Veteran Benefits: Delivering Compensation and Pension and Fiduciary Services
As research and environmental study evolves or new legislative and regulatory provisions are written regarding illnesses for Gulf War Veterans, the VA Compensation Service of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) performs necessary rule-making and develops field training to support the changes. To further assist Gulf War Veterans, Compensation Service developed two training letters designed to inform and instruct regional office personnel on development and adjudication of disability claims based on Southwest Asia service. VA also completed a regulation to add functional gastrointestinal disorders to the list of disabilities that are presumed to have resulted from service in the Gulf War. The final rule was published and became effective on August 15, 2011. VBA continues to work with the VA/DoD Deployment Health Working Group to identify environmental exposures whether related to the Gulf War or elsewhere. Finally, VBA worked with the VHA on an effort to develop and execute a separation health assessment with DoD, an effort that is intended to reduce the future burden of proving service connection that Veterans often must bear when seeking recognition for exposure-related illnesses and injuries years after service.
Please provide your comments, questions, and suggestion on how we may improve the Veterans Benefits section of the report.
Sandra DeBusk commented
My husband had his hearing before the judge Sept 12 2013. The judge finally made a decision May 6 2014 and we got it May 9th. My husband has many life threatening illnesses due to service. The judge granted him service connection for PTSD on May 6th and then remanded the other 8 or 9 issues. It is now June 16th and though my husband should have received his retro for the PTSD and his monthly compensation already, he has heard nothing about it. This is very upsetting. We call and no one knows anything. I log into e benefits and no updates. Really?
what about Sarcoidosis, I appears this is very prevelant in GWV. The VA is turning a blind eye to this problem.
When is the VA going to start sending out the "Gulf War Review" again? This was to be sent out to keep us informed of changes in the regulation, treatments and research we could get into. so far we have not see a new one in over 3.5 year.
We have became the 'Forgotten Warrior II'
Brian K Vann commented
WOW Why would the VA doctors nott tell me I am a good candidate for this being that I have 5 of 7 of the items they list in the primay list. I did even know GWI was still out here being talked about.
Dave Sherman commented
There is a number to call that they actually answer if you want to file a claim or get an update.
VA Helpline 800-749-8387 press 2 for the Gulf War
The wait time is really not that bad. usually 10 mins tops.
One item I would like to see added to this area is Secretary Shinseki's pledge to relook all the GWI claims. I believe the assumption was, at least my assumption was (yes, I know) the VBA would effect this relook on its own. Now I'm finding out apparently you have to make a request for the relook, and it will take your claim out of the cycle and start the clock all over again. Mine has been in process now for over 3 years and is somewhere waiting for Decision Review Officer or De Novo review, I think, although the eBenefits website says it's closed but awaiting BVA appeal, but still at the VARO in process. I'm sure they just want me to forget about it.
In any case, it would be good, in addition to forming a team at each VARO of claims officers specialized in understanding 3.317 cases of presumptive conditions related to GWI, if this team could start with all cases at that VARO in process, at any stage, do the relook, grant the claim in whole or in part, and return the claim to the same spot it was taken from in the process if not granted in whole. This would keep Secretary Shinseki's promise and not disadvantage any of us who have been waiting years for our cases to be decided.
Attention TASK FORCE!!!!!
I also think the task force needs to consider the training letters and there effectiveness. Why are GWI claims being denied so much only to go to BVA and remanded to RO back favorably? Should this trend be tracked? Is it possible to change this culture of not following laws? Why can a judge grant at BVA level and not at the RO level ? Why are the RO's so concerned about national Quality review and not veterans and the impact delayed gulf claims can have? Why not mandate gulf claims to the same standards as direct service claims? Why not develop specialized teams trained in gulf claim adjudication since complexity of laws and regulations seem distance to most RO personal including most VSR? The problem is systemic! Why not communicate more with veterans during this claim process? The claim system is in dire need of repair and gulf era veterans are bearing the brunt such failures. Remember the sacrifice's we made let us not forget...
Does this statement mean we will all have to start over again:
To further assist Gulf War Veterans, Compensation Service developed two training letters designed to inform and instruct regional office personnel on development and adjudication of disability claims based on Southwest Asia service.
How about a statement that mentions the Vets that have a history on file already at the VA?
After 16 years in the army I was forced out with no disability, after my military service the V.A. awarded me a 50% status. When I filed a claim for Gulf War Syndrome, the C&P doctor treated me like I was wasting his time and when I received my adjusted compensation, I was down graded to 20%. I don't think the V.A. takes Gulf War veterans seriously!
Joe Dienstag commented
None of these actions appear to have been implemented, or they are just very slow in coming. I have applied several times, and denied because it was not seen as a claim for GWI. Not once did any agent of the VA, nor VSO have any idea of what I was talking about.
The Department of Veterans Affairs needs to update its software that is used for when veterans check-in for their appointments. This is so that when a veteran that has more than one illness or symptom can have it entered into his computer file for the doctor to see it. At present the nurse will only take one. This does not work for a veteran with undiagnosed illness or a TBI as there are many different symptoms that the veteran may need to report he is suffering from at the same time. As many of these symptoms such as headaches, pains in shoulders, arms, legs, back, and diarrhea do materialize at the same time and need to be looked at and reported. The nurse will ask which one is bothering you the most and will enter that one into the computer and leave the rest out. This has happened to me many times over the past 19 years.
