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Why Vets are turned down at the BVA?


broncovet

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I wondered why its been so hard for me to get attorney representation at the BVA level.  Here is why:

I just got an email from an attorney..who echoes the same position as my Attorney:

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Thanks for reaching out.  My practice is also mainly at the Court of Appeals level, and the main reason for that is because of the immense backlog and waiting period for BVA decisions.  Understandably frustrated clients and slow results isn't a viable business model for a small law practice.

In short, lawyers who represent Veterans cant wait 5 or more years to get paid.  Can you blame them?  Would you wait 5 years to get paid if you could get paid in 2 years instead??  

The CAVC is much faster than the BVA.  My CAVC claim (started in 2017) just got decided (a remand)

in about 2 years.    At the BVA its 5 years or more.  

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It's not a good situation.  I know there must be a few good attorneys out there who probably will handle a BVA appeal, but to anyone looking for representation, proceed with caution!  There are people who will sign on as your POA, get you to sign a Fee Agreement, then they'll do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except put it in a file cabinet.  They'll hope someday YOU win YOUR appeal, so THEY cash in on 20% of YOUR award, when they don't deserve much of anything.  In other words, they're just like ambulance chasers and other parasites.

I couldn't find a trustworthy VSO in my area to handle my claims back in 2007/2009.  I called the DAV, of which I'm a life member since 1974, and was supposedly assigned a DAV, I think from Dallas.  She never contacted me, so one day, after months, I had the audacity to contact her office and ask for a call back.  Well, she may not have had time to discuss my claim, but she found a few minutes to bitch at me for calling and told me how busy she was, blah-blah-blah, so, I decided no VSO would be preferable to a lousy one that wasn't interested in my claim.  I voided the POA, there was no way that person would represent me. 

In 2010, I was denied on all counts.

I had read some glowing reports about how NOVA attorneys were available to stand up for vets and deal with VA appeals, and thought that was the way to go, so I contacted a few, then went an hour down the road to meet with one.  

My first NOVA attorney, who I signed up with in 2011, was great, very confident and reassuring, a real fireball, and I thought she was the answer to my claims.  For some time, she was pushing for a DRO review, and talking strategy with me, and I was so impressed.  Then, one day she just got sick of dealing with the VA, so in 2014 she suddenly resigned from ALL veterans' appeals.  She sent me a letter complaining about having to deal with the pit of vipers and demons at the VA.  I think she truly was going to be a great counselor if needed, she was definitely the pro-active type, but she just kept losing cases and got burned out, I guess.  Too bad for her, because shortly after she quit I got a DRO grant that would have netted her about $9,000.  The VA actually sent her that money, but she sent it back, so they paid it to me.  

I didn't have trouble finding another NOVA attorney to take my case;  the first attorney highly recommended another female NOVA attorney to me, and I signed a contract.  Looking back now, I really think she did virtually nothing to earn the approximately 40 grand she'll soon be collecting from my 9+ years of retro. She never met with me, not even once.  Our communications were by email.  The extent of her dealings with the VA was about once a year, she'd send a letter asking the status of my appeal.  Oh, and once, she printed some Internet article about depression and mailed it in to the RO (but I had already gotten SC for depression before I ever hired her).

I kept convincing myself that when it got to a BVA hearing, she'd show her worth.  Then, one day I found out there was no hearing, she had not even requested one! So, last July and August, the BVA just looked at my stuff and granted virtually all of it, including DVT/PE, neck disability and upper extremity neuropathies, OSA, and most importantly, TDIU and SMC (s).  All of this was based on evidence I had amassed and submitted to them;  IMEs, nexus letters with supporting medical evidence, buddy letters, etc.  

I won't do a lot of complaining, I got myself into that mess, and I probably won't vehemently protest her payment, but I will say this:  I see a lot of criticism of VSOs, and it is probably mostly deserved.  But there needs to be some way to vet a NOVA attorney, because I'm here to tell you that membership in NOVA is apparently not much more than a license to steal.  And I won't publish the attorney's name, because I don't want to get sued.  Let's just say she wouldn't want to use me as a reference.

When VA gets around to figuring the attorney's cut, maybe I will contact the Office of General Counsel to file a protest.  I don't expect any results, but I think I do want the lawyer to know how I feel about letting her take me for such a huge chunk of cash.  And I also hope to find a way to let veterans know not to make the same mistake I did.  I've dealt with lawyers before, so what was I thinking?  My bad.

 

Edited by acesup (see edit history)
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I will first say that I have hired a lawyer three times in my life and been royally trounced two times.  I lost many thousands of dollars at my medical board due to my lawyer.  The third time is when I hired a lawyer at the BVA.  He was able to shake some things loose for me and get things going more than once.  I believe he earned his pay for nothing other than explaining the system to me.  Once my claim was completed and he got paid he told the RO not to send my remand decision back to the board for final approval.  I was perplexed by this and fired him and requested my case be sent back which was the right decision.

What I have learned by dealing with lawyers is that you are the best advocate for your case.  Interview any lawyer you are thinking on hiring and try to ascertain what makes them tick and then stay on top of them.  If I had to do it all over again I would have hired the lawyer I hired again.  I guess one out of three is not too bad when dealing with lawyers.

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I have not found a Lawyer that will take my case. Most of the time I don't even get a call back or if they do, they would state that they don't handle that kind of case. What they are really saying is that there is not enough money in it for them! I have gone thru 3 VSO before finding a DAV office that was any help. Gregg and Ed has been great with helping me putting my claims / appeals together. I have won every claim / appeal since working with them. I have never had an appeal go to the BVA and really don't want to go down that path, but if it came to that, I am sure they would be there for me. It has taken a lot of work on my part, but this DAV office has pointed me in the right direction. There are some great VSO's out there, finding one that can take the time to help is key. I found this office thru networking with other Veterans. Best of Luck!

