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Letter to Senator Wyden

Debbie Meets with Senator Wyden

Debbie Meets with Senator Wyden

August 1, 2012

Dear Senator Wyden:

As someone who assisted the Senate Committee on Aging with the investigation on “Pension Poachers”, I respectfully must say that I am incredibly disappointed at the outcome of this investigation.

I worked with Investigators for three solid months leading up to the hearing held on June 6, 2012.

I spent countless hours scouring thousands of VeteranAid.org emails and forum postings along with reaching out to my resources in order to provide critical information to investigators clearly showing the individuals and companies that should have been the focus of the investigation.

All the while in doing so, I was under the impression that the goal of this investigation was to identify those who had committed fraud associated with this pension, and to criminalize the activities of specific individuals and companies.  I thought someone was finally going to put an end to this “illegal” exploitation of our senior veterans and their families. I would not have cooperated to the extent that I did had I believed otherwise.

Due to my unique position with my work, I was able to provide Investigators incredible insights, information, and incriminating documentation regarding those individuals and companies who have deliberately duped our veterans and their families.  It seems that very little if anything was done with this information.

To quote from one investigator’s emails to me:

“Debbie,

It’s been wonderful working with you these past few months. You were invaluable to this hearing! Veterans across the country are lucky to have you as an advocate”.

I provided individuals to speak with along with former employees who had worked for some of the companies who were willing to share insider information to include an excel spreadsheet listing over 3,000 veterans and widows who had been promised and hoodwinked by XXXXXX Corporation.

None of these individuals were called to testify, and the fact that only one subpoena was issued is at best suspect.

While the Senate’s investigation looked at all the offenders and perpetrators who have exploited this pension, I have to ask why was VA Accredited Attorney, Douglas Ocker not sitting at the witness table to face Kris S., whose parents were duped by him through a XXXXXX property asking him to explain himself and his actions?

The bigger question is why was no one there representing XXXXXXX Corp, who has single-handedly done more harm than all others combined in fraudulently using this pension to fill their 300+ Independent/Retirement properties that do even not meet the qualification of providing assistance with daily living?

With documentation being provided showing that XXXXXX Corp submits fraudulent applications claiming that the veteran or widow is paying the market rate at the “Independent” facility, when in fact they are not, and that they imply that services are being provided which are not, begs the question as to why a subpoena was not issued for their appearance.  The biggest offender in all of this is not called before the Committee?  How much desire could there have been to truly get to the bottom of this issue?   (For insights as to how employees feel about working at this company, you can read here – http://blog.dlcharles.com/2012/03/01/beneath-the-veil-part-6.aspx)

These actions are no different from those who commit Medicaid fraud by claiming bogus expenses and services provided.  I am confident that there are legal ramifications for doing so, and I am unclear as to how this would not have been the primary focus of the investigation and concern of the Committee.

It appears that having Emily Schwarz present at the hearing held June 6, 2012, as the representative of Veteran’s Financial Services served the sole purpose of justifying the need for a look back being put into place rather than addressing the issue of those who have essentially committed fraud and left thousands of veterans in the same situation that Kris Schaffer now finds her father in.

While the actions of Veteran’s Financial are inarguably despicable, under current VA law, they have committed no actual “crime”.   I believe this was just the better story to use as an example to make a point, while Greg M., Glen O., and others who truly are the components that have toppled this VA benefit with their greed go without vetting and accountability.

If you truly wanted to make a statement of what happens to individuals who violate this pension, all you had to do was bring forth criminal charges and set someone out there as an example of what will happen to anyone who infringes on our veterans and fraudulently uses this pension. If your concerns were to protect our senior veterans from the likes of these companies and individuals, you would have arrived at another conclusion as a solution in dealing with this.  Not doing so left more questions than answers.

This Pension has been sitting idle on the VA books for 61 years, while millions have missed out simply due to a lack of being informed about it, and nobody seemed to have a problem with that as long as it remained unknown and underutilized.

Now that this pension has become more publicized, there is this “call to action”, but rather than holding those responsible for having exploited this pension, and committing fraud, or demanding an explanation from the VA as to why they have failed to inform our veterans about this resource, your answer to this is to impose a “look back”, while the true offenders get a pass on this and get to continue business as usual, and the VA gets another way to delay payment.  Where was the outcry for the previous 61 years?

