Veterans’ Advocate Insider – January 2014 Edition



President's Message: 2014 Board of Directors Tackles the New Year

Happy New Year!  As we entered 2014, NOVA underwent some noteworthy changes.  The Board of Directors now has three new members - Glenda Herl (Vice President), Ralph Bratch, and Bob Goss - who have already been engaged in a number of Board activities.  Please join me in extending them a warm welcome and thanking them in advance for their great service.

I also want to acknowledge and thank our outgoing Board members:  Mike Leonard, who served as Vice President; Rebecca Patrick, who held the office of Secretary; and Rick Little, a dedicated board member and pro bono advocate.  We appreciate the time and effort that these outstanding individuals have devoted to our organization.

The new Board is eager to get started with a challenging agenda for the coming year.  In our first meeting of 2014, the Board met telephonically to discuss new business and strategize on ongoing issues.  Of particular note, the Board is very pleased with the enthusiastic response from members regarding 2014 renewals.  Thank you to everyone for your support.  It’s truly a testament to the valuable benefits of a NOVA membership.

As is customary during Board meetings, the Chairman of each NOVA committee reported progress.  The Awards Committee announced selection of a nominee for the Native American Advocate Scholarship. The Regulation Comment Committee filed a formal response on behalf of NOVA regarding the proposed implementation and use of a new, standardized Notice of Disagreement form.  (See Brief Notices.)

The Seminar Committee reported that registration is now open for the Spring Conference in Pittsburgh.  All members and prospects should have received the conference brochure and registration forms sent on January 15.  Please join us on Thursday, April 24 for the New Practitioner Session and on April 25 & 26 for the general session.  The Seminar Committee has prepared an excellent program that I am sure will not disappoint you.

In related news, staff is finalizing plans for our next webinar on C&P Exams, which will be presented by Robert Chisholm.  Please consider taking part on February 11 at 2 p.m. EST.  Check your inbox for an email notice on the details, including online registration.  NOVA webinars have become a popular training option, so we hope you consider taking advantage of this opportunity.

The New Year has also brought significant changes to our website.  Through a herculean effort by staff member Katy Andriano, the Wiki files were converted to searchable Adobe format.  Other more subtle changes have markedly improved the search function of the members-only areas.  Additionally, NOVA hired a new website developer, Anant, to replace Ironistic and address a variety of issues, including functionality and security.  The website has been migrated to a new host site and is now served over a certified encryption connection, which was enhanced further to afford improved protection for online payments.   Site improvements and enhancements are ongoing, so stay tuned for more information.

As noted last month, we have been reviewing the leadership and composition of all of the NOVA committees.  We will be making personnel changes shortly in the interest of relieving overburdened member volunteers and infusing new energy.  The Board has also reiterated its intention to review recommendations made by the special committee this past October on NOVA’s mission, purposes, and procedures.  That review will take place during the upcoming April Board meeting in Pittsburgh.

Lastly, NOVA leadership has reached out to Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey to offer assistance in helping VA craft a plan of action to address the growing backlog of appeals.  On December 11, 2013, at a hearing before the Senate VAC, the Under Secretary was directed to provide this plan to the Committee within 45 days.  We are currently developing position statements to share with VA and Congressional representatives in anticipation of a meeting.

As NOVA moves forward, we want to remind all members that your input is always welcome.  The Board of Directors is here to serve you.

Michael R. Viterna

President

Amicus and Litigation Committee to Submit Brief in Parks Case

NOVA’s Amicus and Litigation Committee, chaired by Zachary Stolz, will submit an amicus brief in the case of Parks v. Shinseki, on Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, January 14, 2014.  Central to the case is the fundamental question of whether a pro se veteran must raise an argument during the nonadversarial and inquisitorial administrative proceedings before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (the Board) to raise the argument in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (Veterans Court).  NOVA will focus upon the unique pro-claimant bias intended by Congress throughout the VA system to argue against holding veterans to a strict pleading requirement.

