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VA Healthcare Allegations Continue

Durham VA Healthcare

In a growing list of VA Healthcare offices alleged to have engaged in inappropriate scheduling practices, the Durham, NC VA Hospital has

English: Durham VA Medical Center in Durham, N...

been added to the list.  (Click “here” for the story).  In the last several weeks following the announcement of the allegations at the Phoenix, AZ VA healthcare facility of the separate lists for scheduling VA patients for appointments, allegations in Wyoming, Texas and Colorado are also being investigated.

VA spokespeople continue to claim the VA takes the healthcare of veterans very serious, but if all of these allegations are proven true, it would appear this is a policy handed down by someone very high up in the VA healthcare system.  These employees did not just randomly invent these systems on their own.

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VA Healthcare Debacle Continues

VA Healthcare Issue in Phoenix, AZ

The Secretary of the VA announced he was putting three officials, including the Director of the Phoenix, AZ VA Healthcare Office, on administrative leave pending the investigation.  How will this investigation and these suspensions impact the continuing healthcare of veterans in Arizona?  Families have been speaking out about the matter.

New Problems for the VA

In a recently released government report, the VA cannot account for more than 1.5 million veteran consult appointments.  The VA has no way of accounting if the veterans ever received treatment.  The VA has either lost or destroyed more than 1.5 million consult records for veterans.

Additionally, the Government Accountability Office, submitted

Logo of the United States Government Accountab...

information that 3 in 10 have been waiting an average of 140-210 for a gastroenterology consult.  Also, at another facility 4 in 10 veterans were waiting 108-152 days for a physical therapy consult.  Consider if these veterans had surgery and they had to wait this long to get a physical therapy consult after the surgery.  This could potentially cause malpractice claims as the veterans would be in jeopardy of additional damage from not getting therapy in a timely fashion.

VA Disability Claim Backlog

Currently, there are 319,363 claims for VA disability that have been pending over 125 days.  The appeals are taking even longer to process.

All of this information flies in the face of the survey conducted by the American

Customer Satisfaction Index where they concluded that the customer satisfaction for VA Healthcare is the best in the nation, even above private hospitals.  (Click here for the story).

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VA Healthcare Problem

VA Healthcare Problem

The VA is under fire for the deaths of 40 veterans who died while

Injuries incurred by service members are cover...

waiting for VA health care in Arizona.  This comes after the VA sent a press release touting the greatness of their healthcare.

VA Press Release

On April 16, 2014, the VA announced that a 2013 survey conducted by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an independent customer service survey company, “. . . ranks the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) customer satisfaction among Veteran patients among the best in the nation and equal to or better than ratings for private sector hospitals.”  (Click here for the release).   I guess they did not survey those veterans who experience long wait times to see doctors and other practitioners.  Almost all of the veterans I have had the pleasure of meeting tell me the VA health system is not good.  I talked to one veteran who was transitioning from the Reserves to civilian life and had been waiting over 1 year to just be accepted to the VA healthcare system.

VA Healthcare Problem in Arizona

Recently, allegations have been made by a doctor and others at the Phoenix, Arizona VA healthcare facility that the director, Sharon Helman, manipulated computer files regarding the time it was taking to get veterans in for a doctor appointment.  “The Arizona Republic” newspaper received information from Sam Foote, a retired doctor from the Phoenix VA healthcare office brought information forward about the allegations.  The allegations are that over 1,400 veterans waited longer than the 2 weeks for an appointment to see a healthcare provider even though the records indicate they were given an appointment within a 2 week time.  The allegations go on to indicate that 40 of these veterans died as a result of the delays in care.  An investigation is ongoing. (Click here for the story).

Anthony Principi, former VA Secretary, stated that if the allegations are true then people need to be held accountable.  The interview revealed that not only has Dr. Foote made allegations, but several others have well and emails have been produced.  Mr. Principi stated that if these allegations are true, then high ranking officials within the VA Healthcare system knew or should have known of these problems.   (Click here for a news story on the Arizona allegations).

To add to this problem, Sharon Helman, used to run a Washington state VA facility that allegedly fudged suicide numbers.  She was the director of the Spokane, WA VA facility.  In 2007 and 2008, and several media outlets found the reported suicide numbers were inaccurate.  Shortly after the report of the falsified information, she was moved to the VA facility in Hines, IL.  She later moved to Arizona to be the director of the Phoenix, AR VA healthcare system.

In a statement to, VA spokeswoman Jean Schaefer said the agency has asked for an independent review regarding the claims in Arizona.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) cares deeply for every veteran we are privileged to serve, and we are committed to delivering the highest quality care,” Schaefer said. “The Phoenix VA Health Care system takes these issues very seriously and invited the independent VA Office of the Inspector General to complete a comprehensive review of these allegations.”

