Secretary Shinseki Talks Education and Change at VA

Veterans are mission-oriented. It’s only natural after a stint in the military, where, whether it’s a patrol in a combat zone or a training exercise stateside, the next operation is planned to the smallest detail.  But once a tour of duty is over, it’s up to the Vet , on their own, to continue to plan and execute the next mission  in the civilian world.  This is the part where some Vets fall through the cracks; when the next thing to accomplish isn’t so clear.

In his visit to the Rhode Island Community College last week, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki set a new mission for Vets attending school:  graduation.  Through their service, Vets have earned education benefits, but it’s up to them to finish and get a degree, he explained.

On the way back to Washington, I talked to the Secretary and asked him to elaborate on some of the things he’d discussed with students earlier in the day.  Sitting in a busy terminal at the Providence airport, he explained past implementation difficulties with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, what is being done to automate the process, and what it means to reintegrate back into society after a tour in the military.

Rough Start on Post-9/11 GI Bill

The original GI Bill of 1944 transformed the country and further established the middle class. Likewise, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can certainly duplicate an era where disciplined Veterans can help dig the country out of its economic rut and out-educate and out-innovate the entire world, as President Obama recently discussed in his State of the Union address. In order for them to succeed, VA surely has a role to ensure Veterans can keep their minds on homework and tests instead of their next housing payment. To that end, I asked the Secretary about the implementation problems of fall 2009 and what is being done today to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Secretary Shinseki could’ve placed blame on Congress for setting a quick implementation date, but he instead spoke with regret about the lack of foresight within the organization.

“I don’t think we understood the complexity of the new legislation,” he said, referring to the new rules that guided housing stipends and tuition rates. After all, the old GI Bill was a one-size-fits-all rule and relatively easy to administer. With little time to develop a robust automation system, VA had to move ahead with a manual process. As a result, untold thousands of students weren’t paid on time (including me), and VA faced backlash in the media and many Veteran organizations.

It’s Our Process

Key education folks told the Secretary the complexity of the process was the problem.

“Whose process is it?” he asked.

“Well, it’s ours,” they replied.

“Then we can uncomplicate it,” the Secretary replied.

Luckily, the idea of simplifying the process took hold. Like any system, it’s still not perfect, but it has improved greatly since the fall of 2009. Back then, two thousand claims could be processed in one day. Now, ten thousand claims are going out the door daily. Students who recall difficult delays in that first payment will remember an average processing time of 59 days. In the fall of 2010, it was down to 29. Zero would be the goal, but these numbers do show how automation helped to speed up the process and improve accuracy and service.

The Bureaucracy Dilemma

Secretary Shinseki has a lot on his plate to finish before his tenure is up. Reduce Veteran homelessness, further improve the GI Bill process, continued transparency, and keeping VA health care standards high are all on the agenda. He’s a big-picture guy—and he let me know it. While each issue contains unique challenges, they can all be solved in part by doing one thing: transforming the agency. And that means a shift in culture where employees are concerned. To have a “sense of responsibility and greatness for what we do,” the Secretary explained. “We need people who come to work that have a set of behaviors that are different from what they were a few years ago,” he added. The Secretary expressed a desire for future leaders that are chosen on their ability to implement positive change—to assist in transforming the department.

“The hardest thing to do in an organization is change,” he said. “If Veterans are going to fare better, it’s because the organization has transformed.”

Three Tenets for Student Success

The Secretary envisions three key components for student Vets to complete their mission of graduation. The first centers on Student Veterans of America, which has a unique ability to organize Veterans into groups with a strong focus on graduation. The second is Vet Success, a VA pilot program at eight college campuses designed to help student Vets deal with the red tape of government programs to get the assistance they need, as well as provide tools (like job placement and résumé building) to help after graduation. The last, and one that would take the most work, is a sustained effort by Veteran Service Organizations to help civilians recognize and acknowledge Veterans in the community to demystify what it means to be a Vet. “We’ve got to knock down this myth that Veterans are walking around with serious problems, the Secretary said. “As long as it persists I can’t get them jobs.”

Coming Home

You can’t discuss the education of Veterans without mentioning reintegration. In the mission to return to normal life, a degree often becomes the first operation for many Vets. As a twice wounded Vietnam Veteran, Secretary Shinseki has an idea of what it means to come home from war a changed person. As our talk concluded, I asked if he had any parting wisdom for Veterans who face life-long challenges:

“I look back, and it’s 40 years now. I think you go through stages, and initially you remember only the worst. But over time you get to see there are some positives. Transition is about moving from negative to positive. But it goes on. It’s a long journey.”

• For more information on education benefits, be sure to visit VA’s GI Bill website.