For those unfamiliar with the case, Mr. Parks appealed a decision of the Board denying service connection for diabetes mellitus with neuropathy and a heart disorder secondary to his exposure to chemical-warfare agents.  At the Veterans Court, he challenged the competence of the nurse practitioner whose sole medical opinion was replied upon by the Board to reject his claims.  The Veterans Court and the Federal Circuit held that Mr. Parks waived this argument, because it was not presented earlier.

Precedent was set in Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103 (2000), when the Supreme Court held that similar nonadversarial and inquisitorial proceedings before the Social Security Administration (SSA) do not require such issue exhaustion.  This Court and Federal Circuit have routinely noted the similarities in the administrative procedures of the SSA and VA in addressing disability claims.  Citing the same reasons established in Sims, Mr. Parks believes that the Federal Circuit should not have required issue exhaustion in his case.

The Federal Circuit entered its judgment on May 3, 2013, and denied Mr. Parks’ timely combined petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc on October 13, 2013.  In its amicus filing, the NOVA Committee will ask consideration of the Court’s most recent articulation in Henderson v. Shinseki, 131 S. Ct. 1197, 1205 (2011), that the veterans’ benefits system is uniquely pro-claimant as further distinguishing the Parks case from the Court’s precedent.

Throughout history, Congress and the courts have recognized the “special solicitude” that is to be afforded to veterans in gratitude for their very important service to our country.  That special solicitude is clearly reflected in the nonadversarial and inquisitorial procedures established in the VA’s appeals process to protect this pro-claimant posture.

VA has a statutory duty to assist veterans in developing their claims, as mandated by its own regulations.  The Federal Circuit recognizes this duty by addressing the fact that the veterans’ benefits system “is intended to be ‘user friendly’ to the veteran” and “is not meant to be a trap for the unwary.”  That VA must “fully and sympathetically develop the veteran’s claim to its optimum before deciding it on the merits” is a sentiment long echoed at the Veterans Court.  Recognition of placing the veteran first is at the heart of the matter in Parks v. Shinseki.

VA Raises Awareness of Pension Poaching Scams

The Veterans Benefits Administration is fighting back against fraud by raising awareness of pension poaching scams.  Veterans may now learn more about potential fraudulent activity by viewing a special notice posted on the VBA’s Pension Home Page and released to advocates for public dissemination.

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DON’T BE A VICTIM:  BE AWARE OF PENSION POACHING SCAMS

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pension exists to help financially disadvantaged wartime Veterans and their survivors.

Be cautious if someone offers to move your assets around for you to qualify for VA pension.  This type of scam is often directed toward Veterans and family members who do not actually qualify for VA pension.  You could be required to repay these benefits to the government.

Examples of possible pension poaching scams:

  • Organizations that cold call Veterans, charge money for assisting with a VA pension claim, and take credit card information from Veterans over the telephone
  • People who charge as much as $6,000 upfront to represent claimants before VA, with a percentage of any eventual back payment from VA as a portion of the ultimate fee

For more information about VA pension eligibility requirements—which include special monthly pension benefits—go to www.benefits.va.gov/pension or call 1-800-827-1000.

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In addition, VA has prepared two PDF versions of this new notice for advocates and other interested parties in the veterans’ community to disseminate to the public through their own websites, newsletters, and other outreach vehicles.  To view the PDFs, CLICK HERE.

Use of Provisional Ratings Ended on November 11, 2013

The Department of Veterans Affairs has notified Area and Regional Office Directors that provisional ratings are no longer authorized as of November 8, 2013.  Regional offices were authorized to issue “provisional” ratings decisions on claims pending over one and two years as part of the Oldest Claim Initiative as a temporary measure.  To explain the rescission, the Veterans Benefits Administration issued VBA Letter 20-13-18 on December 11, 2013, summarized here.

