Besides the search queries, there are other things that triggered this blog, my friends. There are comments I've been reading online.
QUOTE Met a fellow woman veteran who got her claim approved in less than a year. I was happy for her and jealous at the same time. We are in the same region, and I have been waiting for years. So I say what the hell am I doing wrong. UNQUOTE
QUOTE I am overjoyed too with another veteran gets what they have so rightly earned but I have to admit I am human and it can sometimes be a downer when your claim has just plodded on with no news, no decision and no pending C and P. My first claim only took 15 months to decide but this current claim has dragged on for a year and I even sent them copies of records that it should be open and shut case. I thank God for XXXXXXXXX for her submitting them and her assistance.
Yes maybe but it gets pretty damned old when a year goes by and all I get are two computer generated letters that say it is being processed which is bullshit! UNQUOTE
Here is a bit of history on the claims I have currently pending.
1. September 2008. Submitted new claim and request for IU. Some increases received, new service connection received, IU denied. Appealed October 2009. DRO Hearing July 2011. Still waiting for an answer.
2. May 2010. Submitted claim for Temp 100% for service connected shoulder. Still waiting for an answer.
3. June 2010. Submitted claim for PTSD-MST. Still not scheduled for Comp and Pen Exam. No action taken.
4. June 2010. Claim submitted for dependency. Denied September 2010. Appeal still pending.
Still have claims I need to submit but won’t do it until these claims are settled.
Are these wait times typical? Unless I research it, I don’t know. Every Regional Office is different. Every claim is different. The first place I want to look is the VA’s own website. I’ll search for something called the Monday Morning Workforce Report (MMWR). Have you ever seen that report? While it may not be completely accurate, it gives you a fairly good idea just how backlogged your VARO is. I know for a fact that St Pete is one of the most backlogged VARO’s in the Country. Therefore, I’m not surprised that my claims are moving so slowly through the system. One look at the MMWR confirms that.
Do you know what the Nehmer Directive is? If you don’t, you aren’t alone. Veterans aren’t taking into consideration Director Shinseki’s directive to get all the Agent Orange/Nehmer claims processed expeditiously. What’s “Nehmer”? Jim Strickland explains that here: http://www.vawatchdogtoday.org/Nehmer.html . The Director has given priority to these claims and to that I say, “It’s about friggin’ time.” Those men and women who served in Viet Nam, who are dying daily in massive numbers, deserve accelerated processing. Yes, I know, it’s estimated that there are 18 Veteran suicides daily. But that’s only in recent years. Who was keeping statistics BEFORE the Iraq War? Anyone? Did this Country even care that Vietnam Vets were killing themselves? My guess is no, we didn’t care. We’re more socially aware today. First Prodigy, then AOL, then came Myspace and Facebook. The internet woke up the sleeping giant.
In addition to AO claims, there is Tier Two. I’ve written about it before. You have to dig very deep to even find out about it. Think for a minute. Does Tier Two apply to you? Do you know what Tier Two claims processing is? Are you a candidate? I’m willing to bet that unless you’ve heard me talk about it, you haven’t got a clue what Tier Two is. We’ll come back to Tier Two. I’ll let you stew on this one for a while.
Let’s go back to the beginning of this blog. Back to the comments by the person who complained, “Met a fellow woman veteran who got her claim approved in less than a year. I was happy for her and jealous at the same time. We are in the same region, and I have been waiting for years. So I say what the hell am I doing wrong.”
I don’t know the story behind those comments so I can only make some educated guesses about both cases. First, congrats to the Vet who got benefits approved in less than a year. That is record time. It also sounds like a Tier Two case to me but I can’t be sure. To the writer I say, you probably don’t know the whole story either. Every claim is different as is every Region. No two Veterans will submit an identical claim. For arguments sake, let’s say you submitted a claim for PTSD to the same VARO on the same date. However, that’s where the similarities end. Your MST was 10 years ago. Her MST was 1 or 2 years ago. (I’m making this scenario up as I go along so bear with me). Ten years ago you reported it and it was swept under the rug. You are depending on buddy statements, your own statements and flashbacks, letters you wrote home, your nightmares, some vague memories, maybe a pap smear or possibly a test positive for an STD. The other Veteran reported it to the police. A full investigation was done, the perpetrator was arrested, she has police reports, a rape kit, and the guy is now in prison. She also has a current diagnosis of PTSD due to MST and a nexus from her treating mental health doctors, something you don’t have. You’ve had to build your case from scratch. Her case was complete from the beginning. Yours was denied and you’ve had to appeal, over and over. You haven’t done anything wrong. You’ve done everything right. The system has grown and changed over the years. There is now a huge push to recognize MST. Everyone entering the VA Health system is supposed to be screened for MST. That isn’t to say it’s easier to get a claim approved. It’s just a fact that MST is more prevalent in the media these days. They’ve brought in Women’s Trauma Counselors for us. The system is supposed to advocate for us and be more proactive in getting us treated. Consequently, Veteran #1 had a more complete claim to submit, plus she was an OIF/OEF Veteran. Maybe she was even injured in Iraq or Afghanistan and came home with a Purple Heart. Perhaps that Purple Heart is what won her PTSD claim. Perhaps it wasn’t MST at all. There are way too many factors to begin to speculate why her claim was adjudicated so quickly. But the point is just that. No claim is identical to another. There is no way to tell why her claim came back in under one year and yours has taken years. For all we know, it could be the representation you had, lack of solid evidence on your part or any one of one-hundred reasons.
