After being discharged from the Air Force with military related heart problems in 1984, Walter Pinkney immediately applied to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) for benefits but it would be 31 years before he would see a penny.
“The VA bureaucracy is designed in a way that many veterans become lost in a labyrinth and because of our ignorance of the VA system, most soldiers don't know where to find the right help,” Pinkney told Newsmax.
After the current Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Bob McDonald was appointed by President Obama, it took only four days for Pinkney to be paid.
In a similar fashion, President Elect Donald J. Trump has issued a plan to reform the federal agency that experts hope will be implemented after the inauguration.
“President-Elect Trump’s proposal to increase the number of mental health professionals and allow veterans to get services outside of the VA are excellent,” said Patricia Roberts, a clinical professor of law with William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Virginia. “The VA system as it exists is unable to handle the increased demand for services and benefits and the ratings criteria are in many instances out-dated given medical and battlefield medicine advances.”
In 2016, some 4.36 million veterans received VA Disability Compensation and 288,715 received VA Pension funding, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. But there are still more veterans like Pinkney and their family members stuck in the VA system trying to claim either retirement, fiduciary or disability benefits.
“Although President-Elect Trump suggests creating a commission to investigate fraud within the VA, in my opinion a better use for a commission would be to examine our existing claims, healthcare processes and regulations in order to design a more effective system given the complexities of the health and injuries of today’s veterans both aging and currently serving,” Roberts told Newsmax Finance.
Currently, Pinkney is appealing to correct the effective date of his disability from 2011 to 1984, which would change the amount of back pay owed.
“The second thing I am appealing is the examiner’s statement that my high blood pressure was due to excessive drinking, smoking and a high sodium diet although 30 years of lab test deny this,” said Pinkney who wrote a book and launched the website http://www.voiceoftheveterans.com/to help his fellows navigate within the VA bureaucracy.
Pinkney’s advice includes contacting a case worker at a local regional office of the VA as well as associations such as the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and the American Legion.
“When communicating with the VA, you must speak judiciously,” Pinkney said. “Every veteran must know the VA language. The more knowledge you have about your case, the more equipped you are to win what you are owed.”
Veterans can find pro bono legal support through law schools nationwide that are members of the National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium, a 501c3 enabling clinics in various states to share best practices.
“Applying for benefits has become increasingly complex,” said Roberts who helped found the Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic in Virginia. “There's more at stake with delays from backlogs and the significant numbers of veterans making claims.”
A common problem is when a veterans’ claim is denied erroneously because there’s information missing or when a rating is issued that is not comparable to what their injury warrants But the worst thing a veteran can do is appeal a denied claim without knowing and supplying the evidence that is missing. Instead, Roberts recommends getting it right the first time.
“It’s critical to submit an accurate claim at the beginning of the process,” said Roberts. “That’s where we can help.”
Juliette Fairley is an author, lecturer and TV host based in New York.
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