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45 Comments to “Secretary Shinseki Talks Education and Change at VA”

  1. Charles Cauthen says:

    Alex, I regret to hear Sec. Shinseki say Veterans are walking around with problems is a myth. He’s really out of touch. I run into Afg. returnees all the time, I talk to a lot of them. There’s trama there. I know, I am a Viet Nam combat vet. I did OTJ trainig from the VA when I got out and back from the war. I used that training and made a 40 year career out of it.I put my experiances behind me and made a good living. These guys don’t have the opportunity’s I had. The disfunctioal beauracacy VA is a system designed by people like him, who are so out of touch and self- serving. As much as I hate to say this, the Republicans are right, the whole thing should be shut down, fire them all and start a fiscal responsable program that’s fair and solves the problems when a soldier leaves service.I personally am sorry to see that Sec. Shinseki doesn’t see any problems, business as usual. I don’t think his attempt to pull the wool over the citizen’s eyes will work. They say one thing and then do another, they don’t follow their own laws, when caught they say we made a mistake.That’s a good excuse I can’t get them a job. Then why did you hire them to fight a war and to kill in the first place? Then kick’em under the VA BUS. Alex I’m sorry, I guess I’m a myth with no problems, dying from AO exposure telling everybody I meet the VA’s done nothing for me and probably wishes I was dead. So much for his myth.I’m proud be have been a soldier, I’m ashamed of the VA.

    Charles Cauthen
    173rd Airborne, VN 69-70

    • Alex Horton says:

      Charles, he was talking about the civilian myth that everyone comes back from war deranged and seriously disturbed. I even said in the piece that everyone comes back different. The Secretary agrees, and even said it was a difficult and long path. The difference is how the public perceives Veterans, which can directly impact both the care they receive and jobs they can get once back in the civilian world.

      The Secretary left Vietnam twice – both times on a stretcher. He has a pretty good idea of the difficulties coming home from war.

    • Shelton Howard says:

      Dear Mr. Secretary,

      My name is Shelton Howard I proudly served under your command while I was in the US Army during my time spent in Bosnia 1997. You personally coined my platoon and myself on top of Mt. Jhep. When I heard about the so called lack of forward thinking within the VA as a whole. I come to understand that you have the ability to make recommendations that would drastically effect all Veterans. Case in point the current issue dealing with “Debt Recoupment” by the VA as it pertains to Student Loans and Other Debts. I believe this would have a tremendous negative impact upon the well-being of veterans in this trying economic times. By having our benefits reduced do to Debt Recoupment through our compensation is going to drastically reduce the quality of life of our veterans and their families and/ or beneficiaries. Our Compensation is a direct result of our honorable service and the injuries we encored in the service of our beloved country. It was not to earn a “Check” but rather knowing we did it for the good of our country and our bothers and sisters who have lead the way. Please see to it that you take this matter as all matters with the best interest for all veterans in mind.

      V/R,

      Shelton Howard
      US Army Veteran 1995-2001
      US Navy Veteran 2001-2011

  2. Brenda Hayes says:

    Alex,

    Thank the General for continuing to be transparent about what is and what is not happening correctly at the VA. It’s the only way you can expect the Veteran Community to believe in the change that VA continues to speak about; and, as they say, “…the proof is in the pudding!”.

    I am sure you know, as he, that culture change takes LONGER than 4 years. One can only hope that there will be a lot of boomers retiring to let those younger moldable employees have a better chance at improving the VA system for the good of all Veterans. If Chase Bank? says they plan to hire 1,000 Veterans in 10 years; what is the government’s (each Agency) quota to fill for Veterans?

    Also, I see that the General was speaking at a Community College. If we are dealing with budget cuts, etc., why doesn’t the VA recognize that there’s a lot of money that can be “saved” by requiring that the initial step in a Vet’s education would be at local Community Colleges.

    A lot of these Colleges have online courses as well which again might be a Win/Win for both the Veteran and the VA/the Government. In addition, they all should have the equivalency credit given for their various MOS, schools, training, etc which is a great savings and time in itself.

    I also would like to know why, if we are dealing with cuts to all the budgets, wouldn’t the Government only pay for tuition at State Colleges/Universities after the 2 year Community College level courses (graduation)instead of having the Veteran opt to enroll in a 4 year Private University that carries a big price tag with it.

    If the Veteran is adamant about finishing up at a private University; then the difference would be made up solely by the Veteran.

    I still believe you can get just as good, if not better, education at a lot of the State Colleges and Universities as well as the local Community College systems. I had an old Professor tell me that once and he had taught at this very well-known and well respected (and very EXPENSIVE) private college for years. He also had taught at a local Community College as well; so this is not just my humble opinion.

    If you want a Gucci; pay for it; but, I think the VA/Government got carried away with paying for private Universities instead of making financial sense with a system that is already in place and does well by its students.

    This might not be the “innovation” the General is looking for; but, as a taxpayer, it makes really good sense to me.

    What is the average yearly payments for tuition, books, and housing allowance per student; as well as the time and the graduation rates– those at the local Community Colleges, 4 year State Colleges/Universities, and the private Colleges/Universities? Who’s the Under Secretary for this and what does his number crunching say?

    To me, it makes sense to re-evaluate what we’ve been paying for and especially what makes more sense in today’s economy. I don’t think the private Universities will miss the VA moneys that much.

    Another idea would be to do Outreach to these private Universities/Colleges and see if they are willing to make up the difference in tuition with their own school grants, Veteran scholarships, etc.– what the VA would allow a State University/College.

    I think we have to start thinking differently about a lot of things; ostriches have to come up for air sometimes!