Am I to understand that you are ok with the fact the VA is already taking 9-18 months to award this pension, which in itself is unacceptable given that this is a non- service-connected pension and not “compensation”?  There are three simple qualifiers that make this an either you do, or you don’t qualify, and there simply is no excuse to be offered here for the current delays.

With three pension centers in the country dedicated to the processing of applications for Aid and Attendance, there is no legitimate reason that a fully developed claim with all supporting documentation taking any longer than 60 days at most for processing and award for those who qualify.

If the IRS can keep up with the advancements in technology and use them to streamline the filing of income-tax returns, it is not unreasonable to hold the VA to the same standard.  It is very telling in the intention that the only Federal agency that can process volumes of paperwork seamlessly is the IRS.

VA employees fail open book tests, and are lacking educational opportunities giving them the proper tools to truly assist our veterans.    They are forced to work off production quotas that are attached to “bonus” driven incentives.  At state and local levels the education  and training of County Service Officers is even less. To add 36 months worth of banking statements to a system that is flawed and can’t handle the work flow as it exists now, is a disaster in the making.

Have you even considered the challenge families will face in trying to obtain 36 months worth of bank statements who may not already hold POA, or the frequency in which the VA claims to have not received a specific document, or the cost associated with requesting all these copies or providing them more than once?

How can one justify that a 94-year old widow who literally has nothing has been waiting 16 months for a decision from the VA, and is on Hospice care.  It is doubtful she will live to see the decision letter arrive.

What about this 94- year old veteran waiting 7 years featured in the Houston Chronicle on July 9, 2012?

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/94-year-old-World-War-II-veteran-from-Houston-3691979.php

Or more recently this 92-year old veteran potentially being evicted this past Thursday waiting on the VA.

http://www.wftv.com/news/news/local/92-year-old-wwii-vet-danger-being-evicted-nursing-/nP4nd/

Did the VA step up on this? No they did not.  I am the one who contacted the station, the reporter, and Senator Nelson’s office asking for them to intervene on his behalf.

I think out of all that was taken into consideration during this investigation, the Committee circumvented the VA’s daily failings of our veterans for another agenda.  You have not addressed the problem, but rather an unfortunate circumstance that came about due to the VA’s 61 years of silence.  Silence that created the market for these “poachers” to thrive in.

Are you aware that on average every day in this country 1,369 veterans 70 or older die?

Do you know that the largest growing segment of our population is centenarians?

Bill S.3270 will not have any impact on the “Pension Poachers”.  They will simply target the veteran population a little earlier than they do now to avoid the 3-year look back.  If anything, they will, and already are using it to their advantage to alarm individuals to act now prior to the bill going into affect.  Essentially, you have given them an additional means to close the sale, and I 100%, oppose this bill.

Companies like XXXXXXX will stand to benefit greatly from this purposed look back, and will more than likely see their highest profits to date in making loans to veterans and their families to pay for care at facilities.

I’m quite certain that others will find ways to offer services to benefit from an additional imposed delay and hurdle to jump through.

The VA will certainly benefit by hanging onto payments that won’t be going out to the veteran or widow.

The only person who does not stand to benefit from Bill S. 3270 is the very veteran and widow for who this pension is intended.  You are not protecting the intention of this pension, and you are not addressing the scavengers who will hover like vultures when the dust settles on this.

Having been a part of this process giving over 3 months of my personal time, attending this hearing in person, and being asked to write an official Statement for the Record , I honestly thought I was being given an incredible opportunity to assist our government at work for the right reasons, and to see justice prevail.  I have walked away from this totally disillusioned.  I fail to see where any good came from all of this regardless of what type of “spin” one might put on it.

It seems to me that all the contributing issues that brought this pension to light in the first place are still on the table, and the integrity of this pension remains compromised due to the fact that those who were and are responsible for exploiting it will not be held accountable.

I find it most alarming that out of all the pensions, compensations and benefits offered through the VA, that the Aid and Attendance level of the “Improved Pension” has been hand-picked to be the only benefit to have an imposed “look back” attached to it.  The very segment of our veteran population who are in their final days, and who do not have time on the clock to wait on the VA, this is who gets to bear this burden rather than taking to task those whose unethical conduct created this mess.

It is a disgrace beyond comprehension that our men and women at any age, let alone in advanced age, should be put through these rigors due to a failing agency that is allowed to operate with no accountability, and to pay the price for the actions of “scammers” who seized an opportunity to “monetize” senior veterans and their families.

