Actually, I probably blew that and should have written Heroines as most of the VA CMAs I talk to are women. One thing is certain. Change embodies what they do and they are quick about it. Today, I wish to commend the VA for something they did rather than ostracize and belittle them for something they didn’t do. Hey, when you’re lower than whale shit in the eyes of the folks you’re supposed to be serving, you need all the positive PR you can muster.
If (and when) you do something right, it should be shouted from the roof tops. I note the BVA was preening its feathers the other day when they remarked (with great press hooplah) that their numbers of appeals adjudicated had gone up rather dramatically. Well, duh. You can probably expect to adjudicate (and sign) a butt load more appeals if you hire 20 or 30 more VLJs and about 200 more law clerks for minimum wage. I guess I should qualify that. It amazes me this was so successful. Usually there would be a net decrease in most other VA scenarios. Credit this to the BVA where everyone speaks JD and the most frequent nickname is “Counselor”. Telecommuting is also in vogue now so you don’t have to take the Orange in and waste time in line at the Starbucks in McPherson Station.
THE CMA PHENOMENON
Back to CMAs. VA invented this position after the VBMS was opened to us law dogs. We can ‘see’ VA actions in real time and with them ‘actions’, consternation grows. Calling up the appropriate VA Director’s office used to be the way to get their attention and arrest the mistake. I run into a lot of Vets and they are amazed we aren’t forced to use that archaic 800-827-1000 dial-a-prayer system. I can’t imagine litigating in slow motion. *Beeeeep* “Yes, please. The best time to call me back next Tuesday would be between 8 AM and 12PM East Coast time. I’ll get up at 0500 L and put the coffee on. Thank you.”
However, we do not have to suffer that indignity. I merely pick up the phone and dial (787) XXX-XXXX and am warmly greeted by Sharon D. in the San Juan Regional Office. Sharon is an exuberant, efficient VA employee who stands ready to help me with everything I need for my client Roberto there. If there’s a way to ignite a fire under the DRO, she can do it. She must have some pull. Maybe the DRO has a mistress and she threatened to tell his wife. Who knows? What’s more, who cares? Until VA sets up suggestion email@example.com so we can thank them for giving us CMAs, I’m forced to thank them here.
A few of the folks who make the VA world go around (and my life immensely easier) deserve a big shout out. Among them are the aforementioned Sharon, Tina (Seattle), Ciena (San Diego), Joe in Cleveland, JR in Phoenix, Gary in Houston and the list goes on. I’ve discovered most are GS 11-12s, worked in appeals and know their stuff. They innately know who to call to resolve a problem. They’re so good at what they do, I’m guessing their phones hardly ever ring more than a couple times a day. I’ve never gotten the wave off or a “she’ll have to get back to you” yet.
The VA claims process just gets easier and easier to accomplish when you have accreditation. Having a CMA at your disposal is like flipping your selector switch over to auto. You almost can’t miss. One of my possible future clients was talking with his VSO and suggested he talk to the DRO to correct a mistake on his claim. The VSO’s eyebrows went up like a couple of them old fashioned window shades (flup!flup!flup!)and he chokes out “Are you mad? Nobody can just call up the VA and talk to the DRO in charge of the appeal. It doesn’t work that way. I should know. I do this for a living.” My friend explained that he’d heard me on the Hadit.com radio show doing that as well as emailing them. Dale was told by Mr. Knowitall VSO N.J.D. (no juris doctorate) that VA agents lie a lot and he should take what they and their attorney buddies say with a grain of salt. Considering most VSOs’ SMC knowledge ends at K, if they’ve even heard tell of it at all, I guess I’d take a salt shaker if I ever had to visit a service rep. at one of the Big Six’ retail outlets.
