- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2013

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

My VA claim has been pending in some form or another since November of 1977. It has been remanded back to Detroit from the VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) in D.C. This remand was sent back in August of 2012. Is there any way to find out if it is in the expedited status as per U.S. Code, Title 38, and Section 5109B?

Thank you,
Richard K.
Harbor Springs, Mich.

Dear Richard:

By now you should have received the following information from the Department of Veterans Affairs:

The appeal was remanded back to Detroit in August 2012 for a gastroenterology exam with a rationale of the veteran’s symptomatology during the respective period he is claiming Hepatitis C. A Decision Review Officer has written the exam request. The medical center was notified to expedite the scheduling of the exam. The veteran was contacted by VA and briefed on the status of the appeal.

Shaft notes

• Congratulations to the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) for the distinction of being selected as one of the 2013 “Best Nonprofit Organizations to Work for.” A special publication that profiled the 50 organizations selected was published in the April 1, 2013, issue of The Nonprofit Times.

To be selected, MOAA underwent a workplace-assessment process that included surveying employees, as well as taking an inventory of organizational benefits, policies and offerings. The information was processed and analyzed and used to determine the “Best Nonprofits to Work for.”

“We are very gratified to receive this distinction,” MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr., said. “We believe our people make us who we are, and they are our number one strength.”

In addition to being a part of the list, the program provides each company that underwent the assessment a report of understandable and actionable information. The information allows participating companies to adjust their policies and activities to meet organizational needs.

MOAA, ranked No. 32 in 2013, also received the “Best Nonprofit Organizations to Work for” in 2011.

• The debate over the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability claims backlog has been raging the past few weeks in the media, partially sparked by comments made by speakers at the American Legion’s Washington Conference last month.

On March 24, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki gave his first television interview in four years on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. That same day, the Legion executive director in Washington, Peter Gaytan, weighed in on the same show, which focused on the claims backlog.

Mr. Gaytan told CNN host Candy Crowley that the Legion is working with the VA to fix the claims process and that the crux of the problem is inconsistent performance of VA regional offices in adjudicating claims. Once the problems at those regional offices are addressed, the backlog should be reduced substantially, he said.

In 2010, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) had about 509,000 claims pending with 39 percent in backlog (pending more than 125 days). Currently, VBA’s figures show about 900,000 claims pending with more than 70 percent in backlog.

“We don’t need a presidential commission to figure out how to solve the backlog,” said James E. Koutz, the Legion’s national commander. “Adding another layer of bureaucracy won’t get benefits to our veterans any faster.”

Mr. Koutz also challenged the idea of prioritizing claims applications on the basis of war era.

“Not only does prioritization based on war era violate federal law, it imposes value judgments on the wartime service of veterans,” he said. “Do we really want to make that kind of call? Is this something that would help to simplify the claims process? We need to honor the service of all veterans by giving them all fair and timely access to the benefits they are due under the law.”

On March 20, the American Legion submitted a statement for the record to Congress that included three specific recommendations for reducing the claims backlog:

* Fix a broken work-credit system for VA employees, which currently give the same credit for work, whether it is correct or incorrect.

* Develop a system to aggregate common errors made in claims processing, and use the information to create a training plan for employees.

* Hire more veterans to process claims, in order to increase understanding of the military among those who are interpreting claims files.

The American Legion has more than 2,500 accredited claims representatives nationwide who assist veterans in filing their VA disability claims. It also has more than a dozen full-time employees who help veterans appeal claims that have been denied by VA.

Veterans with Apple or Android smartphones can download the American Legion’s Claims Coach app at www.legion.org to find the nearest Legion service officer, who can assist with filing a VA claim.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.