TESTIMONY BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
ALLEN J. LYNCH
MEDAL OF HONOR
CHIEF VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERCA SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE
CHIEF, VETERANS RIGHTS BUREAU
OFFICE OF THE ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL
I am Allen J. Lynch, Chief, Service Representative for the Vietnam Veterans of America
Illinois State Council I am also the Chief, Veteran Rights Bureau, Office of Illinois Attorney
General, Lisa Madigan. I have been working in the area of veteran affairs since 1970 when I
started with the VA as a Veterans Benefits Counselor. I left that position in 1979 to become the
Chief, Ambulatory Care at the North Chicago VA Medical Center. In 1980 I became the
Executive Director of the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program. Then in1985 I became the
Chief of the Veteran Rights Bureau under then Attorney General Neil Hartigan I have been the
Chief of Veteran Rights bureau since that time.
In 1991 I attended the VVA Service Representative School in Washington D.C. and
became a VVA Service Representative a few years latter I became the Chief, Service
Representative for the VVA Illinois State Council. I also assist veterans with appeals as a part of
my position within the Attorney General's office I am allowed to do this because claims before
the VA are not adversarial. Since becoming a VVA Service Representative I have handled
numerous of claims before the VA and the Board of Veteran Appeals. Most of the claims I assist
with are already in the appeal process.
Over the last several months the Chicago VA Regional Office has come under fire for its
ranking last in the amount paid out to illinois veterans in the form of compensation benefits.
According to the recently released IG report this ranking is no longer the case and in fact the
Chicago office has moved from 44thin 1999 to 23Tdin2004. This is substantial move in ranking
and one in which the Regional Office should be proud of achieving. The Regional Office has
also moved up in the accuracy of the claims it processes again a great achievement and one that
the staff of the Regional Office should be proud of achieving. It is therefore a disservice to those
who have worked so hard to achieve these goals to be lumped in with those few still within the
Chicago Office who work at a substandard level.
Make no mistake there are still problems that need to be addressed within the Chicago
VA Regional Office. As a Veterans Service Representative for VVA and in my position with the
Illinois Attorney General's Office I am well aware of the faCtthat there are still those Rating
Specialists with in the Regional Office who consistently persist in disobeying the law and its
intent as written by you in the Congress and further codified by the VA in the Code of Federal
Regulations. The best indication of how the VA is to govern its laws and regulations is found at
38 CFR Sec. 3.102 Reasonable doubt which states in pertinent part.
It is the defined and consistently applied policy of the
Department of Veterans Affairs to administer the law under a
broad interpretation, consistent, however, with. the facts shown in
every case. When, after careful consideration of all procurable and
assembled data, a reasonable doubt arises regarding service
origin, the degree of disability, or any other point, such doubt will
be resolved in favor of he claimant. (Emphasis added)
Yet there are still a few Rating Specialjsts who take it upon themselves to disavow the
law as you wrote it and as the VA codified it in the CFR and who choose instead to apply the law
under their own narrow set of criteria that flies in the face of your and the VA intent.
It is true that most of the' employees of the Chicago Regional office are capable,
competent and work hard to administer the intent ofthe law as codified in both the 38 U.S.c. and
the 38 C.F.R. However, that does not diminish the negative effect of those few Rating
Specialists who do not obey the intent of the law. The impact of just one substandard Rating
Specialist can impact thousands of veterans over the course of his/her employment with the VA.
If he/she spends twenty-five years in the VA system rating claims and only rates one thousand
claims a year over twenty-five years he/she would affect twenty-five thousand cases. If the
Regional Office has three such raters seventy-five thousand cases would be rated. These are
under estimates and do not reflect actual case work but are given as an example of the effect of
those few who choose not to obey the law as you wrote it.
One may think that the Director of the Regional Office is at fault for all the problems that
have found their way into the press recently. But upon review of the facts as given in the VA's
IG report the Regional Office started to turn the comer in improving its processing of claims
under Director Olsen. In point of fact problems within this Regional Office go back well over 20
years and several directors and several administrations both Republican and Democrat.