    Also, there is a lot of people that could do apprenticeships in various trades, etc. And, if “hiring a Vet” whether for a full time job or a stipend (while OJT) would carry a tax break, etc. that might work as well for those who desire something different for whatever reasons. Everyone is not cut out or interested in a college education; and often, they do quite well in career satisfaction as well as monetary rewards. Before the economy crash, a lot of technical people were making more than the 4 yr degree people.

    BH
    Vetwife Advocate

    • Daniel Krawetz says:

      yeah make us go to community college first no way. we paid into this program we should be able to go to any school in the nation, the secretary is a turd he was a turd soldier who gave the rangers black beret to the regular army so he could wear it as well instead of having to earn it he just took it. this guy is a bone head. what needs to happen is they need to give soldier more slack at the schools on payments that are waiting to be processed and they need to allow students to withdraw and fail without penalty veterans come home with alot of problems and sometimes things comeup and they might not be able to finish a class and then it ends up costing the veteran all the money the VA has given them to complete the class and thats not right.

      • Brenda Hayes says:

        Daniel,

        Be part of the solution; not part of the problems.

        Calling people “names” does not get your point across. I think you owe the General an apology. It’s been a long time since the Veterans have had a VA Director who has spoken out for Veterans.

        Let’s see what this “new” innovation department in VA comes up with. In fact, if you have more good suggestions; place them in that blog.

        You can do it. Just dig a little deeper! I know you are frustrated; so are a lot of Veterans and family members.

        I see where your suggestions do maks sense and that better communication and some leeway by the schools is what you are saying. I also like your suggestion if there is a glitch that the school offer some leeway! Makes sense to me!!

        I wonder who the Under Secretary is who is in charge of the GI Bill? Maybe he should write a piece saying what is being done to correct these problems and asking for suggestions as well?

        Keep those Good ideas coming.

        BH
        Vetwife Advocate

        • Joe Average says:

          Brenda…
          The Secretary is part of the problem not part of the solution. We should be able to count on the Secretary keeping promises. First, he promised to
          “break the backlog this year” (2010). When the backlog got worse instead, he moved the promise to 2012. And now, its gonna be more like year 2015…AFTER the election and, (hopefully) a new secretary of the VA who knows how to under promise and over deliver.
          Secretary Shinseki’s “homeless reduction program” is a joke, because it can not possibly work with a million men (and growing) waiting on the VA to pay their benefits.
          How do I know? Because I am one of many Veterans who lost their home waiting on the VA to “process” my benefit claim.

          • 80'sVictim says:

            It is much better now than in the 80′s. Improvements started in the 90′s. in the 2001 – 2008 years VA’s went to skeleton crews, very little hiring has occured due to Congress fighting over taxing the rich.
            Vote republican and watch your benefits decline so a Millionaire can buy a new car or another house, maybe the one you lost.

    • Joseph says:

      Spending money on education nets higher taxes that reimburse the nation for its expenses. I am finishing my time at a community college. I will be transferring to Drexel shortly where the yellow ribbon will allow me to finish school. The truth is that I should have enrolled in a better college to start with. My high GPA has me in position to compete for acceptance into Columbia U. The problem is that my credits come from a community college. Don’t get me wrong, Drexel is a great college, but an ivy league school changes lives. Remember, the more money I make, the bigger percentage I pay into taxes. It is a good thing, and Ivy League grads get ridiculous pay checks.

      • Brenda Hayes says:

        Joseph,

        I can see your point and I also know that’s not a given.

        My son in law graduated with a very high GPA with three degrees from an out of state land grant College in Virginia.

        He has an EXCELLENT paying job as an analyst with a very large and well respected insurance company.

        Everyone can’t get in to those Ivy Halls even if they have a high GPA.

        I wish you the best in your education journey and your career. I know you will do well no matter where you attend College.

        Best,

        BH
        Vetwife Advocate

  3. The problem with trumpeting an “average processing time” of 29 days (nationally) is that the average processing time doesn’t mean veterans are actually their stuff within 29 days. It means that say, the veterans of Wyoming might be getting processed in 14 days, and the veterans of NY are taking 65, which still means some veterans are being screwed for months. For example, I still haven’t been paid. If I didn’t have “prepare for the VA to screw me” money, I’d be really in trouble.

    Brenda Hayes: We already had a program that paid for veterans to go to crummy community colleges. It was called the MGIB. Crummy community colleges both don’t really cut it, and also aren’t what our veterans need and deserve.

    Think of it as an investment in the country, to have citizens with proven service history getting into the industries of the nation.

    • Alex Horton says:

      Selena,

      It’s still too long, so I hope the fully automated process will be implemented soon. The trouble is, they can’t just hold a bunch of claims and work toward finishing. They have to work on one and design another. Just takes time unfortunately.

      Where you live doesn’t have much to do with it. When your certifying official submits has a lot to do with how quick you get paid.

  4. Jason R. says:

    I agree the new system has some major kinks to work out, but also the school in which the Veteran is attending can play a major role in the financial aspect.

