Update: VA's Delayed Mailing Causes Reduction In Benefits For Unemployable Vets
"They pounce on you very quickly to reduce your compensation because you didn't return the form they didn't mail you."
10.23.08


Questions:
Jim,
I received my form 21-4140 last week on October 14th. It was dated August 1. Today I received a letter from them informing me that they had reviewed my case on October 15th and because I didn't return the form 21-4140 my benefits are being dropped to 70%. I even called them on the 14th and told them that the letter was late, they did put a notation on my file showing that I called. I called again today and was told that I did everything I could do but I still don't know if my benefits will be cut or if I have to appeal or have new exams.

Jim,
I was reading the e-mails you posted about 21-4140. I received a letter today dated 10/14/08 from the DAV in Winston-Salem,NC. They told me that their letter was not an official letter. They went on to say that the VA was cutting my disability from 100% to 90%. I will be receiving an official letter from the VA. I know its my fault but I didn't know about any Form 21-4140. I went through all the papers that I have received and nothing about 21-4140. The DAV said when I receive the letter if I have any questions feel free to contact them. They said that they will mail me a 21-4140????? I'm sending my appeal today. I will hand carry it to the DAV if necessary. He sort of stated that there are several Vets in the same boat with me.


Answer:
I want to follow up with all of you who have had this issue with your 4140 forms. About 3 weeks ago I got a flurry of letters from veterans in different regions and all were similar in that the 4140 form arrived some 60 to 80 days late. I'm continuing to hear from you and it seems this is ongoing. Some of you are now telling me that VA is taking action to reduce your benefits.

So...the VA requires that you complete a form to keep your benefits. The form is worthless but to harass you with. Then they don't timely provide you with the required form. Then they pounce on you very quickly to reduce your compensation because you didn't return the form they didn't mail you. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could easily see where this was an intentional move by the VA to slash the budget at your expense. I would probably also believe (if I were a conspiracy theorist) that the shredding of documents was intentional and there was more than a "handful" of documents. I might even believe that your DVA leadership really doesn't like veterans very much.

It's a good thing I'm not one of those, isn't it?

In any case, the letters above reinforce why I personally don't deal with DAV and why I tell you time and time again that you *never* call the toll free number. I'm continually amazed at how many of you write to me telling me of your disappointment with DAV or how the toll free number failed you. I feel like it's every other column I write "Don't ever call the VA" and the next week you write to tell me what happened when you called the VA. (Sigh)

If the VA has issued any letter to you that they are proposing to reduce your rating from 100% IU, you must act swiftly and surely. You have time windows that you must act within to prevent them from proceeding. If you don't take action, you're what I commonly refer to as 'screwed'. Once you blow it by letting them lower that rating, it's a bitch to get it back. It makes more sense to stop the process before the VA acts.

I can't for the life of me imagine why a veteran would hand carry an appeal to the DAV. It isn't them acting against you, it's the DVA. Let me make it as clear as I possibly can: If the DAV is sending you messages you don't understand about a VA action and you're sending stuff that you aren't sure of about the VA back to the DAV, you are one confused veteran.

Then when you get advice from DAV and write to me back and forth to tell me each step of what the DAV said (or didn't say), I'm wasting my time with you.

I had four email exchanges with that veteran above and he only wanted to relay to me what DAV told him and then ask what I thought. I told him I have too many other vets to serve to go back and forth with him and the DAV.

Let's do a quick sanity check. We'll review just what happens and what should you do if the VA tries to lower your rating when you haven't returned a 4140...or any other time.

I've received maybe 100 emails from readers in the last few days talking about their late or non-existent 4140 forms. These are the forms that are mailed yearly to veterans who receive the 100% Individual Unemployability benefit. The form tells the VA that the veteran has not held substantially gainful employment since the last form was mailed in.

It's a particularly silly and wasteful effort by VA and that's really saying something for an organization that takes such pride in its silly and wasteful requirements. This one is a premier accomplishment by the dullards at the top of the organization, apparently a special assignment mission of the Department of Redundancy Department.

Nonetheless, if your 4140 isn't there on time, no matter the excuse you have, the VA can and often will push the first domino in a long line that will eventually result in a lowering of benefits.

In every mailing you receive from VA you get extra papers. Those extra papers tell you that you have rights to appeal. They tell you how to appeal, where to appeal and the underlying law about your rights to appeal.

In a denial letter the VA even goes so far as to tell you exactly what you must do to appeal and win your case. It's all spelled out for you in very plain English language.