Edited by Patton
changed wording. (see edit history)
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The firm I hired back in 2011 had a good NOVA reputation, of course that was through google reviews, so I sent them a email and their questionnaire.

Next day, I got a call back and the attorney ask some questions and decided to take my case. Well, 2 months later, he got canned and a new one took over my case. This time, he was very in depth and  we chatted for like an hr as I was sending him my files, denials, and etc through email.

I filed for Lower back and PTSD with a VSO, who mainly dealt with Vietnam and Cold War vets.  As I’m a OIF Vet but, he wasn’t really interested in what I had to say and presented to him. In the end, he submitted my claim and said, good luck. I figure he had more of a relation to those vets of that time period, than vets of my time period..no big deal.

I must admit my attorney literally busted his rear off for me because he was jumping through hoops and submitting this and that, because I always get a copy of what he was requesting or submitting to the RO, then to the BVA.

Got a partial grant through DRO ( lower back) %20. In 2016, then off to the BVA for the PTSD appeal.

He would call about once a month just to see what’s what with me and the appeal. In the end, I won my case or grant back in September for PTSD and the TDIU was remanded but, the RO rated me %100 scheduler on April 9th. So that kind of even itself out..rather be scheduler than on IU.

The firm is based in Florida and I’m in Texas, starts with a B and ends with B..not sure if we are allowed to name firms on this board as the other Veteran Forum, it’s like a monarchy, I used to go to is Forbidden..oh the horror.

Edited by Bwaveteran (see edit history)
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@Bwaveteran, you are allowed to mention attorneys here.  Glad to hear it worked out.

@Patton, I am glad you found a good VSO.  These can be very difficult to find.  Going to the BVA is not that bad.  I have been twice with multiple remands on one tour.  Once I went represented by the NCOA and the second time I went with a lawyer when the RO started violating CFR's.

 

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Thanks Vetquest! I may have to go down that road one day. Right now I have an appeal depending because the RO said that I missed an C&P Exam and denied my appeal. Then the VA reopened my appeal (I guess they found my C&P results). It sound like the PA did not get the information they were requesting, so they are starting over. 

Edited by Patton (see edit history)
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Vetquest said:

"What I have learned by dealing with lawyers is that you are the best advocate for your case."

That is true.

Attorneys cannot perform miracles.

Often the only way a vet can establish an inservice nexus is by doing that themselves, with buddy letters, a thoough reading of their SMRs, and in some cases an IMO/IME can help establish that nexus-but that depends on what is in the SMRs.Other claims depend on the veterans full knowledge of what is in their medical records.

I read BVA decisions every week. Many of those remands should not have been at the BVA in the first place.

A veteran should always try to follow what a remand calls for -I even asked the BVA to remand my AO DMII claim,due to a VCAA violation.

Patton (I loved your book- that is George Patton's book and saw the Movie at least a dozen times.)

I believe the VA, due to input I had into M21-1MR , per the Sec's office, called a CUE on themselves,because the C & P exam info turned up.

I was just reading a recent GAO report- I mentioned in a different thread, that said the C & P exams had a timeliness problem that VA neeeds to corrected. Obviously if a vet gets a C & P and the results are not sent to the VA, in a timely fashion, the claim will be denied as a no show.

https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-19-213T

In part:

 

"The Veterans Benefits Administration has increasingly turned to contractors to conduct the medical exams that veterans may need for disability claims. According to VBA, contractors help it avoid delays in the claims process. VBA awarded up to $6.8 billion in exam contracts in 2016.

This testimony examines VBA's oversight of these contractors. We found the agency does not know the extent to which contractors are meeting the exam contract's quality and timeliness standards. The agency identified some contractor performance problems, but the incomplete information gathered on performance highlights the inadequacy of VBA's oversight."

VIEW REPORT (PDF, 10 PAGE just click on the adobe acrobat and the full report will pop up.

 

 

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That bears repeating:

We found the agency does not know the extent to which contractors are meeting the exam contract's quality and timeliness standards. The agency identified some contractor performance problems, but the incomplete information gathered on performance highlights the inadequacy of VBA's oversight."

"Inadequacy" is putting it mildly.This is why valid claims are denied.

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Thanks Berta! I am not related to George (I wish I was, LOL).

The Benefits Delivery at Discharge (BDD) said that they see that I was treated for it (Plantar Fasciitis) in service and still being treated for it by the VA. All the Contractor had to do was check the condition (pain) of my feet. The Military / VA had already documented the condition and the VA had done new X-Rays 2 months before the C&P Exam. I first filed for Plantar Fasciitis back in June of 2015. I should get a good backpay check from this.

Inadequacy is normal operation and there is no accountability.   

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5 hours ago, Patton said:

Inadequacy is normal operation and there is no accountability.   

Unfortunately that is true.  We are getting some accountability at the BVA though.  My last BVA remand took note of the fact that proper weight was not given to buddy letters.  They also stated I was a reliable historian about my case.  I love seeing the RO's being told that they are not doing their job.

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I truly understand that they are overworked and things gets overlooked, but they do have a checks and balances. That is how they found the mistake with my appeal. I can wait for them to get it right, but there are so many out there who need the assistances now. 

I believe that the system needs to be more streamline, but it all starts with common senses. 

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