Here’s a beautiful example. I’ll change the names to protect the innocent. I call up Ciena down in San Diego and explain my client Johnny Vet got an earlier effective date (2003) decision from BVA VLJ Yvonne White back in February. The AMC, now the ARC, effected the decision but shortsheeted him horribly. When you grant a EED for a Rios v. Mansfield (oops! we mailed it to the wrong address and it came back) violation, you reopen the whole enchilada in 2003 because Johnny Vet not only didn’t get the denial for the PTSD. He also didn’t get the denial for his left knee, tinnitus and DDD at L5-S1.
We filed a NOD pronto. Unfortunately, VA is now using a National Work Queue (NWQ) to adjudicate a claim. So up pops the NOD on the National VBMS teletype ‘to-do’ list. Meanwhile, Johnny Vet gets an unsolicited call from “Franchesco” at the ARC who says he thinks maybe they screwed up the 2003 rating and decides to issue yet another new decision. At that exact moment, somebody from the St. Paul Puzzle Palace rips this off their printer. They immediately enter it in to VBMS but accidentally remove his dependents from his entitlement. In less than three days, Nashville pulls it off the teletype and says ‘No. No. No. That’s all wrong. Put the dependents back on. The NOD is invalid. You can’t appeal a BVA award. You have to go to the CAVC. A day later Atlanta sees it and says ‘Disregard Nashville. They’re full of hoooey. We’ll be needing some time to examine the chicken entrails and study the tea leaves. We also, however, will need to study this and we’ll get back to you some day. Hear?’ That was around May 12.
Enter Super Ciena. I called her up Wednesday afternoon late and said “you know…. I think something’s amiss here. I started to give her a brief overview but she cut me off. “Send me an email and explain each thing they screwed up. Tell me what you think the repair order is and I’ll get out my lightsaber and cut into it. Thursday morning @ 0900, Timbo the DRO calls and says “Ciena says you got a problem. So whazzup?”
Instead of trying a Powerpoint™ presentation from 2,000 miles away, I said ‘open the new NOD I submitted on 5/01. It’s listed at 5/3 on his VBMS. That pretty much summarizes the legal posture by operation of law. He pulls it up and we ran through it point by point for law. I bit my tongue and said nothing about Franchesco’s wolf parentage or ARC’s stupidity. He agreed, proposed to CUE themselves on the cirrhosis and correct that 4 year old “misconstrual of the diagnostic codes available”. Can you imagine a VSO trying this- sober or drunk? In ten short minutes I agreed to withdraw the recent NOD as untimely. We then accomplished a verbal handshake and readjudicated PTSD for 100%, DEA to 2003 and an understanding we could still file a NOD subsequent to the issuance of the new decision- to everyone’s satisfaction. We mutually declared CUE on the use of DC 7345 instead of DC 7312 (no net change in benefits) and agreed to grant 50% instead of the 40%. All the while, I’m thinking “What am I missing here? This is just waaaaay too easy”. I guess we’ll see in a few days.
Now this is where you can separate the smart VA poker players from the ribbon clerks. I asked old Timbo if he knew why I insisted on the proper rating for the cirrhosis/ascites at 50%. He was clueless. He saw no possible benefit. Here’s a teaching moment. Do not wait to get all your ratings later when you are trying to climb up the SMC ladder. Remember our old friend 38 CFR §3.350(f)(3),(4) and keep it holy. That extra 50% stand alone for ascites under DC 7312 can be parlayed into a jump from SMC L for Aid and Attendance into L ½. Or a bump from M to M½ or up to N/N½. The important thing is getting it done now to preposition yourself for that inevitable future time when it can quickly kick your compensation payment up about $200/mo. when it will be most beneficial and needed. It isn’t cheating to have a game plan before the shit hits the fan. And yes. When the time comes,you’ll be wanting to call your VA Agent or Attorney and ask him/her to contact one of these wonderful CMAs for the particular Fort Fumble involved and ask them to ‘Make that L½ so, Number 1’. And they will. Call it what you will. It’s the new kinder, gentler version of VA claims adjudication. Who knew?
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.