    I attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa on the Post 9/11 for the spring semester of 2010. They required all students to make tuition payments by a certain date which was just a few weeks after the beginning of the semester. This I paid via saved funds of my own money. I did not receive a single dollar from the VA until two days before the semesters end, and I had already finished my finals for that semester, over a four and a half month wait for money. I called two times per week starting 6 weeks after I had submitted my information to the VA, and my school had submitted their information needed as well, and kept getting the run around on where my money was. Little did the VA reps I spoke with know that I was going in over $12,000 in debt because of their lack of knowing what was going on with my processing request for over four and a half months. Only when I could not handle it (stress) anymore with another representative and the usual responses, I unfortunately had to raise my voice to stress my concern about a massive amount of debt accrued due to a poor processing time of my paperwork. Then very nice lady on the other end took a more humanistic approach and spent the next 30 minutes on the phone with me and got my paper work processed within that 30 minutes time and I received my money within the next 3-4 hours. Due to that horrendous processing time, I unfortunately moved back stateside to finish my degree because of the lack of response early on with my paperwork and the massive financial burden incurred by it.

    When I started to attend the University of Kansas the following fall (2010), the veteran department on campus has a system setup to where payments are not due to the university for Veterans until the last day of the semester, thus preventing any debt to accumulate for Veterans not getting paid their VA money in a timely fashion. Just that alone allowed me to be stress free and have peace of mind all the way until the end of the semester if such circumstances had occurred again. I ended up getting my money from the VA much quicker that last semester, but my point is that some schools are make an extra effort to accommodate Veterans in other ways if such long wait times still exist to prevent them from paying on time. Perhaps more schools should adopt payment delay policies towards tuition for Veterans to give them some piece of mind in situations in which they cannot directly control, yet still affects their lives in a major way.

    College in itself is a very stressful endeavor and having the added burden of a slow system to add a financial stress to the mix will affect the mental well-being and affect how the person performs in their courses. It simply is not needed and I wish that more colleges and universities would follow suit of the Veterans department at the University of Kansas and accommodate their Veterans in such ways while the VA system can work on improving their 29 day average even lower.

    -Jason

    • Alex Horton says:

      Jason,

      I’ve never heard of the procedure done like you describe, at least with the Post-9/11 GI Bill. You actually paid tuition, didn’t just get a bill? That’s very odd. I wonder if there was some mixup with you being a Veteran, which allows a shelter to be placed on tuition in case VA is late paying. If you didn’t get processed right, it might explain that initial delay.

      I’m sorry you had problems. You should be worried about homework and tests, not debt. Glad you’re straight now though.

      • Jason R. says:

        Alex,

        I ended up having to pay the tuition out of pocket due to Hawaii-Manoa pretty much demanding that I pay before I got automatically withdrawn from my courses. If things went smoothly I would not have had to mess with it and the VA would have auto deposited it in my account with the university. Perhaps it was just an error with my processing, I may never know but when dealing with the Hawaii-Manoa and their VA reps on campus, they really had no clue what was going on and did not help me much at all when I presented them with my issue and gave no viable solution other than “Well, call the VA?” followed by puzzled looks.

        Things are good now though like you said and all is well, so no need to worry about it any longer. I just have to worry about this paper due next week :) Take care.

        -Jason

        • Tammy Duckworth says:

          Hi Jason
          I’m a UH alumni myself. I will be sure to mention this to the appropriate UH officials. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I am sure that if the UH decision makers knew how such policies are negatively affecting their Veteran students, they would make changes. UH is a very pro-Veteran school. In my job at VA, I am finding that many of the difficulties are from a very steep learning curve for both VA and universities. It’s not acceptable that you had to go through what you did. Way to hang in there and keep going to school.

    • Joseph says:

      I am a VA educatio work study, and I can tell you that the proper procedure, given that your paperwork is done on time, is for the school to hold your tuition until the money comes in. This is only if you are on Post 9/11 though.

      • Jason R. says:

        As my above story mentioned, I was on the post 9/11 GI-Bill, and had the paperwork in well before the semester started, and they did not put it on hold.

        From what others have been saying, its apparent to me now that the University of Hawaii Manoa was at fault and just needs to improve on their internal systems and properly train their VA student reps or hire a full-time Veteran representative that is a non-student that knows how to correctly collaborate between the VA office and the financial department of that University so that others do not have to be put through a scenario similar to mine :).

        -Jason

  5. Lynn T says:

    How about doing something about Voc Rehab? I applied online and it stated that you could request a change of location for counseling. I kept waiting for a reply, not a word from Voc Rehab in my state. So, I went to the Regional Office that I have my claim with and that has all my information. They were going to check with the Regional Office in my state. Then the next I get e-mail with a letter stating that I need to go to the RO in my state for counseling, which is over 100 miles one-way. Lucky I did checked because I would have missed the appointment because they sent me the letter. I called and asked for the change of RO, they told me no that I had to go to that office. Well, between the weather and the counselor not being there, no meeting took place. I called again after I found that out that this office has meetings closer to my home, why wasn’t I told this earlier. I was promised by this person they would call back with an appointment, have not heard a word. I called the main office and told them what was going on and that I am requesting a different counselor, they stated they would give the message to the supervisor, have not heard a word. It seems that some of these counselors don’t want to be bothered or do their job, which is to help me with getting this benefit so I can either find employment or help me with living a better life. Well, if I don’t hear from anyone today, I am going to call my Senator. I need to know how I can file a complaint against this counselor. These people should try and live on what I get monthly and see how they would feel when they get ignored. Not a Happy Disabled Veteran…

    • Brenda Hayes says:

      Alex,

      Again, you need to ask the question to the General, “Who does the Veteran complain to when the System (person) is not responsive?”