When the veteran files a claim, the rating specialist does not see that he had complained about the rest of the illnesses only the one in the system the nurse entered.
When I go to the doctor I have a multitude of problems and the nurse will only enter one item in the computer. The doctor will only talk about that one issue due to the short time he is given to see me. How can we get better care for the other 8 issues when I cannot get them into the computer?
Once the VA is able to track all the symptoms that the Gulf War veterans is having at the point of checking for each appointment will we start to understand the magnitude of the problem. This update is not that hard to do. As I have done programing in the past myself.
Once a researcher starts looks at all of the Gulf War veterans and illnesses that they have been diagnosed with (and any old depression and PTSD should be relooked at the WRIISC) or undiagnosed to see what type of pattern there is. This should be ongoing at interval of no more than 3 years over the next 28 years. Then will we understand what the environmental hazards have done to us. Tracking of the veterans and reporting of gulf war veterans has to be done in accordance to the times of deployment due to the fact that the war covers a 20+ year time frame. The environment after Khamisiyah and the oil well fires being extinguished is different than that from operation Iraqi freedom. When the air war started it blow up chemical plant and supplies where the winds sent it towards us. Desert storm was the only ones that took PB pill. OIF had some of their own exposures.
James A. Bunker
National Gulf War Resource Center
Toll free 866-531-7183
James Laubler commented
Michelle: You sound exactly like me. Try to be pro-active since leaving the service but going nowhere. You're going to find the same frustraition in this forum. For me, it's like dealing with the Tea Parties. They don't know how to build a coalition (yes, I'm retired SF).
Email me and keep mine around. I'm hoping to kick my Senator in the shins again.
Jim Laubler, Fayetteville, Arkansas SFret2@yahoo.com 479-799-4232
While I am VERY HAPPY that my father has received compensation for his Vietnam Service, the story is frustrating. I was researching my claim for Fibro, CFS, Depression, tinnitus, IBS, etc, due to GWI and came across the info for the new Vietnam Presumptives. I told my father about this AFTER I had already filed my claim. he is retired Army. He filed and 6 MONTHS later, he started receiving over $1,000 a month in addition to his retirement pay and is appealing to get 100%. While I am happy for he and my mother, I have been waiting close to 2 years now and am still in the Developement Phase - but no info is needed from me to move it forward. I have been fighting my issues for 20 years by naturally trying to eat right, stay active and healthy and natural (and expensive) supplementation. My father's ischemic heart disease and diabetes are presumptive to Vietnam..but what about the fact that he is almost 150 pounds overweight, eats whatever he can get in to his mouth, takes a zillion pharmaceutical drugs, and sits on his duff, and has been for the last 35+ years..that might be a big part of his issues, NO? It is like we are totally ignored because our "diagnosis" is not concrete and there are so many of us out there, they are just stalling and stalling and stalling. Gulf War vets are dying off, losing families and their lives at an alarming rate, and they continue to sit on the claims. I read the wonderful new regulations and the way the ratings and claims are SUPPOSED to be adjucated, the presumptives, time frames, etc. But, in reality, this is NOT happening. I tried going through a VA office, but they were sooo ignorant on the true policies and procedures, I pulled my claim for fear of them mucking it up. For instance, I was told (rather rudely) that I had no claim since my Fibro, CFS, etc did not start while in the service or was in my records. This is a BASIC knowledge area for GWi and the presumptive wording of the regulation (law). I tried to go through the DAV, but they only had 2 guys doing it, only on Thursdays, for a few hours, and it was 1st come, first served. So I did it myself. I have NO DOUBT that I am going to get paid..a LOT of back pay on appeal, because I am going all the way with this..but I would rather have help NOW, to live a quality of life with the time I have left. I care not for big payouts and attention. Just want to survive and be able to be pain free and mentally okay.
Delay, deny, until we die.
I think enough literature, Instructions, training, and money has been wasted on getting the word to these employees. It's time to hold people responsible for not following Congressional Laws. You gotta wonder how serious 3.317 is if an entire Organization don't get it. And the entire Organization gets the same thing...."There's no such thing as Presumptive". I find it an odd pattern. A process is written, and shared with the organization and public, Gulf War Veterans. The Veterans apply for help according to the process, and the entire Organization Draws a Blank. ...Good Plan!
I agree Jim VARO are not following rules. I think VBA heads need to get with every VSCM and have long talk with them on the issue of following presumptive rules and regulations. Then the VSCM can pass this along to AVSCM and so forth. To many Gulf veterans are suffering with claim adjudication procedural errors. In fact VHA needs to get on board to better assist GWI veterans. I think every RO and medical center needs a team dedicated to Gulf veterans issues. Mandated training is not working establish team similar of that of Vietnam veterans have and stop the stalling,
Training letters do not work when the rater do not read or follow them. I have veterans being denied when the claim should not, by raters not following the regulations.
You need to TRAIN THEM RIGHT!
