VA Disability Claims Lawyer explains broken and dysfunctional claims system

I am a lawyer whose practice (The Lawyers of Brown & Roberto, in Knoxville, TN) deals almost exclusively with helping Veterans and their families to obtain VA disability benefits. I am also a retired Air Force military lawyer; I spent 30 years in the AF and retired as a Colonel in 2006. Though recent news reports, and even The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, focused on the two different health record systems run by DoD and VA, as well as VA’s significant number of paper claims and the time it takes to get an initial decision, these issues are actually more symptoms than a real description of the problem. The heart of the issue is the unbelievably complex, non-user friendly system the VA has created over decades to deal with disability issues. 

VA tasks the people who rate the claims with making legal and medical judgments, when they are neither lawyers nor doctors. VA claims it is “paternalistic” towards Veterans, yet it locks Vets into a system where there are no time requirements for VA to make a decision, the Regional Office decisions are usually wrong at least 75% of the time, and the appeals process is mind-bogglingly complex. Getting the initial decision, even if delayed for a minimum of 270+ days, or extending past 900 days, is just the first hurdle. Since the initial decision is invariably wrong in some way, the constant reviews, re-reviews, multiple medical exams for the same issue, and appeals that are separated into multiple parts that each move up and down independently are where the real delays come into play.

Many clients refer to being on the “VA hamster wheel” - constantly moving but never going anyplace. Unfortunately, the description is all too correct. Other clients feel the VA is “waiting for them to die”. Again, unfortunately, the system seems to be set up to make that more likely to happen.

Try calling the local VA Regional Office (at least one in each state). One 800 number exists for the entire country. Try getting the name of the rater who is handling your VA claim. Rating decisions are almost always not signed; initials and numbers describe who is supposed to be handling a case. Claim two or more disabilities, and the chances are that somewhere along the way, different people will be handling the claims at the same time, and not talking to each other so inconsistent results are highly likely. Submit evidence that supports your claim and have it dismissed by the VA because their doctors, or raters, or unknown staff members know more than your own doctors, or you, or your spouse.

If VA simply approved every claim, this would be cheaper and less costly than the current system. Absent that unlikely event, the entire claims system should be revamped from top to bottom. This is what it will take to really address the backlog. 

Barry P. Allen

Hope this helps

Veterans - It’s time to March on Washington

We veterans need to stand together and MARCH on Washington. Only then will Congress and the VBA take action. I read the VA’s Monday Morning Workload reports and understand the challenges of reducing the claims backlog. Per VA’s ASPIRE dashboard, the Atlanta Regional Office has a claims processing time (FYTD) of 321.6 days. Really! My initial claim is 500 days old and has lingered in the Development Phase over 420 days. As a broken down OEF vet who retired with 21 years of service to this great nation, believe me when I say we veterans deserve BETTER. It is time to MARCH and make our demands heard. I believe that when a million plus angry vets march on Washington, Congress and the White House will have no choice but to listen.

My dependent college daughter

I am a 60% disabled veteran. I have been receiving compensation for myself my husband and my daughter since 1998. In October of 2012 VA sent me the paperwork informing me that they were going to drop my daughter as dependent on her eighteen birthday in December. The letter informed that I could keep my daughter on as a dependent if she was going to college and continuing her education.

In October of 2012 I sent the VA the claims form stating that my daughter had been excepted to Grambling State University in Louisiana and would be attending in the Fall of 2012. When my daughter turned eighteen VA dropped her as a dependent. I called the VA Administration and asked why was my daughter dropped as my dependent when I sent them the paperwork proving that she was going to college.

I was informed by a VA Representative that although I have been receiving compensation since 1998 they had to process my paperwork as though it were a new claim and the process would take at least eight month. Earlier, this month I decided to contact VA to inquire about my claim and I was informed that my claim is still in the first stage and has not been processed yet. When I asked why was my claim still in the first stage I was told by a VA Representative that the reason was because the VA ONLY HAS ONE TEAM WORKING ON ALL OF THE CLAIMS and since I was already receiving disability my claim to put my daughter back on as my dependent would have to take a back seat to all of the new claims that are VA is receiving. Well, I guess since VA is sooooo…… backed up with new claims maybe, they will add my daughter on before she graduates since she has already completed her first year of college.

Been waiting 9 months on my claim. 3 months after discharge, i found that my claim was cancelled 4 days after discharge and nobody informed me that I needed to reapply for benifits.  To make matters worse, the VA in Marion, Indiana won’t hire me for jobs I can do unless I am already an employee there or have my percentage of over 30 percent.  Things are looking pretty bad for me and my famiy now.

I filed my claim on February 16, 2011.  I received my appointment dates  in January of 2013.  So I waited almost 2-years just to get my C&P appointments, that is unacceptable and the VA and our Government should be ashamed.  I still have not heard any decision on my claim and I have waited a total of 2 years, 1-month and 12 days.  When is the backlog going to end? 

1550 days of waiting—submitted 2nd time with new documents. Tell them to get off their back side and Stop the Back Log!

1550 days of waiting—submitted 2nd time with new documents. Tell them to get off their back side and Stop the Back Log!

