vawatchdog.org points out a reason why Congressional staff members need to understand ALS...
by Jim Strickland
NOTE: Letters in my Q&A columns are reprinted just as they come to me. Spelling and grammar are left as is and only small corrections are made to improve readability, ensure anonymity or delete expletives that may offend some readers. This is not legal advice. You should always seek the advice of an attorney who is qualified in Veterans' law before you make any decisions about your own benefits.
Jim;I am a wife of a Vietnam veteran. My husband passed away March 2009.Before he passed away he received a 100% disability rating due to complications of Lou Gehrig’s disease. We applied in Sept of 2008 and waited for 5 m onths just to hear he was approved for 100%. It gets more interesting. I had to sign a claim of statement saying I would take over his financial affairs in Feb. 2009. Basically I was told that this was to get a change of name so the checks would come to me to cash. I have not seen check one.I called VA in Washington and the clerk on the phone tells me there are four steps I have to go through before I can “qualify” for survivor benefits! Of course I told her that that was redundant and ridiculous since David got his rating not even two months ago. She said they will need a death certificate (which they already have), and the medical information he originally submitted from Doctors locally and at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (which was a nightmare out of hell). Then she said the team of whoevers makes a decision on the info submitted. THEN it goes to a group of clerks who make sure the dots and t’s are dotted and teed.I argued that that has already been done and it took six months to accomplish. She argued back saying that this new submission is for you not the deceased. But I am not a vet nor do I have ALS. They said this process will take six months again. I am flabbergasted at the incompetence of this VA administration. May I could get a job there and draw a paycheck and sit on my laurels and do scratch.What I need is for someone to help me understand this BS so I can have some peace. I saw your site and thought you could point me in the right direction.
Reply;My condolences for your loss.This is standard operating procedure for the VA. Yes, I'm serious. You aren't receiving any less courtesy and help than all the others. The VA is the most broken machine in our federal government and it won't be fixed anytime soon.I advise my clients and veterans who I work with that no matter what, plan on a 2 year wait to see any results.However...I'm advising you a bit differently.I suggest that you sort out just who your Congressional Representative is. Each Congressperson has a "Military & Veterans Liaison" or someone with a similar title in their offices. You should spend a bit of research time to figure out just who this is. Sometimes the job descriptions blur across different functions so it's worth taking a bit of time to focus on just the right person.Call and make an appointment to see whoever you determine that person to be. You aren't likely to see the Representative...the staff handles these details. A personal visit from you to meet and greet these folks may be important. They get a lot of calls like yours so you don't want to be lost in the shuffle.Tell your story and provide as much documentation as you can. They'll ask you to sign some papers for information release and so on.That office will begin a "Congressional Inquiry". The Congressperson will write a letter on your behalf to VA explaining the issue as they know it and ask the VA, "Hey...what's up with this?"The VA then has 45 days to respond. During that 45 days you should stay in touch with the liaison who you've gotten to know. Don't let them forget you.This approach often has results that are quick and positive. There is an assigned team at the VA Regional Office who responds to Congressional Inquiries. If they see where they have totally dropped the ball, they want to fix it prior to responding to the Congressperson.Please go forward with this and let me know how it goes. If you run into other barriers, we'll go to Plan B.