Have you had a DRO Hearing with a DRO Hearing Officer, and looked up only to seen an unfriendly face on the other side of the table?
One with a blank empty face like they don’t even understand the words you are saying?
One that has more empathy for the chair she’s sitting in than the Veteran or survivor sitting across from her?
One of my clients experienced this a while back at a DRO Hearing in Waco, Texas.
It’s an embarrassment when this happens – I tell my clients all the time how professional the VA DROs seem to be…and then they see someone act like this.
Honestly, sometimes, dealing with the VA is liking dealing with a petulant child.
Usually, the Waco DROs are good – they typically come well prepared, know the case, and are willing to have an in-depth discussion of what facts are in the file, which are missing, and what is needed.
And I’m a big fan of the DRO Hearing, too – even when we don’t win for our client at a Decision Review Officer hearing, we get much more clarity on the issues and what needs to be proved to the BVA.
This time, though, we were confronted by a long-time DRO, (I’d mention her name, but her reputation precedes her, so I don’t need to “pile on”).
Let’s call her “Ms. S”.
From the word “go”, “Ms. S” talked to my client and I like we were children, and repeatedly made smug and disdainful comments about the case and the legal arguments we posited.
Throw on top of that the fact that “Ms. S” knew less about what was in the C-File than I know what was in a McDonald’s cheeseburger, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Tips for Dealing With a Childish Decision Review Officer?
Most Veterans, when faced by a situation like this, resort to one of 2 options (and perhaps Ms. S knows this)
Option 1: Bark about the VA’s moral duty to take care of Veterans
Option 2: Give up.
If you are faced with a DRO, I want you to know about a third option.
Option 3 starts from the idea that a DRO Hearing Officer (again, 99% of them are well-prepared and know their stuff) has at least 2 obligations.
1) All hearing officers (DROs included) at the VA Regional Office have the duty to explain fully the issues in the claim to the Veteran.
This means more than reading a rote script off a scrap of paper, or a disdainful comment about what a “claim” is. If you don’t understand the issues, ask the DRO to explain them again.
Repeat back what you understand the issues to be, and ask the DRO on the record whether or not you stated them correctly.
You don’t have to be an ass (it’s hard, yes, but rarely will that help your case). You should be persistent and demand that the DRO explain the issues to you until you understand them.
When you understand the issues in your claim, you will have More Power to find a more satisfactory resolution to your claim.
I have long believed that 2 of the most important elements of changing your experience in the VA Claims Process start with:
a) Knowing what is in your Claims File (C-File), and
b) Build Stronger PROOF and Evidence for your claim(s).
Keep asking questions until you understand – don’t give up when a DRO like “Ms. S” continually reads an irrelevant script to you.
2) All Hearing Officers (DROs Included) at the VA Regional Office have the duty to suggest the submission of evidence that may have been overlooked.
This is particularly important when the evidence that may have been overlooked would be of advantage to a Veteran (or survivor/dependent’s) position.
By the way – the BVA has these duties as well!
So how many of you have been at a DRO or other appeal hearing and the hearing officer has told you that the VA has already told you everything that you need to know about how to prove up your claim?
The waive that crappy VCAA “Duty to Assist” Form Letter in your face, as if that form is actually something anyone can understand!
Is sending out that form enough to fulfill the DRO’s second duty to suggest submission of evidence that MAY have been overlooked?
I don’t think so, and the case law seems to support my position.
So, ask the DRO — on the record — to suggest to you the evidence that may have been overlooked that you should submit to support your claim.
Confirm their answer – as clearly and objectively as possible – on the record.
Again, be civil, but be persistent.
An old friend of mine used to say: “Be Dynamic and Demanding, but not a Jerk.” That’s a good mantra to recite over and over before your DRO hearing.
I’ve completed and published a Case Study which takes an in-depth look at what one Veteran (a Vietnam era veteran exposed to Agent Orange on/near the Korean DMZ) did when the DRO told him that a particular issue he came to the hearing to discuss was not on appeal due to a technical glitch – or human error – in the VA’s computer system (VACOLS).
Get your copy of the Case Study here.