VA’S SUBTLE DELAY AND DENY TACTICS-BOLDLY GOING NOWHERE

635646931319099161-veterans-administration-logoOver the course of several clients’ claims, I have been forced to “take it up a notch”. One technique is to use homelessness as a tool to invigorate the VARO’s response time on claims. We all know it can be as much as several years trying to extract a Statement of the Case (SOC), certify a claim for appeal (issue the Form 8) or simply get a DRO hearing. All the recent VBMS hoopla about speeding up this process seems to die after that magic 125-day window promised us called the Fully Developed Claims process (FDC).

Even if you present evidence of homelessness or emergent medical situations that are dire health issues, VA often will dissemble and procrastinate without sufficient prodding. I want to share some of the newer ways they do this that are not as apparent as they seem. Most, but not all, are common on appeals so keep your eyes peeled for them

First, if you present new and material evidence of a secondary disease that is directly linked to your current filing in a Notice of Disagreement (NOD), VA may tell you to file it as a new claim. In some cases, this might make sense. However, if you have peripheral neuropathy (PN) of the extremities and already have a claim in for Diabetes Mellitis II, VA is required by law to view your claim from every angle.  This automatically means they should spot any records for the PN and file the PN claim for you. If you included medical records diagnosing you with the PN simultaneously with the claim for the DM II, by law they are required to develop your claim considering the PN and incorporate it as a secondary with no request from you. They can do this without you refiling for it. VA doctors and examiners are well aware of the correlation between PN and DM II. They are trained to do this without any prompting on your part. If they do ask for a separate filing, it is merely a delaying action or unadulterated stupidity. Granted, VA raters are not the sharpest tools in the shed but after a century of doing this, one would think they’ve ironed out all the wrinkles.

Another tried and true technique, and one with some validity, is the NOD with a Clear and Unmistakable Error (CUE) add-on. Let’s say you filed for an increase on the DM II because you are now using insulin and have been for several years. VA usually grants this at 20% if you’re actively using insulin. Knowledgeable Veterans or their legal beagles know that a doctor’s restrictions on diet or exercise will result in the higher 40% rating. If that information was included in the original filing, we can only surmise VA purposefully overlooked it when we open the Big Brown Envelope (BBE in hadit.com parlance) and discover they gave us 20% effective on the date we filed for the increase. This creates a two-year delay in most cases to get the 40% we were legitimately entitled to. Now for the CUE quirk. If you throw in a CUE saying you are legitimately entitled to the 20% (or 40%) a year earlier than your filing for the increase (which you are), VA will divorce the two “contentions” and begin a totally new CUE claim which most definitely will not be part and parcel of the request for the increase. CUE claims are not treated as FDCs so it will be several years in most cases before they mail you the revised decision. Meanwhile they will proceed with the NOD issues in a separate appeal. Idiot’s delight and to your detriment.

Most of us who do VA claims understand that when VA raters have the c-file open, it makes sense to adjudicate any and all contentions and make the most efficient use of their time. We only have one claim in VA’s eyes. It may have different facets but there is still only one legal claims filing. This is why, back in the “olden days”, we filled out the 21-526 one time at the very beginning. VA harvested all our info to include spouses, dependents, active and reserve time, pension viability based on service in war, et cetera. The document was 26 pages long hence the “26” in 526. Any claims after that were done on a VAF 21-4138. Thus, when you filed for the DM II at the outset, you had to provide adequate evidence of the disease and the degree of severity to be granted the claim in the first place. If you had that information present in the original filing and VA purposefully underrated you, it was CUE. Correcting this CUE at the time of the request for an increase to 20% or 40% should not require a separate decision path bifurcated from that request. It merely requires a more nuanced inspection of the file and a simple correction to make it right.

