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Good News for Veterans’ Claims Languishing in Texas

 

Congress Hears How TVC Helps VBA

On September 21, 2012, Bergmann & Moore’s Director of Veterans Outreach and Public Affairs Paul Sullivan attended the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s hearing on the claims backlog in Texas.

At the hearing, three highly respected veteran advocates shared with the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) how they are expediting veterans’ disability claims processing in Texas.

The advocates described how Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) authorized $1.5 million in funds over two years for the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC), a state agency, to hire teams of state workers to help process 17,000 claims languishing at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regional offices in Waco and Houston.

Leading the hearing was Chairman Jon Runyan (R-NJ), head of HVAC’s Disability and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.  Testifying on behalf of VBA was Diana Rubens, the Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations.  Bergmann & Moore staff attended the hearing to keep our readers informed about the claim delay and error crisis at VBA.

Texas “Strike Force”

The goal of the TVC “Strike Force” is to help VBA process about one-fifth of the 88,000 veterans’ disability claims now pending in Texas.  VBA’s claim crisis deteriorated significantly in the past few years, as 66,000 claims, or 75% of those pending, sit gathering dust for more than four months, causing significant harm to veterans who go without healthcare and disability payments to pay a roof over their heads, food on the table, and other important bills.

The TVC’s James Richmond gave a thorough presentation of statistics about the situation in Texas.  He implied TVC staff should be able to develop veterans’ claims in less than 11 days, whereas VBA took an incredibly long 131 days, based on a similar effort that was completed in 2008.  In 2009 and 2011, TVC helped develop evidence for more than 17,000 claims, the same goal for the current “Strike Force” expected to last two years.  Richmond was accompanied by Al Cantu, TVC’s Chair, who also testified about the importance of helping VBA.  The “Strike Force” looks like good news for Texas veterans.  The big question is this: can other state agencies pitch in and help VBA in this great hour of need?

VBA Delays Harm Veterans

The most poignant testimony came during the question and answer period.  Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), who represents the Waco area of Texas, about 60 miles by car from Fort Hood, the largest Army post in the United States.  Rep. Flores asked advocate Steve Hernandez to describe the impact of VA’s delays on veterans.

The first example is that of a 40 year old Gulf War I veteran. He submitted a new claim for PTSD and an increased evaluation of a recognized back condition …. [After nearly 18 months of waiting for VA to decide his claim,] He was distraught at this time.  Apparently his demeanor concerned the RO because the was then advised to go to the VA hospital in Waco.  Upon arrival he was admitted for a psychological exam and held for 72 hours because he appeared unstable.  He was then counseled and released instead of [VA] concentrating on the claim for decision.  His file is still pending and a decision has not been rendered.  He is in his eighteenth month of waiting.     

A veteran service officer for McLennan County, Texas, Steve Henderson and other advocates are on the front lines helping veterans learn about and file claims against VBA.  He also provides veterans with updates about the status of their claim.  Thank you, Steve, for highlighting this veteran’s long and difficult struggle against VA.  Let’s hope VBA leaders and staff re-double their efforts to make sure this veteran’s claim is processed accurately and quickly, and that future tragic stories are avoided.

Questions from Congress

Chairman Runyan asked VBA if the Waco office shifted staff who normally worked on appeals to handle new claims, an issue raised by Paul Sullivan at Bergmann & Moore in June 2012.  VBA’s John Limpose, the new director of the Waco office, deflected the question, answering that his office maintains a “balance,” without describing what that meant.

Later in the hearing, Runyan asked VBA if any staff were held accountable for delays and errors.  VBA’s Limpose responded by stating, “We’ll take action… [and] we have taken action,” without providing any details.

Recent Texas Stats

Congress became interested in VBA’s claim crisis in Texas due to several news articles as well as VBA’s own highly disturbing statistics:

 

Measure Waco Houston Nation
Claims Pending 49,899 37,917 895,248
Pending 125+ Days 38,259 27,788 592,792
Percent Pending 125+ 76.5% 73.3% 66.2%

Source: VBA’s Monday Morning Workload Report, September 17, 2012: http://www.vba.va.gov/REPORTS/mmwr/index.asp

 

Measure Waco Houston National Goal
Rating Errors 12mo 14.8% 13.3% 2%
Homeless Days Pending 220.6 163.3 45
Average Days Pending 313.7 309.3 70

Source: VBA’s Aspire, data as of End of July 2012: http://www.vba.va.gov/reports/aspiremap.asp

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, based in the Washington, DC metro area, concentrates only on VA disability benefits law.  We have helped thousands of Veterans and their families obtain the VA benefits they are entitled to receive.  Bergmann & Moore offers a free legal consultation concerning VA disability claims.  We gladly welcome all types of claims, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), military sexual trauma (MST), individual unemployability (IU), and appeals.

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