I am trying very hard not to bash the VA. There are some really good people that work there, and many – though not all – try very hard to serve Veterans best interests.
Sometimes, though, the VA makes it really hard to be supportive. Take the Draft Gulf War Report that the VA Released last week. What a great opportunity for the VA to reach out to Gulf War Vets, let them know what the VA is doing to make the claims process easier for them to navigate, and what they are doing to remove the wall of “red-tape” that stands between Gulf War Vets and health care, benefits, education programs, Vocational Rehab, etc.
The Attig Law Firm represents Gulf War Veterans in their disability compensation claims. 3 Major Factors makes these claims very complex
Factor 1: There are just a LOT of Gulf War Vets. This category includes Vets who served in Southern Asia, Southwest Asia, and the Persian Gulf/Middle East, including Desert Storm, OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and OEF (Operating Enduring Freedom). Nearly every soldier that has served since 1989 has spent some time in one of these areas.
Factor 2: These Veterans face medical problems that are not well understood. TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) is notoriously difficult to identify and diagnose; even when it is diagnosed, communication and interaction with victims of TBI is very, very challenging. PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) rarely surfaces until years after the soldier has left service. And Gulf War Vets face a plethora of strange disease entities: Gulf War Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, and many other “cluster-symptoms” and “undiagnosed disease identities”.
Factor 3: The VA claims process is a Dinosaur. Not a big bad ferocious dinosaur like a T-Rex. The extinct kind of dinosaur. A couple of months ago, I actually saw a VA employee using “carbon paper” a couple months ago. Really? Carbon Paper? Maybe when he was done he hopped on down to the mimeograph machine to make copies.
Given that the VA had a real opportunity to communicate with this under-represented and under-served group of combat veterans, I was excited as I skimmed through the report to the section on Veterans Disability Compensation Claims for Gulf War Vets.
Here’s how the VA summarized it’s “work” in this area:
1) Sent out a couple memos. It released two “Training Letters” explaining, to the VA employees that rate claims, how to decide claims more “uniformly”. (Training Letters are, in the opinion of this VA Disability Compensation lawyer, handbooks that teach VA employees how consistently deny claims.)
More than that, though, uniformity of decisions is the VA’s problem – Vets simply don’t care about claims uniformity. Gulf War Vets want their claims decided quickly and logically. Congress cares about uniformity. Voters (if they care about anything) may care about claim-uniformity. The VA should tell those groups what they are doing to be more consistent and uniform. Tell the Gulf War Vets what you are doing to help them get benefits quicker.
2) Improved its “Back-Room” Review Process. VA has this process called STAR Quality Review (STAR stands for “Systematic Technical Accuracy Review”). The VA touts this process as the “end-all, be-all” for making sure that claims are fairly and consistently granted. Veterans know the STAR process as another “hoop” they have to jump through.
The Attig Law Firm, for example, won a case for a Veteran in 2012 – the Vet had to wait 6 more months for his benefits while the VA did a STAR review on the claim. While this vet came out of the STAR review with benefits intact, the whole process is cloaked in darkness and mystery – nobody really knows what STAR review is or does. Doubtful that it helps most Veterans.
That’s about it folks. The Draft Gulf War report has several paragraphs of filler material that talk about the law that governs certain Gulf War claims, but nothing new.
Bottom line: the VA really has no clue why its process is broken for Gulf War Vets. So instead of figuring out why the foundation of its house cracked, the VA has decided to put a fresh coat of paint on all the windows.
I’m pretty sure I heard General Shinseki whistling while he painted.