SUBJECT:  VBA Letters Rescission - Cessation of Authority for Use of Provisional Ratings

Purpose  - Per VBA Letter 20-13-05, Guidance Regarding Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over Two Years, and VBA Letter 20-13-07, Guidance Regarding Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over One Year, regional offices were authorized to issue “provisional” rating decisions on claims pending over one and two years as part of the Oldest Claims Initiative. The Oldest Claims Initiative covered only those claims that had been pending more than one year as of October 31, 2013 (i.e., date of claim October 31, 2012 or earlier). Provisional ratings were only authorized as a temporary measure in connection with this initiative to help us provide decisions to Veterans who had been waiting the longest.  Additional guidance for finalizing provisional ratings will be addressed in a later fast letter.

Reasons for Rescission - As stated in the email notification to the Area and Regional Office Directors, dated November 8, 2013, provisional ratings are no longer authorized as of November 8, 2013.

Rescinded Letters - VBA Letter 20-13-05, Guidance Regarding Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over Two Years, and VBA Letter 20-13-07, Guidance Regarding Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over One Year, are hereby rescinded.

Questions concerning this letter should be e-mailed to VAVBAWAS/CO/212A.

Registration is Open for the Spring Conference in Pittsburgh, PA

Registration is NOW UNDERWAY for the NOVA 2014 Spring Conference taking place at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh from April 24–26, 2014Check your email.  Staff sent the 2014 Spring Conference Brochure and Registration Forms to all members and interested parties on January 15th.

To view the 2014 Spring Conference Brochure, CLICK HERE.  

If you have any questions, please contact Casey Guillory, Conference & Membership Coordinator, at cguillory@vetadvocates.org or (202) 587-5708.

Our number one priority is to provide the best possible training for those who represent America’s veterans.  If you were unable to attend our Fall Conference in San Diego, perhaps this East Coast venue is right for you!  Here’s a preview of the 2014 Spring Conference:

Training at All LevelsNOVA seminars are intended for both new practitioners to the area of veterans’ law and more advanced practitioners.  We will rate the presentations in our Spring Conference Schedule as basic or advanced to offer you some guidance.  Basic presentations focus primarily on teaching attendees the concepts, fundamentals, principles, and definitions of the topic material.  These are introductory and “how to” courses, offering attendees practical knowledge at both the administrative and court levels.  Advanced presentations integrate concepts with actual case experience.  These focus on understanding which statutes, regulations, and case laws are important and why.  Attendees can expect to learn “the art of being an advocate” and pushing the envelope to achieve the desired outcome.  If no notation of basic or advanced is indicated, the topic is suitable for everyone.

Featured SpeakersThe 2014 Spring Conference taps the expertise of insiders who know what’s going in places where access is often restricted.  Our goal is to bring that inside information to you through an unparalleled program of presenters.  The quality of their presentations is backed by “repeat customers” whose honest feedback is the ultimate test.  You are guaranteed to return to your practice with tools and content that will strengthen your representation.

Our featured speakers include Judge William S. Greenberg, United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims;  Thomas J. Murphy, Director of Compensation Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Kenneth M. Carpenter, NOVA Founding Member and President of Carpenter Chartered.  

Downtown HotelLocated in the heart of the business district, the AAA Four Diamond Award winning Omni William Penn Hotel is an historic landmark elegantly renovated for the 21st century traveler.  Guests will enjoy outstanding service, spacious accommodations, and exceptional dining.  The Terrace Room serves “new traditional” cuisine in a unique setting of sweeping mahogany arches, an original molded plaster ceiling, and a striking wall mural.  The Speakeasy is a sophisticated social lounge that whisks patrons back to 1920s Pittsburgh.  Amenities include a 24-hour complimentary executive fitness center, high-speed Internet, concierge, and a wide range of other guest services.

The Omni is just steps away from the Convention Center, sporting and cultural venues, and a variety of shopping.  It is also located adjacent to the Pittsburgh Metro Rail System, allowing you to explore the city at ease with stops in Downtown, North Shore Stadiums, and Station Square.