VA will insist they cannot do this but we know differently. When I filed my Extraordinary Writ of Mandamus January 2, 2015, VA managed to “fix” my CUEs (plural) in 45 days and grant me my SMC S all the way back to 1994 as they should have done contemporaneously. They also granted me equitable tolling of my SOC in 2010 to permit it. They also restored the 10% “clawback” for my porphyria cutanea tarda skin condition which they had reduced to 0% in lieu of the 40% grant for phlebotomies. Without going into the minutiae of the decision, the salient teaching moment here is VA can do whatever they want to conversely proportional to  how much pressure is exerted from on high to correct the error right f—–g now (RFN). In my book, 45 days is definitely RFN and clear as well as unmistakable evidence that VA can do anything they want to in as little time as it takes for the OGC to pick up the phone, call the VARO director and tell him to issue the rating- and be quick about it. This is the new tool we were handed by Secretary Bob two years ago.

Another technique, but certainly not the last of their delay and deny tactics to throw sand in the gears, is the worst and one they have only recently discovered when they need more time to fix something horrendous. Butch Long’s claim for an earlier effective date, filed with his NOD this July, prompted this little gem. VA generally sends you the 21-4142 and the 4142a in the preliminary stages if you have not sent in any medical info regarding your filing. This automatically disqualifies you from the FDC expedited process as we know. But what happens when you’ve already sent in every last medical record in existence regarding your condition and diagnosis? What could possibly be the rationale for the raters to ask for more medical records on appeal? Well, folks, look at the VAF 21-4142 below and read what’s in the red circled area.

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Below the primary admonition is the codicil stating VA will not pay for the records. I do not know how many Vets I’ve helped tell me they identified all the records for VA. They assumed VA fetched them. When I get the c-file, nary a record is there which was essential to proving the claim. I guess I don’t need to tell you this is all the more reason never to allow or expect VA will obtain what’s needed to win. In the brave new world of Obamacare, virtually every medical provider is charging for a paperclip-let alone your records. You, by law, are entitled to them for free. Not so VA. VA is not required to tell you they had zero success on fetching said records either. The only way you’ll ever know is to obtain the c-file to discover the problem.

In Butch Long’s case, they know full well they have any and all records, including everything from the local VAMC on him. I can only surmise the reason the Appeals Team sent me the 4142/4142a was a stunt to begin a whole new search for something they know full well doesn’t exist to gain time. In numerous filing of evidence on this claim, any and all records have been submitted and statements to that effect have been included. VA went even further and refused to x ray his left hand for the 2015 C&P- in spite of his filing for it in 1970. In further correspondence, they stated Butch has not supplied them with any evidence he has retained foreign objects from the SFW in the left hand. He clearly stated it in the Court Martial documents which seems to point to gross error-i.e. even more CUE.

What is clear is that VA will resort to any ploy to dawdle and delay the inevitable. Any time VA contacts you or your attorney during the course of the claim or the appeals process, be wary of what they ask for. Be even more wary of what you sign or give them permission to obtain. I have strongly advocated that Vets only give VA that which is pertinent to the claim(s) at hand. There is no need to supply them with your mental health records if you’re filing for DM II or PN. It has no bearing on those claims and could hold up your adjudication for months or years. There certainly is no law against holding back anything that has no identifiable purpose to the claim(s) at hand. I call that VA fishing for detrimental evidence-something they are clearly not permitted to do.

Make it so numbah one.

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Posted in All about Veterans, Duty to Assist, HOMELESS VETERANS, KP Veterans, Tips and Tricks, VA Agents, VBMS Tricks, Veterans Law | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Five stunning active military photographs: a 2016 sampler

ask-coast

“Advanced Helicopter Rescue School An aviation survival technician is lowered from an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter during training near the North Head Light in Ilwaco, Wash., Nov. 10, 2016. The training was part of the week-long Advanced Helicopter Rescue School. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Levi Read.

ask-navy

“Sailors stand sea and anchor detail and security watches USS Mahan as they depart Funchal. FUNCHAL, Portugal (Nov. 27, 2016) Sailors stand sea and anchor detail and security watches aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) as they depart Funchal, Portugal after a brief stop for fuel Nov. 27, 2016. Mahan is in the U.S. 6th fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Timothy Comerford/Released

ask-marines

“Strafing Fire A U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One engages targets during an urban close air support exercise at Yodaville, Yuma, Arizona, Sept. 30, 2016. The urban close air support exercise was part of Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 1-17, a seven-week training event, hosted by MAWTS-1 cadre, which emphasizes operational integration of the six functions of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Danny Gonzalez

ask-air

“Airman Marquel Marshall and Airman 1st Class Darris Little, both 67th Aircraft Maintenance Unit F-15 Eagle crew chiefs, service a liquid oxygen converter on the flightline Aug. 24, 2016, at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. Marshal and Little work as swing shift maintainers, ensuring around-the-clock mission readiness of Kadena AB’s F-15s. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Peter Reft)”

ask-army

Air Assault U.S. Army Soldiers conduct rappel training from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Fort Bliss, Texas, Aug. 23, 2016. U.S. Army photo by Abigail Meyer

