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The Veterans Voice
"Fighting for Our Veterans-Supporting Our Troops"
Proudly Serving All Branches & All Eras Since 1999
Mondo Times
Search Our Site Below

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Help For Homeless and Poor Veterans
Leo Dougherty

In my opinion there is nothing worse in the veterans’ community than those veterans and their families who are homeless and/or poor. It is an American tragedy and a national shame that our society turns a blind eye to those who served and are incapable for one reason or another of obtaining benefits they may very well be eligible for under the law.

For those who know a little about my background, you know I am a member of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates. NOVA is a professional organization for attorneys and accredited claims agents with a heavy concentration on education for its members.

In 2009 The Public Counsel Law Center’s Center for Veterans Advancement (CVA) and NOVA partnered to create the CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocates Program to fight homelessness among veterans by providing competent, pro bono (free) representation before the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  This program is now one of the largest and most successful pro bono programs in the US.

I recently spoke with attorney Rick Little, a NOVA member and CVA Director and Program Manager. He told me that there are 46 NOVA attorneys from 41 law firms throughout the US participating in the program.

According to Little, any qualified veteran or family member is eligible for assistance but must be poor and/or homeless.

In a phone conversation, Little said to me, “We receive a tremendous number of calls each month from all over the United States.”

“The voluminous calls we receive” according to Little are likely the result of the varying types of legal services available to veterans and their qualified family members, which are provided by the CVA. These services also include both direct and pro bono representation.

“In advancing our pro bono efforts, the CVA orders the files, does the reviews and then refers them to participating attorneys. If the attorney is new to NOVA and VA disability law, we assign a seasoned attorney to mentor those who want to participate in the pro bono program.”

He said the program works at all levels of the process but many of the claims start out at the regional office and the goal is to resolve the cases at the earliest stage to assure veterans get benefits as quickly as possible.

I asked him about the veterans the program serves. He told me they have a wide range from the individual who went into the service with a limited education and came out with a limited education to those you would never believe would be in this category. And then he told me the story of a Vietnam Army Lieutenant the program helped.

Before going into the service, this veteran planned to work in the motion picture industry. Prior to going in he was offered an opportunity to co-star in a movie with Olivia de Havilland. Now, like me you are probably thinking it can’t be possible; this is an actress who was most known for her work in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. True, but she was still working in 1979 and in 2009 was the narrator for a documentary film called I Remember Better When I Paint.

He did play some small parts but was cut out of the de Havilland film.

Little said he found this veteran, like so many, living in abject poverty in Los Angeles. He had been wounded in Vietnam, lost an eye and part of his face, and nearly died. He was brought into the CVA-NOVA pro bono program and now receives 100% disability and is happily married.

Since its inception in August of 2009 the program has expended approximately 700 hours of assistance to indigent veterans and obtained close to $600,000 in benefits for veterans at a value of approximately $125,000 in labor. The program has earned the recognition of Congress for its pro bono work on behalf of homeless and poor veterans.

In May 2012 the program launched an initiative encouraging NOVA members to provide legal assistance to indigent and/or homeless veterans in any legal matter, taking the program beyond just assisting veterans and families at the VA.

This year, at the Philadelphia NOVA fall conference, the CVA-NOVA Pro Bono Advocates Program delivered its first annual award to attorney Tara Goffney, a NOVA attorney located in the Bronx, NY. The award is intended to recognize a single achievement, multiple achievements, or a continuing pattern of achievements over the preceding year. Ms. Goffney was presented the award for winning more than $100,000 for a poor and disenfranchised veteran. According to Little, she continues to aid those veterans most desperately in need of legal representation.

If you know a veteran who is poor, homeless, or both, have them call the CVA at (213) 385-2977, extension 301. If they are unable to do so, perhaps you can do it for them. To find out more about the law center click here.

It should be noted that, according to Little, funding legal services for veterans is scarce at best. Indeed, this work is done completely voluntary by participating NOVA attorneys and is managed by and paid for entirely by Public Counsel’s Center for Veterans Advancement.

Thomas W. Stoddert, US Army Retired, is right on every point and I applaud his courage to write a very exacting letter.  My tenure at Madigan Army Medical Center as the NCOIC of the Department of Medicine made me aware of mismanaged policies and management issues.  I worked with a wonderful staff of professionals and paraprofessionals who conducted themselves very appropriately and courteously, with politeness, knowledge, experience and timeliness.  However, all of our efforts were frequently clouded by the frustrations of personnel shortages, ancillary demands of personnel, frustrations secondary to multi-echelon mismanagement issues, and numerous other problems.

The Department of Medicine includes 13 separate sections, clinics, and sub-departments, each with specific medical missions comprised of doctors, PA's, nurses, medical technicians, and support personnel, including military and civilian staff.  Some clinics have direct access through central appointments while many others required a referral from the primary care provider.  All too often miscommunication between various services and ancillary personnel would complicate scheduling problems.  An appropriate example: Patient "A" might be scheduled to see doctor "Z" in a specific clinic, but Dr. Z had to cancel all appointments because he/she had to support another military mission somewhere else on post or deploy to another country.