Bill S. 3270 is not the answer.  It is simply reacting to a symptom of the problems associated with an agency that is deliberately designed to fail those it is intended to serve.  It is not the solution, it is an injustice.

I did not build and maintain a #1 nationally ranked site dedicated to this pension, or become the most respected resource on the topic of Aid and Attendance by keeping my mouth shut.  I have given it my all for the past 7 years doing the job the VA didn’t, because my parents did without in their greatest hour of need, and the outcome of this investigation for me is unacceptable.

I am the proud daughter of a WWII veteran, who knows that our veterans deserve their sacrifice to be honored and especially so when they are no longer strapping young men and women defending our freedom, but rather frail and in need for a grateful nation to step up.

I respectfully submit that until Congress as a “collective” body holds the VA accountable for its failings of our veterans, that no change should be put into effect until such time that the VA is a transparent agency keeping its promise to our veterans in a timely manner rather than holding them hostage.

The days of the VA operating as a “broken” agency have got to come to an end before implementing any additional requirements that are not to the greater good of our veterans, and measures need to be put into place to ensure that  those who violate a veteran are prosecuted the fullest extent of the law.

I appreciate your time and considerations of my concerns, and would be happy to be of any assistance should you choose to investigate this matter further.

Sincerely,

Debbie Burak – Founder

VeteranAid.org

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POW/MIA Day

Today there will be ceremonies held across the country in honor of our soldiers who are classified as POW or MIA.

Many are unaware of what is represented in the items that are used in this ritual of honor, and I think that every American should have a full understanding and appreciation for the history and symbols of this service, as well as the creation of the flag that represents our soldiers who are POW or MIA, and the Missing Man Formation.

This table is set for our prisoners of war and those missing in action from all wars. They are not with us today, and we need to remember the sacrifice…

The tablecloth is white to symbolizing the purity of the soldier’s intentions to respond to their country’s “Call to Arms” so that their children could remain free.

The single red rose in the vase, signifies the blood they many have shed in sacrifice to ensure the freedom of our beloved United States of America. This rose also reminds us of the family and friends of our missing comrades who keep the faith, while awaiting their return.

The yellow ribbon on the vase represents the yellow ribbons worn on the lapels of the thousands who demand with unyielding determination a proper accounting of our comrades who are not among us tonight.

A slice of lemon on is placed upon a bread plate to remind us of their bitter fate.

Salt is sprinkled on the plate to remind us of the countless fallen tears of families as they wait.

The lone white candle symbolizes the frailty of a prisoner alone, trying to stand up against his oppressors.

The candle is lit — Symbolizing the upward reach of their unconquerable spirit.

The black ribbon on the candle reminds us of those who will not be coming home.

A water glass is inverted on the table as they cannot toast with us tonight.

A lone chair is leaned against the table and remains empty as they are not here tonight.

A faded picture on the table is a reminder that they are missed, but remembered by their families.

This service is generally is performed as illustrated below:

Four members of the Honor Guard will bring out the wheel caps of the four military branches as they are recognized in the ceremony. Five caps and five members if the Coast Guard is included in the ceremony.  All movements in this ceremony are slow and remorseful.  The only sharp movement will be the facing movement at the end to leave the table after setting it.

Once at the table, the Honor Guard members will slowly bring the left hand up and over the wheel cap to have the fingers at “5 o’clock”. Once there, the cap is pivoted on the tips of the fingers of the right hand so the wheel cap is now facing toward the Honor Guard member. There will be a slow bend at the waist to place the cap on the table. Once there, the member will slowly straighten up and slow salute the cap still keeping their eyes caged on the cap.

If you ever have the opportunity to see one of these ceremonies, my hope is that you will have a better appreciation of each of the elements and what they represent.

 

The History of

The Vietnam War POW/MIA Flag

In 1971, Mrs. Mary Hoff, an MIA wife and member of the National League of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia, recognized the need for a symbol of our POW/MIAs. Prompted by an article in the Jacksonville, Florida TIMES-UNION, Mrs. Hoff contacted Norman Rivkees, Vice-President of Annin & Company which had made a banner for the newest member of the United Nations, the People’s Republic of China, as a part of their policy to provide flags to all UN member nations. Mrs. Hoff found Mr. Rivkees very sympathetic to the POW/MIA issue, and he, along with Annin’s advertising agency, designed a flag to represent our missing men. Following League approval, the flags were manufactured for distribution.

