3 Tools to Help you Deal with the VA - without going insane!

"How do you deal with the VA's madness on a daily basis?"

'After 5 days of processing in a 10 day index build' photo (c) 2005, Elaine with Grey Cats - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
I get asked this question a lot.

Last week I was asked more than most.

Early in the week, a client received a Ratings Decision which the VA Seattle Regional Office sent to an address that the client hasn't used in the claim for over 15 years.

Apparently the VA had been trying to send it there for several months, and the VA just couldn't understand why it was getting returned by the post office.

It appears that someone in Seattle must have opened up the C-File to get the proper address. The cover letter to the VA Decision was one of their  "Dear Veteran, we can't figure out why your mail is getting returned" letters, sent to the Veteran's correct and current address.

In another case, I got the letter posted below from the Los Angeles VA Regional Office.  (Those of you that deal with the Los Angeles VA Regional Office know that they are, arguably, the worst in the country at taking care of Veterans).

Ignore the fact that a government agency with a Billion Dollar Budget has to hire a 3 year old with a Sharpie Pen to address its mail. (See Sense of Humor, below :) )

Rather, compare closely the date of the postmark (August 2, 2013) and the date of the letter (May 14, 2013:

VA_Postmark

(This letter was a Statement of the Case, postmarked well after even the Veteran's deadline to respond. Fortunately, I'd had my "ear to the ground" on this case, and we knew about the SOC in time to file the Substantive Appeal.  When dealing with a government bureaucracy, its always good to have a card or two up your sleeve, proverbially speaking.)

Who takes 3 months to put a letter in the mail?!?  (The Los Angeles VA Regional Office, that's who!)

My personal favorite was the letter the VA sent telling a client to just sit and wait indefinitely for his Claims File - completely ignoring the fact that the law only allows the VA 20 business days to respond to a FOIA request.  Here's a copy for your reading pleasure.

FOIA-Letter

How do I deal with this kind of nonsense from the VA?

After all, there really is nobody to help with this sort of nonsense.

Complaining about it doesn't change the culture  inside the VA which tolerates incompetence and negligence.  Congress certainly seems to care little about the problem - their best - and only - solution is to add more layers of red tape to the VA bureaucracy.  The Courts COULD do more, if you ask me - but will they?

And the American people?  

Well, most are content with cheering loudly for a Veteran at a sporting event, or  putting a yellow ribbon on their car bumper.

Sometimes, only Vets really "get" this stuff.  Here are 3 steps showing you how I deal with it.

1) Keep it in perspective.

Every day, 22 Veterans commit suicide.  In that context, the VA's silly games aren't really worth wasting a lot of time on.

When you find yourself angry at the VA for what they wrote, how they treated you, or the mistakes they made - no matter how justified you are in your criticism and frustration - stop what you are doing. Instead, do something - anything - for someone else.

Be of service to someone else and your frustration with the VA's buffoonery will soon pass - and you'll feel like you did something with your day.

I often turn to another client's case to see what I can do for them.  Help another attorney with a problem they are having.

It doesn't matter how big or small your action is. You are alive.  No matter how hard your life is - and some of you out there are having a really, really hard go of it - don't let the VA have the power to make it harder.

2)  Stay on Target.

Most of us have seen the movie Star Wars.  Towards the end of the movie, Rebel fighters try to destroy the Death Star by flying a fighter plane ridiculously close to the Death Star, and dropping a bomb through an impossibly small hole (a feat not all that different from filing a claim for compensation with the VA).

One of the leaders of a fighter attack squadron - Gold Leader - is having difficulty getting into position to drop the bomb.  He complains that he can't maneuver.  Another pilot on the radio tells him "Stay on Target".   He complains that he's too close. The other pilot reminds him to "Stay on Target".  Ultimately, he can't "Stay on Target" and is destroyed by an enemy fighter.

When you feel compelled to complain about the VA, remember those words "Stay on Target".

Those are the only 3 "targets" in any VA Compensation Claim: getting a condition service-connected, getting the right impairment rating, and getting the proper effective date.  That's it.

If  something - even a ridiculously display of incompetency from the VA - tries to distract you, remember these words: "Stay on Target".

Complaining won't keep you on target.  Keeping focused on your goal will.

3) Have a sense of humor.

So many government agencies mis-spell my name. It's not a hard name - Chris.  Frankly, next to Bob or Bill, it's one of the easiest to spell.  But government agencies (and insurance companies, curiously) have the toughest time spelling it correctly. My favorites are the ones that refer to me as "Christ".

So far, the following federal agencies have recognized that I am "God":

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Department of Energy

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

IRS

Merit Systems Protection Board

Office of Personnel Management

Social Security Administration

United States Postal Service

VA

Okay, sincerely hope I didn't offend all my religious followers out there - but sometimes you just have to laugh.  If you don't find a way to laugh at the nonsense that the government spits out, its going to put you in an early grave.

I also don't want to leave you with the impression that you should ignore the VA's incompetence - don't miss deadlines, don't walk away from your valid claims and appeals, and don't give up.

The fact of the matter is this.   The VA has an Army of  Bureaucrats with Centuries of experience denying Veteran and survivor claims. What do you have?  My hope is that after reading this post, you have some perspective, the focus to stay on target, and a sense of humor.

With those 3 tools in your pocket, you are on your way to - someday - beating the VA and winning the benefits you have earned.

Then you can scribble a thank-you note in a Sharpie to General Shinseki, put it in a time capsule, and mail it to him 15 years later. :)

How do YOU keep your sanity while dealing with the VA?  Add your comments below!


Richard says:

Q. Where are you located and what do you charge?

Chris Attig says:

We are located in Dallas, Texas, but represent Veterans all around the nation. Information about our fees for representation are elsewhere on the site, but we typically work Veterans cases on Contingency (20% of past-due benefits) plus expenses/costs.

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