Click images for more awesome scenes of tomorrow’s veterans at work on  Flickr.

Posted in All about Veterans, Food for the soul, Food for thought, Future Veterans, General Messages, Guest authors, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

FROM THE VET HUMOR FACTORY IN MIDWAY, GEORGIA

trademark-va-logo-with-rAs most here know, Vet humor is warped and far-fetched under the best of circumstances. Often, it transgresses into the realm of questionable taste. Our ILP mentor Bruce “Almighty” McCartney (no relation to Paul), sends me this gem that could only ferment in a Vet’s brain. #Blackbirds matter.

 

Once upon a time in Massachusetts…

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Nobody made you keep reading this.

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Posted in Humor, KP Veterans, VA Medical Mysteries Explained | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

More troubles at Tomah VAMC (WI)

This time the fear concerns bloodborne pathogens which may have been spread by a dentist with very dirty work habits. The headline from USA Today:  VA dentist resigns after hundreds possibly infected (LINK).

On Tuesday, Victoria Brahm, acting medical director at the center, announced that the VA was in the process of notifying 592 veterans treated by the dentist that they may be infected with hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV because he did not follow proper sterilization procedures….Earlier this week, Brahm said that the dentist was using his own equipment, then cleaning it and reusing it, which violates the VA’s regulations that call for the use of sterile and disposable equipment.

Tomah VA Medical Center (WI-link) also provides dental services to active military in the region. (I don’t see an official Tomah press release about this situation yet.)

Other news:

Tomah is kicking Veterans Assistance Foundation (VAF–link), out of its building  because of poor performance, according to a recent press release.

But the biggest news broke after Aaron Glantz wrote Opiates handed out like candy to ‘doped-up’ veterans at Wisconsin VA (Link).

The Senate investigated.  The resulting May 2016 report, over 350-pages long, shows that even the Senate cannot obtain information from the VA.  And how faithful employees tried for years to get the VA OIG to pay attention to their pleas for help.  The information about how the VA OIG Hotline works is interesting reading.  For an overview and link to the report–it’s a large pdf file–Sen. Ron Johnson’s website is worth a visit (link).

tomah VA

Click: The VA “Candyland” report.  Majority Staff Report Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Senator Ron Johnson, Chairman.

The pdf:  thesystemicfailuresandpreventabletragediesatthetomahvamedicalcenter_final

Some readers may think that this VAMC site should just be closed–that it’s unfixable. Based on this report, I believe that it can and must be reformed because there is probably nowhere else for these patients to go.  And why can’t the 173-acre property can be used for long-term subsidized housing?

It’s too bad the charity Tomah partnered with failed, but other groups, properly vetted, could get involved.  It would be good to see a quality group like the Fisher House Foundation provide services.  The more affiliates or “outsiders” involved with VA centers, the less likely they can remain the fiefdoms of corrupt leaders.

Posted in All about Veterans, Call Bob, Food for thought, General Messages, Guest authors, hepatitis, Uncategorized, VA Health Care, vA news | Tagged , | 4 Comments

LZ CORK– I’VE GOT ONE MORE SILVER DOLLAR

imagesIf you’re read my book, you know playing VA poker is an art form. You keep your cards up and don’t let prying eyes see what you’re holding. Yeah, I know the drill they espouse. “Whatdaya got? Send it allllll in. Denied. Got anything else? Sorry, nexxxxt? Now serving Number 44.” Well, every once in a lifetime, if you’re a packrat like Butch Long’s lovely wife, you luck out and hold on to the Holy Grail of contemporary evidence that allows you to get in your DeLorean and go back to 1970. 

