Are Veterans Treated With Respect?

For more than six years I have been having issues with the VA claims process. My background includes standardization and documentation of processes to be in compliance with various standards and government regulations. Using that experience, I have documented my claims history and determined that the VA regularly violates regulations outlined in Title 38, the law that governs the VA.

The issues start with a lack of transparency and accountability in the entire system. While this is not directly addressed in Title 38 it is still an issue. No one in the VA claims system wears a name tag, or tells you their name, and never signs official correspondence including final determination of your claim.

A few years ago you submitted a claim to your nearest Regional Office (RO) and the claim was processed there. It was difficult then to get them to answer questions about the claim. Since then they put new claims on the ‘cloud’ to be picked up and processed by the next available RO. While this looks more efficient it makes it impossible to get answers to your questions. Your local RO says that they have no knowledge of your claim and refuse to answer questions. All claims records are on the active computer system so they know exactly what is going on, they just won’t tell you. In the beginning you could tell where the claim was being processed by the letterhead on correspondence. Since then they have removed that part of the letterhead so that you have no idea.

A standard process, with regard to medical appointments, on claims processing has never been established by the VA. This allows non-medical personnel to order any appointments they want. In 2017, the VA’s OIG investigated three ROs in the upper Midwest for unnecessary appointments. In a six month period 37% of appointments were unwarranted. This resulted in $10.1 million in unnecessary appointments. Nearly half of this number went to outside contractors. The OIG estimated that the VA would waste over $100 million in the next five years unless there were changes.

Unfortunately, nothing has changed. I have written a nine page detailed report on my claims history. It shows clear violations of Title 38 and a number of medical and mental health appointments that were unnecessary or not related to my case.

Over the period of these claims I had asked the following Congressional Representatives for help. It was obvious to me that this is a systemic problem with the VA. I asked these Representatives to initiate an independent investigation of the VA.

Senator Tom Udall would not meet with me. His office would only initiate an individual inquiry. Assigned an Intern to review my case and initiate an inquiry with the VA. By Title 38 the VA has 15 days to respond but can ask for a 15-day extension. It took 45 days with the VA stating that they had so many inquiries that they couldn’t get them all done. Their response was that I hadn’t filled out all the correct forms. The VA mailed me the forms that I completed and hand-delivered to them. This is failure to provide the forms necessary for the claim and failure to notify that the claim is incomplete as required by Title 38. Senator Udall’s office declined to pursue the case.

Senator Martin Heinrich would not meet with me. I reviewed the case with a staffer and then never heard from them again. They would not return phone calls or emails.

Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham did meet with me. She listened to my presentation and then patted me on the back and said how terrible it is that the Government doesn’t keep its promises to Veterans. She said that like she is not part of the Government. She then promised me a meeting with the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, a promise she did not keep. I saw her a year later and called her on that promise. She promised to re-visit that and again she did not. At that time she also said that the VA is out of control, everything they do is on purpose and vindictive. Additionally she added that the VA is underfunded and that the Government will never spend the money to fix it.

Congressman Ben Ray Lujan initially would not meet with me. His staffer arranged a meeting with the acting Director of the Albuquerque Regional Office. He went to the meeting with me but only stayed about forty minutes and left. The nonsense that happened in that meeting after he left was unbelievable. One comment was made that I had no standing for reasonable doubt because I had not submitted any evidence to support the claims of tinnitus and hearing loss. They had my sworn statement and Military medical record, both are evidence under Title 38. I continued to push for a meeting with the Congressman. I was finally told to go away by his staffer. Three years later I was finally able to get a meeting with the Congressman. I provided him a report documenting the tactics and Title 38 violations by the VA. I again told him my goal was an independent investigation of the VA. He asked for a list of areas that I thought should be investigated and I provided that list. I also offered to testify before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

That meeting was a year ago. We talked by phone in June and he assured me that he was moving forward and had provided the report to the committee. Two months more have gone by and still nothing. It is unacceptable to me that Congress can call for an investigation of the sitting President without actual proof of wrongdoing and that happens immediately. I have provided documented evidence of violations of Federal Law by an agency of the Federal Government and still nothing is happening. The Congressman now wants to be a Senator and move up the power ladder. After four years of trying to work with him on these issues he has not fulfilled his commitment to the people of New Mexico as a Congressman let alone a Senator.

Congressman Steve Pearce would not meet with me. His staffer, J. Joe Martinez, from Las Cruces reviewed my case and said “this is extreme abuse of a veteran for no reason but, between the House and the Senate there are too many people involved so the Congressman will not do anything.” The Congressman is a veteran himself and there is no excuse for a Veteran that has the ability to initiate change but instead turns his back on his Veteran Family. This is a disgrace to our country and ultimate disrespect to our Veterans, he should be ashamed.

Attorney General Hector Balderas would not meet with me. I finally badgered a member of his staff into a meeting. She took all of the information including a copy of the disk containing all of my VA claims history that I had gotten through the Freedom of Information Act. I also provided her with the names of other New Mexico Veterans that had many of the same issues as I did. She assured me that two attorneys were being assigned to the case and they would contact me and the other Veterans. Six months later after no contact I emailed to check on the status of the case. When I received no answer I emailed again. I was never contacted and never received a response to those emails. The Attorney General has no problem suing the Federal Government over the Gold King Mine spill or over the Border Wall. He refuses to hold the VA accountable for cheating New Mexico Veterans out of their benefits. My observation is that if it doesn’t bring in money or provide political leverage for the state, he will do nothing.

If you still do not believe that the VA is a problem consider that Congressman Lujan stated that 30% of the available time in his office is spent on Veterans issues. Also consider that if a Veteran has the patience and perseverance to go through all of the VAs appeals process they eventually get a hearing by a Federal Circuit Court Judge. Currently there are over 200,000 Veterans waiting for a hearing and only nine judges who hear those cases. The average age of a Vietnam Veteran is now 68. Most will be dead before they get their hearing. This just punctuates the Veteran’s saying about the VA: “Delay and Deny until they Die.”

When I returned from Vietnam in 1971 I was spit on in the San Francisco Airport. I remained in uniform and lived through the times when you did not tell anyone that you were a Vietnam vet or wear a uniform in public. Over time the attitude of the people has changed and Veterans get respect from the public. Today, the media and the Government say that they are doing everything they can to support Veterans. In most cases that is simply not true. I recently mailed the report that I have provided Congressman Lujan to 16 media outlets locally and around the country. I have received one response declining to do a story because he claims that he is prevented by law from writing about my medical conditions. I asked if he would do the story on the lack of transparency and law violations by the VA. My answer was no answer, no response at all. So much for respect and support for those who have sacrificed and put their lives on the line for our country. As for Government officials it is just the usual rhetoric with absolutely no substance. Now the VA and Congress have their knee on our necks and it is not the public that is spitting on us, it is our own Government.

Jim Rogers, 1SG, USA, Ret., Edgewood

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.