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VA accused of changing dates on disability claims

After U.S. veterans return home from stints in battle overseas, many suffer from physical injuries, mental illness and other debilitating symptoms that need to be treated. Sometimes, they simply need a helping hand to get restarted in life; the Department of Veterans Affairs is supposed to be there for them to provide veterans benefits. However, a recent report from the inspector general found that at least one VA office has been changing the dates on claims to make it appear as though the department was moving through its growing backlog at a quicker rate.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, staff said they have been following orders from VA administration to change the dates of on the files in backlog. The inspector general said an average of 20 months passed between when the VA received the documents and acted on it in at least 43 of the cases.

One case, which was made to look as though it was 14 days old, was actually two decades old, meaning the veteran in question may have fallen even more ill or even died while waiting for benefits.

“Right now it’s incumbent upon VA leaders to ensure the claims of veterans affected by this scheme are correctly processed while moving swiftly to hold the responsible employees accountable,” according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. “Although I believe Secretary McDonald is trying hard to correct VA’s course, the fact that incidents like this are still occurring highlights the scope of the challenges he is facing.”

If this is happening in one state, under instruction of the VA administration, it is not hard to draw conclusions that it may be happening to veterans in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and other areas near and dear to our law firm’s heart.

It is still too early to know if these reforms will make the VA medical system credible and effective. However, there can be no doubt that the mission of the VA medical system is critical to the care and welfare of U.S. veterans.

Disability issues falling by the wayside

Anyone who has been paying attention to the Social Security Administration’s rate of approval over the past year can tell you that it has slowed down in a very purposeful way.

At the Law Offices of Harold W. Conick and Associates Ltd., we have certainly noticed that there are fewer cases being approved. It is harder than ever for our clients, no matter how strong a case they have or how in need of help they are, to gain disability benefits from the SSA.

Sara Blahovec wrote in a blog post on Huffington Post that this slowdown may, at least in part, be due to the disability rights movement stagnating.

“Worldwide, barriers to inclusivity for people with disabilities continue to be significant,” she wrote, adding that issues of race and gender gain the public’s attention, while disability and health do not. “While various organizations work tirelessly to promote equal rights, disability rights just don’t seem to be captivating the public in the same way.”

One reason, according to Blahovec, may be the fear of increased discrimination. People with disabilities, especially mental health illnesses, are not easily identifiable. They are told to hide their disabilities and “act normal.”

This may be harmful when it comes time to get help, as many people see a person who appears “normal” and do not think much more deeply about it.

“This incentivizes hiding disability status, and so many people are afraid of speaking up because they feel that they will fare better and experience less discrimination,” Blahovec wrote on The Huffington Post’s website.

All across the cadre of judges, the favorable decision are fewer and further between. When favorable, more often than not, the decision less than fully favorable.

In our opinion, this conduct is intentional and widespread. Additionally, it is taking far longer than ever before to have cases progress through the appeals system to be in a position for claimants to receive a decision. This is the SSA’s dirty little secret that no one is publicly talking about. They are attempting to save the system money through artificially reducing the number of claimants approved for benefits.

Congress should investigate this problem and take action to correct it before even more citizens are denied their rightful benefits.

Stress, depression may increase risk of heart attack

Sufferers of heart disease may want to beware of the risks of high stress and depression, as a recent report from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City finds that these could lead to an increased risk for heart attack and death.

Reuters spoke with the report’s lead author Carmela Alcantara, who said high stress and severe depression combined could be especially difficult for adults with heart disease during an “early, vulnerable period.”

In a study by Alcantara and her team, which followed 4,400 people 45 and older with coronary heart disease, it was found that 12 percent had high stress, 14 percent had high depression and 6 percent suffered from both. After a six year follow up, about a fourth of these participants had a heart attack or died.

“More research is needed to understand why psychosocial factors like these are so often tied to heart health in particular,” Alcantara told Reuters.

For sufferers of heart disease, it is important to let your doctor know about any signs of stress or depression, as this will need to be quelled for you to reach optimum levels of health. Severe sufferers of heart disease and/or depression for whom it has become too hard to work should apply for disability benefits via the Social Security Administration as soon as possible, as this can be a great lifeline during tough times.

The symptoms related to stress and depression can significantly interfere with the ability to perform competitive work activity. The Social Security disability program is available to those debilitated by stress and depression symptoms who cannot work.

It’s wise to apply as soon as possible when one realizes that they can no longer perform work activities. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates, Ltd has successfully represented numerous clients before the SSA who suffered from severe stress and depression.

Forbes calls proposed VA rule ‘attack’ on veterans, families

A new proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is being called an “attack” on veterans and their families by Forbes. Alesha Ebeling writes on Forbes’ website that this rule attempts to prevent people from giving away their assets and applying for veterans benefits, but she notes that veterans believe this may cause harm by making a difficult process even harder and more arduous.

The VA pension rule provides money to veterans and their surviving spouses for daily assistance in necessary activities. Currently, the rule is that if veterans get down to $80,000 in assets, including houses and cars, and have medical expenses that are more than than their income, they may qualify.

The proposed changes would establish a 36 month look-back period, make a new limit of $119,220 and have a 10 year penalty period when it comes to gifts, thereby making it much more difficult for veterans and their families to obtain.

Bernard Krooks, a New York attorney and Forbes contributor, said these rules are “an attack on our nation’s veterans and their families; it’s a huge change from the status quo.” However, the proposed change is coming after attempts to pass a look-back rule in Congress failed, so if this change is made administratively, it can be challenged in court.

The benefit that VA officials want to make more difficult to obtain provides elderly veterans and their spouses with funds for assisted living. This is a very important benefit for our veterans and should not be limited, as veterans have earned these critical benefits through service to our country.

Essentially, the VA appears to want to treat U.S. veterans as welfare recipients by applying Medicaid and Medicare standards to VA benefits. If such rule is imposed upon these benefits, litigation should be commenced to overturn such arbitrary and capricious administrative action.

VA whistleblowers say many troops claims end up ignored

For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been inundated by a large backlog of troops coming home looking for veterans benefits. With a high number of veterans waiting, the local CBS affiliate in San Francisco reported some shocking news this month: Thousands of claims filed between 1996 and 2009 were put into a file cabinet and ignored until 2012.

An example of how this has impacted veterans comes from Dorrie Stafford, whose husband Wayne was an Army veteran who filed a veterans disability claim in 2004. Wayne died in an accident seven years ago, but he received a letter dated July 29, 2014, thanking him for filing for disability benefits. This left his wife wondering how VA could be so callous, not only in ignoring the claim, but in sending a late reply to a veteran who was already dead.

Rustyann Brown, one of the team assigned to process these claims two years ago, said their VA office was getting letters from elderly veterans and widows begging for help. This showcases the very real need many veterans have to hire an attorney who will fight for their veterans benefits.

“Half of the veterans were dead that I screened. So almost every other piece of paper that I touched was a veteran who had already passed away,” Brown told CBS.

It is absolutely critical that a disabled veteran retain experienced counsel to pursue their VA disability claim. Iis well documented that veterans will have a better chance of success in obtaining benefits with the assistance of legal counsel.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates are available to assist veterans in pursuit of their benefits.