But veterans advocates said Helman’s transfers are part of the government agency’s pattern of shuffling officials around instead of holding them accountable.

“This is not the first time that Sharon Helman has been involved in an incident involving manipulation of patient data,” said Pete Hegseth, chief executive officer for Concerned Veterans for America. “She fudged the number of veterans suicides at a previous job — and was never fired. She just moved.”

(Click here for the story).

These are just allegations and from one facility.  However, if you talk to veterans, they do not seem to be as content with the VA healthcare as indicated by the survey done by ACSI.  Is this just the tip of a larger problem or an isolated case.  Either way, veterans have lost their lives because of it.  A tragedy indeed.

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School Board Elections

Your Vote Counts!

Local school board elections are upon us.  Signs are everywhere for the candidates.  In the past I did not pay as much attention to the local elections as I should.  However, with children in the public schools, I am realizing more and more the importance of the members of the school board.

Look at Wake County, North Carolina school board’s fiasco with the change in busing policies and allegations of segregation and racism.  The issues there continue to linger.

In Durham County, North Carolina, Dr. Eric Becoats offered his resignation in December, 2013, amid allegations of misuse of a P-card for personal items.  Also, an audit revealed $15 million more in unassigned funds than originally thought by the board.  The Board Chairwoman said Dr. Becoats provided bad financial information to the board.

It seems the Durham County School Board should have known this was a possibility from Dr. Becoats.  For in 2003, he was reprimanded by the Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board for some school board policy violations.

Additionally, Durham Public Schools is under fire for excessive suspensions for minority and special needs children.

These incidents showcase how important the local elections are and how each vote matters.  These elections are not usually held with the national elections and are overlooked by many.  However, they are extremely important as the board members for the schools make major decisions for many children in each county.

I encourage each reader to do your homework on the candidates and vote.

VA Claims Reduction in Backlog


Terrible April Fools Joke or Reality?

On April 1, the Veteran’s Administration (VA) issued a news release claiming a 44% reduction in the backlog of cases at their peak in March, 2013, while at the same time improving the accuracy of the decisions.  This sounds good, but keep in mind that VA defines the backlog as cases that have been pending more than 125 days.

This is a start if these numbers are in fact accurate.  However, many veterans have been waiting a long time for their claims.  If the claim is denied at the Regional Office, the wait for an appeal to the Board of Veteran’s Appeals (BVA) is just as long or longer.

In 2012, an inspection by the VA Office of Inspector General found that the Winston Salem office employees had stacked an estimated 37,000 claims folders on top of file cabinets because they ran out of storage space.  This inspection came after countless complaints about the long wait times for processing claims.  (click Here for the story).

Apparently, one way some VA employees decided to handle the backlog was to destroy medical records in claims files.  (click here for the story).  This type of action only degrades the VA claims process.

The VA has two types of claim processes:  a traditional claim where the VA develops the record or a fully-developed claim.  This is a step in the right direction.  This is not really a new process.  Rather than counting on the VA to obtain the medical and military records of a veteran for his or her claim as they are required to do by the Duty to Assist, the preparer of the claim obtains all of the information and submit a full package to the VA for a decision.  Will this speed up the process?  Maybe.  With the backlog of cases, will these fully-developed cases really be reviewed faster than other claims?

One reason claims may take a long time is the difficulty obtaining documents from third-parties such as medical providers.  The veteran or the veteran’s representative may have just as many problems obtaining documents from other sources as the VA.  The cost then shifts back to the veteran to pay for their records, which some may not have the financial means to do so.

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SSA Announces New Fraud Prevention Unit

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced a new fraud prevention program.  This is likely in response to several claims of fraud in this government program.  The 106 fraud indictments of the retired police and firefighters in New York for fraud of the Social

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Security Administration (click Here for the story), the alleged collusion of  a Kentucky attorney, Eric Conn, and an administrative law judge (click Here for the story), and the report of alleged widespread fraud by several news agencies, including “60 Minutes”, likely led the SSA to start this program.

All of these incidents harm the people who truly need these benefits.  Many Americans depend on these checks because they are disabled.  It is good to weed out fraudulent activity in any program, but the backlash usually harms others who legitimately obtained and receive their benefits.  As an attorney representing clients for these claims, I can see a change in the activities and attitudes of the people in the SSA.

I have heard claims for years from various clients that they knew someone who was getting benefits, but was on drugs or clearly not disabled.  Maybe they are right.  But, it reminds me of the commercial about veterans.  Several veterans are shown with injuries that led to amputations, but then a vet says you cannot see my injuries. He is talking about PTSD or other mental health issues as a result of combat or other experiences.  This is true with SSA claimants as well.  Some have physical issues, while others have severe mental limitations.  Many have both.  Many people with chronic pain develop depression.

