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Morning Muster: 2/19/2015 14,000 informal benefits claims ignored, more female vets face homelessness, only 8 fired VA employees part of wait-list problem

IG report shows 14,000 benefits claims shoved in a cabinet; vets can’t get pain meds; President Bush says 46,000 non-government groups work to help vets; more female vets face homelessness; 8 of 900 fired VA employees connected with wait lists; Institute for Vets and Military Families receives $7 million; anthology seeks vets’ submissions; national program offers writing seminars for vets

An inspector general report found a Veterans Affairs regional office in California placed 14,000 informal claims—some dating back to the 1990s—into a filing cabinet and simply ignored them, reports the San Francisco Chronicle’s Vivian Ho. The claims were considered “not a priority,” staff members said. This comes as VA hopes to change the informal claims process to make it easier for the bureaucracy and more difficult for the vets, which Bergmann & Moore is against, as are several veteran service organizations. H.R. 245 kills the new changes, which would begin in March. The bill was sent to committee last month.

Vets dealing with combat injuries are having a hard time filling opioid prescriptions after new laws were enacted to try to curb a national painkiller addiction problem last year, reports the Washington Post’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux. Still, VA docs say they may have been overmedicating vets in the first place.

The Bush Institute released a report Wednesday about how nonprofits can better understand vets to serve them better, reports The Dallas Morning News’ Julie Fancher. Former President George W. Bush said the institute has made veterans’ well-being and reintegration a priority. Bush said there are 46,000 non-government groups helping vets since the government sent them to war.

More female veterans are facing homelessness—the number has more than doubled—but they’re harder to see, reports The Mohave Daily News’ DK McDonald. The women often deal with military sexual trauma, which makes them 6.5 times more likely to become homeless, and they aren’t as likely to talk about their military experiences because people tend not to believe them.

Of the 900 employees Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald says have been fired in the past seven months, only eight were connected to wait-list problems, reports Military Times’ Leo Shane.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University has received a $7 million grant from First Data for education, research and training for veterans entering the business community. The story behind the story? Veterans helped make this happen.

Hudson Whitman/Excelsior College is looking for stories from vets of all generations—as well as their family members and friends—that capture the experience of coming home from war. The deadline is May 1, and there’s a $200 prize plus publication in an anthology that’s being edited by a Iraq War veteran, former Marine Dario DiBattista. DiBattista is the non-fiction editor for O-Dark-Thirty, the literary journal for the Veterans Writing Project. The call is for non-fiction only, and submissions should be between 1,500 and 6,000 words in length.

Speaking of which, if you’d like to participate in a Veterans Writing Project seminar, follow them on Twitter to get a heads-up on Dates:@VeteransWriting. You can also visit their website.

Bergmann & Moore, LLC, is a national law firm dedicated to serving the needs of veterans in compensation claims before and against the Department of Veterans Affairs. The firm’s partners are former VA attorneys who are very familiar with the VA system. Bergmann & Moore handles all kinds of cases, but has a concentration in claims involving PTSD, military sexual trauma, Gulf War illness and complex medical issues, such as brain cancer or degenerative issues, veterans exposed to Agent Orange often face. For more information, to submit news or to sign up for an email version of this blog, contact Kelly Kennedy at kkennedy@vetlawyers.com.

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  1. Several months ago, six (6) current and former employees of the Oakland VA Regional Office (VARO), brought an outrageous story to our attention; of 13,184 unprocessed veteran claims that were found by employees at the VARO in 2012.

    They had contacted Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG); but it had been months since they had heard anything on the subsequent investigation conducted by the VA-OIG and they (rightfully) feared that the veterans, whose claims had been ignored for, in some cases, twenty (20) years, would disappear forever.

    Today, the VA-OIG finally released its ten (10) page report on the “investigation” it conducted last July, (attached). It details an abysmal failure by the VARO leadership to maintain veterans records, process claims in accordance with 38 CFR 3.155(a) or even abide by the most basic of federal regulations regarding care of government records.

    “A Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) management support team, sent to assist with operations of the Oakland Veterans Service Center from October through November 2012, located approximately 14,000 informal claims dating back to the mid-1990s in a file cabinet. Management stated it counted the documents and identified 13,184 informal claims of which 2,155 informal claims required review or action.

    We substantiated the allegations Oakland VARO staff did not correctly process informal claims and improperly stored informal claims. Because of poor record keeping, we could not verify the VARO’s original document count of 13,184 unprocessed informal claims, or the 2,155 identified informal claims requiring additional review or action.
    VARO staff did not maintain adequate records and provide the oversight needed to ensure timely processing and storage of these informal claims. As a result, veterans did not receive consideration for benefits to which they may have been entitled.”

    What this report does not do is actually identify the egregious wrongdoing committed deliberately by the leadership at Oakland VARO. The VA-OIG once again, seemingly absolves those involved in denying over 13,000 veterans their rightfully earned benefits and services. What it also does is sends a clear message to the 12,500 veterans whose claims the VA-OIG didn’t deem it necessary to obtain proof that “No Action (was) Necessary” – as the VARO claims they were.

    We applaud Congressman LaMalfa, his staff and especially the brave employees who came forward; for without their efforts, the public, Congress and most importantly, the affected veterans would have never known “why” these claims were never processed.

    Unfortunately, because the VA-OIG has once again “Failed to substantiate” anyone responsible or recommend that the 13,184 veterans claims be fully reviewed and processed in accordance with law and policy; thousands of veterans and their families have been illegally deprived of their benefits and services.

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