Early on, Miz Long showed me Butch’s Special Court Martial and said she’d kept it but was embarrassed somewhat that Butch had to go through this at the end of his career in the Army. I said we didn’t need it in the scheme of things to win as Butch positively glows in the dark in an x ray machine with all that metal. His eye has healed for the most part except for the blank spot. He still gets herking earaches but they aren’t constant. So, from the standpoint of submitting it to ensure a TDIU or 100% rating, was superfluous.

butch-bunkerOn the other  hand, when VA gave him the ultimate bitchslap and a bare minimum for most of that retained gook metal, I began taking another look at the court martial to see what it really said.  This is why I love timelines. Think about this. The attack on LZ Cork occurred January 18th, 1969.Butch was hospitalized for two and one half months recuperating from a satchel charge- a big one that went off several feet away from him. Several feet as in 2 or 3. He survived, just as some of his platoon mates like Bob and Dennis did nearby when a 60mm mortar landed in their midst. Now let’s move forward. Approximately the first week of April, Butch was discharged and temporarily sent over to Treasure Island or Oakland to a make-work job. He still didn’t have any medals and was a low man E-4 draftee on the totem pool. All those stay-at-home E-5 and E-6 lifer pukes had it in for him. He got the nastiest jobs and the shifts no one else wanted.

Butch still suffered from poor eyesight and his hearing was toast with all the pus draining out. He got in trouble. He was living in a hotel off base and his wife had a ten-month old daughter. She was also pregnant with number two. He’d had to borrow some money from the Red Cross just to make ends meet because Payroll wasn’t including the spouse and housing in his paycheck. He was frantic to find an apartment and get settled in. It all hit the wall in early September-just five months and some change after he was discharged from the hospital with a profile. He still was getting bad headaches and had all the symptoms of TBI. He was discouraged from even going on sick call because he was on report for being perennially late. And then he missed a reporting time-completely. He’d misheard when he was supposed to be there. Instant AWOL. Instead of reviewing his folder and figuring out he wasn’t hitting on all eight cykinders after the TBI, the big boys decided to make an example of him.

Butch was railroaded into the Special Court Martial and told to plead for mercy. Mercy, on October 14th, 1969-a shy eleven months after he was almost blown to Kingdom Come- was a five-month stay in the stockade, reduction in rank to E-1 with forfeiture of 2/3 monies, and separation the day he exited the stockade. April Fool’s Butch. Just kidding. Here’s your Honorable Discharge. Sorry. No money for your wife and child. Shit Creek had just turned into a raging river for Butch, Barb and his daughter.

Here’s Butch’s plea for mercy:

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Mercy, from the US Army came in this form:

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VA, in turn, three months after discharge, gave him 10% for a scar or two on his arm, ignored his claim for retained metal in his noggin and a goose egg for the hearing in spite of PULHES scores of 3 on hearing and vision in the right eye before his discharge. Look up Bum’s rush in the VA dictionary and there’s a picture of Butch.

Forty six years later, after VA conceded they might have missed a few muscle groups and the Bent Brain Syndrome when they did the 1970 comp. and pen. exam, upped his 10% to 70% TDIU effective April 2015. As racist white folks back in the 50’s were wont to say sarcastically “That was mighty white of them (VA) to finally make it right”. The big problem was they hadn’t even scratched the surface of his claims in 1970. Much was left undone which meant it was still open. VA likes to drag out the “Hey, dude. You had plenty of time (one year) to pitch that bitch and we never heard from you so it is now deemed denied.” In other words Butch Long, juris doctor and lawyer, should have known he was supposed to appeal or it was a done deal.

Which brings us to that packrat problem with Miz Long’s. Butch’s Special Court Martial, all 39 pages of it in its original blue folder, had been handed to her the day Butch was interned. Since it is dated during his service time, it falls into a special kind of evidence. 38 CFR §3.156(c)(1)(i) fits this to a T. By keeping back so evidence, this last Silver Dollar is the “Ill see you, raise and call” for Butch. The problem is that VA is choking.