I believe one of the major causes of the problems in processing claims at this office
started several years ago when the Chicago office suffered a drastic reduction if force. As a
result of this reduction in force those who were tasked with doing the ancillary work of claims
processing i.e. inputting awards, developmental letters and other such tasks were reduced in
number. Under this reduction in force skilled adjudicators and rating specialists were allowed to
retire without being replaced. This created an increased burden on an already over burdened
system. Recently, I was informed that the reason the Chicago office is consistently understaffed
is because of a sixteen percent cost of living pay differential given in Chicago and other large
cities. It seems, as I have been told, that it is just cheaper for the VA to broker but cases to other
Regional Offices than to fully staff cities like Chicago. This "going on the cheap" by this and
other administrations has directly affected the ability of the Chicago office to properly develop
and adjudicate claims.
This reduction in force should in no way, however take away the affect of the negative
attitude of those few rating specialists who persist in taking an arbitrary and capricious view of
veteran's claims. Those of us who serve as veteran's advocates lmow and can name those rating
specialists who consistently either "low ball" ratings or deny claims because of their own narrow
view of the law and regulation. It is very disturbing that the Regional Office has persistently
allowed these few Rating Specialists to continue in their positions even promoting some into
positions of greater responsibility.
The effects of those Rating Specialists who persist in their negative and substandard work
greatly affect those whose cases they rate. We must never forget that these cases are after all
real veterans who are coming to the VA becau,sethey believe they are suffering disabilities that
occurred while they were in the military. I believe it is important to relate the effects of poor
rating decisions upon those veterans affected. When a veteran's claim is denied inappropriately
it directly affects his/her ability to live. One veteran in particular had to wait almost four years to
finally win an appeal for one hundred percent. During that time he lived in a terrible
neighborhood. There were gunshots almost every night and he had to sneak down ally ways to
go to a local twenty four store to get food. His PTSD would not allow him to go out during the
day so he hid in his.basement apartment and would shop for food a two or three o'clock in the
morning. Upon getting his one hundred percent he was able to move into a better neighborhood
and though his PTSD persisted his quality oflife improved.
There are many other such stories where the VA has caused veterans undue hardship
because of these few substandard Rating Specialists. One man had his fingers crushed in an
accident while in the military. Year after year he complained to the VA about his fingers only to
have them completely disregard medical evidence that supported his claim. He even sent them
colored pictures of his gnarled fingers all to no avail. Most recently he filed a claim for a
reevaluation and a clear and unmistakable error. Only to have his claim again rated by one of the
few substandard Rating Specialists who simply "top page" adjudicate and again denied the
claim. We now have to go back into the appeal process and spend anywhere ITomone to three
years in the appeal process on a claim that should have been awarded twenty years ago.
Rating Specialists must be held individually accountable for inaccurate decisions. A
simple system of reviewing for accuracy of the original decision cases that are either remanded
or overturned by the Board of Veteran Appeals would be one way to accomplish this review. As
much as it is inappropriate to deny veterans compensation and pension benefits because of
personal biases it would be just as inappropriate to award veterans who do not qualify for
disability. Clearly there must be some system put in place in which both awards and denials are
reviewed by an independent third party.
There must also be put in place a system where by the rankings of the various VA
Regional Offices are monitored. Those who have consistently low per capita awards should be
reviewed for the appropriateness of their decisions. Conversely those with consistently high per
capita awards should also be reviewed for the appropriateness to those decisions.
There also need to be put in place a system that establishes continuity for awards/denials.
Where decisions in a court are based upon precedent, decisions within the VA many times are
not based upon anything except the individual Rating Specialist's interpretation of law and
regulation this is especially true in rating disabilities wherejudgment is needed.
Finally the VA Regional Offices in major metropolitan areas need to be fully staffed.
The VA's attempt to short change those veterans in states with major metropolitan areas by
under staffing those Regional Offices is a travesty and must be changed. Only when Regional
Offices are properly staffed will we see an increase in productivity and effectiveness.
The Chicago Regional Office has come a long way in correcting how it rates claims. I
strongly suggest however that it continues to weed out those substandard employees who persist
in disobeying VA law and regulation. I further call upon the Congress to force the VA to
properly staff the Chicago Regional Office and for that matter all Regional Offices that are in
major metropolitan areas. Veterans in these states should not be short changed because of a cost
of living differential. Finally, I commend the Chicago Regional Office for all the positive steps
taken to improve its productivity and encourage it to continue to improve its service to veterans.
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