By: Lauren Sutphin

For some veterans their biggest concern may not be what the next deployment will bring, but the possibility of no more deployments and a lack of income. The high overall unemployment rate in this country is well documented; what is not as well documented is the even higher unemployment rate among our veterans. A recent blog post by Maura McCarthy, the research director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, cited an August report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which showed that the unemployment rate for veterans was a striking 10.9%. Compare this with the national unemployment rate of 8.1%, and it becomes obvious that today’s veterans face a dire situation. This plight is not likely to dissipate in the coming years, as the US military is actively making significant reductions in troop numbers. This drawdown of the military will mean tens of thousands of troops will now become civilians with many of them looking for civilian employment.

This situation is a concern for every citizen in the United States. Not only does the veterans plight weigh heavy on our minds, but in order to attract the best qualified individuals to our military branches there has to be some incentive. Certainly a higher unemployment rate for veterans is not a great incentive. Besides encouraging hiring managers and small business owners to hire veterans there must be something else civilians can do. Every civilian is encouraged to bring whatever skills they have to the table to help our veterans. Anything from volunteering to helping veterans create resumes, to doing mock interviews, to helping in the actual job search. There are also formal organizations in which civilians can become involved. Organizations such as American Corporate Partners gives civilians the opportunity to mentor a veteran for a year. American Corporate Partners matches veterans with civilian corporate professionals who help them identify their goals and create and implement an action plan to achieve those goals.

The government is also stepping up for our veterans. The Department of Labor has a great website www.dol.gov/vets/. On this site veterans can find help locating training and employment, and employers can research veteran hiring initiatives and find qualified veterans for employment. This site also contains information about the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) program. The Department of Veterans Affairs also details the VOW to Hire Heroes Act at www.benefits.va.gov. The VOW program can help veterans who are going through the PEB process begin planning for the transition to civilian life. VOW also offers the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, for veterans who are at least 35 and no more than 60 years old, which gives the veterans 12 months of training assistance. The VOW Act also provides incentives to businesses who employ veterans.

To maintain our elite fighting forces we have to promote a smooth transition from military to civilian life. The current unemployment rate of our veterans is unacceptable, but with civilian volunteers and programs like those listed above we can provide our veterans the best possible transition to civilian life.

 

To read the blog referenced above visit, http://iava.org/blog/new-veteran-unemplyment-rises-109-august.

By: James Booth

Where you live may impact how long you wait for a response to your VA claim.  Last week the Veterans Benefits Blog attempted to tackle the question, why do VA claims take so long?  To summarize, a significant part of the problem is due to the fact that a majority of claims files are not electronic but remain on paper.  This problem is visually evident by the unorganized stacks of paper files at nearly every regional office across the country.

While backlog at the VA is systemic, it may come as a surprise that the wait time for a veteran’s claim is not universal across the country.  For example, the average veteran will spend 403 days to have the government respond to his or her claim if they file in Waco, Texas, while a similar veteran in South Dakota will only wait 129 days.  A study by the Center for Investigative Reporting indicates that there is a positive correlation between wait times at various VA regional offices and the veteran population within those particular regions.

What can be learned from all this?  The seemingly obvious, yet most unattainable answer is that a veteran with the opportunity or the ability to choose where they submit their claim should attempt to file in rural regions of the country – North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Idaho, and other regions throughout the Midwest.  For most veterans, however, this is simply unrealistic for multiple, unrelated reasons.  These include, but are not limited to, financial considerations, family commitments, professional obligations, a simple cost-benefit analysis, and the exercise of ordinary common sense.

Ultimately, one would hope that this study is most valuable to the VA as it attempts to solve the backlog problem.  Statistical data proves what we have known for some time – the system is overloaded, overworked and under resourced, made all the more obvious by the simple fact that the problem is worse in more populated areas.  The VA should learn from the regional offices in the more rural areas when crafting their solutions to the backlog problem, paying specific attention to how resource are allocated proportionally to the number of veterans they serve.