To date, they’ve asked Butch to separately “open” a claim for TBI and ear problems. They’ve demanded he sign a 4142 and 4142a for a fruitless search of more medical records. They have tried to bifurcate his claims into two piles of CUE and the ones listed on the NOD. They insist he will have to “reopen his old claims” in order to ask for a de novo review of the 3.156(c) evidence. They went so far when my Congressman asked for info as to say his Release of Information to the Congressman had “expired” and he’d have to get a new one. In spite of the claim for shrapnel in his left arm/hand at his Court martial, they even refused to x ray it. We had to go out and have it done privately to submit to VA because they said we had not submitted any proof of it yet. Seems they could have looked at the court martial records and spotted it. Or not…

small-farmers-inferior-correct-jpgNow, to add insult to much injury, Butch and Barb recently lost their house. I dutifully informed VA they were technically homeless and after 56 days they called me and asked “Whazzup?” VA’s repair order was

  1. Butch is getting 100% so he has enough to rent a motel room
  2.  If he has two old dogs, he should get rid of them so he can rent a motel room
  3. If he didn’t smoke, he could rent a place. Who cares if he has to sign a year’s lease?
  4. If they insist on living in his kid’s garage and waiting for us, we may decide he’s loony tunes and get him a fiduciary.
  5. It will take 45-90 days to get his claim done even if he’s homeless.
  6. He’s probably getting SSI too so they aren’t broke. See also #1.
  7. It sounds like he’s gaming the meaning of “homeless” to get his claim done ahead of others.

This is a perfect example of why you always keep an Ace as a hole card in this VA poker game. Here, we were lucky. Had we not had it, VA would bifurcate this thing to death and run Butch through the hamster wheel for ten years before relenting. Getting them to come to the table is hard when they are in shock.

And that’s what we’re up against. VA is blowing bubbles because they’ve taken a look at the historic compensation tables for 100% from 1970 to present for a spouse and four dependents and it’s downright ugly. Merry Christmas Butch. Eventually. One of these Christmases, anyway. These things take time.

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Posted in HOMELESS VETERANS, Informal Claims, KP Veterans, Vietnam War history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

CAVC-PROCOPIO V. McDONALD (ROUND 2)- WE HAVE ALL BEEN HERE BEFORE

downloadAs CAVC cases go, this is a horrible retread. So much so that they didn’t even deign to give it a panel. Jurisprudence that is this defective should not be permitted to see daylight-let alone twice. I am all for every dog having its day and even perhaps twice in a lifetime. Certain basic parameters must be reached first, however. Alfred Procopio has struck out on this in spite of being given far more leniency than most of us. Beating a dead horse more than once serves no purpose other than to confirm its demise. Attorney John B. Wells has now proven this twice over.

I first wrote of Mr. Procopio’s Blue Water travails over four years ago in October 2012. At the time, I seriously questioned his contentions of aerial herbicide spray aircraft launching from the deck of the USS Intrepid. Since then, his story has segued into new theories-all of which confirm his lack of credibility or his grasp of reality. Consider for instance the first above. There is absolutely no history of the Intrepid launching AO spray aircraft or that any barrels of AO or similar herbicides were ever on board. Nonplussed in the least, he “retheorized” that aircraft fresh from bombing Hanoi, Haiphong Harbor or the immediate environs had been coated with AO spray when the aircraft flew through the mist. The credibility issue here is we never sprayed AO in downtown Hanoi. The fallback argument was the fresh water production facilities aboard the aircraft carrier had somehow sucked up AO and he got his DM2 and prostate problems from the onboard water.

I have often counseled Veterans on what I consider to be viable evidence in support of their claims. While I would never suggest not submitting generalized treatises on any given disease, some articles are far too nebulous to support a theory. Please note I did not say far-fetched. In Mr. Procopio’s opinion, the Australian study that gave credence to AO being present in on-board drinking water of Navy ships hinges on too many if…then nebulous presumptions. Any good supposition should be able to be taken into a laboratory and definitively proven to be true or false. Using Australian findings that point to but do not confirm a theory are not going to be well-received by any scientific authority. Approaching VA with this is a guaranteed denial. VA law is dispositive on the subject. You need a chronic disease that began in service or a risk factor such as confirmed exposure to herbicides, you need a current, active disease process and most of all, you need that medical nexus from an authoritative source such as a doctor confirming that you, Al Procopio, met all three metrics and thus are entitled to service connection. This has been true since the War of 1812. VA was forced to admit it in Caluza versus Brown back in 1994 and they finally had to add it to the VA claims package like the admonition on cigarette packs that there’s a strong possibility you’ll get cancer sucking on them. That was the VCAA act back in 2001 in case you missed it.