The flag is black, bearing in the center, in black and white, the emblem of the League. The emblem is a white disk bearing in black silhouette the bust of a man, watch tower with a guard holding a rifle, and a strand of barbed wire; above the disk are the white letters POW and MIA framing a white 5-pointed star; below the disk is a black and white wreath above the white motto YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.

Concerned groups and individuals have altered the original POW/MIA Flag many times; the colors have been switched from black with white – to red, white and blue, -to white with black; the POW/MIA has at times been revised to MIA/POW. Such changes, however, are insignificant. The importance lies in the continued visibility of the symbol, a constant reminder of the plight of America’s POW/MIA’S.

On March 9,1989, a POW/MIA Flag, which flew over the White House on the 1988 National POW/MIA Recognition Day, was installed in the United States Capitol Rotunda as a result of legislation passed overwhelmingly during the 100th session of Congress. The leadership of both Houses hosted the installation ceremony in a demonstration of bipartisan congressional support. This POW/MIA Flag, the only flag displayed in the United States Capitol Rotunda, stands as a powerful symbol of our national commitment to our POW/MIAs until the fullest possible accounting for Americans still missing in Southeast Asia has been achieved.

YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN SO LONG AS THERE IS ONE LEFT IN WHOM YOUR MEMORY REMAINS.

 

Missing Man Formation

Looking heavenward you cannot help but shed a tear… mournful… lonesome… a hole that screams out almost as loudly as the roar of the engines that pass overhead.

This is The Missing Man Formation… perhaps the most magnificent and solemn aerial maneuver ever seen.
Whether flown with the wingman spiraling off into the great beyond, or, flown consistently with that awful hole where a buddy should be… this dignified, almost painful to watch maneuver is a part of POW-MIA and combat history.

The genesis of this maneuver is one shrouded in years of faded memories, long fought battles and countless missions almost a century old.

It is rumored to have begun when British fighter pilots flew over the funeral of Manfred ‘The Red Baron’ von Richthofen as a sign of respect by his fellow aces, the formation does find its birth in World War I. At some point during the Great War, the RAF pilots created an aerial maneuver known as ‘The Fly Past’… whether this was before or after the alleged von Richthofen loss is unknown. But it is
British in origin and it was used infrequently and privately during the War.

The ‘Fly Past’ remained a private affair… returning aircrews signaled to the ground their losses upon their return. The first written account of the maneuver shown publicly is by the RAF in 1935 when flying over a review by George V. Prior.

During World War II, it morphed and evolved into a ceremonial tradition as part of RAF programs. The US first began the tradition in 1938 during the funeral for MG Westover with over 50 aircraft and one blank file. The 8th Air Force with her legion of Flying Fortresses, the Bloody Hundredth and other combat weary groups adopted the maneuver when returning home from a ‘milk run.’ Again, it signaled to those on the ground the losses incurred during the last mission… and held a place of honor for their fallen comrades.

The Missing Man formation, as used in the United States, was rarely if ever seen by the public. Only those privileged to attend military funerals and ceremonies were familiar with it. But during the Second Indochina War, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, the public at large got its first glimpse of this sobering moment.

The first time a military aerobatics unit ever performed the Missing Man Formation was during the war in 1969 when the USAF Thunderbirds flew the maneuver for the first time to honor the men and women who were then POWs in Vietnam. Other aerial demonstration squadrons, both military and civilian, have adopted the formation and perform it during ceremonial events such as National POW-MIA Recognition Day, Memorial Day, during funerals and at the internment of repatriated remains of Prisoners and Missing. Aside from the fixed wing maneuver, a rotary wing version is flown by National Guard and Reservists with exceptional beauty and solemnity.

Perhaps it is fitting that the true history of this exquisite yet sad tradition should be unknown… its history with those whom it honors and is named for… Missing.

*Information above provided by War-Veterans.org

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4 Years

Today, November 20th marks the 4th anniversary for VeteranAid.org.  I am proud to know that in 4 years since beginning this journey that my efforts have changed the lives of thousands, and in return has changed mine far more than I could ever imagined.

Because of the venue that I do this work from, I often fail to realize the impact I have, but a recent event gave me a glimpse into the difference I actually get to make.

