The Honorable Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin & the Congress of the United States of America:
I write this as an open letter on behalf of myself, and thousands of other military veterans who honorably and proudly served their country with distinction.
As a Vietnam Veteran, who served in-country in The Republic of Vietnam from January, through December, 1972, it is disheartening to have to address the dismal performance of the Department of Veterans Affairʼs dereliction in its obligation to attend to the needs of thousands of veterans, including myself, who through many sacrifices, are entitled to certain benefits.
This open letter seeks only to address and expose the ineptness of the Disability Claims and Appeals Process. This letter is not focused on, or intended to address the Medical and/or Hospital Services provided by those entities. It is my hope that, under your guidance and leadership and the United States Congressʼ authorization, that the Department of Veterans Affairs will earnestly strive for improved performance in its duties and obligations to elevate the lives and fortune of every veteran.
The aim of this correspondence is to seek your intervention on the matter of Disability Claims, Notice of Disagreement Claims, and Appeal Claims of veterans which are long and tedious processes that can take up to five years and beyond to resolve. Far too many veterans are subjected to a convoluted process of providing documentation that often does not exist, due to a system that was often inept at proper record documentation of veterans’ health issue while on active service and the inability to reconstruct documentation of medical events that occurred many years ago, or were not entered into veterans’ medical files.
Although the Official Blog of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in an article entitled “How to file a Notice of Disagreement on your VA compensation claim”, asserts that the VAʼs issue-rating accuracy is 95 percent that does not seem to be what is reflected by a great number of veterans, including myself, as expressed by numerous comments left on the site by veterans and veterans’ family members in response to this article. This seems to be a VA self-rated grading, that is obviously self-serving in favor of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Under no circumstance should the VA pride itself with less than 100% accuracy rating, considering the large numbers of veterans in need of servicing and the Disability Claims for which thousands of veterans are entitled and struggling to meet the overly stringent requirements. I urgently request that you, Secretary Shulkin, and pertinent members of the U.S. Congress, read the long list of comments and complaints from veterans in response to the blog on the above site that was authored by Donna Stratford, public affairs specialist in Veterans Benefits Administration Corporate Communications, whose job it is, I am sure, to paint the Department of Veterans Affairs in the best light.
Regardless of the assertions made by Donna Stratford, there still remains the urgent need to improve the quality and speed in resolving the appeals process for Benefit Claims for services connected disabilities. Thus, many veterans pre-decease Benefit Claims settlements, resulting in the VA defaulting on payout of claims. Those veterans who do not have a spouse, in accordance with VA policy, have no other beneficiary. This fact certainly places the VA in an advantageous position of not having to pay a Disability Claim in such circumstances. This supports the belief that many veterans hold, that the Department of Veterans Affairs deliberately and intentionally delays settling claims through a prolonged and redundant process that often stretches beyond the claimant Veteranʼs lifespan.
Of particular note, is the VA policy that states no claim can be tagged for expedient settlement consideration because of claimant’s age, until the veteran attains the age of eighty-five (85) years of age. This can only validate the notion that the Department of Veteran Affairs has a policy that vastly places an aged veteran at a huge disadvantage for Disability Claim settlements that he is likely NOT to outlive. Any veteran who is suffering from a service connected disability is more likely, than not, to have a health status. Thus, any probable settlement at, or after the age of eighty-five (85) years, is be considered more of a “burial benefits payment” rather than a Disability Claims payment. This VA policy is not only irrationally silly, but is insulting to the intelligence of the veterans, as well, and SHOULD BE ELIMINATED!
The national focus on veterans over the recent past years, in the eyes of many veterans, is a patronizing, political ploy, purely to exploit veterans for the sake of political posturing and “one-up gamesmanship”. Otherwise, why are there thousands of veterans filling the ranks of the homeless, penniless and hopeless, and now must fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs to secure the minimal Disability Claim benefit? Our fight for disability compensation is as contentious as the one on the battlefield with our foes. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ policy for filing Disability Claims is flawed with nonsensical solicitation of documents of proof of veterans’ disability(ies).