Over two years and still haven’t heard anything … because it’s hearing loss I’m dealing with.

Yes, it’s not life threatening.  Sometimes I feel stupid or like I should feel “lucky.”  It’s just hearing loss, after all.  

Over two years ago, I started the process to get benefits due to my ongoing and ever-increasing hearing problems.  This was at the Miami VA.  

I was denied.  They said they couldn’t prove it was a result of anything that happened in the Navy.  

It’s not like I was exposed to constant vibration in the engine room, even with the earplugs.  

It’s not as if I just got old - this was an issue 4 years after I left the service.  

You get the idea.

I appealed.  

That appeal just got denied again in January 2013.  I’ve moved twice since then.  (I’m now iin the Cleveland, OH. VA district.)  They did another hearing test in December:  I was told I hear 1 out of every 3 words incorrectly.  

(Additionally, I was told by the VA Chapter 31 Education Rehabilitation counselor that I’m “unemployable” at this time so I can’t get retrained to get work.)

Have you ever tried to hold down a job when you can’t really understand what the people around you are saying?  

I tried getting help with the appeal from the Akron VSC - they are pretty much useless (which I’ve been told by others).  If I lived in Cleveland, Columbus or almost any other city/county in Ohio, I’d be better off.  

I’ve given up completely.  I don’t have money to fight this, or the patience (as I also have various depression and anxiety issues).  I don’t know enough about the legal system to go it alone.  

And make no mistake, that’s exactly how it feels - alone.

Well, that’s about it.  This probably won’t help at all.  It just feels good to let someone, anyone know that might understand.  

So, yes, it’s not terminal.  It’s not even that awful, considering.  Tell me that when I’m at a movie, or in a crowded restaurant trying to pick out one voice from the crowd.

Or don’t.  I won’t be able to hear you …

Major Problems in the Maryland VA System

After a long 391 day wait for my initial claim. I finally received a completed claim. Now, I go on to fight another battle with the VA… the appeal. After a year it is still in the beginning stages of the appeal process. I have written to my congressman and senator, multiple times. They still have yet to answer any of my questions or speed up the process. The main question I had was in defense of all veterans in my state. (Why does one of the smallest states in the U.S.(Maryland) have the most backlogged claims out of any other state?) These elected officials still have yet to answer that question. I am beginning to think that going to the media is the only way to get things done around here. God Bless Veterans! 

Dear IAVA and Fellow Veterans,

I served 13+ years in the US Air Force.  I am a veteran of five conflicts throughout my military tenure, of which, I can’t ever remember missing one single engagement, mission, nor even being late for duty once.  Our country called on us to deliver, and deliver we did.  Now that it is their turn and all we get is a load of delays, excuses, and red tape. 

A Court Martial can be dealt out for missing a movement or for any dereliction of duty.  The VA can miss any deadline they choose, and even change them at their leisure and nothing happens.  

I submitted my first Claim to the VA in Oct 2010—that means I have been engaged with the VA for 893 days.  I currently have two cases—one Appeal (498 Days) and one new Claim for PTSD (326 Days). 

Before leaving the military I didn’t know I had PTSD.  I found out after to going to therapy.  My problem now is that I am afraid I have years of battling ahead of me to get my PTSD Claim approved, as I live overseas and do not have access to VA facilities; therefore, more than likely I will be automatically denied or furloughed by the VA because my diagnosing psychiatrist isn’t approved by the VA. 

After leaving the military I had saved some money to hold me over until the VA completed processing my Claim.  Well, that money ran out quickly with mortgage, child support, and car payments.  In the end I gave up.  My car was repossessed and my home foreclosed on.  I began borrowing money from friends, but that has also ran dry.  The VA’s answer—“you’re right on schedule with our estimates”.  Are you kidding?  They told me I should also learn to live and support myself as if they didn’t exist. 

The fact is: the VA exists, it is a terrible system, and we Vets are SUFFERING because of it.  I join the fight and call on our “Lawmakers” to # End the VA Backlog madness.  It has gone too far and is borderline conspiracy against Vets. 


P.S. ‘Lavish Training Conferences’ and Vets are in the streets!?!?


National Effort Required

OEF 10-11 Bomb Hunter

I have had exposure to over 40 IED blasts and came back a broken man. The VA healthcare was good, however the compensation is awfull  According to the VA my dependents cannot be listed til 2 years 9 months from the original claim???????

I was blessed I suppose to get an initial rating of 80 % after 1 year, now to acknowledge my dependents will have taken over 975 days.  I have another claim that is for sleep apnea that is supposed to place me at 100%.  975 days.  I have to work to survive and the ignorance I face everyday from civilians about this atrocity is unbearable.  There is a blockade that is placed between Veterans and the compensation funds.  It is intentional and it is a act of aggression.  I think domestic terror has come to us veterans and we have to get our government to acknowledge it.  The complicity is between the military and the VA.  Lets face it, there is no shortage of people in both camps that do not want to see a Vet receive  beneifits.  It is a coordinated attack and a person would have to be a fool to not see it for what it is.   Get ready….

"Wait 3 to 4 years, you will be fine" is what I read when I see this from the VA, I’ve seen cable guys give better timelines and service!