I had been contacted by a reporter in the Houston area several months back who wanted to do a story on the backlog of VA claims with the focus being on disability compensation and not on Aid and Attendance.  I was happy to help in whatever way I could by providing some statistics and thought nothing much more about it. She had mentioned that she was referred to me by someone who had contacted her asking her to do the story, and they had told her I had been helpful.

At the end of October, I heard from the reporter again who informed me that she had been given the go-ahead to run the story without an inclusion of a statement from the VA who refused to respond to several request asking for such, and wanted to verify a few more facts with me. The focus of the story revolved around a 91-year old veteran who had been waiting for his compensation award.  What I didn’t know at the time was that the son of this 91-year old veteran was someone I had helped a few years back.

Shortly after the story ran in the paper, I was contacted by another reporter who wanted to contact the gentleman featured in the article.  And then I had that “ah-ha” moment where the name of the 91-year old veteran clicked and I remembered his son. I had an old email from him and was able to contact him and make a connection for the second reporter. A special show ran on the CBS local affiliate regarding veteran’s struggles with dealing with the VA.

After 4 years of dealing with so many faceless people, I got to see Denis Maxson and his 91-year old dad, who due to the article that ran on him in the paper, had “suddenly” gotten his award from the VA.  These were people I made a difference for.  This wasn’t just an email I responded to, a forum posting, or a call I had returned.  This was a veteran who finally got the honor he was entitled to, and I got to be a part of that process.  What I do finally had a face attached to it.

The second reporter who had contacted me was receptive to my suggesting a story be done on Aid and Attendance. He told me if I could find someone who would have the story encompassing the struggle with filing for A&A he would do it.

I put feelers out everywhere, and spent days going back through four years of contacts looking for someone I thought would make the perfect story.

I also contacted the first reporter to ask if in her research she had encountered anyone facing this struggle.  She informed me that there was only one person, and was kind enough to give me an email address to contact her, which I did.

Don’t ever question whether it was the Universe along with my mother that has its hand in this mission for as it turns out, this woman was a regular visitor to the site, had printed off all the forms and followed the step-by-step directions and had read every posting on the forums.  She had been waiting over 2 years for the VA to release her dad’s funds who resides in a nursing home.  For the past two years she has been paying out between $1500 – $2000 a month making up the difference for her dad’s care while waiting on the VA. I knew I had the person for the story.

I had spoken with Cindy earlier in the day getting the background on her situation.  Later that same evening, she called me sitting in her car in the parking lot of her dad’s nursing home sobbing.  My first instinct was that her dad had passed, but when she was finally able to speak, she told me she had stopped to pick up her mail on her way to see her dad and when she saw that yet another letter form the VA was in the stack, she just knew it was going to be another form letter telling her “Sorry for the delay, but we are still processing the application.” What it actually was is the Award Letter informing her and her dad he had been approved for the pension.

After more than two years neither she nor I could believe that the day we spoke for the first time would be the day the long awaited and desperately needed award notification would arrive.  I don’t know who was crying more me or her, but she kept saying “I owe this all to you.  If it hadn’t been for you, I would have given up. If I hadn’t found your site, I wouldn’t have known.”

Cindy kept me on the phone as she exited the car, entered the building and walked down the hall to her dad’s room with that letter in her hand.  Still crying, she stood in the doorway to his room and I told her to give her dad a kiss from this daughter before letting her go to share the news with him.

I know I have helped a lot of people in the past 4 years who I will never meet, but being on the phone with Cindy that night with that letter in her hand has to be one of the most defining moments for me for anything I have accomplished through VeteranAid.org There were a lot of tears that night, along with the understanding of how this had come full circle from a decision I had made 4 years ago to change the ending for someone else. To me there is no question as to the blessing that has been put on my work, and today I stand proud and humbled.

I can’t acknowledge these four years without offering up my gratitude to those who have entered my life through this mission who in their own way showed up just in time to lend their support, expertise, encouragement, and belief in what I do. Ironically all of us have been brought together by more that just a mere coincidence.  It is obvious that a much Higher Power knew the team it would take and the part each one would play. I don’t stand alone this day.