      I’m waiting for a email reply from a someone who says he is the Recovery Coordinator at West Palm Beach VAMC. I asked him some questions and I have had no response. I’ve asked several people from that VAMC and they don’t know they have a Recovery Coordinator or what that position is supposed to do?

      Again, there are PROBLEMS in the field.

      If you’ve studied Managment/OD; one complaint equates to quite a few!!

      I refuse to be part of the problem and not complain. ALL Veterans and family members needs to complain and document those complaints.

      Again, PROBLEM: What do you do when the system is not working?

      SOLUTION: VA needs to set up an OMSBUDMAN for this reason at the Central Office level.

      So when is the General’s next “open” meeting?

      Who will get invitations? Jim Strickland at VAWATCHDOG.org?

      Col. Dan at angelfire.com?

      Open to all Veterans and Family members. Easy to set up; other Government agencies have done so, such as SAMSHA or STARDUST RADIO program which speaks about Veterans.

      Also, I got a captcha code error the other day and it did not take me back to the former page. IT people need to fix it.

      Thanks,

      BH
      Vetwife Advocate

      P.S. I have two awaiting moderations. One in this blog and one under, “one chance to get it right.”.

      Appreciatively,

      BH

  6. Daniel Krawetz says:

    The secretary took the rangers black beret away and gave it to the whole regular Army because he never earned oned and wanted to wear it. thats is what kind of man he is.

    • Student Vet says:

      For the record, GEN Shinseki is a Ranger, and he lost part of his foot in Vietnam. Are we really at the point that we are judging someone with a tremendous amount of drive and authority to get things done by the color of a hat? Let’s offer some real suggestions instead of throwing stones for no reason.

  7. Jim, SF Retired says:

    I’ve been in fights with V.A. over my health since 2006. I should have started earlier, but the system didn’t have ears when I retired in 1995.

    I had to fight for 40%. The Social Security System/Medicare found me 100% using the same paperwork in 90 days.

    I’m fighting for a higher rating. Right now, I get nothing (VA gives me $600 and Military Pay takes away $600 from my $1100 retirement…. it’s an OLD law from the CIVIL WAR).

    All I see is TALK. As a retired 5th Special Forces (Green Beret) soldier, I am ashamed at the “changes”. I can’t see them from my perspective.

  8. Joseph says:

    I am a disabled, student veteran. I am finishing my second year of college with a 3.6 GPA. I have made the most of my education using the post 9/11 GI bill so far. The program has given me opportunites I never could have dreamed of. Still, I have grievances. One, it was not made clear to me that break pay was automatic, and that it ticks time off of my GI Bill. The secretary said he wants vets not to have to worry about their next housing payment, but we end up doing so anyway, because if we take the break pay, we are screwed out of our bachelor degree, and if we don’t take the break pay, we have to hold a job during the entire time we go to college. So, we go to school more slowly or get bad grades. That’s it. There are no other options. The legislature needs to give us vets back the time that was taken off for break, and continue to give us break pay. Then we have a fair shot at getting the grades required to obtain scholorships and admittance to schools with masters and doctorates programs. We are vets. We are driven. Give us the tools and we will win the economic war this country is in.

    -Joe

    • James says:

      Break Pay: Congress has over-corrected and removed break pay for ALL post 9/11 recipients. You were not informed. Sorry, now you know.
      Lost time: You are a disabled vet. You have an avenue that some lack. Use all of your 9/11 and move to Chapter 30 (Vocational Rehab) Tip: Apply on VONAPP at least 6mo prior to your 9/11 runs out.
      Reimbursement: It’d take them 2 years to figure out what they owe you, and another 1 year to give you credit, or mail a check. LOL
      Good Luck!

  9. Charles Cauthen says:

    Alex, I’m requesting that you do not post my reply. This is a forum on education. You do not need to defend the SEC. to me. I was commenting on the word “myth”. The oh by the way comment was inapropriate but true. Not something I want publisized. Please do not post my comment.

    Charles Cauthen

    • Alex Horton says:

      So you want your original comment deleted? I can do that when I get to the office tomorrow morning.

      • Charles Cauthen says:

        Not the original comment, my response to your comment, I guess it didn’t go thru, trouble with capha code, my last line was true about me, but irrelevent and unappropriate. If you didn’t get it, good, HLS probably did. I meant no disrespect to the SEC. I too fought in VN, I know what he knows.Do you, or have you ever considered that the VA may do more damage than good? It is a nightmare and monster to all vets, even the ones who get a few bread crums.