Book Your Stay Now The NOVA room block rate is $169/per night + tax, single or double occupancy, and is available 3 days prior and 3 days after the conference based upon room availability.  Room reservations must be made by 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, April 2, 2014 for these rates to be honored.To make your hotel reservations online, CLICK HERE.  Or, call 1-800-843-6664.  Please be sure to mention that you are with the National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates or NOVA to receive the discounted room block rate.

TransportationIf you drive to the Omni, self parking is offered in the Mellon Square parking garage located across from the hotel (approx. $14/day Mon. – Fri.; approx. $5/day Sat. & Sun.).  Valet parking is also available to overnight guests (approx. $29 per 24 hours, includes in/out privileges).  For maps and directions, CLICK HERE.

For those arriving by air, the hotel is just 19 miles from Pittsburgh International Airport.   You may arrange for airport shuttle and taxi service at additional cost by calling 1-800-258-3826.  The Super Shuttle is available for 24-hour service, with advance reservations required after 6 p.m.  Shuttle reservations must be made 6 to 12 hours in advance; $25 one way/person or $50 roundtrip/person.

Apply for William G. Smith Scholarships No Later Than March 7th

The deadline to submit a request for scholarship consideration to attend the Spring Conference in Pittsburgh is March 7, 2014.

In 2000, the William G. Smith Scholarship was created by the NOVA Board of Directors in memory of one of NOVA’s esteemed founding members.   William G. Smith, Esq. was also one of the first veterans’ law practitioners and a tireless supporter of veterans and their rights.  Over his lengthy career as a veterans advocate, he provided true leadership and support to countless practitioners in veterans’ law.  Scholarships cover the cost of registration only and are available to individuals who are not financially able to attend, and who would not otherwise be able to attend the seminar due to financial hardship.

These scholarships are designated for attorneys, non-attorney practitioners, law students, and accredited veteran’s service representatives.  The granting of these scholarships as well as the number of recipients shall be at the sole discretion of the NOVA Board of Directors.

To be considered for a scholarship, please submit a letter of interest, including a description of your involvement in veterans’ benefits law, along with a current resume to Casey Guillory, Conference & Membership Coordinator, at cguillory@vetadvocates.org.

If you have any questions, you may also contact NOVA Staff directly at (202) 587-5708.

Purchase NOVA Webinars & Training Videos Directly from Our Website

NOVA is excited to announce that you can now purchase our past three webinars as well as videos of the Fall Conference 2012 New Practitioner Sessions and Fall Conference 2013 Sessions directly from the NOVA website for automatic viewing.

Note:  You must first log into the website using your username and password in order to access the discounted NOVA member rates.

This step-by-step process illustrates just how quick and easy it is to place an order using our automated purchasing system:

Step 1:  Getting Started - Roll your mouse over the “Events and Training” tab at the top of the website:

You will see various options to BUY NOW!

Step 2:  Select a Product – Click your mouse on Seminars, Webinars, or New Practitioner Training.

For example, by clicking on Seminars you can purchase the videos of our Fall Conference 2013 Sessions:

Or, by clicking on Webinars you can purchase any of three presentations, as shown below:

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Or, by clicking on New Practitioner Training you can purchase our Fall Conference 2012 New Practitioner Sessions!

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This option also enables you to purchase our Beginner’s Guide to Veterans Law DVD, which will be shipped directly to you.

Step 3:  Make Your Purchase - Once you select your video(s), you are ready to enter your payment information using our certified encryption connection.  The enhanced security of this new system enables you to make your purchase with confidence.  Start by entering your Contact information:

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Next, enter your Billing information:

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Finally, review your information, and click Submit Form to purchase your video!

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Step 4:  Access Your Video - Once your purchase has been accepted, you will receive an email from the NOVA Administrator with instructions on how to access your purchase, including a link.

A link will also appear on the purchase page to provide access to your preferred videos, as seen here:

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Step 5:  Sit Back & Relax – You are now ready to view your training materials in the comfort of your home or office!  Thank you for using the new automated purchasing system on our website.