In a category on their own – The Department of Veterans Affairs – Thank you for pissing off the wrong daughter and being the catalyst for this mission

Jay – Without your support none of this would have been possible
Connie
– For your beloved Bill

Denver – My silent hero and the champion of veterans

Mike and Tara – For believing and taking a chance

Chris – For your tenacious spirit and standing up to county officials

Melissa – For sharing a common bond and being a voice

Patty – For your brilliance and determination

Anne Marie – For your immeasurable generosity and goodness

I’m indebted to you all, and I thank you for making this possible and for believing in this effort.

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Veterans Day

We will always remember

We will always remember

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. There will be parades held across the country to honor those who have and do make the sacrifice of service. There will be visits to monuments, and for many there will be quiet reflections and tears for the price that has been paid for our freedom. There is a common bond that binds these soldiers and their families who share this journey, and it is one that is deserving of more than just one day of recognition, but on this day, we say with a grateful heart, Thank you.

The following story cannot be verified, and the author to the best of our knowledge is unknown, but something about this story makes you want to believe deep down that it’s true. Either way, it’s a touching story and a reminder to all of us as to the costs and burdens borne by those who rise up to the “call of duty”. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it and fully appreciate what it means to pay the price.

Cemetery Escort Duty

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey’s for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go before the cemetery gates are closed for the day. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever — the heat and humidity at the same level — both too high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, ‘69 or ‘70 model Cadillac Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking lot at a snail’s pace.

An old woman got out so slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell. I couldn’t help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: “She’s going to spend an hour, and for this old soldier my hip hurts like hell and I’m ready to get out of here right now!”

But for this day my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the “In” gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour at Smokey’s

I broke Post Attention. My hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch at the cemetery.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman’s squint. “Ma’am, may I assist you in any way?”

She took long enough to answer. “Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers? I seem to be moving a tad slow these days.”

“My pleasure Ma’am.” Well, it wasn’t too much of a lie.

She looked again. “Marine, where were you stationed?”

Vietnam, Ma’am. Ground-pounder. ‘69 to ‘71.”

She looked at me closer. “Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

I lied a little bigger “No hurry, Ma’am.”

She smiled, and winked at me. “Son, I’m 85-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let’s get this done. Might be the last time I can do this. My name’s Joanne Wieserman, and I’ve a few Marines I’d like to see one more time.”

“Yes, Ma’am. At your service.”

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn’t quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek.

She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman USMC , 1944.

She paused for a second, “Two more, son, and we’ll be done.”

I almost didn’t say anything, but, “Yes, Ma’am. Take your time.”

She looked confused. “Where’s the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way.” I pointed with my chin. “That way, Ma’am.” “Oh!” she chuckled quietly. “Son, me and old age ain’t too friendly.”

She headed down the walk I’d pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She placed a bunch on Larry Wieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970.

She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn’t make out. “OK, son, I’m finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home.”

“Yes, Ma’am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?”

She paused. “Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephen was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines.” She stopped, whether she had finished, or couldn’t finish, I don’t know. She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully.

I waited for a polite distance to come between us and then double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. “Get to the ‘Out’-gate quick. I have something I’ve got to do.”

Kevin started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her. She hadn’t made it around the rotunda yet.

“Kevin, stand at attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead.” I humped it across the drive to the other post.

When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny’s voice: “TehenHut! Present Haaaarms!”

I have to hand it to Kevin, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud. She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Instead of “The End”….just think of “Taps”.

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How to Fix the Department of Veterans Affairs: The VA versus The IRS

As the backlogged number of unprocessed VA claims is knocking on the door of 1 Million, one has to wonder is anybody really at home.  Is anyone really trying to find “the” solution of how to fix and bring this broken agency up to the standards our veterans and their families deserve?

I had high hopes for the new VA administration, but to date, have not been impressed.  Every day there is yet another story about a Regional Office that has been caught shredding and changing dates on applications, or boxes of unopened applications are being discovered.  There are not enough fingers to cover the holes in this dam.

If the IRS was having this issue with collecting taxes from “We the People”, I can promise you that this would have been resolved and systems put into place to make certain it would never happen again.  Of this you can be certain, the IRS would not stand by and have 1 million tax returns waiting to be processed.

So here is my take on all this and a couple of questions that I believe bear asking.

