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VA paying out record number of malpractice claims
Posted October 23, 2013

The list of veterans waiting for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs is growing longer, as a backlog has piled up over the years. VA is experiencing another problem as well, as Bloomberg reported that more than 400 payments were made by the U.S. government to resolve VA malpractice claims. The news source obtained agency records through a Freedom of Information Act request to show that $91.7 million was paid out nearly $92 million, the highest amount in at least the past dozen years.

“The rapid rise in malpractice judgments against VA mirrors the emerging pattern of preventable veteran deaths and other patient safety issues at VA hospitals,” Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican told Bloomberg in a statement. “What’s missing from the equation is not money or manpower – it’s accountability.”

Cases against the department have included missed diagnoses, delayed treatments and even treatments on the wrong body parts. This shows the number of flaws in VA offices could run even deeper than the backlog, which has been hampering the ability to properly pay out veterans for many years.

Veterans should be aware that suing the Federal Government for malpractice is not easy and will be heavily resisted. There are also time deadlines for bringing this action to court, something that must be considered. There is also an administrative process available for veterans to pursue such claims. The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates is available to counsel veterans in such matters.

Electronic records may lead to quicker veteran disability approval
Posted October 15, 2013

The backlog for veterans disability has been growing for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that there are in excess of 751,000 claims pending, more than 457,000 of which have been waiting for approval for 125 days or more. This does not include the quarter of a million who still have their claims under review. One thing that could help solve this is converting veterans records onto an electronic medical record system, as this would easily allow these files to be pulled up in cases and easily reviewed.

VA said more than 30 percent of these claims are now available electronically at regional offices. Incoming paper claims are being transformed into electronic records, something that is hoped will be able to cut down on the wait time for those who have served the country.

“A key element that slows our process is the thousands of tons of paper documents we handle each year related to veterans’ claims,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “While we continue to expand our ability to process claims electronically, we still have to handle those we receive in paper form— the Veterans Claims Intake Program is our answer to this and helps us move into a fully digital environment.”

It remains to be seen how this will work, but veterans stuck between a rock and a hard place with medical records may need help of an attorney or representative to help speed up the process.

At a recent NOVA conference in San Diego, CA., lawyers representing disabled veterans discussed the merits of employing the Freedom of information Act to force VA to produce a veteran’s file sooner than the seven to 10 months it can normally take. This so-called “C file” is important for veterans attorneys to have in order to know what medical records exist and what other medical evidence may still be needed to prevail on the veteran’s claims.

Diabetes can be debilitating in the long-term
Posted October 07, 2013

Those suffering from diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, have a lot that needs to be taken care of and guarded against. Debilitating symptoms such as neuropathy and kidney disease can be extremely harmful and perhaps even life threatening to the point where many may not be able to work a job. These are disability qualifying conditions and those suffering should seek Social Security Disability benefits.

Having diabetes can mean a litany of problems for those suffering, but the SSA will want to know if an applicant is working, how severe the condition is, if they are able to do any type of work and if the condition is listed as a disabling condition.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said diabetes is the leading cause of amputations of feet and legs not related to injury or accident for adults. It is also a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and is one of the leading causes of death. Health and help are not out of reach of those suffering, but those with extreme cases may need to seek legal guidance for a Social Security disability claim.

The Law Offices of Harold W. Conick & Associates have obtained approval of Social Security disability benefits for numerous clients who suffer from the effects and limitations of diabetes. Both children and adults have a chance to qualify for these benefits, which could be greatly helpful for medical bills and other expenses.

Q&A: The importance of medical records for a disability hearing
Posted September 26, 2013

Although having disability qualifying conditions may make life miserable, the Social Security Administration application process mandates having an established assortment of disability supportive medical records. Attorney Harold W. Conick, who practices law across the Chicagoland area and across the U.S., said the most important thing is to have enough medical records to influence a judge regarding the seriousness of a medical condition.

“It’s important that they’re able to convince the judge with the records,” Conick said. “The medical records speak for themselves and are the key to proving that a claimant can’t work.”

Conick took time to explain the benefits of medical records to an SSA and Veterans’ disability case.

Q: How important are medical records for an SSA and VA disability case?

Conick: Medical records are the basis upon which judges in disability cases make their decision, so they’re extremely important. Not only are longitudinal records important, but current records as well. The more current the records, the more credible the claimant’s claim of disability is. The judges expect the records be current if you have an ongoing severe disability. If your disability is such that you are just receiving maintenance treatment, the judge will not expect to see extensive current treating records.

As an example, let’s say someone has a disease the doctor can’t do much for anymore. All they’re getting is medications and limited treatment. You’d just have maintenance records limited doctor office visits and prescription records. For someone trying to treat orthopedic or other serious problems like MS, cancer, diabetes, or mental illness the judge would expect to see significant, ongoing records to believe the person would not be able to work. If someone is not going to the doctor very much, but claims they have disabling symptoms, it’s not believable.

Q: Is there anything that typically goes wrong that may bring about a denial?

Conick: If the claimant doesn’t make an effort to cooperate with the securing of their medical records, in can influence the outcome. It could be something as simple as not telling me all the places they’ve been treated. It’s very important I know their complete medical history with doctors, hospitals, and therapy including all the medications they’re taking. This way, we can determine if we have all the medical records needed to support their case.

Q: Does the SSA and VA have their own doctors look at the records or applicants?

Conick: If you don’t get your medical records to the SSA or VA, it slows down the processing of the claim. Perhaps there are missing records for the past several months prior to a hearing; the judge may still feel that’s important because [the SSA’s] expert may have wanted to look at those records due to the claim of ongoing disability. The expert won’t be able to give an opinion to the judge unless there are current records to review.… They don’t always have in person exams. Experts will generally just be looking through medical records and based on what they have to review, if they don’t see enough to support your allegations, their opinion will not be supportive of a claim of disability.

Q: What does someone do if they have no insurance or other resources to see a doctor?

Conick: That’s a problem, because the system is not sympathetic to people who don’t have insurance or resources and can’t be treated. If you can’t produce the medical evidence, even though you have dire problems, it’s not going to help your ability to get Social Security or VA benefits. You can actually be denied because you can’t get treatment and thus treatment records; of course Veterans can seek treatment at the VA Medical Center. They’re not going to go out of their way to get you treatment to prove your case. You have to do that on your own. That is why it’s extremely important to seek out all medical resources available to obtain supportive medical evidence of conditions that prevent a claimant from working.

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