Just in case you’re still fuzzy on this, in Bryant v. Shinseki, the Court enunciated the beauty of 38 CFR §3.103(c)(2) where, by law, they are required to tell you exactly what you need to win. Mr. Wells must have missed that one.

Helps build strong bodies 12 different ways and include the needed nutrients of Vitamins Blue, Green, Pink, Purple White as well as all the need Orange supplements.

The very first problem with the Almeister’s claim is elementary. He’s not a doctor so he cannot opine as to what caused his AO-like symptoms. Worse, claiming the Intrepid was the Navy’s floating version of Operation Ranchhand will never fly and it utterly destroys his credibility. We have very few tools in the claims pouch we can rely on to win. Credibility is foremost among them next to the Presumption of Soundness at entry. The last thing you want to do is start lying about what happened on the flight deck because that can readily be disproved by existing records. Going further afield and saying aircraft came back coated with a thin film of AO after flying behind or through the C-123 spray aircraft’s “chemtrails” is a nonstarter. A-4s, A-7s and later F4 Cs picked hard targets like the Paul Doumer Bridge or SAM sites. Yes, they also went after targets of opportunity on the Ho Chi Minh trail in western North Vietnam on the border with Laos and Cambodia. What they never did was try to conduct high-speed bombing/strafing passes while dodging C-123s spraying herbicides. The chances of any residue clinging to an aircraft flying at 350-400 kts is equally ludicrous. You’d probably stand a better chance of claiming you got prostate cancer off a dirty toilet seat on the Intrepid.

I have always advocated picking every possible risk or reason for a disease/injury and sticking with it through thick or thin. List them all at the beginning of your claim so you do not appear to be grasping at straws. You can be wrong but at least you are consistently wrong from the outset. Nothing could be worse than to develop a theory and then start modifying it or adding to it in desperation trying to get that one proverbial spaghetti noodle to stick to the wall. Similarly, I have always said from the outset to have a good nexus letter with no equivocal language in it. Having two or more is even better. Alberto hornswoggled his VA doctor into a corner. By self-reporting his exposure history, he got a compromised IMO that hinged on his credibility. VA calls this “history” as in “the Veteran’s self-reported  history”. The good doctor was forced to make an informed decision stating that if what was said was true, then that’s how he came by his afflictions. Right there, in black and white, the good doctor stated unequivocally that he had not seen the c-file or any contemporary medical records from service. Further, he said the suppositions he endorsed would be true if, and only if, what Al reported was the unvarnished truth. You do not win claims with conditional IMOs.

What disturbs me the most is that Mr. Procopio’s law dog, John B. Wells Esq. swallowed this hook, line and sinker. Mr. Wells is acquainted with the VCAA and must have realized the danger of relying on Mr. Procopio’s  reports of undocumented day-to-day AO spray operations from an aircraft carrier, handling of AO-tainted containers and the impossibility of AO clinging to a supersonic aircraft that had to be flying dangerously low at 3,000 feet ASL in order to be baptized. The whole story has more holes in it than a notarized alien abduction statement.

I guess you can understand how utterly amazed I was to see this one back at the Court four years later with virtually nothing added to it in the form of new and material evidence. Rarely do we witness such a waste of judicial resources in pursuit of the unattainable. What possible claims viability could Mr. Wells discern here? If nothing else, the first bitchslap in 2012 and the subsequent remand should have been the clarion call to go further afield and get some concrete evidence of AO operations from the Intrepid’s deck or some killer buddy letters that supported the claim of AO residue on the aircraft. The better argument would be to have a doctor’s IMO stating that it was as least as likely as not that Al got his presumptive exposure from the water purification plant and a reasoned rationale to support it. We would hope Mr. Wells was capable of at least that much.