To view all NOVA training videos and webinars available for purchase, Click HERE!

To download this article for further instruction, click HERE.

Staff Prepares to Send Training Reminders to Affected Members

As part of our year-end review of NOVA operations, the Board of Directors recently examined the current bylaw (Section 11, Item 3) stipulating that all members must attend either a spring or fall NOVA conference at least every 24 months.  As you might imagine, any issue related to membership eligibility and renewal typically generates a lot of discussion on all sides.  Every association or organization works long and hard to attract its members, and no one wants to unintentionally deter dues-paying members.  After all, members are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization, including NOVA.

That said, the NOVA leadership has decided once again to retain the 24-month training requirement and has asked staff to follow-up with affected members on an individual basis.  If our records indicate that you have not attended a training conference in the past 24 months, you will receive a letter in February indicating your last attendance date.  If you fall into this category, please check your records and contact us immediately if we have made an error.  If our records are correct, in order for us to renew your membership in 2014, we request that you take a ‘pledge of attendance’ for a 2014 NOVA conference, either this April in Pittsburgh or in September in Orlando.

If you simply cannot attend a conference this year, the Board has authorized an alternative, one-time option to fulfill the attendance requirement through the purchase of NOVA webinars or training videos.  To make these options as easy as possible, a form for both the Pledge of Attendance and Webinar/Training Video Orders will be attached to the letter.  Simply complete the option that suites your training preference and return it to staff via email, mail or fax for appropriate follow-up.

Is all this really necessary, you might ask?  The answer is an unequivocal yes.  The Board firmly believes that a member’s affiliation with NOVA is a truly substantive achievement and represents a recognizable seal of excellence in the veterans’ community.  Proper training and regular exposure to the latest developments in VA Law are extremely important to ensure the utmost competence in representation.  Attendance at a NOVA conference every 24 months helps set our membership apart from those who purport to be experts in veterans’ advocacy without having undergone specialized, professional training.

We value each and every NOVA member and believe the options put forth will ensure that all members enjoy uninterrupted services and membership.  So if you need to meet your training requirement, please take the pledge of attendance for Pittsburgh or Orlando, or take advantage of the new, limited-time offer to purchase webinars and/or training videos.  Either way, you will satisfy your member obligation and strengthen NOVA as the unparalleled leader in veterans’ advocacy.  The need for highly qualified advocates to represent our nation’s veterans has never been greater.

Our membership records indicate that only a small percentage of members have not met this requirement.  If you have any concerns regarding your status, please contact Casey at (202) 587-5708 or cguillory@vetadvocates.org.

Brief Notices

NOVA Submits Comments on RIN 2900-AO81

On December 30, 2013, NOVA submitted comments on the VA’s Proposed Rule regarding Standard Claims and Appeals Forms (RIN 2900-AO81).  On behalf of the entire membership, NOVA leadership wishes to thank members of the Regulatory Comment Committee, chaired by Drew Rutz, for their diligence in preparing comments on these important rule changes affecting the NOD and other forms.

To access the final document, CLICK HERE.

 

VA Issues Final Rule on Illnesses Associated with TBI

On December 17, 2013, VA issued its final rule on “Secondary Service Connection for Diagnosable Illnesses Associated With Traumatic Brain Injury,” published in the Federal Register (Vol. 78, No. 242) as RIN 2900-AN89.  In January 2013, NOVA submitted comments on the proposed rule, some of which are referenced in RIN 2900-AN89 at pp. 76,202-3 and 76,206-7.

To read the final rule, CLICK HERE.

 

Jan. Compensation Service Bulletin Posted to Website

NOVA Staff has posted the January issue of the Compensation Service Bulletin for Veterans Service Center Managers.  To access the document, CLICK HERE and sign into the Document Library.

