02-19-2017  8:00 pm      •     

Cleveland McCord spent years filing disability claims and appeals to have his injuries recognized. Now he helps other veterans through the National Association of Black Veterans. Read his story.

Last month a report from the Center for Investigative Reporting slammed the Veterans Administration for a "culture of complacency," after it found waiting times for disability claims have increased under the Obama administration.

"…the agency's ability to quickly provide service-related benefits has virtually collapsed under President Barack Obama," wrote reporter  Aaron Glantz who covered the story for the center.

But one veteran, who knows the system better than almost anyone outside the Veterans Administration, says the biggest problem he sees is with the appeals system. About 40,000 cases are appealed every year.

 "The bottleneck is in the Appeals Management Center," says Dr. Craig Bash, who helps veterans win claims and appeals with his medical testimony.

Based in Washington DC, the Appeals Center has nine hearing rooms, served by100 judges. And five rooms are set up for video hearings, Bash says. 

"They are underutilized. They could schedule six patients a day in each of those nine rooms. They could easily do 50 hearings a day. But they're doing four or five. That's a waste of resources. They're operating at 10 percent of capacity.

"That's one thing I think they really need to fix. They could work a lot harder there."

Bash says he's written to Veteran Administration Sec. Eric Shinseki to expose the problem with the Appeals Center.  But he says he has sympathy for the VA's argument that the backlog has grown because of the expanded number of claims.

"There are a lot more diagnoses involved than in the past," Bash says." Now veterans are applying for 10-15 claims at a time and each claim is more complicated."

Building the knowledge and skill needed to process claims quickly takes years, he says. But he's hopeful that staff members hired in recent years are now reaching that level of expertise.

"I've noticed recently that the cases are being processed a lot faster," he says.  And, he says the move to an online system is making a difference.

"Vets love using the online E-Benefits and MyHealth portals," he says. "They can read their medical notes online, make appointments and go in and get help."

The Center for Investigative Reporting found that veterans filing for disability wait longer in Los Angeles, than they do in Lincoln, Nebraska.  And they published an interactive map that shows the data from 58 sites around the country.

"The agency tracks and widely reports the average wait time: 273 days," Glantz writes. "But the internal data indicates that veterans filing their first claim, including those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wait nearly two months longer, between 316 and 327 days. Those filing for the first time in America's major population centers wait up to twice as long – 642 days in New York, 619 days in Los Angeles and 542 days in Chicago."

So how about Portland and Seattle? Both cities are processing new claims faster than the Los Angeles VA, but more slowly than in many other parts of the country. According to the map, updated on April 1, the average wait in Portland is 317 days but 450 days for first time claimants. In Seattle the average wait is 333 days, but 124 days for first-time claimants.   

Portland VA spokesman, Scott Bond says the agency counts claims that have been filed for more than 125 days as part of the backlog. In Portland currently 8,621 claims are backlogged.

Often those claims are complex and may involve missing records or other problems, Bond says. And about 60 percent of them are from veterans who already are receiving some benefits from earlier claims.

"The numbers change daily," Bond says. "They try to complete the new claims that are easy and get them out of the door. But they also want to complete the older claims where people have been waiting a long time."

The VA maintains it still is on track to end the backlog in 2015. "Many Veterans are returning with severe, more complex injuries, as well as increased demand by our aging veteran population," the agency says in a report. "In addition, we have also righted some old wrongs: Secretary Shinseki made the long overdue decisions to recognize for the first time medical conditions related to Agent Orange, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Gulf War illness – which has led to a nearly a million new claims."

Visit Craig Bash MD's website here

Contact the Portland branch of the National Association of Black Veterans at 503-412-4159
 

Recently Published by The Skanner News

  • Default
  • Title
  • Date
  • Random
  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
    Read More
  • FDR executive order sent 120,000 Japanese immigrants and citizens into camps
    Read More
  • Pruitt's nomination was strongly opposed by environmental groups and hundreds of former EPA employees
    Read More
load morehold SHIFT key to load allload all