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Nice try.

Always remember to put these eyewitness reports in context. How many of us were even aware of Agent Orange when we were over there? Better yet, how many would remember it with such clarity in retrospect and attach such significance to it?  I’ve heard some daisies in my day. I had one Vet tell me he knew it was Agent Orange because… wait for it… it was orange-colored. Sorry. It was about the color of diesel and once mixed with diesel or kerosene (or whatever petroleum distillate that was on hand in sufficient volume), it was still the color of diesel. Some have positively identified it as being stored in bright orange barrels. Sorry again. They were OD green and had a 2-inch orange band around them  on 50 gallon drums. Similarly, Agent Blue and White barrels were marked that way as well. I never saw any other other flavors so I cannot opine on them.

From the standpoint of an admittedly biased VA agent, I will bend over backwards to believe any and every detail a Vet can report to substantiate his or her story but when the evidence or observations begin to argue with reality, it depresses me. Each and every Veteran like Mr. Procopio does immense damage to our collective credibility much like stolen valor types. It hard enough to get a rating with demonstrably proven facts in your favor. Embellishing the story to flesh it out harms each and every one of us-most especially if there is no truth to it.

I once pointed to the essential elements for the perfect crime and the same applies here. Any conspiracy to commit a crime that will withstand scrutiny must be one where there is only one story and one individual. Your credibility is unassailable. The moment you tell your girlfriend, all bets are off. If you cheat on her, the world will hear about your crime even sooner. With VA claims, your credibility is presumed right up until you say or do something that contradicts it. I have found over time that Veterans foolishly try to fluff up their stories after a denial as if it will lend more credence to their truthfulness. Actually, in VAland, the opposite is true. Read about two or three thousand BVA decisions and you’ll see Veterans pilot their ships up onto the rocks with their own stupidity. In fact, Al asked for and got the same VLJ that pole-axed him back in 2012. VLJ Michael Lane, if anything, bent over backwards in a twenty four-page decision that accorded Mr. Procopio far more latitude than I would have granted him on his credibility.

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Here’s Mr. Procopio’s latest Adventures in CAVCland. I can’t wait for Act III.

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P.S. Did I mention Mr. Procopio began his assault on Mount VA in 2006? Ten years and two trips to the Big House up at 625 Native American Ave. NW  with nary but a dry hole speaks volumes, not of credibility, but the very purpose of filing the claims in the first instance.  I can almost imagine some NSO talking with his new client at a _____(VSO) bar in Indiana saying to his Vet “Well? Do we feel lucky, dude?”

A fighter pilot friend (Bob “Earthquake” Titus) of my father’s and far younger by several decades, once explained this phenomenon to me after waaaaay too many double scotch and waters. He could talk to me like my 60s generation even though he was ten years older than me. It boiled down to the semantic difference between balls and guts. Fighter pilots have a compendium of both plus incredible luck. I suspect Mr. Procopio had neither or, at best, only guts-and not much of that.

The difference between

Balls and Guts

Guts- Arriving home late at night reeking of Scotch after a night at the Officer’s Club stag bar, being met at the front door by your spouse holding a broom and blithely asking ” You’re up late. Are you still cleaning or are you flying somewhere?”

Balls- Arriving home late at night reeking of Scotch and Arpege after a long night at the Officer’s Club stag bar, sauntering into your bedroom and slapping your significant other on the ass announcing “You’re next, Chubby.”

 

Capture

Posted in Agent Orange, AO, CAVC ruling, DM II, KP Veterans, Vietnam War history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

MILESTONES-JOHN CHARLES THOMAS JR.-1950-2016

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John. C Thomas Jr.

In Vietnam, during a firefight, the most awesome sound a wounded man could hope to hear was that of a Huey Dustoff coming in regardless of the danger. When our troops were wounded, we didn’t have the luxury of time. In prior wars, most of those severely injured would have succumbed to their wounds before ever reaching any meaningful medical help. Vietnam changed all that. We can certainly point to the beginnings of this in Korea but the TV show M.A.S.H. notwithstanding,  “hot”chopper extractions before Vietnam were unheard of.

