The Veterans Benefits Administration, or VBA, is now in full swing on digitizing records. Everything is now directed to Cheeseville, Wisconsin 53547. I don’t have to tell you that filing it electronically on eBenefits is as advisable as throwing a bottle into the ocean. Many of you have some real thighslappers like “I don’t get it. I did a really nice doc with bulleted lists and merged the DBQ pdf into my 4138 pdf on ebenefts. VA says they can’t find it and won’t give me my June 2014 filing date. What do I do?”
By the same token, my old advice on beating them with the FOIA stick is beginning to backfire. We’ve had reports of “They’re here. Come and get them.” This is not necessarily as advisable from what we are beginning to see out in the field. The VA has their new 21-3288 Request for C-files out now and the apparent (attempted) trend is a 8-week turnaround (think six months) following submission via Cheeseville only. No more requests to the local ROs. Cheeseville South got busted for hiding their unanswered overflow in a 40-foot long trailer out back.If VA is going to blow you off, it seems the polite way to go around them is to insert evidence in the hole in the wall in Janesville, Wisconsin- home of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan oddly enough…
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Evidence Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
If you’ve waited over six months, it’s time to get in touch with Mary at the VA Records Management Center in St. Louis. (MaryAnn.Wentzel1@va.gov).Please note, this is not the National Archives Records Center that sometimes catches fire after hours in St. Louis. This is VA’s single repository for all c-file records requests now. They issue the c-files in the order received unless it’s an Extraordinary Writ demanding RFN attention from (027) or the Office of General Counsel as it is known at the DVA.
Cheeseville now has confirmation of transmission for fax. I send everything that way for any number of reasons now. It establishes time in line and you follow up with Priority Mail for $6.45. FAX quality is like dial up internet-pretty sketchy. You’ll be wanting those glossy 8 1/2 by 11s in all their original shining splendor at submission for scanning so VA can’t complain about the quality of the documents you sent. Having proof of mailing is a duh right out of the box. Belts and suspenders and number every page. If you send it in in color, they now have color in the VBMS .pdf c-file too. Not so via fax.
Presumption of Regularity on mailing (lack of) has destroyed gazillions of Vet claims. I would say USPS Form 3817 will suffice if you are financially challenged. However, I have found out something interesting. When you mail a one oz. letter to VA via 3817, it’s a buck 15. The stamp on the envelope they print up says $1.15 but does not indicate a 3817 was employed. If VA can clothesline you on this, they will and declare they never got it. In this day and age, you can just take a picture of it with your phone or a digital camera but that doesn’t prove it made it into a mailbox. Insert a picture of the 3817 into a Word document and save as a .pdf for a small file. If they play dumb, you make a copy and send it in. It will stand up in Court, but with a Green card or a USPS Priority Mail envelope, you have a tracking number or the signature of the new GS-4 FNG bubblehead down in the intake center in Cheeseville.
The long and short is that we are now hitting the web filing portal enigma. Everything will have to be submitted in electronic form for word-searchable .pdf format. VA raters insisted on the upgrade because they can’t “see things” in your file like service medical records or confusing concepts like “evidence”. If you have no access to the web, you are going to have to go down to a VSO bar and hire one of them. You might remind them that they can no longer use the venerable VAF 21-4138 anymore for filing claims. I noticed the AmVets in Tacoma was still doing this as late as last fall. That’s a Bozo no-no. The new VBMS computer cannot “read” it.
Eventually hand written records that actually require reading and deciphering will be unnecessary as all of us who served pre-computer will be dead. This is when VBMS will come into it’s own. VA kiosks can be erected in malls like cash machines. You enter your SSN, Branch of Service and date of enl./sep. VA confirms your metrics and you file on the spot. The VA’s newly rebuilt CAPRI/VACOLS/ PIES/ VISTA (VHA) which will still run on Microsoft XP or VISTA (but not Windows 7 or 8) will be capable of immediately telling you if you are eligible for a disability rating in 10 short minutes or less.
On the off-chance your are denied, you’ll be able to view your appeal in real time as it is electronically transmitted to DC several months later. All those happy electrons winging their way to DC. With eBenefits, you’ll know exactly which decision phase you’re in and can plan your celebration parties appropriately as you advance. The electronic frontier is upon us old Vets and it’s time to tame this computer bronco to our advantage.
For now, the strong advice on filing with VA is to call up the 1-800 Prize Redemption Hotline at
867-5309- scratch that. That’s my a Vet friend Jenny I’m helping. 1-800-827-1000 and tell them you wish to register your claim on that day. This is like booking a room at the hotel. You show up later with the suitcase full of evidence and send it in to the cheeseheads. VA will require a follow-on 21-526 EZ return or the long form if you’ve never filed before. You have one year to get it together on this “informal filing”.
The Presumption that you screwed it up will remain the operable word on filings so proof is essential to any claim until we can obtain a true electronic confirmation VA will honor. VA’s IT crew is looking at a 2022 role out along the lines of the IRIS model. All you have to do is look at my case and how VA stepped on their necktie in 1994 for confirmation that VA will be the one who screws it up.
Electronic filing will someday become the norm but for now, eBennies is like a magic 8 Ball for information. Hasbro has the new eBennies® VA-compatible version with a bluetooth connection feature. The App is at firstname.lastname@example.org. Bon chance, mon amis. Je suis Vet avec les armes.