Veterans Service Organization representative Carl Jenkins emails me this New Year’s morning to inform me that I don’t know very much about the process. Mr. Jenkins identifies with the Veterans Of Foreign Wars service organization he represents but neglects to identify which Great State of the Union they hail from. One thing he is certain of though, is that my knowledge of this process is sorely lacking.
I enclose his message:
To the owner of the asknod:
I heard about you from DAV here at the RO and they say you don’t repect service reps for vets. so I read some of you stuff. You talk big but you know what. You screwed that LZ guy out of a lot of money. You could have filed his claims back when he came to you. My organization will be reporting you for derliction of duty. When vet comes to you asking for a claim, you have a sacrid obligation to help him. I don’t know which VSO you represent but you need some traning. I get over 30 hours every year and am one of the best in my outfit. My superviser goes thru all my stuff each time and says I get it right. If the Butch guy is real hurt then you should be fired you waited 2 years to get him his TDIU. You dont now what your doing so stop badmouthing us guys who do. I have been doing this since 1998 and I have got more than 50 guys service connected all by my self. Our post have got almost 100 just in the last 10 years.
Carl L. Jenkins
Veterans Service Officer, VFW
Thank you for your input, Carl. You raise many interesting points. I can only agree with you that I do not know what I am doing. I have had absolutely zero formal training in this field. I probably should attend some classes to learn how. Currently, I do not belong to any Service Organization other than Key Peninsula Veterans. They are not affiliated with any one particular VSO and we have no service rep specifically trained in this important field.
I am in the process of obtaining my credentials and will be sitting for the agent’s test soon. I obtained letters from three noted VA attorneys who are extremely successful at their trade. They feel I would be a valuable addition to this occupation. If and when I pass the audition, I will send you a copy of my accreditation if you wish to file a complaint. Since I currently do not “help” Vets other than to teach them a Do-It-Yourself technique, I find it odd that you feel compelled to write me. I note you have a “superviser” who oversees you. Does this imply you have not taken the test and obtained your accreditation to do this? I do not mean to denigrate your good work. I’m trying to get a feel for how this works among VSOs. From the OGC’s published information, there are only 800 plus who actually hold this accreditation personally. That seems to be a very low number considering there are 26 million Veterans who are eligible for benefits.
You are right in that I have a low regard for the majority of service representatives available to our Veterans. Please understand that I do not condemn all of you as incompetent. I understand there are many who are very helpful, understanding and successful at this. I look forward to meeting them some day. I merely write about the Veterans who come to me and ask what they are doing wrong. If they call ten times and never get through to you, they feel ignored. If you or one of your fellow representatives forget to file a VA Form 9 in the required sixty days following receipt of the SOC, the Veterans lose their claim and have to start over. These are the representatives I write about and refer to. I have had three help me in my twenty six years of doing business with VA. The best I came up with was 0% for hearing and the same for tinnitus. The other 290% I achieved was by doing it myself. none of those three told me about a nexus letter or Independent Medical Opinion requirement. If VSO training is so successful, why is it this ingredient is overlooked day in and day out?
The process of helping Veterans is actually quite simple. Unfortunately, from what I hear, once you fellows have the Power of Attorney (POA) and send in the initial claim, you feel that is all you are required to do until the denial arrives. Veterans come to you for help because they do not understand the process.
Twenty two years ago, a Filipino Veteran filed a claim for a leg injury and lost. He diligenty appealed all the way up to the Court of Veterans Appeals using the Manila VFW and lost again. His name was Mario Caluza. He taught us all that we must have a letter from a doctor that clearly shows a link between an injury in service and any chronic injury now they feel is connected. That actual requirement has probably been in existence since the War of 1812 but trust me when I say it isn’t a recent requirement. Mr. Caluza’s loss simply taught us the need for this legal requirement. That was 1994.
The reason I feel VSOs are incompetent or untrained in the art is very simple. I read a lot of Board of Veterans Appeals decisions published on the VA’s website. A large majority of our fellow Veterans entrust their claims to the mainstream VSOs such as Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Veterans (AmVets) and the Military Order of the Purple Heart to name just a few. As you know, there are 96 currently recognized by Congress including many state organizations such as Texas Veterans Commission or the California Department of Veterans Affairs. One thing I read over and over is that the majority of you and your fellow service officers somehow neglect to tell your clients of the need for the all-important letter from the doctor. An ingredient this essential to the claim’s success seems to be a given. Nevertheless, you and your organizations lead your Veterans to the VA slaughterhouse without a thought or that letter. Some have gone so far as to file claims blaming Hepatitis C on Agent Orange exposure. I would point out that this falls into the category of a frivolous claim and consumes valuable judicial resources. VSOs are forbidden to do this but they do so.
Furthermore, if the Veterans who write to me are not lying, it seems you and your fellow VSOs need to improve your communication skills. If my friend Butch calls me and I’m not here, I make sure I call him or his wife back as soon as I get the message. In any event, I reach them the same day. Many of your fellow representatives seem to be unable to do even that within a week or two without several phone calls from desperate Veterans. From where I stand, it appears I am just fielding a small number of the unanswered calls for advice from those who are unable to reach their representatives in a timely manner.
While we’re on the subject of Butch, allow me to say a few things. AmVets began representing him in 1970 the day he walked off Fort Lewis. They filed his claim and that’s the last he saw of them-period. He attended his C&P exams and was rated at 10% for a scar. We now know they missed two of his claims entirely and ignored the horrific SFW damage from the 60 mm mortar. Where was his AmVets rep. after this happened? Why was he not counseled to appeal this? He apparently lost out on his TDIU in 1970 long before I showed up and began handing out bad advice.
In addition, a number of VSOs promised to get Butch his Purple Heart over the years and had him sign POAs with them. None produced as they promised nor did any mention his entitlement to a Combat Infantryman’s Badge (CIB). I know the failure to help him does not fall on your shoulders directly. My sentiments simply reflect what I have observed for the last 26 years of interaction between Veterans with VSOs as their representatives and the VA. You may personally be a paragon of virtue and a credit to the profession. I have no way of knowing.
Many service representatives do not know what their very own charters state. By accepting a commission from Congress, a Veterans Service Organization swears fealty to the Veterans Administration and promises to help them (VA) adjudicate claims. Nowhere does it state their allegiance is to the Veteran. He is merely “the customer”. If a conflict of interest arises between the Veteran and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the service representative must do everything in his or her power to resolve the problem in the VA’s favor-not the Veteran’s.
You state you have been doing this since 1998 and proudly proclaim you have helped 50 or more Veterans obtain service connection. That is 18 years and a lot of Veterans. Might I ask how many Veterans you were unsuccessful in helping? Many times statistics can be misleading. Obviously, if you represented 2,000 Veterans in that time it would be a fairly dismal record.
I am not licensed to do this but my advice in eight years apparently has helped quite a few. I do not keep track of my successes because they are not mine. I report them here on my blog to show others how to succeed. Butch is a classic example of what can go wrong if a Veteran blindly allows a VSO to represent him or her. I could present 500,000 more examples by sending you to the VA’s BVA site. I’m sure you will find your own VSO prominently listed there in the 80% loss column. The majority of those losses have ignored the requirement that was revealed in Mr. Caluza’s 1994 decision.
Helping a Veteran is a sacred trust. In that we agree. Where we differ is what the sacred trust entails, where it begins and most assuredly where it ends. Some day, I will be at Butch’s funeral. Or… he will be at mine. That, sir, is a sacred trust. Happy New Year, sir.