Yes your Irritable Bowel Syndrome has a presumptive of service connection due to your service in the Gulf War under section 3.317 of CFR 38 as long as it has been diagnosed by a Doctor your claim for it should not have been denied.
One of the common errors I have seen made by the regional offices, due to their poor training on these presumptive connections, is that they asked the examiner to state if a presumptive of service connection is related to your service in the war. As a presumptive of service connection this cannot be asked, as by the definition the presumptive of service connection means that are already is presumed to be related to your service in the war.
The regulation on a presumptive of service connection is very clear as to when service connection would not be granted. It does not allow for a physician to state whether or not it is least likely are not that the connection is related to your service as most rating specialists are asking the examiner to do with the undiagnosed illness claims. The presumptive of service connection already states that it is presumed to be related to your service. And for the rating specialist to ask otherwise violates this part of the regulation and the only way for you not to receive the presumptive of service connection would be if one did not meet the presumption through the means as outlined in the regulation. None of them are for the examiner to state if your illness is related to your service.
The regulation is very clear that all of the connections listed for undiagnosed illnesses are presumed to have been caused by your service in the war unless due to diagnosed connections not listed within section 3.317of the CFR that governs undiagnosed illnesses or if due to willful misconduct. The adjudicator is wrong in requiring Doctor to make a determination that would overrule the regulation on the presumptiveness for service connection for your irritable bowel syndrome. I have seen this in other claims for veterans chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia along with veterans who have filed claims for the symptoms for undiagnosed illnesses.
Your comment show exactly how poorly trained rating specialists are and that the training letters the VA sent out to the regional offices did work. The rating specialists, adjudicators and the examiners are so overworked due to the backlog they do not have time to read these letters so they are ignored. Only appropriate mandatory training will solve the problems like yours and those of the thousands of other claims that have been denied like yours.
I had a call from veterans whose claims for their skin rashes are denied due to the fact that the skin rashes have not been diagnosed. This is not the only claim. This is just one example for I get hundred of calls and e-mails, along with working the social networks and different websites helping veterans. I could have just as easily inserted joint pains, muscle pains, fatigue or chronic diarrhea in the place of the rashes. I also see the same thing with claims being denied stating that the illness did not start when the veteran was still in the service. The rating specialist not understanding just what presumptive of service connection due to your service in the Gulf War under section 3.317 is about.
I have seen some claims where the raters stated the that the veteran’s chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia is a diagnosed connection and thus cannot be claimed under section 3.317. Once again showing just how poorly the trained these rating specialists are when it comes to these claims.
The worst regional offices are in the states of Arizona followed by Florida and then Michigan.
Mr Shinseki, Is my DD214 proof enough that I served in the Gulf War? Are the piles of exams (your office sent me to go take from VA doctors that verified all my illnesses) enough to verify I am ill from that War? Please make a Bottom Line here. Hold your people responsible, ask to be updated weekly, monthly on Persian Gulf War Vets that got denied, with the reason why. Build a check list that favors the Vet when decissions are made. Someone wrote you need to clean house, and I believe that. You have people working under you that have the idea this is their money, and ignorance prevails daily in all your centers. We didn't make ourselves ill, and we can't believe some of these illnesses either. We are too young to live in these 70 year old bodies, and need help. We are tired of dealing with this system, it's a circle..They ask for this, we send it, they loose it (after two years) then we send it again, then we wait two more years, then we get back, "It's not service related, you can't prove it happened during your tour". How can we prove Sleep Apnea is a result of the Gulf War, or skin rash, memory loss, aching joints, fatigue. Someone with Authority needs to put the word out to your raters, "Presumptive means just that" or take it out completely from the 3.317 law. Some of your people doing these ratings should be audited...(There's a good "Contract Reason"). Audit raters annually and see, of all the people you rated, how many did you find in favor of, how many were Gulf War Vets? You continually allow these "Big Money Contractors to do research on Gulf War Illness, why? We don't care about that...facts are facts, we're Vets of one of America's Wars, We served Proudly, we were the most trained, and disciplined fighting machine known to man. We executed like a fine tuned watch, and now we're sick and tired of being sick and tired...Compassion is lacking in this system. Many Vets have given up, many more are homeless and struggling...sick and don't know why, thinking it will get better soon, with VA assistance off their check lists, because the very thought of dealing with your people "Makes them ill". We just want to be treated like every Vet before and after us...We want Your people to understand the Law as written the same way we do. These 15-20 pages of SOC are created to confuse us, and we know it, but this is the age of technology, we can all read, google the law, and we keep up with Gulf War Veteran issues. Please read as many comments here as you possiblt can. We all know your heart and we know you are a very careing person. If you weren't, you would not be in that position...Thank you, God Bless you and we all look forward to change.
James Laubler commented
To fix something you have to DO something. That's the problem. You've institutionalized all these employees who judge our cases. It's time to promote them out of the V.A. and get people in there that are motivated by one thing.... to help the soldier.
There should be at least a couple phone interviews. However, if a doctor says we have an undiagnosable or uncurable problem, don't doubt him. I have half a dozen doctors saying the same thing. They still drag feet at the V.A.