        • Alex Horton says:

          Have I considered that personally? No. I used the GI Bill to go to school before I worked here. I’m now a federal employee eligible for excellent health benefits, but I rejected them in favor of VA care. In fact, I might need surgery on a hiatal hernia soon, so that will be done at a VA medical center. After all, I can’t tell people they should go to VA for care and turn around and go somewhere else. It’s not perfect, but then again perfection doesn’t exist.

  10. Brenda Hayes says:

    Alex,

    This just came across from Col. Dan’s site. He does a great job in connecting Veterans with information.

    My questions is, “What does the General say about this? What happened and how will it be corrected?”

    Also, a http://www.vawatchdogToday.org there is quite a lot of information of how someething needs to be done with the way the fiduciary system is not working.

    Who’s the Under Secretary in charge of this?

    SHAMEFUL!!!

    BH
    Vetwife Advocate

    VA Hires Convicted Felon to Manage Veterans’ Money

    Posted: Feb 21, 2011 6:21 PM CST Ch 5, Nashville TN

    By Jennifer Kraus, Consumer Investigator jkraus@newschannel5.com

    http://www.newschannel5.com/story/14071970/va-hires-convicted-felon-to-manage-veterans-money

    They have served and sacrificed for our country.

    But now a NewsChannel 5 investigation is raising questions about a federal program that’s supposed to help t housands of veterans and their families.

    The program is run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or VA and handles more than $700 million dollars in taxpayer money.

    But NewsChannel5 Investigates found the VA hired a rather unlikely person to oversee some of that money.

    Dennis Keyser’s father served two te rms in Vietnam and then died from a service-related injury when Dennis was 7 years old. Now, Keyser gets monthly benefits from the VA as a dependent.

    Keyser has cerebral palsy and because of his disabilities, the VA hired a fiduciary for Keyser, someone to collect his benefits and manage his money.

    “He was supposed to pay my bills that I had coming to me and when I needed money, he was supposed to send me some,” Keyser explained.

    Keyser didn’t know much about his VA fiduciary, a man by the name of James Hammonds, until a friend went online and Googled Hammonds’ name.

    Bob Albertson, Keyer’s friend, recalled, “It just blew my mind. I’m looking through it and I’m like, ‘No, this can’t be the same man.’”

    It turns out, Hammonds, a former investigator with the IRS, was a convicted felon.

    After learning this, Keyser wondered, “Why would they (the VA) assign a convicted felon to handle my money?”

    Court records show Hammonds pled guilty less than two years earlier to 8 counts of tax fraud, admitting that he’d falsified tax records to help adult entertainment mogul Jerry Pendergrass hide millions of dollars from the federal government.

    NewsChannel5 Investigates asked Keyser, “Has the VA ever provi ded an explanation to you?”

    “No,” Keyser replied.

    And, what shocked Keyser even more was discovering that Hammonds had three months earlier been sent to federal prison and then died soon after. Yet, the VA apparently had no idea his fiduciary had been locked up and now was dead.

    Keyser’s friend, Bob Albertson, told NewsChannel5 Investigates, “Obviously, they’re not doing their jobs.”

    The regional office for the VA is in the Federal building downtown. But, they wouldn’t let NewsChannel5 Investigates in to ask how something like this could happen. The VA’s regional director would only take questions by phone.

    Mike Dusenbery, the regional Director, stated in a phone call, “If your story is you want to say, ‘Mr. Hammonds was indicted and the VA sent funds to that company,’ that’s the st ory. Yes, we did. I can’t deny that.”

    So how does a convicted felon end up working for the VA? As our investigation revealed, the VA does little to screen its fiduciaries like Hammonds and little to keep tabs on the money they handle.

    Congressman Jim Cooper told NewsChannel5 Investigates, “When you brought this to our attention, I was completely amazed and outraged that stuff like this could go on in Tennessee ’cause I thought Tennesseans lived to a higher standard than this.”

    Cooper said the VA needs to do a better job. But, the VA’s heard that before.

    A year ago, the federal government blasted the fiduciary program for failing to protect veterans’ benefits while the VA’s own audit found the VA failed to effectively manage the program.

    And in Nashville, auditors called for tougher controls after finding cases that failed to have proper documentation and even fiduci aries who’d been overpaid.

    NewsChanel5 Investigates asked Keyser, “No one can tell you where your money is?”

    “No one,” Keyser answered.

    Keyser now can’t even get simple bank statements to see how his money was managed because the VA never required Hammonds to tur n in any sort of monthly accounting. The VA though now insists Hammonds did not mishandle any money.

    According to Congressman Cooper, “The only conclusion you can draw is that the VA was not on top of this situation and probably others they were not on top of.”

    And Cooper now wonders how many other Dennis Keyser’s are there out there who the VA has failed to protect.

    Keyser said, “I know I’m disabled. But that doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I’m not stupid. I realize that people are taking advantage of me and I want to know why.”

    Again, the VA insists Hammonds did nothing wrong with Keyser’s money, but they have given Keyser no records to back that up.

    The VA has opened an investigation to find out what happened to thousands of dollars that another fiduciary failed to give Keyser.