 

Sign Up Now for the NOVA Winter Webinar

NOVA will host its Winter Webinar on February 11 from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. EST.  All About C&P Exams will be presented by seasoned Veterans Law Attorney Robert Chisholm of Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick, Ltd. and NOVA Treasurer Matthew Hill of Hill & Ponton, P.A.

Whether you are handling claim at the Regional Office, Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA), or appealing a BVA decision to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, chances are that you have come across an important C&P exam in the record.  This webinar covers strategies on dealing with these exams and how those strategies vary depending on where your case is in the claim stream.  Mr. Chisholm will focus on common errors committed in C&P exams with an in-depth analysis of particular case examples.

Note:  Although there will be an overview of the laws governing exams, this webinar is not a plenary review of the case law.

For online registration, CLICK HERE.

 

Stay Connected: Renew Your Membership by Jan. 31 

As a nonprofit, NOVA relies upon your annual support to sustain the organization.  If you have not already done so, please take a few minutes to renew your membership for 2014.    Dues for sustaining members have remained the same.  Our incentive program allows sustaining members to reduce their dues by sponsoring one new member and saving $50 or two new members and saving $100.

Also, the Member Application enables you to provide additional information about your practice.  This information will be used to update both the new All Members Directory, which is for the exclusive use of members to contact one another, and the Public Advocate Directory, which is a useful tool for veterans searching for legal help, including those who call the NOVA offices on a daily basis looking for a specific type of representation.  To access the 2014 Member Application/Renewal Form, CLICK HERE.

If you have any questions, please contact Casey at cguillory@vetadvocates.org or (202) 587-5708.

 

NOVA Awards Native American Advocate Scholarship

The NOVA Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Diane Zephier of Rapid City, South Dakota has been nominated to receive the Native American Advocate Scholarship for the 2014 Spring Conference.  The Board created this award in 2012 for Native Americans to attend NOVA conferences and acquire the advocacy skills to assist this deserving group of veterans.

Diane, along with her brother, Russell, represents Native American veterans in South Dakota.  Congratulations to Diane for her dedication and we look forward to meeting her at the upcoming conference in Pittsburgh.

 

Kudos to Kenneth Kabb, Our First Pittsburgh Registrant

NOVA Staff is pleased to announce that Kenneth Kabb of Beachwood, Ohio is our first registrant for the 2014 Spring Conference in Pittsburgh.  A special thanks to Ken for taking advantage of our early bird rates to get the best deal on his training.  We look forward to seeing Ken at the New Practitioners Session on April 24th at the Omni William Penn Hotel.

 

Spring Conference Exhibitors Set to Help Your Practice

NOVA Staff is pleased to welcome the following exhibitors to the 2014 Spring Conference:

·         Premier Print Marketing (PPM) – a new exhibitor based in Pennsylvania, PPM is devoted to helping attorneys grow their practices through the use of print marketing.  The company believes that using print marketing to build connections with existing and former clients will lead to increased loyalty and more referrals.
  • LeadRival this lead generation company has been helping attorneys to grow their practices for more than 10 years through online marketing.  Their goal is to connect consumers who need legal help with local attorneys who can assist them.  LeadRival will be exhibiting their online lead generation services for the legal industry.

Check out next month’s Veterans’ Advocate Insider to hear about even more exhibitors!

NOVA Welcomes New Members!

NOVA would like to welcome the following new members to the NOVA community.  We look forward to meeting you and working with you to help better serve our nations’ veterans:

Susan Conley - Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., Minneapolis, MN

Robert Gillikin, II – Rutter Mills, LLP, Norfolk, VA

Jen Meyer - Kabb Law Firm, Beachwood, OH

Sharon Meyers - Law Offices of Sharon J. Meyers, Kansas City, MO

Joshua Stone - Gordon & Doner, P.A., Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Brandy White - Military Justice Attorneys, LLC, Beaufort, SC

Katherine Williams - McGill & Noble, LLP, Durham, NC

 

 

Past Newsletters

To read other editions of our Veterans' Advocate Insider, please click HERE.