I love it when government puts catchy, happy phrases or names to things in hopes a new coat of paint will hide the rust. This is pretty much what happened at VAROs across the country in the late 90s. In order to get in touch with their inner self, they decided to become more accessible to Vets. Taking a page from the Goodyear Tire company, they came up with Veterans Service Centers (VSC). They still haven’t changed the stationary so you’ll still see VARO #346 to describe the Seattle Center.
Time was they used to have two sections. One was for all the mundane stuff like insurance, vA loans, burial benefits etc. and the other was for the serious compensations game. With the advent of the VSC, all this was rolled into one game. And of course if you change the name of the castle, everyone has to get a new moniker. Out went the Adjudications Officer and in came the “VSC Manager”. The two former Section Chiefs became one and his new appellation became “Coach”. Unit chiefs, much like the Section chiefs, smacked of racism towards Native Americans so they, too, were renamed “Team Leaders”. In order to keep it from sounding like the University of Pennsylvania Football team roster, they did include some job titles that actually resemble what the fellows do. Hence we are graced with:
–Rating Veterans Service Representative(RVSR)
–Senior Veterans Service Representative (Sr, VSR)
–Veterans Service Representative (VSR)
–Veterans Claims Assistant (VCA)
These are you new friends. Let’s get to know them. When you are going to get the shaft, its always nice to know the cast of characters arrayed against you. The fact that they now have happy names in no way ensures your claim will fare better.
A brief history. When they rearranged the furniture in 1998, they adopted a team approach. You kicked your claim to them and they took a knee in the endzone and out to the 20 it came. Everyone busily assembled parts and pieces without talking to each other, and when all was said and done, a decision was produced rife with errors. It took them about 4 years to see the problem. vA has now moved on to a new version called the Claims Process Improvement (CPI) version. Same pig. New lipstick. This is the Detroit version where your claim travels down the assembly line with each of the “team” adding parts to it. The mere fact that a bright red quarter panel gets welded onto a blue car is immaterial if it fits the model. All the seats don’t have to match as long as they are the correct ones for that model. When it rolls off the line into the denial notification stage, nobody comments on the obvious disparity of the unit. That’s not their job.
So, let’s meet the six teams who are doing these CPIs and find what the problem is. In this new version no single team “owns” your claim. Each one performs a function and then they are done with it. If an error occurs early on, there is no self-check machinery that kicks it back as defective. The error moves forward and is incorporated into the finished product because no one views the claim as a whole. The term “very convenient ” comes to mind but remember I will not entertain the word conspiracy on this web site. I may think it but I do not voice it. That’s your subjective judgement and I don’t want to color you thinking processes with my beliefs.
The six teams are:
1) The Triage Team
2) The Pre-Determination Team
3) The Rating Team
4) The Post-Determination Team
5) The Appeals Team
6) the Public Contact Team
Team #1 does exactly what it implies. Your claim arrives and the Triage dudes begin with a huddle. New claim= new folder. If you’re terminally ill, you go to the Rule 900 line and get served first. Rule 900 treatment only insures they may accomplish it before you die (the claim-not your appeal). If you’re the President’s son/daughter or a close relative, you will also get the top drawer treatment. A Purple Nurple or a CMOH is good for a Starbucks coffee next door but won’t advance anything unless a Congressman bitches and the media catches wind of it.
Team #2 is where a majority of the errors occur. Remember that this has been fed into the computer now and is being dissected into it’s component parts. What is it you want? Are you eligible? Do you qualify? Were you there? Do you really have this injury/disease or is it a fig newton of your imagination? Can they misinterpret what it is you want and thus deny it on other grounds? Now, who would you expect to be on the Pre-D team? Dick Tracy and Sherlock Holmes come to mind but you are going to be at the mercy of GS-7s and 8s. This may be why there are so many errors. The most important part of your claim-the actual decision on what is needed to prove it- is compromised by poor training and lack of experience. In vAspeak this is called “Goodtogo,bro”. In English it’s “Does anyone here know how to do this?”
Team #3 is the backfield. This is where the quarterback, his halfbacks and the rest of the wide receivers hang out. They huddle and analyze all the Pre-D stuff. As I said, due to the poor legal/medical acumen of the Pre-Ds, the Ratings game is going to be at their mercy. This is where the red door gets installed on the blue car. Implicit trust in a system, be it a team of assemblers or a computer, leads to some interesting results. We see many of them and we always wonder “What were they smoking?” No one will notice the dichotomy of an error if everything leading to it was done according to Hoyle. Thus, blind adherence to the M-21 Procedures Manual will inevitably provoke glaring mistakes that no one sees. Witness the Macklem decision or Sellers. Being a “team” production, no single person views it in context with its component parts. “I don’t do the doors” is the operable mantra here. The flip side is “I do doors but the manual says install this door so I did”.
Team #4 implements what the ratings team decides. Thus if you are determined to have had your feet in red clay in 1968 and have DM2, you get the AO presumptive. The Post-Determination Team kicks in and analyzes the SMRs, the post-SMRs and anything involving medical. They then assign the proper percentage and the effective date. This is virtually always incorrect based on the belief that you will be appealing the lowball % they assign. Why give you all the apples on the first try? They make you work for them usually. The Post-Ds do a lot of other functions like competency, dependents, pensions, etc. but we are focusing on compensation issues here.
Team #5 is Appeals. They do a lot of the legal footwork including SOCs, SSOCs, DRO hearing scheduling, etc. They’re also the bozos who sit on your appeal for about a year before sending it to DC. Most Vets don’t understand this. There are so many claims in the system that they have to have a lot of big in-baskets to stack them in. Slowing the system down and calling it “processing” allows them to pace the files through. If the files were all packed up and sent to DC as soon as they were completed and certified with the Form 8, 810 Vermont Ave. NW would sink below the pavement with the weight of all the paper. There simply is no room for it all there. The repair order is to to store it at the RO and delay transmittal by using the ploy of “It hasn’t been properly certified yet and we cannot transmit it until that is accomplished.” Have you ever wondered why it takes a year for them to take a NOD and generate a SOC from it when the SOC says exactly what the denial decision says? If they just pushed “print” on those SOCs as soon as they got the NOD, the place would be overwhelmed in a week with old growth paper and F-9s.
Team #6 is the Contacts Team. This is the headquarters of the Dog and Pony Show. Any Congressional Interest queries go here. Any hot potatoes from the media land on this desk. All the IRIS inquiries come here. Cold call walk-ins off the street are met here. Excuses are generated here on any subject needing an excuse. This is where they send the new-hire FNGs. They are taught obfuscation and passive aggressiveness in this office. This is usually the first stop in the training and brainwashing of many a vA employee. Instruction in vAspeak is instilled with lots of positive reinforcement. Rudeness 101 is taught via instructional videos on work-study days. Very little of importance is generated here. It’s a cool job if you’re a slacker.
So that’s it in a nutshell. Six layers of bureaucracy ensconced in one Federal building we pay for. Six different facets of a process flawed on its face. A compendium of confusion created to prevent Veterans from collecting on their Nation’s promise. I got a migraine from writing this.
WE WILL DECIDE NO CLAIM
BEFORE ITS TIME
Time is subjective, too.