“The VA is just IRS spelled differently”
BY JERRY DONNELLAN
Director, Veterans Service Agency of Rockland County
Since I came to be director of Rockland County Veterans Service Agency in 1992, the veteran population has dropped in half and it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The basic reason for this was ending the Draft in 1973. One would think it would be easier and faster to serve the population when it becomes smaller, however, when it was larger, claims were processed faster. Is it just me or is this counter-intuitive?
When then-General Eric Shinseki became Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2009, the claims backlog was roughly 250,000. On his watch that backlog quadrupled – last year hitting almost 1,000,000. Now the VA is celebrating the decline of that backlog – it’s now down to only three times the size of what it was in 2008.
The VA claims they have found the reason for the problem, and of course it’s not them – it’s the veteran. It seems the veterans are not filing their claims correctly. There was a time when a veteran could simply write a letter to the VA stating what his claim was and his case would begin. Now the veteran is being told that he or she must file a Fully Developed Claim on the proper current form or they won’t accept it. However, they can also do this online.
An example: A veteran must obtain the most recent Form 21-526 EZ, which came out in August of last year and superceded the one that came out in January of last year. If married, another form must be filled out as well. The current 21-686c, also including the veteran’s marriage license and birth certificates of children. If the veteran is seeing a private physician, then there will be a need for a Form 21-4142, updated in February of 2012.
Further, he or she must give their power of attorney to a recognized veterans group that requires yet another Form 21-22, updated in February of 2012. In addition, they must add their DD-214 and if they do not have an original copy of their DD-214, they must send to Military Records, which could take months in and of itself. Once that’s complete, all the Ts must be crossed and the blanks filled out, or it’s not fully develop. Beginning to get the picture?
By complicating the process, the VA is discouraging the average veteran from filing, not to mention the disabled veteran or the veteran with PTSD, TBI, Dementia, or those pesky homeless veterans, whose numbers continue to grow. However, I’m sure the homeless veterans have all these forms in the proper order and up-to-date in their attaché case.
In defense of the VA, they’ve offered an alternative – and that is filing online. Please understand that better than half of the veteran population is over 65, and better than half of those are not computer savvy – not to mention homeless and disabled veterans. Therefore, the online filing must be for our younger veterans who have access to a computer and the ability to navigate the system. The problem here is that these veterans are used to getting what they want online with a click or two. These people will be frustrated with the extensive claims process.
It sure seems to me that the VA is looking to discourage veterans from filing claims. Not to be harsh but that could be why the backlog is getting a little smaller. In simple terms, if you had never filled out your income tax and had a complicated return for the IRS, you would want to get the services of an accountant. Further, you would want to use your accountant and not the IRS’s.
Most states and counties have offices like ours that are not the VA, and at no cost will help the veteran file a claim. They will help you file claims for everything you may be entitled to. Understand that by filing for your benefits, you are not taking a nickel or an aspirin from any other veteran. Even with our help, many veterans have died while waiting for the VA to accept the fact that they’re sick.
Further, we have a vet who has been waiting for an answer on a fully developed claim since November of 2011. Just this week he received a letter from the VA requesting forms that I know have been sent at least twice before. They also sent a form that the veteran hadn’t filled out. On this, they are correct – the veteran didn’t fill out the form because when they had originally filed their claim that form did not exist.
Not to make this personal but these are the same folks who a long time ago before I was in this line of work, I had asked for a grant. I had asked for a grant to adapt my shower for someone like myself. I filled out all the correct paperwork. Sent it in. Waited months. Then the VA had sent me a letter saying that I would have to go to a VA Hospital for an examination to prove that I was still disabled.
After the exam, the doctors who had examined me concluded that I was still missing the leg that I had lost in Vietnam in 1969. Bottom line – don’t try this at home!