Every time I get a question from Vets, my mind turns over the obverse of the coin. What if? JAVet just posted an interesting observation on the VCS/VUT crew pounding on the Supremes’ door for justice and it brought to mind the horrific scenario of even more disenfranchised Vets(read dead).
An important facet of claims backlog is where to put all these Vets and their files when the pipeline is severely clogged. Rather than encumber the BVA with them and engender even more bad press, VAROs have been forced to delay their transmittal to D.C. BVA has apparently indicated their file rooms are overwhelmed and can take no more. I infer this by the VARO expediency in caching your file interminably until BVA signals that they are now free to import more about the country. Their faulty reasoning is that ROs are more equipped to handle the overflow. The pictures of the Winston-Salem sixth floor file room amply illustrated the problem.
Since the BVA is the Headquarters of this comedy club, they have first say on who gets stuck with the storage tab. As JAV points out, filling out a VA Form 8 and putting the files in a box for transmittal to D.C is certainly no more than a time-consuming 2.6 hours including the side trip downstairs to Starbucks.
Now, to play Devil’s advocate. What if…what if 50% of denied Vets decided to make the Hajj to D.C. ?Currently it stands at 50,000 of the over 1,000,000 claims filed each year. 50,000 appeals represents 5% of the total filed annually (approx.). With the sure knowledge that it takes every day of the aforementioned 834 to get the VLJ’s signature, what if 50% of Vets filed appeals? Worse, what if everyone did? If you think congressmen are throwing a tantrum over their constituents having to endure a decade of delay, imagine this scenario.
The specter of even a 5% increase to 10% (100,000 souls) filing would clog the system to such a degree that a 3-year delay would seem a whirlwind affair. Put this in perspective. In January 1991 my claim was finally and utterly denied at the Seattle RO. My decision was handed down March 5, 1992. For the numerically challenged, that was 21 years ago. Nevertheless the delay was still over a year. Boards consisted of three members and there were a total of 20 Boards (60 VLJs).
There are now 75 or so VLJs- each a Board in his/her own right. That should have kept up with the influx. Not. My last trip to 810 Vermin Ave. NW departed April 5th, 2010 and came back denied in May 2012- a virtually identical amount of time. I insulated it against remands by waiving that right or I might have died in the ensuing 5-8 year ping pong game. One claim was advanced on the docket and one (CUE) was not. If they had both been normal, I would still be waiting for the Form 8 and the ceremonial Pony Express sendoff.
Continuing down this path of perfidy, think of the consequences of this lump in the python as it approached the CAVC. Here the dichotomy is even more pronounced. Instead of the meagre 50,000 who brave the journey to D.C., currently only 5,000 are hearty enough or are sufficiently invested with the intestinal fortitude to see it through at the Court. Since only a paltry 20-24% see any success at the BVA, that is an appalling attrition rate of almost 40,000 souls. I don’t for a minute believe their cases are that compromised so someone is compelling them to throw in the towel. I guess I don’t need to point out that’s a lot of towels. I won’t cast aspersions on VSOs but I have had the conversation more than once about the futility of continuing my quest for justice.
The first incident occurred in 1992 after my BVA mishap. My DAV rep., Ron Ampe, politely suggested not fighting my 0% for hearing and Tinnitus and to be patient. The standard advice was to not be confrontational and to come back in a few years with the 10% begging bowl. One certainly didn’t want to appear greedy as that was considered bad form. As for the back/hips denial, there was simply no mention of the new CAVC and the avenue of judicial review.
The second was more nuanced. Rick Talbott of AMVETS fame, soon to be a used car salesman, was very frank. “The ball’s in your court, Nod. Whadaya wanna do? I think it’s a waste of our time but you da boss.” I opted to fight and we sent in the NOD. vA ignored me for 14 years and that is why it took so long to get SC. It might have helped if AMVETS had assigned me a new rep. We’ll never know. That’s also why I am now at the CAVC arguing for my 1994 date.
The third wasn’t very nuanced. My Military Order of the Purple Nurple rep, Pat Dyer, made no bones about it. I had won the tinnitus so it was time to piss on the fire and call in the dogs. The HCV couldn’t be won because, well, Hell, everyone knows how Vets get that. Drugs, tattoos and STDs and all of them are willful misconduct -or so he said. As for the PCT? “Son, that’s a AO disease and they won’t ever give it to you. I’ve never seen one granted in my 15 years doing this. Shucks, boy. Ya got $15 K in retro on the Tinnitus. You want an egg in your beer, too?” In a nutshell, I was being told to roll up and go home. When I started talking 38 CFR and nexus letters, he became angry and the conversation took a precipitous turn downhill.
In a nutshell, I believe a large reason why Vets do not appeal is the counsel they receive from their VSOs. After all, these people are the Sherpas trained to lead us through the vA maze. This might indicate a desire to search for new meat and new POAs. It may also indicate a desire to be rid of a claim that is difficult or will result in a Pyrrhic victory (0%) or outright denial. VSOs like easy, simple claims for pension and A&A for 89 year old widows. They abhor seeing a Vietnam Vet with a raging, 40-year old case of Hep and PTSD come through the door. If they had their druthers, you would be required to actually have your STRs from service or you would get no service.
This is why VSOs love the new breed of Gulf War Vets. They have all the documenting evidence. Nobody burned the warehouse down that contained their records. Everything is sanitary and orderly the way it should be with no surprises. Many begin the Odyssey while still in service to provide a seamless transition.
One thing is certain. With the advent of the internet, many of you will do what I did. When you hit the wall of illness and finally learn the intricacies and nuances of the computer, suddenly the negative objective becomes attainable. Facebook provides an avenue into finding that long lost buddy or fellow shipmates aboard the USS Long Beach. More and more of you are going to become proficient at this and the numbers of claims filed will increase. What’s more, the number of appeals will escalate exponentially.
If the backlog was simply annoying before, I don’t even need to spell it out. Yep. You are going to be blamed for sabotaging the new push for the 125 day/96% accuracy planned for a 2015 roll out. In addition, endemic delays up the line will be your constant companion in the absence of any judicial renovations at Vermin Ave. NW. As for the CAVC, hiring even 20 more judges wouldn’t resolve the influx. At some point there would have to be a means test that disenfranchised a large number simply to keep up. Watch for the Frivolous Filings Police soon.
The teaching moment seems to be obvious. Heed the advice of your VSO- Abandon hope all ye who enter here. Or… break the bank and force the issue. The only way to effectively provoke change is to be obnoxious- like me. Refuse to Lose. Win or Die. Call it what you will but do not acquiesce. vA plans for this. They incorporate this into their equation. They depend on the majority of you becoming disgusted with their process and walking away. That’s the whole precept of the delay and denial process. If you and all you buddies automatically whipped out a NOD over the most inconsequential of claims decisions, you would inundate the system anew and provoke much nail-biting and acid reflux at Under Secretary for Excuses Allison Hickey’s office. I, on the other hand, will probably find a car bomb strapped to my starter for pointing this out.
Take a page from Nike®. Just do it.