Have you figured out the average wait time for a claim? No one really knows, my friends. Say you and your buddy have an identical issue; if there is one slight variance, everything changes. If it goes to a different RVSR, that could mean all the difference in the world. If one has reviewed thousands of claims and the other has reviewed hundreds of claims, who do you think is going to give the better, more thorough review of your claim? Do you really think there is an answer to that question? There might be. However, one rater may have more claims on his/her desk and that could mean the difference between one month, two months or fifteen months of processing time.
Time to discuss Tier Two. Have you figured that one out yet? Tier Two applies to OIF/OEF and Afghanistan Veterans. It was a very quietly pushed through piece of legislation promoted by, I believe, IAVA. It leaves everyone else behind. Tier Two gives priority processing to the new crop of Veterans. When an OIF/OEF or Afghanistan Veteran files a new claim it goes to the top of the pile. It doesn’t matter that my claim has been sitting there for well over a year. Those claims get piled higher and higher on top of mine. Okay, so maybe that’s not technically how it works, but that’s the principle behind it. My guess is they’ve dedicated more and more RVSR’s to them and fewer to us in order to be in compliance with Tier Two.
Let’s recap. First, you have Agent Orange and Nehmer Claims being processed. Second, you have Tier Two claims being processed. Then you have the rest of us. Is it fair? Depends on who you ask, I suppose. I don’t begrudge the Vietnam Vets who are finally getting the benefits they‘ve waited far too long for. I have nothing but respect for my sisters and brothers who have served and are serving in the current war. However, I do believe they should wait their place in line. This war is almost 10 years old. If they keep piling those claims on top of mine, my claim may never be adjudicated. OIF/OIF and Gulf War Veterans already have a long list of presumptives approved that it took Vietnam Vets 40 years to get. If the rest of us got equal treatment in processing claims instead of breaking us down into groups of us against them, it should help to speed things up.
What else would help? The VARO’s need to shit or get off the pot. It’s time to start updating their computer data bases. If they did that, eBenefits might be a more useful tool. I check my account once or twice a week. I don’t depend on it to be accurate. I look at it to reconfirm how inaccurate it is. I’ve heard from other Veterans across the Country that their accounts are current. That tells me that St Pete is, as usual, behind the curve. I have two appeals pending but my account only lists one. Why is that? Why isn’t it showing my dependency appeal? Why, on every single one of my claims, does it show the same list of paperwork, including a memo from the DAV? That’s on EVERY SINGLE CLAIM! I haven’t been with the DAV for a couple of years now. eBenefits is only as good as the information input at the VARO level. St Pete does a crappy job of data entry. One of my claims has been in the decision phase for far longer than according to their own time frame says it should be there. What good does that do me? They are so backlogged they can’t even update eBenefits. Is it the backlog, incompetence or do they just not give a damn about the Veterans they are supposed to be servicing? Your guess is as good as mine.
What shouldn’t you do? Don’t submit an IRIS inquiry or call the 800 number to check on your claim. You are wasting your time. If you have already checked your eBenefits account and it isn’t current, than submitting an IRIS inquiry or calling the 1-800 number isn’t going to get you a better answer. They will be checking into the same computer system to attempt to answer your question about the status of your claim. If it isn’t current in eBenefits what makes you think you’ll get an answer that’s any different from IRIS or by calling the 800 number?
Don’t call or write your Congress Critter. That will just slow down the process. When you start a Congressional Inquiry, they pull your claims file from whomever has it (even if it’s sitting in a box in a closet somewhere), look at it, say yes, it’s in the queue, and then once it’s back at the VARO, it goes back to the bottom of the queue. You don’t go back to your place in line. Some will disagree with me, but this is what I believe to be the truth based on trusted sources who have reported back to me on their own Congressional experiences, investigations and research.
Don’t submit new claims while you have others pending. That also slows down the process. The VARO will try to combine them all. It’s a money and time saver for them. However, they have to pull them all together from wherever they are, schedule Comp and Pen exams for you and in many instances, the newest ones you submit will be combined with the oldest ones and you’ll wait. And wait. And wait while the VARO does their evidence gathering. When I submitted my claim for Temp 100% , I submitted it as a “quick claim” and was told St Pete has a turn around time of “5 working days” on Temp 100% claims after service connected surgical procedures. I was told this by a St Pete VARO RVSR. I sent in every hospital report, surgical report, lab report, PT records, doctors notes, xrays and photos the doctor took before and in surgery. It was a slam dunk claim. “5 working days”. That was in May 2010. I’m still waiting and according to eBenefits, that claim is in the “decision phase”. Yeah. Right. Oh well! By the time they get around to approving or disapproving it, I’ll be ready to go back in for an increase because now I have extensive arthritis in that shoulder and loss of range of motion as a result of the surgery. Lesson learned.
What else should you do? My buddy Jim Strickland says it best. Get a hobby. Go fishing. Read a good book. Don’t hold your breath. Expect your claim to take anywhere from 18 months to 2 years at least. Expect it to be denied. Expect to have to appeal and then expect it to take another 2-3 years after that.
Go back to your book. Get on Facebook. Browse the Internet. Catch a fish and tell a fish story. When your claim is denied, come back to my blog and read the one I wrote about hiring an attorney. Then go to VA Watchdog Today dot Org. Jim Strickland has some top notch attorneys advertising for your business there. How do you think I found my attorney, Karl Kazmierczak?
That’s all I’ve got for you today, my friends. To wrap things up just remember, every claim is different, every Region is different, do your research and be prepared to wait. Get a hobby, don’t jump from VSO to VSO or advocate to advocate. Stick with one person and one person alone. You’ll be much happier for it in the end.
Until the next time ……..