, fairly points out, “this is why women commit suicide, this is why women are homeless, this is why women don’t get help.” –CB

John McCain — war hero, political giant — dies at 81
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
After months of receiving treatment for brain cancer, Arizona Sen. John McCain passed away on Saturday after discontinuing medical treatment for his brain cancer. Notable moments in his lengthy biography include McCain’s service in the Navy and his detention as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Afterwards, he became a significant voice on national security for the Republican party. –SM
Bottom line: It’s hard to narrow down the range of things that could be said about McCain, from his war record and time as a POW to his legislative accomplishments and his presidential campaigns. The internet is awash in stories and memorials to McCain from a staggering array of people who worked with him, reported on him or verbally sparred with him. He was a complicated man with a complicated record, at times revered as a “maverick” and at other times seen as an establishment conservative. His legacy will be discussed and dissected ad nauseum in the coming months, both on its own merits and through the lens of what he stood for as a revived voice of dissent in the wake of the 2016 election. What this all makes clear, though, is that he mattered to our nation and to our political process in a way that few individuals do. He was a global figure and a strident voice for principles, which led him back and forth across the aisle at times as he sought to live up to his ideals and values. For my part, even if I often disagreed with his policies, I wish there were more men and women like Sen. John McCain in national politics today. Fair winds and following seas, Senator. –BW

Independence Project: Study to Help Disabled Veterans Transition Successfully
Caurie Putnam (@CauriePutnam), Valor Magazine
Lt. Col. (ret.) Dan Gade co-founded the Independence Project with the goal of placing transitioning veterans with disability ratings into the civilian workforce. The project features a rigorous study about the best way to assist veterans with disabilities between a local or national career program. There are various benefits available to the veterans participating in the study, which will guide them towards building a successful career. –SM

Is big league baseball bad for military vets?
Nick Francona (@NickFrancona) for Military Times
Nick Francona, a Marine Corps veteran and former MLB front office employee, criticizes Major League Baseball’s use of veterans and military families for “commercialized patriotism and financial gain.” Francona, who grew up around the sport, shares his experience working in the front offices of the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. In his time working for these organizations, he had disputes surrounding either his status as a veteran or his aim to prevent MLB from exploiting the military community. Most recently, Francona was fired from the Mets for criticizing MLB’s “lack of transparency and engagement” around the sales of Memorial Day apparel. –LB

Republicans Won’t Probe Influence of Trump Friends at Veterans Department
Lauren Clason (@LaClason), Roll Call
House and Senate Democrats are calling for an investigation into the influence a trio of non-government officials have on the Department of Veterans Affairs. Top Republican lawmakers disagree and don’t think an investigation is necessary. GOP Sen. Mike Rounds said, “I don’t know that it’s necessary to investigate it. I think if the president wants to have discussions, he most certainly is welcome to bring in outsiders to have discussions.” –LB

Overcoming a Shameful Past, VA Plans Haven for Homeless Vets in West Los Angeles
Ina Jaffe (@InaJaffeNPR), NPR
After several years of being leased for commercial enterprises, 400 acres of the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center will now be used as a shelter for homeless veterans. The campus will not only house at least 1,200 homeless veterans, it will be a space for residents to socialize, receive job training and to participate in assorted activities. –SM

The Army kicked out dozens of immigrant recruits. Now it’s allowing them back amid a legal battle.
Alex Horton (@AlexHorton), The Washington Post
Dozens of Army recruits in the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest program were recently discharged due to potential national security concerns surrounding the program. The program provides foreign born recruits possessing skills particularly vital to military operations the opportunity to obtain citizenship through military service. Since the discharges were reported by the Associated Press in July, the Army has been confronted with “a barrage of court filings” and is now reversing some amidst the growing pressure – so far, the fate of six reservists has been reversed and the discharge process halted for 32 others. –KG

The U.S. Military Is Throwing Out Its Uniforms
Justina Vasquez, Bloomberg
The U.S. Air Force is moving to adopt the U.S. Army’s new combat uniform – the change will cost $237 million and is expected to be completed by April 2021. The purpose of the change is to shift the armed forces to a more a unified presence and to foster a sense of camaraderie between different services. Army Command Sergeant Major John Troxell, the Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of the change: “We need to have men and women that can cross service boundaries. It transcends uniforms – It’s all about being interoperable.” –KG

Tradeshows and Conferences

NGAUS: 140th General Conference & Exhibition (Fri-Mon, August 24-27, 2018); New Orleans, LA

American Legion: 100th National Convention (Fri-Thu, August 24-30, 2018); Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, MN

Veterans Health Administration: Innovation: Experience (Wed-Thu, Aug 29-30, 2018); Washington, DC

Community Opportunities

Veterans Campaign and University of San Francisco: Master of Arts in Public Leadership
Veterans and military families, but open to anyone interested in public service.
When: Applications open now! (Spring Enrollment: Nov. 1, 2018)
Where: The hybrid curriculum combines online learning with five intensive weekend seminars in D.C. and San Francisco.

Independence Project: Veterans Study
A research study that helps veterans find a job.
Who: Veterans who meet the following requirements: Interested in getting a job; Discharged in the past 12 months OR have a discharge date in the next 8 months; Served at least 6 months of active duty; Be/have been an enlisted service-member between ranks E1 – E9; Have applied for a disability rating; Under 45 years of age.
When: Study participation open now!

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms

This entry was posted on Monday, August 27, 2018 11:13 am

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