    As far as Hammonds’ conviction, the director insists Hammonds’ guilty pleas don’t matter because the VA hired Hammonds’ company, not Hammonds personally to manage the accounts of Keyser and at least six veterans. Yet, we found it was Hammonds himself who was handling the money and signing the checks each month. Congressman Cooper said he plans to get to the bottom of this.

    Meanwhile, Dennis Keyser now has a new fiduciary. The VA has asked a bank to manage his benefits.

    E-mail: jkraus@newschannel5.com

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  11. Brenda Hayes says:

    Alex,

    I know that doesn’t some of my posts don’t belong in the education blog; but there is no where to post questions and concerns outside of a specific blog?

    Appreciatively,

    BH
    Vetwife Advocate

  12. Injured says:

    The Sec states that he wants to cut the Vet homeless rate. I don’t think he understands what it means to be homeless and the red with that. I am also a combat veteran of OIF/OEF and I am wounded badly. I was told that I am not a veteran. I have been billed for services since I got out of the Army. In my treatment for seizures before a dignoses of Elipsey was amde, the VA cut care, which made me not eligable for anything by the VA. Such as HUD-VASH. They don’t seem to know what they are doing and think the laws they write look good on paper, but Veterans like me fall threw the cracks and I can’t get help. Only now, after 7 months of no seizures treatment was I able to get on SoonerCare and get the EEG Telementry I need to fix these problems. The VA is transparent as it does not see what they do that hurts and damages other veterans. So, I agree that the Sec is closing his eyes and teh fact that he had only 1 female in the misdt of all those other males shows that the VA is concerned with helping males since they do make most of the money and can pay more taxes. That is all.

  13. Charles Cauthen says:

    Alex, Does the VA still have on the job training? I know someone looking to train an apprentice and OJT would great for him.

    Thanks

  14. One who knows! says:

    My heart goes out to those who have lost a limb, been badly burned, or sustained a seroius brain injury. It should go without saying that these individuals have also been afflicted with varying degrees of PTSD and should what they so justly deserve.
    But for many of those seeking service connection for PTSD for instance, is really nothing but a young, able bodied individual seeking a paycheck from good old Uncle Sam, so that they doesn’t have to work and can spend more time using those taxpayers dollars to stay high on drugs or drunk on alcohol.
    They were doppers and losers when they went in the service, and they were doppers and losers when they came out.
    The VA has become nothing but a huge welfare bureaucracy, giving out checks , paying for appartments, sending every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s wife, daughter and son to collage for free!
    Many of those who are Homeless, are in their situation through no ones fault than their own. They have burned their bridges with their families, their friends, and their fellow veterans to the point that no one will nolonger help them except Uncle Sam, or rather we the taxpayer.
    The Department of Veterans Affairs should shut-down with most of the rest of the Federal Government!

  15. One who knows! says:

    My heart goes out to those who have lost a limb, been badly burned, or sustained a seroius brain injury. It should go without saying that these individuals have also been afflicted with varying degrees of PTSD and should recieve what they so justly deserve.
    But, for many of those seeking service connection for PTSD for instance, they are really nothing but young, able bodied individuals seeking a paycheck from good old Uncle Sam, so that they don’t have to work, and can spend more time using those taxpayers dollars to stay high on drugs or drunk on alcohol.
    They were doppers and losers when they went in the service, and they were doppers and losers when they came out!
    The VA has become nothing but a huge welfare bureaucracy, giving out checks , paying for appartments, sending every Tom, Dick, and Harry’s wife, daughter and son to collage for free!
    Many of those who are Homeless, are in this situation through no ones fault but their own. They have burned their bridges with their families, their friends, and their fellow veterans to the point that no one will nolonger help them except that liberal chump Uncle Sam, or rather we the taxpayer.
    The Department of Veterans Affairs should shut-down with most of the rest of the Federal Government!

  16. jim says:

    Alex: super writing, topic education and the academic puruse for our veterans era, and greater is the civic-engagements to end the “myths” and stigmas. Since a “hat” or clothes do not make the man..the completion of earned college will engage the community one vet resume at a time. I cannot tell you how important it is to also build volunteer community time while mixing work, school, family in this equation. 1 hr or 11 hours a month, it all matters. I have seen first hand student vets-volunteering at our homeless veterans shelter get jobs faster from meeting the volunteer councils at large. You’ll never know who is volunteering right next to you in an area. And corporate HR’s indeed see the philanthropic spirit in resumes, ask questions greater than military service in many cases I got feedback on, Alumni associations, and students for veterans are indeed solutions center groups that think “mission continues”..and a vet is Valued, Educated and Talented. As a vetI got a few dents in my body, a few transition tears in my jeans,wouldn’t ever dismiss the transition ofthen to now for anyone..its my journey, but the buddy system worked then and works today when one reaches out in asking. vr jim-Pittsburgh, Pa.

  17. Pellew says:

    The problem is from the top down as in all systems and programs

    From the Top noone understands the problems that are continuing to make veterans suffer.