Having said all that, I don't get why it's such a mystery to so many veterans about what they should do. Not a week goes by that I don't get note saying, "Jim...A year or so back I got this letter from the VA that told me I needed to respond to them. I didn't understand what they were talking about and it looked like a mistake to me. I called my VSO but when he called back he missed me and I never heard from him again. Then I went on vacation and I got married and forgot about it. Well, today I realized that my deposit last month and this month was 1/2 of what it should have been and I called VA and they told me my benefits were cut. I know they can't do that to me can they? Can you help?"

The answer I give is always the same, "Yes." I can help. But once the action to take a benefit away from you is done, it takes 10 times the effort to get it back as it would have if you had reacted quickly...just like the letter tells you to do.

This is how it works for a missing 4140. It's similar for most other reductions or recoupments. A "recoupment" is an action taken to get back an overpayment made to you.

If you miss the 4140 deadline for any reason, eventually you'll get a letter that tells you "We may take an adverse action unless you timely act by notifying us in writing...". The language may vary a bit but the VA is firing a shot across your bow to warn you that if you don't do something, the next shot will be aimed to hole you beneath the water line and sink you.

The letter will go on to tell you your rights. If you don't sit and read this carefully, you'll soon find out the awesome power of an ignorant and uncaring bureaucracy.

The first thing to note is that you must notify them in writing. To write to me weeks or months later and tell me, "I even called them on the 14th..." makes me wonder how you manage to remember to eat breakfast each day.

You're addressing actions on what may be your only income, your money, and you don't follow basic instructions. Instead of sitting down and analyzing the letter and doing what it tells you to do, you get pissed off and call a call center.

Instead, as soon as you get any letter warning you of impending action, you should sit down and begin to write. A well written letter is the most powerful tool you have available to you.

In the case of the 4140 that you never got, here's what your letter looks like:

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DATE
VARO ADDRESS
REFERENCE (Your name, Your Numbers)

Dear Sir/Madame:

   I am in receipt of your letter dated (DATE). In that letter you notify me that you may take action to reduce my 100% Individual Unemployability (IU) compensation benefit because I did not timely return to you a VA Form 21-4140.

   Please accept this document as my Notice of Disagreement (NOD) with your proposal to reduce my benefit.

   I did not ever receive from you a VA Form 21-4140 so I was unaware that I should have sent that form back. (Or, I received it 2 months late, etc. Explain your reasons.)

   Enclosed with this letter, please find a VA Form 21-4140 that I have completed and signed. I attest that during the year preceding this I have not held substantial gainful employment.

   I ask that you make no adjustments to my payments while you consider this issue. If you feel that it may be required to settle the issue, I request a personal hearing before a Decision Review Officer or the Veterans Service Center Manager or a designate.

Thank you for your kind consideration.
Respectfully submitted,

Your Name & Signature
Address & Phone

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That's it. You type that up nice and neat and you carry it to your local post office where you mail it certified mail, return receipt requested. It really is just that easy and simple.

If you do this within a day or two of any notice of adverse action, it may ensure that the matter is closed. You won't hear from them again about the issue.

If you wait a 60 day period, you'll get a notice telling you that they have reduced your rating and the effective date. You'll have a year from then to appeal and after jumping through som flaming hoops, you may get your IU rating back.

This stuff isn't rocket surgery. It does require that you sit up and pay attention, even if only for a short while.

Do not ever ignore any notice from VA. Always respond as above telling them what you want and why. If you believe that using an intermediary between you and VA gives you an edge, you're wrong.

Stay alert and even when VA blows it, you'll be able to fix things quickly with your written words.

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ADDENDUM:

(My eagle eyed reader noticed a glaring omission early this morning. I don't know how I missed this but I did. As is lways the case, one of you comes through to help me get it right so that we all have the data we need. Thanks Jeffrey!)

Jim,
I am a vet and I wish that I had found VA Watchdog dot Org and your advise column much earlier. I am getting the education I wish I had before I filed for compensation. But that is water under the bridge. I have been fighting with the VA for quite some years now. Most of what I know I learned from the VA Watchdog dot Org. Both you and Larry Scott have taught me more in the last two years then I had learned on my own in the past thirty years.

After reading this post I googled the form and found it in many different sites. The VA has a page to search for documents at: http://www.va.gov/vaforms/default.asp

The page for VA Form 21-4140-1 is:
http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4140-1-ARE.PDF

The form can be filled out on your computer and then printed and mailed. Of course as you say. We should send it via certified mail.

I hope that you and Larry will continue your good work.

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NOTE FROM JIM STRICKLAND:
Might be good for each person to see when they were awarded IU, then write on a calendar each year as a reminder to send this in.
http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4140-1-ARE.PDF