Frequently, the appointment schedule confusion was not because of medical staffing, but due to Central Appointments or Tri-Care issues for providing less than appropriate information to the patient and the provider.  Regardless who was at fault, the senior enlisted member of each clinic, section or department always tried to resolve relevant matters at the lowest level before involving the members of the Patient Representative Office and Patient Affairs Office. 

As the NCOIC or the department, I coordinated with the Patient Representative Office and Patient Affairs Office and designed placard's which identified the OIC and NCOIC of each clinic, section and department with a current photograph and a customer service statement bent on resolving problems or complaints at the lowest level.  The commanding general at the time accepted the design and ordered that it be implemented throughout the hospital.  The implementation was done in 2000 and I hope it is still in place. I am confident that the NCO's and OIC's at each level are fully capable of resolving conflicts and complaints, providing they get support from the senior management of medical care at Madigan Army Medical Center.

On the other hand, I and many others have all too often witnessed many frustrated and dissatisfied patients and family members who lack the patience to allow the system to work as it is designed.  These patients complain every chance they get and they become very loud and ugly about it, making treats, breaching the chain of command, and writing letters and memos to anyone who will listen.  The members of the Patient Representative Office and Patient Affairs Office do everything possible to bring providers and patients to a equitable arrangement, resolve appointment conflicts and ultimately bend-over-backwards.  Still, the patient complains and will ultimately use the same tactic every time they feel the need, regardless of how well or how often they have been treated with the same professional level of care that all patients and family members are given.

I am not blind and I do not wear rose colored glasses.  I know there are problems with the management of care at Madigan Army Medical Center and other military medical facilities.  However, there is no single mission in the military service that is as resource intensive as the medical mission on a daily basis.  Then the medical facilities must comply with and satisfy military and civilian laws, protocols, standards, inspections, and funding agencies.  All of this while still supporting the military missions of deployments, training, education, reassignments, and command emphasis issues. 

So, yes, a problem exists, but it will take the collective initiative of the soldier's at each facility to make the improvements, with the support of the Army Medical Corp senior management and mass influence of money and personnel.

Alan B. Candia
U.S. Army (Ret.)   

Reader's Response Below
I am rated 100% unemployability. My ratings are as follows.
30% for chlorache from Agent Orange exposure
30% for PTSD
40% for diabetes
It also says on my award letter, "No Future Exams."
My question is do you think they can re-examine me in the future and take away my benefits?
Thank You,
Bob Clark

Bob, Thanks for writing in to the "Veteran's Voice."

The VA can require a future exam at any time  if they feel there may be an issue of fraud or if a   gross mistake was made. But generally in cases like yours where they say no future exams,
they mean just that.

The VA can, if they have sufficient reason, propose to lower a rating percentage only if they        believe you may have gotten better or something has happened and they have to review
certain awards. This can happen as an example as the result of a mandate from Congress. The   issue of PTSD, was getting a lot of nasty attention by the national press and the VA went back   and started looking at this issue when it was awarded to  non-combat veterans.

However, the general rules are basically after five years, service connection can not rescinded,   but the rating percentage can be lowered; after ten years there can be no reduction in the rating percentage or severance of a service connected condition unless there was fraud.

All this to say, if you got a fair rating and they have said no future exams, just run with it. The  VA does not like to hassle vets when they do not need to.

Now, the down side, FYI. The VA does  routinely check up to see if you are working and so does    the Social Security Administration. They both allow you some grace in making some extra income because they know staying home vegetating is harmful. However, 100% unemployability is just that and both agencies frown on a veteran receiving benefits because they can not work and then go out and work full time. So check carefully and see what they allow you. I was told recently that these rules may have changed not too long ago.

Assuming you are not working you may want to consider doing volunteer work in the community and/or working with veterans. Here is where the fun starts. The VA, through the education department,  will sometimes purchase items to make a veteran's life more meaningful. In my case they helped me purchase computer equipment so that I can write like I am now and aid other veterans. Now that there is a war on, there are many opportunities to use your talents and experiences for others, particularly other vets.

So good luck and welcome home.
Thank you for your courage to tell it like it is!   The General is a good person but what can one person do?   Do you know who the members of her so-called command group are?   The Deputy Commander for Administration is ineffective, disinterested, weak and lame.   The Deputy Commander for Clinical Services is pretty smart but he is a poor leader, has no clue what his subordinates are supposed to do and he is leaving in a few weeks.   The Deputy Commander for Nursing is also lame and she is about to retire.   The Hospital Sergeant Major is also about to retire!    In addition to the problems you described, there are many others.   For example, I wish someone would approach Mr. and Ms. Horrell  and ask them what they know about nepotism and the merit system!   Madigan is a wonderful institution and has many great people but the fat, ineffective and overstaffed upper management needs to replaced and realigned now!  

Husband of a very concerned member of the Madigan Team