I think the VA needs to take a crash course in how the IRS does things.  These folks don’t lose tax returns, they keep up with every dime you make.  You can file on-line, they know if you haven’t filed, and if you are owed a refund, you can expect it in 30-45 days.  If you owe money and don’t pay, you are assessed a penalty and will pay dearly for that.  It’s a big incentive for making sure you allot the right amount of deductions. Most of us hope to never know what an audit notification looks like.

If your taxes are complicated or more than you want to deal with, you can make an appointment with the fine folks at H&R Block or your personal accountant and pay someone to prepare them for you.

Now here is where I take issue:  How is it that you can legally seek the expertise of someone who understands complicated tax laws, forms, and all the legitimate deductions and credits you are entitled to just to make certain that the IRS gets a full accounting of your finances and their piece of your pie, but veterans and their families legally are restricted from any assistance attached with a fee and are left to figure it out on their own?

Two government agencies, two different approaches, two different agendas.

It is legal to make sure you pay your taxes, but illegal to make certain your claim for benefits is correct and complete in order to “receive” your entitlements. Interesting that there should be such a stark contrast between the two and who actually benefits from this arrangement.

Decades ago the VA instituted a law that an attorney could not charge a veteran more than $10.00 for representing him.  This was done to “protect” the veteran from being taken advantage of by those who would be so inclined to do so.

So one might have to ask, who is truthfully exploiting and taking advantage of our veterans and their families? Considering some recent actions on the part of the VA, the answer to this question may not be what you’d expect.

The application for Improved Pension was originally a 4-page, simple straight forward application.  Due to the benefit being highlighted and the rise in the number of applications being submitted, the VA decided it was time to increase it to a 26-page application, and write it so that you probably won’t figure it out increasing the odds they won’t have to pay or at the very least delay having to pay.

While the benefit sat idle and unused, 4 pages seemed to make perfect sense.  Now that Baby Boomers are our largest demographic and the VA is being flooded with applications for Aid and Attendance, whose best interest is it in that the process should suddenly become so much more complicated?  The veteran is not who first comes to mind as to who stands to gain the most from this change. It seems a little suspect as to the true motivation for having done so.  Is the VA once again “protecting” the veteran?

If you don’t get it right the first time, you should not feel too badly about it as the national rate of applications being returned to the originating VA regional and local offices as being incomplete or missing documentation is 46%.

I wonder if these same employees who failed VA “Open Book” tests could find permanent employment with the IRS.  I suspect that performance standards are probably just a “little” higher. Millions of taxpayer’s monies going uncollected – not going to happen, but it is ok for a million veterans to be waiting on the VA to get it right. There is something incredibly wrong with this scenario.

The VA continues to operate off an antiquated “Fiduciary” process refusing to acknowledge POA or DPOA. The IRS acknowledges POA. Your mom or dad might have some investments that pay dividends, so there may be some monies to be collected, so for the sake of efficiency they will gladly work with you to assure a proper return has been filed.

The VA’s refusal to respond to the demands of accepting POA and doing away with the fiduciary process is once again done in the name of “protecting” the veteran.  According to the VA they have to make certain that the family member or other interested party who holds POA can’t take advantage of the veteran or widow and have access to the pension money to spend at their discretion such as purchasing Depends or Ensure.

I’m sure that somewhere there is someone who absconded with funds they were not entitled to and did in fact take advantage of a veteran, but I’m willing to wager a guess that most who are providing care for a loved one have spent the check out of their own pocket long before it is received.

It is the lesser of two evils.  On one hand you have the family member who is taking advantage of the veteran or widow by writing a check every month to the ALF or caregiver hoping they will have enough to pay it as credit cards are maxed out and all funds have been depleted while waiting to be approved as a fiduciary.

On the other hand you have the VA who wants to take months to arrange for a fiduciary to be appointed without much care as to how you will pay for everything pending their approval.  In the meantime if you have to move your loved one to a lesser quality facility due to costs, or arrange to bring them in-home and provide the care yourself, keep in mind the VA is only doing their job and “protecting” the veteran or widow.

So if the veteran is doing without basic essentials and is living in conditions that are not healthy or services being provided are not adequate even though they are entitled to the pension which would allow for better care and services, who is really taking advantage of the veteran?

All of this “protecting” has created an “opportunity for many individuals and companies to “Carpe Diem”  – Seize the Moment and many of these folks, but not all, have found a way to use filing for this pension as a revenue generator, and doing so under the guise of reaching out to veterans and their families at no cost for their assistance to make application, but it sure helps if mom and dad need someone to manage their investments and move them around so they will qualify for the pension from a financial standpoint.

