Jim Strickland's Mailbag: Volume #75 for 2008
NOTE:  Letters in my mailbag are reprinted just as they come to me. Spelling and grammar are left as is and only small corrections are made to improve readability, ensure anonymity or delete expletives that may offend some readers. This is not legal advice. You should always seek the advice of an attorney who is qualified in Veterans' law before you make any decisions about your own benefits.
12.18.08
Question:
Jim,
Your reply about Vets helping Vets after getting their rating hit me good.

http://vawatchdog.org/08/nf08/nfnov08/nf112108-4.htm

While I can't say I went hungry(and my 60 year old house was paid off), keeping it warm in the winter was a challenge-and A/C in the summer was not even thought of. I would like to help a vet with or without a family. I can't guarantee his house payment(will try) but I can guarantee he/family won't be hungry or cold over the winter. I'm not looking for anything in return. Just don't know how to go about it.


Answer:
When John wrote that note to me it started me thinking. Not that long ago another reader offered to directly assist another veteran he read about here. I put them in touch with email and the $300.00 he sent to his brother in need kept the electricity on while the veteran was having his dialysis done.

I get occasional offers from you all wanting to help another. My usual reply is to volunteer or whatever. But I know some of you aren't able to do that as a regular effort and you are looking for other ways to lend a hand.

John and I set about brainstorming. John said, "...just don't know how to go about it" and neither did I. After weeks of back and forth and putting a lot of thought into it, here's where we are in our thinking.

There are a lot of agencies out there that help vets and other who are down on their luck for the long haul. We don't want to try to substitute for the efforts of Salvation Army, any United Way agency and so on.

Our thoughts always returned to the veteran who we are most familiar with here at the VA Watchdog dot org...the veteran who has the claim that is dragging on forever and is struggling with the wait was our number 1 focus. Then there are the veterans who need a different kind of help. Every day I hear of guys who can't make the drive to that VAMC that's 2 or 3 hours away. Some don't have a way to get to a clinic appointment 30 minutes away.

Some of us just don't get out much. Maybe it's the PTSD, maybe it's the diabetes or a feeling of hopelessness that keeps us from seeing our doctors. Maybe having a buddy come by to help with the daunting task of getting into the clinic would make a difference?

John and I aren't sure of any of this but as we kicked it around, we knew we had to give it a shot.

So...here's what we've come up with.

If you feel an urge to help a brother or sister in a time of need, tell John about it. John will record your gesture, get your email address and so on and then as that opportunity arises, he'll let you know. John will put you in touch with the other veteran and then it's up to you.

If you know of a veteran in need or if you're struggling yourself, get in touch with me. I'll assess the situation and we'll go from there.

Our criteria are simple; This isn't a rehab program for vets who are having a long term issue with life. As before, there are other places to turn for help there. If you're waiting for the final decision on your appeal or rating, you're relatively new to this long and drawn out process and you're in danger of the electricity being turned off, the car repossessed or not putting food on the table, we may be able to help in the short term. If you need a buddy to help you get by at the clinic or hospital, we'll see what we can do.

This is an experiment, not a sure thing. I can't begin to predict where this could go. I can tell you from personal experience there is a need, usually in your neighborhood. Before I started working with Larry I had a call from a neighbor about another neighbor. The veteran was 80 years old and needed directions to our VA hospital. I could tell the directions were confusing so I offered to take him in my car to his surgeon's appointment. He had a hernia that needed fixing.

I hate to consider what may have happened if I hadn't done that. I'm afraid he may still be lost, circling in some sort of 4th level of hell of traffic in Charleston, SC. That day was pretty routine to me and a grand adventure for him. Eventually he got all stitched up and did well. It was a little thing, no huge deal. If it made his life just a bit better, there you go.

I also know that the other incident of sending some cash money had a huge impact on a very sick guy. If you have never been broke, really broke where the bill collectors are howling on your front doorstep, you don't know what misery is. Then add to that waiting for a VA screw-up to be corrected and a need to get to your 3 times weekly dialysis appointments. Ouch.

There it is. If you think you want to give, write to John at < john7517@gmail.com > You know how to reach me.

BTW...no glory or awards here. John and I agreed, except for my name that's already out there, we want to keep it quiet, anonymous and a sort of stealth mission. No last names, no prizes or awards, no publicity for either side of the equation. No medals here, you're the only one who will know what you accomplished.
Question:
Jim,
Hope you can answer this. I'm rated 80%,100% because of unemployable! During the past 90 days I have been in the hospital for about 45 days on and off. one stay was 27 days. OK heres my question: My VA doc signed and filled out my aid and attendence form. saying I cant be left alone, need assistance with bathroom and getting dressed. I can feed myself but cant cook. Will I get additions funds paid to me as "Special compensation" Or? I'm married with no kis living with us.