The reliance on a veteran’s military medical record as a determinate factor to substantiate a veteran’s actual injury or disability is faulty and relies on a military culture of contradictions. Every military service member, particularly during the Vietnam era and prior, is very aware of the “military culture” regarding military members seeking routine medical intervention. Every seasoned military member understands, that short of a “life and death” situations, service members were ridiculed and mocked, and outright discouraged from going to sickbay (Navy term) or to seek medical intervention. Even at that, not every visit to “sick call” was documented in the Veteran’s medical record. Yet, the genesis of the Veteran’s Disability Claim is based upon what is, or is not, reflected in their military medical records. My own military medical record lacked documentation of my every visit to “sick call” or the dispensary, regardless of the purpose of my visit, as a former sailor who served on both shore and sea duty assignments.
The suggestion to veterans to solicit a former service mate to validate, or verify a veteran’s particular disability, is ludicrous and laughable. Certain claims, such as sleep apnea, is not a disorder that is normally detected by the afflicted, but rather by sleep partner who is in a position to notice or detect that the other is having interrupted breathing patterns, as was my case when my wife repeatedly alerted me that I had intermittent spells of not breathing during sleep. Subsequent follow-up with my civilian doctor and overnight sleep study in a sleep lab, determined that I was, indeed, afflicted with sleep apnea. This, and other health claims are not likely be observed by a fellow service member, no matter how closely they served, with the exception that observer happened to be a Medic, perhaps.
I, along with thousands of other veterans from among the Vietnam War era, a war which has infamously come to be known as the war that engaged, then, disenfranchised veterans, are now among a cadre of the most neglected and ill-served group of brave and heroic war veterans. As ineffective as Veterans Affairs has been in properly caring for veterans of recent wars and conflicts, it has essentially been a bureaucratic adversary for Vietnam era veterans, adding insult to injury. The Vietnam veteran was usually a “Company of One”, who was conscripted into service and shipped off to Vietnam like a package. And, conversely, the vast majority of these same veterans, were returned in the same manner, whether dead or alive. As a consequence, the Vietnam veterans were met with little compassion, regard or patriotic fervor outside of family and friends.
Today, the battle continues, not on the field of battle, but with the bureaucratic entanglement of red-tape and convoluted rules and technicalities of Congressional regulators and their preposterous regulations. The complex guidelines and redundantly confusing claim forms have created a seemingly insurmountable backlog of pending Disability Claims and Appeals, which tie the hands of those in the trenches of the Veterans Affairs charged with administering these claims. Thousands of claims linger and age in a malaise of ill-concern and neglect. The Appeals process for Compensation Claims is a very complicated and duplicitous set of rules, which, undoubtedly, causes many veterans to be apathetically despondent.
A great number of Veterans, and particularly of the Vietnam era, are now in their senior years. Many are suffering with health conditions that likely have service connected ties; but due to the longstanding in-efficiencies within The Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans have gone untreated and uncompensated since their service to country in that unpopular war that ended some forty-two years ago. Forty-two years removed, the Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, via Congress’ very constrictive guidelines, are requiring veterans to make a direct link of their various illnesses to their in-country, boots-on-the-ground, military service on the soil of Vietnam, as it relates to Vietnam veterans; and other very constrictive guidelines, in general, for other veterans. Many of these veterans’ health conditions have not necessarily been previously diagnosed. Thus, there are no clear and definable medical records to substantiate their case, in order to conform to the complex and narrowly defined medical conditions, which might squeeze into the tight rule, that appear to be designed more to disqualify VA assistance, rather than to quantify a veteran’s services connected disability, for such services and assistance, such as they are.
It is my hope, and sincere plea to Secretary Shulkin and the U.S. Congress, to intensely reevaluate and conduct a thorough analysis of the Veteran Affairs backlog of claim cases, streamline the administrative bureaucracy to expedite the much needed services for which veterans are entitled, to improve their quality of life after having made great sacrifices in service to this great nation. I plead that this petition be directed to the highest levels of the Government, to include the U.S. Congress and The White House if needed. Veterans should not be treated as “tin-solders”, to rust away and relegated to the wasteland of the garbage dump, now that their services are no longer needed, and our energy of youthful exploitation is no longer an option.
I thank you for your efforts in taking on such an enormous task of trying to tame the beast that is the Department of Veteran Affairs. I look forward to hearing from all addressees at the earliest in response to this vital request.
Aqeel Malik El-Amin
An Esteemed Vietnam Veteran
San Diego, California