Seminars are being held daily nationwide at $500.00 a session to learn how you too can use this pension to recruit new business and increase your sales. Don’t overlook the kids who are taking care of mom and dad, they will be so grateful for your assistance they will want you to manage their assets as well.  While you are at it, sell some annuities.

What most don’t realize is that by moving things around to a trust or annuity can often mean that when mom or dad need that money to continue paying for their care, they won’t have access to it.  It will sit in that trust until they die and the beneficiaries get it.

For those who are fortunate enough to have assets that need protecting, these services are valid, but for those who go into this situation strictly based on wanting to file for this pension, you need to educate yourself on whether this is truly in your best interest in the long run.

Again this frenzy of businesses using this pension to get in the hen house is largely due to the fact that the VA has created a need for these services due to the lack of information, the lack of trained employees well versed in Improved Pension, taking a simple application and turning it into more than it needs to be.  If it was as originally designed – a simple 4- page application based on meeting the need for assistance and financial guidelines, there would not be a need nor an opportunity for those who use this as a calling card.

As a result, the VA has responded by now sending out an additional form to those who submit an application that they have to sign stating that neither they nor the veteran have paid anyone for any type of assistance in completing the application.  The application will not be processed until this form has been returned.

So in the name of “protecting” the veteran, which in my opinion translates to denying the veteran, there is yet another hurdle to jump through.

Rather an unfair dynamic that the VA has its attorneys and council, but a veteran is not entitled to any representation upon making an initial application for any benefit or compensation.  They are only entitled to representation if they are appealing a decision on their claim while the IRS wants to make sure you get it right the first time.

Of the two, which do you think is more efficient?

There are more of us that file income tax returns than there are veterans/widows filing for benefits, so how is it that the IRS can receive and process a higher volume of paper so seamlessly while the VA claims they never received the application even though you have a signed “Registered Return Receipt” proving that they did?

If you posed the question of why the IRS created the EZ form while the VA took an easy form and turned it into 26 pages, it really is self explanatory.  One wants your money and the other hedges their bets they can keep their money.

This mindset is nothing new.  For insight as to how long this treatment and mentality has been permitted and promoted, one need look no further than what was done to the “Bonus Army” when our veterans marched into Washington in 1932 demanding what had been promised.  Not much has changed in 77 years.  Do yourself a favor and Google “Bonus Army”. You’ll be enlightened for having done so.

I know there are a lot of good hardworking people at the VA and local offices who have the right intent, but they are only acting under the directives they have been given. What I want to know is who signs the memo authorizing these practices.

When bonuses hinge on giving a veteran the lowest possible disability rating rather than the rating they deserve, I’m hard pressed to believe that this qualifies as acting in the veteran’s best interest.  Make no mistake here, there is a vested interest, but somewhere along the way the interest got shifted to self serving.

Like solving any other mystery – follow the money.

Until such time that the VA can get its house in order, I think the individuals who do nothing but help file for Improved Pension and have no hidden agenda or want to sell you anything, should have the right to provide the same assistance as your accountant does. Most of these well intended folks have to stay behind closed doors for fear of retribution by the VA for actually helping a veteran make a correct application.

The VA will argue that the veteran is entitled to assistance with filing for free, but when the SO of the office you walk into knows nothing about the pension, or says you don’t qualify, when actually you do, “free” comes at a pretty hefty price.

Yes these folks (the good ones) who work secretly behind the scenes helping veterans and their families should be able to charge a modest fee for their expertise and assistance, but the VA will never sanction anything of the likes, they have too much to lose.

There would be too many applications to approve with no reason to deny them.  There are budgets to be justified, bonuses to be earned, and credits for getting a Service Organization assigned as Claimant’s Representative rather than the family member so that you can’t call and inquire about the status of the claim.  The SO isn’t paying the monthly bill so they won’t have much motivation to follow up and press for a ruling or approval. And lastly they are busy making sure that no one other than them can “take advantage” of a veteran or widow.

The IRS has a few free months before it is tax season again. Maybe they can step in and show the VA how to get the job done.Better yet, instead of employees getting bonuses for the highest number of denied applications or lowest disability ratings given, how about an imposed penalty with incurring interest for any application that takes longer than 90 days to process!

Now there’s an idea that has merit.

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