It is not always easy to see the disabilities.  And just because someone is seen performing some activity does not mean they can sustain the activity on a full-time basis for work.  I am not defending those who make up injuries, illnesses or conditions just to get benefits.  But when fraud is uncovered, suddenly the net is cast everywhere.  Suddenly, every claimant is faking.  This just hurts those who really need the benefits; parents with children with autism, or other conditions, people with major depression, etc.  Caution is needed in reviewing cases.



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New Expedited Social Security Process for Veterans


Expedited SSA Process for Permanently and Totally Disabled Veterans

The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced they would launch a new expedited process for disability claims filed by veterans with a 100% Veteran’s Administration rating for Permanent and Total disability.  This is good news for veterans seeking these benefits.

Seal of the United States Social Security Admi...

If a veteran is receiving service connected disability benefits from the Veteran’s Administration (VA), the veteran can also receive Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits with no offset.  Social Security disability benefits are an “all or nothing” benefit.  You must prove that you are unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity in order to receive SSA benefits.  In contrast, veteran disability benefits are rated at various levels, percentages.  A veteran may have one particular service connected condition or several connected conditions.  Each condition is given a rating based upon the Rating Tables depending on the symptoms and limitations from the condition.  It is possible for some conditions to be deemed service connected, but a veteran has a “zero” rating.  When a veteran has more than one service connected condition, the rating percentages are combined using the Combination Table (they are not just added together).

So this new process with the SSA is for veterans who have a 100% combined permanent and total rating or have been rated at 100% with the VA due to a Total Unemployability decision.  See, a veteran can have a condition rated at 60% or more, or the veteran can have two or more conditions rated at a combined 70% or more (one must be at least 40%), and if the veteran can prove they cannot obtain or follow a substantially gainful occupation, then they can get paid at the 100% level.

For many of my clients who have had a 100% VA rating, they never understood why they were denied SSA benefits.  This is because each of the government agencies must make their own decision using their particular rules to reach a conclusion.  So it is possible, even if it does not make sense, for a veteran to receive 100% rated VA benefit payments, but be denied SSA benefits.

This new process does not eliminate the individual evaluations.  The process just expedites the SSA process to evaluate the claim.





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What are school officials teaching children???

This story shows what is wrong with schools today.  We should be encouraging children and supporting them when they take steps of courage and support for others.  Instead, Caprock Academy in Grand Junction, CO, is telling a student, Kamryn, that she cannot return to school because she is in violation of the school dress code.  What did she do?  She shaved her head in support of her friend 11 year old Delaney who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a child hood cancer.  Delaney recently started chemotherapy and Kamryn wanted to support her.

English: Grand Junction, Colorado skyline

English: Grand Junction, Colorado skyline (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should school officials not be supporting and encouraging this act of kindness and caring?  Talk about draconian enforcement of a code for the wrong reason.

Schools are not only failing our children academically, but are failing to teach lessons when the opportunities arise.  If Colorado focused more on education and less on pot, maybe things would be different.

I say, “Way to go, Kamryn!!”  You showed compassion and courage.

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Processes for Complaining about Judges

Social Security Ruling 13-1

On January 31, 2013, the Social Security Administration issued SSR 13-1.   This Ruling clarifies the three processes the Social Security Administration has for addressing allegations of unfairness, prejudice, partiality, bias, misconduct or discrimination by an Administrative Law Judge.

A claimant who alleges an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was unfair in a hearing can file complaints as follows:

1.  Include a claim along with their appeal to the Appeals Council.

2.  The Division of Quality Service may review a complaint.

3.  File a complaint with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights.

I have had clients who felt like the judge was unfair, prejudiced or biased in the decision.  They have a right to assert these allegations and hopefully receive justice in the matter.

Seeking disability benefits is very difficult for many people.   Many people have a hard time accepting the idea they cannot work anymore and contribute to their family.  It is not an easy process.  When a judge is harsh, overbearing, prejudiced or bias, a claimant can be left feeling helpless.

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New Diabetes Medication

Some of my clients suffer from Type II Diabetes.  This condition brings about a variety of symptoms and limitations.  Some problems associated with diabetes include diabetic retinopathy (eye problems), nerve pain (usually into the hands and/or feet), and lesions.  Fatigue is usually associated with this condition as well.   People experience varying degrees of these symptoms as well.  Some people suffer lesions on their feet or hands that require additional medical treatment, such as hyperbaric chamber treatment, to help with healing.  Many people suffer from the nerve pain.

For some people, their condition is not severe.  The person can get by with just diet and exercise.  Others, however, require medications, including insulin, to deal with their condition.

This new medication, Farxiga, was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  The medication apparently helps people eliminate excess sugar via their urine.  See the full story by clicking here“.