Finally, a veteran may use this study in an effort to manage their own expectations and a concerned citizen could use it to raise awareness, increase accountability, and apply pressure on elected officials in constituencies that are particularly slow to improve.  To this end, the Center for Investigative Reporting created a map depicting all regional offices  across the United States with valuable information unique to each region.  This information includes the number of outstanding claims by jurisdiction and the average wait time each veteran can expect to endure there.  The map also tracks the progress of each regional office in their attempt to speed up the claims process.  For information on your region visit http://www.baycitizen.org/veterans/interactive/map-disabled-vets-stuck-backlog-limbo/.

For additional information on the study as reported by Aaron Glantz visit http://www.veteranstoday.com/2012/09/04/for-disabled-vets-awaiting-benefits-location-matters/.


 By: Kevin Barrett

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and their specific branch of Veterans Benefits play a very important role in today’s American society. The Veteran Benefits branch of the VA is responsible for screening and evaluating applications from United States Veterans for disability compensation and pension. Veterans typically apply to the VA for disability benefits if they are injured upon leaving the armed services and have not been retired on a medical status. The VA has provided this opportunity for those well deserving men and women to receive the benefits they need after serving their country for a period of time. However, there is another option for a group of Veterans who believe that they should have been medically retired from the armed services but were improperly evaluated during their Physical Evaluation Board or Medical Evaluation Board process.

The Physical Disabilities Board of Review (PDBR) was created by Congress as part of the Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act of 2008. President Bush signed this Act into law on January 28, 2008. The Act was geared towards Veterans who have been medically separated from the U.S. Military between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009. This legislation gives these Veterans the opportunity to have their disability ratings reviewed by a specially created Board to ensure fairness and accuracy. Congress feared that during this particular time period, Veterans were receiving inaccurate evaluations of their medical status and this Board, along with this process, is their way of attempting to correct any injustice. Combined disability ratings of 20% or less are eligible to be reviewed by the PDBR. This is because, to be eligible for medical retirement from the armed forces, a rating of 30% or higher is needed. Any improper evaluations during that time period could very well have resulted in a rating of 20% or less; therefore, those are the eligible Veterans for re-evaluation through this process.

The Department of Defense designated the Air Force as the lead component to establish and operate the PDBR and they are responsible for reviewing cases from all of the services. Representatives from three separate services, including the service of the applicant, jointly review each case. The process for the PDBR begins with a veteran separated between 9/11/01 and 12/31/09 with 0%, 10%, or 20% combined disability. These eligible Veterans submit a signed DD-294 to PDBR Central Intake Unit (CITU) to begin application process. CITU then requests medical and disability evaluation documentation from the VA and the Veteran’s Military Department. Once these documents are received, they are uploaded into the PDBR central database where the PDBR downloads the case documentation at Joint Central Adjudication Unit (JCAU). The PDBR will then review the case, adjudicate any issues within the case & recommend action to the Designated Decision Authority (DDA). The DDA of Veteran’s Military Department will ultimately make the final decision on each case and inform the Veteran. If the veteran’s prior disability separation is re-characterized as a disability retirement, the DDA coordinates correction of the veteran’s military record as well as pay with DFAS and the VA. However, if the veteran’s disability is not re-characterized, there will be no change in status (with the VA or the individual’s Military Department). By law, the PDBR may not recommend a lower disability rating for any rating reviewed.  In accordance with Title 10 United States Code, Section 1554a, Veterans who sign their application to the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) acknowledge their understanding that they can no longer appeal to their Service Board for Correction of Military Records for the same conditions that the Physical Disability Board of Review adjudicated. Therefore, their PDBR determination is not appealable. However, the Veteran retains the right to file a lawsuit with the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals. Additionally, Veterans have the right to appeal the medical conditions not adjudicated by the PDBR to the Board of Correction of Military or Naval Records.

For some Veterans this is the second chance they prayed for; a chance to have a wrong corrected and to be properly evaluated for their medical disability. Thus far, the PDBR has been very beneficial to Veterans since they started reviewing cases back in 2009. Presently, more than 50% of cases reviewed by the PDBR have been upgraded; resulting in disability retirement for well deserving Veterans.