I found this comment on my How Low is Low? post and felt we should all analyze each and every point Mr. Kenneth Aune brings up. So, forewith, I transplant his complaint and query here and my rejoinder.
Mr. Aune opines:
I’d like to know WHO has compiled this article and what credentials he or she has. I am a retired Accredited Service Officer, and I question much of and [sic] the precedence of your article. The Organization I worked for and the names you named, they represent veterans at the VA’s Central Office and the Board of Veterans Appeals and also on Capitol Hill addressing both houses for veteran rights. They go up against the legal minds of the VA. The couple [sic] names I recognized, they are highly knowledgeable in VA law, and some are retired from the VA (30 years plus) BVA. Lawyers? I would put my knowledge of VA law up against them any day. The difference being, these VSO Service Officers deal with VA only, the lawyers have other interest to generate income. They review claims and reject those that are not slam dunk claims. They do not want to do much investigating. You claim the VSO’s dislike [sic] the lawyers make too much money. The amount they receive is determined by the VA, and there is a cap on there [sic] reward. We have a problem with the veteran paying someone when it’s un-necessary. VSO do it at no cost to the veteran.
And my rejoinder to Mr. Aune:
Dear Mr. Aune,
I’m the author of the article. My name is Alex Graham. I’ve been actively engaged doing claims since 1989. I have been through the process-each and every one of them- numerous times. I have won every one of my claims when the VSOs who swore to help me either couldn’t or wouldn’t.
All the wages paid via dues to the VSOs’ officers mentioned in the article are taken directly from what is called an IRS Form 990. IRS stand for Internal Revenue Service, Mr. Aune. They are not prone to lying or publishing lies of others. Unless these folks are lying, I assume the grossly inflated stated wages are correct. I did make an apology to another service officer from Virginia who pointed out that only the actual member’s dues support these highly overpaid guys in funny hats. Local donations to the Service organizations go directly to Vets fortunately. Apparently the local organizations are wise to the Nationals and keep their donations to help physically disabled Vets rather than give it to the financially challenged ones who get $350 K a year for going up to Congress to get drunk and bitch. Personally, in all the HVAC hearings I’ve watched, I have yet to see Art Wilson, Larry Maher or Danny Wheeler show up.
As for being “highly knowledgeable in VA law”, why is it the VSOs have such a miserable track record versus attorneys? Or, if you will permit me to observe, why is it I haven’t seen any of these whizbang VSO legal beagles you swear by up at the CAVC ? It’s because they are not lawyers, Mr. Aune. They are not permitted to represent Vets because they have no legal training recognized by judges. Why do you think VA employs 500 lawyers at the BVA to process our appeals? If they were nonadversarial, the natural path would be to hire folks who have the same legal training as you-albeit hopefully with a better command of the English language. As for putting your own legal acumen up against the likes of Kenneth Carpenter or Bob Chislholm, I fear it would be a slaughter like something right out of the Roman coliseum days- Lions -5, Christians-0.
VSOs on average, win 20% of the 50,000 or so cases they take to the BVA. Attorneys win 28%. At the Court of Veterans Appeals, where you actually do have to have a law degree that didn’t come out of a Crackerjacks box, 65% of the lawyers prevail against the VA. This means a lot of VSOs lost a lot of cases that they should have won if they ever had the legal talent to do so in the first place. Either that or they have incredibly bad luck at this business.
Perhaps you do not get outside and visit the real legal world much, but during your watch, while you were busy looking out for Veterans’ rights all these years, your VSOs have allowed VA to amass a huge backlog that is off the charts. Where, exactly, were all the VSOs who were being paid vast quantities of cash to defend our rights? Out on the golf courses around DC “bonding” with their VA counterparts? Your arguments are hollow,sir. Try as I might, none of what you say agrees with anything I see in the real world.
Mr. Wilson of DAV complained recently that attorneys should be 86’d out of the arena or reduced to a $200 pittance for repping a Vet. By that metric, why does Art Wilson need a $353 K salary? We’re here to help Vets. Remember?
Let’s put legal binoculars on and see what we see. If a Veterans Attorney sees a claim that is defective, unwinnable, or in some way fraudulent, as an officer of the Court, he is precluded from accepting it. Frivolous lawsuits by attorneys are forbidden. Fortunately for you VSOs, your ignorance legally protects you from the wrath of the Court when you arrive with a bogus claim for Hepatitis C due to Agent Orange. That’s one of DAV’s specialties. Think about this further. Why does DAV hire a legal firm (CCK) to handle all their appeals to the CAVC?
In sum, Mr. Aune, what you do not know about the process is appalling. Since you are not required to read law and pass the bar, you are allowed to act like a pro se Vet. In fact, the Court of Appeals has granted Vets that dispensation such that if they are under the wing of a VSO, they are permitted the Presumption of Stupidity and given even more leeway to account for the frightful legal advice given them. (See Comer v. Peake) A lawyer is held to a much higher standard and fined for his stupidity. We never read about law dogs filing appeals for a 10% rating for tinnitus for each ear.
Lastly, I would point out a glaring inequity. Why would any attorney worth his salt take on VA claims? The return is 20% on the venture versus an easy 40% were he to choose chasing ambulances. Additionally, he would have a much faster path to riches if he steered clear of the VA arena altogether. Real Courts pay the attorneys promptly without grousing. Can it be some are attracted to this because they see a disservice to Vets being perpetrated by unschooled VSOs? You have admitted their altruism is AWOL.
And one final observation. VA lawyers usually are asked to intercede only after a VSO has hopelessly hamburgered a Vet’s chances of winning. This is why we have the phalanx of pro bono lawyers (Pro bono, Mr. Aune, is Lawyerspeak for “free representation” versus paid) such as the NOVA group or the NVLSP. If you are familiar at all with your Veterans Benefits Manual put out by Lexis Nexis, you would know that one our most esteemed new judges in years at the CAVC is Meg Bartley. She wrote the book you supposedly used to help Vets-that is- assuming you called what you did “helping”. Do tell, Mr. Aune. What is your win/loss ratio?
I neither champion lawyers or badmouth them. Universally, they have been proven an advantage at the VA. I am open-minded enough to counsel Vets to do as they so choose. We call that free will in America. VSOs do not have the same cachet. They are hat in hand with the VA’s employees and the symbiosis is far too congenial for my tastes. Anyone who gets paid (by VA) for each POA he turns in cannot be an objective force in helping a Vet to win. That’s like putting a $250.00 bounty on every Veteran’s head.
VSOs represent the largest majority of Veterans claims help yet they only have a 15% win rate at the Regional Offices. Do you see the problem? No, I suppose you don’t. Vets don’t need lawyers. They need someone like you, right? God help us.
I note you have studiously omitted the name of the outfit you work for yet you imply you are on a first name basis or recognize many names mentioned here. Can it be you are too embarrassed to mention your own VSO ? Is it one of the highly-paid outfits I mentioned in my article? It’s okay. I understand.