Answer:
The only way to answer this is for you to go through the application process and see what happens. I'd advise you that you shouldn't depend on any extra money. Most applications are denied and must be appealed. Most appeals are won.

So, make your plans accordingly. If you expect a denial and an appeal, it won't hurt as much when it happens. Appeal is a part of the routine. Go for it. Good luck.
Question:
Jim,
Back in March or early April of this year, you wrote an article about IU and mentioned VA Form 21-0177 (Certificate of Permanent and Total Disability). I decided I wanted one and eventually went down to my state vso office and they submitted a VA Form 21-4138 for me on 9 April 2008 requesting the Form. This was after several calls by me to the VA's 1-800 number, which accomplished absolutely nothing at the St. Louis call center.

The state vso office did get a hard copy back from the RO stating they received the request. On 22 Sept 08, after several visits to the state vso office trying to find out the status of the request, I wrote a letter to my congressman's office here asking if they could find out what is going on with this 9 April 08 request to the Montgomery RO. They faxed the Congressional inquiry to the Montgomery, Al RO on 29 Sept 08. They received an acknowledgement back from the RO's fax machine indicating the inquiry was received.

Here's where it gets funny. Today I went to my Congressman's office to find out the status of the request was. The lady in the office called the Montgomery RO and.....It turns out the RO has no record of the Congressional inquiry faxed to the on 29 September even though their fax machine acknowledged receiving the request.

So, reference the VA's policy of shredding every document they can get their hands on to keep from having to work...it appears they also don't care about Congressional inquirys either. So every poor schmuck in Alabama that has to use the Montgomery RO is screwed before they even get a chance to make their case. I guess here in Alabama they get bonuses for shredding paperwork instead of working on it. Because if they don't care about Congressional inquirys, the sure as hell don't care about the poor joe who files a claim on his own. Sorry about the length of this but needed to blow a little steam off. Every time I thing the VA has reached a new low, they surprise me and go even lower. Take care.


Answer:
Our VA is a constant source of entertainment, no doubt about it. From the poorly worded and misspelled letters they send us to the flagrant violations of their own rules when they decide our claims, you never know what those scamps may do next. My biggest challenge is often trying to explain what I do to the uninitiated. How do you tell a civilian about the VA? Would you believe it if you hadn't ever tried it for yourself?

I can't let this one pass without comment though; This reinforces my admonition to never use a fax machine, never call the toll free number. Fax machines are notorious for grinding up your messages. Sure, it will usually send a cute little message that your transmission was received. What it isn't telling you is if your transmission was printed properly as a legible document. Always keep in mind that a fax machine in a VA regional office is a purchase that came about as a bid process. That machine was the cheapest one available. Maintenance of the machine isn't Job One on the priority list. If it's out of paper or toner or if it's eating yards of spool fed el cheapo paper, you may get a receipt that is meaningless.

The call centers are another travesty. I've gotten really cranky in my replies of recent when a veteran writes to me with, "Jim; I dialed the toll free number and they told me I'd won the Lotto. Then I waited 6 months for my check to arrive and when it didn't I called again and they had no record that I existed. Can you help me?" No, I guess I can't come to think of it.

I have word that the call centers are where the displaced employees left over from "Shreddergate" are being transfered to. Now that there are additional Shredding Police hired (GS-10 to GS-13 slots!) those folks who can't ruin your life by destroying evidence vital to your case are being placed where they can continue to assault you...at a call center.

Our fun never stops!
Question:
Jim,
I just read you article on the Marine who works for The DVA. There’s another gentlemen deserving of this kind of praise and his name is Bill Wroolie. Bill is the Past National Director of The Order of the Purple Heart, as well as being The Director of the DAV and has been helping veterans for over 40 years. I had the honor to serve with him in Vietnam, I was the crewchief and He was the other gunner on our helicopter gunship. He took a direct 51 cal hit and lost his right arm. You can Google Bill and see the many things he has done For all of us Vets. At a time when there is so much negative stories these positive ones help my grumpy disposition. Bill is currently Treasurer of The Order of the Purple Heart Thanks J D, Vietnam 67-68-69.


Answer:
Thanks for sharing that. There are a lot of good people who work hard for vets. I'll try to be a bit more careful to recognize them in the future. The bad stuff can overshadow the good stuff at times. There is so much that needs attention and fixing, it's hard sorting it all out.

Do you know a VSO or VA employee who really stands up for veterans? Do you want to tell their story? Tell me, we'll tell the rest of the world.