    1- Poor service

    2- Long wait times for appointments (Category Veterans are not recieving appointments within the advertized times)

    3- Long processing times for VA claims (I am working on 8 years now and still the process and information they have is not correct)

    4- Systems which are not linked provide incorrect information (If you changes your address in 1 VA it should be linked up to all the systems the VA is using)

    5- Employees who are far removed from the Veterans issues or problems

    5- If you recieve medication from the VA and you have to see your doctor annually why allow the Veterans medication run out before an appointment is made?

    • John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

      I wish I could disagree here but I cannot. Since before I started with the VA I have heard the same old criticisms from the “top” and outside of the VA. Soundbites like “maintaing high standards”, “putting veterans first”, “world claa health care”, have been floating around the system as far as I can remember.

      Has the system gotten better over the years? Well I guess it depends on who one chooses to listen to. Administrative and financial people have benefited for sure. More “data” is generated to justify the VA’s existence (as if looking after the people who have defended, fought, and died for the American people is insufficient justification).

      Organizational marketeers have more so-called “proof” to tout “excellence” based on what might be considered irrelevant evidence. The more the system “improves” itself the better it is able to “cover its own a–”.

      The system says that it “puts the veteran first” I do not know about anyone else but I have never been able to figure out who “the veteran” truly is. Maybe “the veteran” is a myth, a sterile abstract, an emblem that “the system” can repeatedly use to brow beat human flesh-and-blood veterans whom I can identify.

      Has “the system” gotten better over the years for people who need to use it. I guess the best answer is “maybe”. A reduction in funds means that there is a reduction in the depth and breadth of services rendered. This is an undeniable certainty. Services and medical care have to be rationed and those whom the VA feels can benefit it get the best care; those for whom the VA sees no self-serving interest are given a lot of rhetoric but little or no HIGH quality care.

  18. sean disabled infantry vet says:

    You know I was born in our countrys bicentennial year 1976- I just turned 35, so even though I suck (or is it such?) at math in general, it is easy for me to remember that our country is 235 years old this year, one LESS than its Army. I love the Army, Was proud to serve, sacrafice,and would not take it back even with the 19 brothers I have lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. What I did not realize, was the sacrafice my family would be making, and continues to make with me. It just seems all these pay problems, housing problems,and now veterans care and pay issues and s@&^ could have been a little better prepared and accounted for… I mean, they have had 235 + 1 years to take care of “he who has borne the battle, etc” It is hard to feel any different that many,but not all of ‘they’ would be happier if we died in combat, as we we would be less of a burden, even though common sense tells me otherwise. Maybye at least in war you can often blow up or shoot what you are mad at, here there is no chance … Just an observation… good thing we weren’t so slow at knocking out machine gun nests…

    • John Chris Carracher, PsyD says:

      I am one of the “they” who is grateful that some of our sons and daughters are able to return home …

      If caring for “those who borne the battle … and their families …” is a burden then I guess I am too dense to see it. No matter how inconsequential my work may be is the general scope of things I feel privileged and honored to spend time with such an extraordinary group of men and women.

      … Caveat Emptor everybody

  19. ante hester says:

    i am a veterans who claim have been at the appeals mangement center for 2 yrs this is a hold pen it does have phone contact number there address is fun one say eye st one sat ist bva sends remaned claims here. call bva they will tell you they have no jurdition over them. so who over see this place and call 1800 number they will tell you they have to e mail or iris them.

    how is this place helping. i am lose my house bva advance case due to this send my claims to amc been 2yr 4 comp exam and still nothing.

    just send it back to vamc again cant talk no one about this. so this place is to help speed up thing

  20. I am a 62 year old USAF veteran and I would like some help with getting my MBA. I have only 7 more classess (21 hours) to complete this program. My problem is that I have no money and I am on a fixed income, USAF, VA Waiver and Soc Sec. I cannot get anyone to assist me with completing my MBA. I have tried to get help from some of the web site but they are are full of @#$%^ and they try and run a scram. I would like to get my MBA for personal reason and to have something to do during my retirement. I have travelled for 20 years and there isn’t too many places that I want to go or visit. If I can find some one to assist with helping complete my MBA, we could work out a plan to re-pay the funds. I only need about $6500.00. I would like to say that, the veterans are not treated fairly–we have big problems in the United States that we do not address, but when something happens overseas, we are the first one to want to help. Take care of your own first. Please, help me find a way to get the funds that I need to help me complete my degree. I used my educational benesfits to complete my BS degree. Let me hear from someone soon.

    • John W. Price says:

      I can not get and Appointment at the VA Office in the Philippine and seem like no one care about how I fill. Not only that it get to the point that I do not know what to do next and all I get is the same old line they are doing the best they can. I think this is just a lie to make me shut up and do not com plane. It not that easy. If I am in so much Paine I have to com plane and keep going till I get someone to hear me.

  21. Jeff nice says:

    Reading about groundbreaking of Jacksonville replacement clinic with Eric Shinseki and others on Aug 12. Think Gainesville is a great place personally and stayed overnight in the holiday in in June 2006 for a night before crossing into Nashville on my way back to Denver.

    I just noticed and was going to ask if there was a hurry through it, it is not important problem for Eric at this groundbreaking and why that was happening if it was? Would want to know, personally. Jeff Nice