Each Dustoff  crew was a tightly knit group of four. Two pilots and a crew chief ferried the most important component to the evac- the medic. While a lot of accolades accrue to fearless pilots who could somehow dodge certain death, one and only one job befell the crew chief- that of keeping the Huey airborne and the hoist operational. What few realize is that when airborne, they often were just as much a medic as a mechanic-perhaps more so. It wasn’t like you could hop out on the skid and figure out why the check engine light was blinking red.

We lost one of those crew chiefs Thursday, the 17th. Our numbers are dwindling- and not just Dustoff crews. I mean Vietnam Veterans of all stripes and one of the primary causes is what we ate, breathed and got on us for a year. Some of you, like Bruce McCartney, did it for four years. I did it for two (not as a Dustoff, mind you). The longer we stayed, the exponentially higher risk we incurred that some day Agents Orange, Blue, Pink, Green, White or Purple would catch up to us and give us some heretofore unheard-of disease or cancer. Cancer was what John fell prey to.

I look at Vets in the light of claims they file. I tend to specialize in Hepatitis C but the family of herbicide-related diseases are ones I am well-acquainted with. I have Porphyria Cutanea Tarda-one of the hardest to get service connected for. I know I got it from Agent Blue because I was coughing up blood eleven months into my first tour. The flight surgeon told me the cure was to switch to the newer Marlboro Lights that had just come out. Of course, reducing your diet of herbicides was also a viable alternative. But who among us knew?

John came home to Bruce earlier this year for the last Round Up (no pun intended). He was gradually becoming too weak to care for himself and Bruce graciously offered his home for what would soon inevitably be a hospice setting. Had I been John, I don’t know that I could wish for a better friend than that. To have defied almost certain death for a year creates a bond I cannot describe. As an analogy, imagine standing in the pouring down rain and not being struck by a single drop-only to be hit by lightning fifty years later. Inevitable death, when it arrived decades later, could not sever their bond. And so it came as no surprise when Bruce selflessly fired up his medic skills once again to combat that which he could not deter this time.

Our numbers, as I mentioned, are declining precipitously as the insidious effects of those herbicides work their destruction on us. Congress, and indeed the VA, are debating the merits of adding a few more diseases and maladies to the presumptive list. By the time they do, our numbers will be even fewer. I expect they’ll add Crohn’s disease to the list about five minutes after I punch out.

One thing that seems a constant in this occupation is Bent Brain Syndrome. I would ask why it, too, isn’t presumptive. How many people can you witness die before it snaps that little rubber band in your brainbox? Nevertheless, VA still requires us to be diagnosed by their own shrinks before granting service connection. Woe betideth those who cannot prove their stressor in this regard. In John’s case, I found it impossible to get him an SMC rating commensurate with his level of debility. The answer was that he’d been convinced by VA pukes, as we all are, that there is no higher rating after the 100% P&T at the end of the rainbow.  Had he been inflicted with Diabetes Mellitus 2 and lost the effective use of his lower or upper extremities, SMC R2 would have been a given. As it was, he had only two 100% ratings-PTSD and the lung cancer. He became bedridden at the end but he could never get past SMC M. This is why I advocate for Vets to keep filing like dead Chicago voters. You never know when the IHD is going to hit and filing for it when knocking on Heaven’s door benefits no one-especially you or the wife-san.

So join me and raise your glass in a toast to someone who might have saved your life forty eight years ago- and certainly would have had the call come in to do so- with no qualms for his own safety. To the man who raised and lowered the hoist so that others might live, to the man who stood out on the skids and yelled “clear rotor” to the peter pilot, to the man who held the IV bag for Bruce and could perform CPR in his sleep, to the man who regarded our lives as more important than his own, I salute you John.

Sadly, in this day and age, such selfless behavior is forbidden. Troops can die without any dustoff until a hot LZ is secured. In Vietnam, you went in regardless of what ordnance was flying through the air. The order was simple. Shut up and fly the mission. Now. That others may live.

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Posted in Agent Orange, Aid and Attendance, Milestones, PTSD, SC For Cause of Death, Vietnam War history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments