Tuesday, May 23, 2006
A Friends take on the Attorney Issue for Veterans
The expressed editorial opinion from the National Adjutant of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Mr. Arthur H. Wilson, is all well and good in so far as it highlights the issue underlying the claims process. The incredibly long amount of time that it takes for a claim to be processed within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). To quote from the article, " The real issues are the timeliness and accuracy of the decisions handed down by VA claims workers. " Yet this does not even begin to address the other issues that are so numerous that they are also staggering obstacles for a veteran to overcome. Yes, I realize that this may sound like a whacked out - unreasonable veteran simply howling at the moon. I am sure that many will try to discredit me (after all I am a VA mental case for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) rated at a hundred percent-total and permanent), and they will assail the points that I wish to put forward. Some may even go so far as to characterize this as an attack upon a national Veteran Service Organization (VSO) because they will misconstrue what I am trying to point out, and attempt to redefine my words to suit their own purpose. But I am willing to bet that there are a whole bunch of other veterans who actually have the same sentiments.I reiterate that I am not trying to attack any organization, but simply point out that there is a vast underlying discontent with a system that is so broken it should not be propped up with a few self serving remarks from a national level official of a veteran service organization that is existing only to serve its own interests despite any claims of altruism they may wish to profess. After all, why would a national service organization advocate a position that will ultimately restrict the options available to a veteran? And for the question as to why a veteran should pay for assistance, the answer is simple. He is already paying in so many unmeasured ways beyond reason in the incredible delays that are forced upon him. This mandatory waiting has become a routine factor in the claims process. Also I must question why Mr. Wilson is claiming that only " some attorneys advocate changing the system. " I would also require positive proof that attorneys are somehow cherry picking easy wins as implied in the statement that they " have the luxury of hand picking their clients. "This is especially so in light of his further statement as to the favorable percentage rates in performance of veteran service organizations when compared to lawyers. It could just as easily be stated that this result on the very face of it seems to indicate that attorneys may in fact be choosing to represent the more difficult cases. The veteran service offices clearly have the luxury of defining a loss as a lack of validity in the veteran's claim, and yet demand that the attorneys must now surpass some unspecified standard until now even unstated and that they be more successful. It is also unrealistic to expect that the probably inadequate statistics compiled to date will actually maintain any conclusions that may be based solely upon someone's conjecture. Not even the VA continues to keep statistical records on the numbers of claims that are denied as was reported in the VA Inspector General Report that was the smoke screen used to justify an unconscionable position that ALL claims for PTSD must now undergo an unscrupulous secondary review process before being granted. This was further described as a reasonable position because any claims that would result in a rating of 100 percent disability must also undergo a secondary inquisition. Therefore one injustice is cited as permission to commit another. Yet, the DAV does not stand up and adequately rail against this preposterous barrier to fairness in the claims process, nor has there been a continuous denunciation of those responsible for turning the " advocacy " process into one of a guaranteed adversarial contest.However, the DAV argument proffered by Mr. Wilson assumes that all veterans will actually have access to a qualified representative. This is a dubious assertion at best in light of recent reporting that the DAV just closed one office at a medical center in Texas. Why would any veterans service organization seek to limit the type and scope of representation that a veteran may choose from the myriad of possible selections? Does it not make more sense for an organization that is supposedly in existence to ensure that all veterans can obtain fair treatment from the government to celebrate anytime a veteran is successful in his claims regardless of the manner in which the individual was represented? Furthermore, if the DAV were to actually be a little more forward thinking on this issue, there are probably many attorneys who are at best reluctant to take on this type of claim, and would actually welcome someone's expertise in this field. If the DAV could then provide a type of para-legal service to those attorney offices at a rate of five or ten percent of the total fees collected, then the DAV could also have a wonderful new source of funding. Naturally, this would also mean that the claim must be won, and that the consequence would be the DAV is not paid if the veteran does not win. That extra bit of motivation (money) might even be a determining factor in raising the current DAV success levels that are claimed to be better than that of the average attorney practicing law.At any rate the real winner will still be the individual veteran. So again I ask why is a national veteran service organization opposed to permitting a veteran to simply exercise a freely made choice in selection of his advocate? Will we now see various national organizations make claims as to why people should join their crew simply because they have a higher rate of success in the claims process as compared to others? I happen to sense that there must be something drastically wrong in an organization that seems proud to report a record of less than a 20 percent success rate in the appeals process.Furthermore, the current DAV service officer in Sioux Falls, SD is apparently so universally disliked that few if any veterans will be happy with any results obtained. And also it must be pointed out that this NSO is virtually unassailable. If he simply decides that he does not like the veteran, then what controls are in place to stop him from simply screwing up the entire claim, and report that the veteran's case obviously has no merit. In short it is nothing more than this is what you get-if you don't like it, then lump it in with all of life's other dissapointments. At this point in dealing with the entire VA system, absolutely nothing would surprise me. There is no advocacy anywhere, just the lip service provided during the claims processing.