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Witness Testimony of Ms. Janet Snyder, Legislative Chair, Society of Military Widows

Chairman Runyan, Congresswoman Titus, and Members of the House Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs:

It is an honor to testify at this hearing.  As Legislative Chair of the National Society of Military Widows, President of the Society of Military Widows of Southern Nevada Chapter #34, President of the Las Vegas Valley Chapter of Gold Star Wives of America, and member of Auxiliary Member Advisory Committee of the Military Officers Association of America, I have met and talked with many veterans and survivors in Nevada about their experiences with the VA Regional Office in Reno.

Vito Valdez, our local Army Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) Support Coordinator, has assisted several of our military surviving spouses in filling out forms to receive their Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  These military widows had been denied coverage in the past, had filed appeals, and received more denial letters.  He told me that his experience with the VA Office in Reno has been great.  With the number of claims (burial, DIC, PMC) he has submitted to them, they came back with a reply in a timely manner.  The issue he has is our VA Office here in Las Vegas.  He stopped going there because of their slow processing system.  He can go directly to the Regional Office in Reno with a faster answer.  Vito corresponds with them by postal mail, sending the hard copy applications to 5460 Reno Corporate Drive, Reno, NV 89511.  He only calls the 800-827-1000 number once the application is in progress.  Vito always tells his clients to be patient, especially when dealing with the VA or DFAS, and never gives them an exact date when they will start receiving their benefits.

After my husband passed in October 2010, I completed the forms myself and sent them to the Reno office.  In six months I received my DIC.  Everyone told me that this was the usual time for processing the paperwork. 

Many military widows are unable to complete the forms themselves, so they went to the local VA Office in Las Vegas, and did not receive good assistance.  Some were told that they didn’t qualify for benefits, and they gave up.  I always encouraged them to go to another Veterans Service Officer (VSO) to get help in completing the forms.

Recently one of my sister military widows with the Society of Military Widows and I accompanied a member who wanted to apply for Aid & Attendance.  We went to the new North Las Vegas VA Hospital on 6900 N. Pecos Road, and met with Gene Kanofsky, Veterans Service Officer with the Jewish War Veterans.  Gene put all of her information into the forms on the computer and gave her the form to take to her Doctor to complete and mail to the VA.  In a little over one month, she received her award letter from the VA Office in Reno.  None of us could believe how fast the service was.  We had expected it to take at least six months.  All of us discussed it, and we decided that the reason was because Gene had completed the online application properly, and our friend’s Doctor had answered all of the medical questions accurately and concisely.  There were no mistakes in the application for benefits. 

Another sister military widow, whose husband was a Gulf War Veteran, was not as lucky.  Following is Rosa Falu-Carrion’s report about her experiences:

 

October 25, 2013

 

RE: VA Regional Office

 

My first encounter with the Reno office was in August of 2011.  The office of the First Lady, Michelle Obama had sent a copy of an email I had sent to her office regarding how I was treated in the local offices in Las Vegas, following the unexpected death of my husband, Jose Vasquez Carrion.

I received a call directly from the Congressional Liaison and was assured that I was a priority and would be taken care of quickly as she would report status updates to Mrs. Obama’s office.  However, only the first step of submitting the paperwork was the only step handled expediently.

I never received mailed notification of receipt of the filed claim until I was advised by the Liaison to contact my district Congress person, Shelly Berkley’s office. 

Shelly Berkley’s office was also met with resistance and disrespect by the Reno office with rude emails and calls that were not returned for several weeks.

Finally in early 2012 I received notification in my claim, but it was a denial claiming I wasn’t married long enough to receive benefits.  So the appeal process began through “Notice of Disagreements” that was lengthy, painful and unnecessary.  All points could have been handled with one appeal.

I called the White House, office of Michelle Obama and reported the problems I was facing with the VA even with specific instruction by the First Lady and help from my Congress Woman and the White House began an inquiry.  Finally, at the end of November 2012, I received approval for DIC, however, my late husband was given a 20% service-connected rating, even though over 200-pages of doctors/hospital notes from civilian facilities beginning just a few months after he finished his active-duty service were submitted, not to mention the VA hospital notes, which included medical profiles and reports of the physical problems he was claiming.  The VA-Claimed they could not locate my late husbands’ service medical records in order to make a complete determination.  I provided every duty station with copies of awards, certificates, even photos proving where he was stationed.

The latest disappointment is the denial of ChampusVA medical benefits that I so desperately needed.

If any further information is needed I would be happy to provide it.

 

Sincerely,

 

Rosa Falu-Carrion

 

Korea, Vietnam, and current war veterans have told me that they would never have received their VA benefits without the tireless efforts of their Veterans Service Officers.  They had become discouraged after receiving denial letters multiple times, and were encouraged to appeal with additional information.

It is most important to

  • Find a good Veterans Service Officer (VSO)
  • Make sure you have included all forms, documents, and medical records required
  • Keep submitting claims and appeals, even if they are denied
  • Ask the Caseworker at the local office of your U.S. Representative or Senator to help you
  • Document every phone call, letter written, and make copies of all correspondence
  • Be sure to thank everyone who helps you

It is 448 miles from Las Vegas to Reno.  Driving time takes approximately seven and a half hours.  Therefore, it is not convenient to visit the VA Regional Office.  It is highly unlikely that a veteran or survivor will ever talk with someone from the Reno office.  When you call the 1-800-827-1000 number, you can reach someone in any office from around the country.  It was explained to me that notes would be typed into the computer file about the subject of my calls (questions about the status of my claim), and that these would be made available to my Reno regional office. 

In conclusion, I don’t think it is a problem to have the VA regional office in a remote area. 

We are our own best advocates.

 

Janet Snyder

Legislative Chair                                                   Auxiliary Member Advisory Committee
Society of Military Widows                                         Military Officers Association of America