Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation

United States Code books

Table of Contents

φ Introduction: What does this Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation Do? [10 Sep 2020]

φ December 2020 Meeting [22 Nov 2020]

φ Removal of DBQs from VA Website: Update [30 Sep 2020]

φ Federal Advisory Committee Questions Removal of DBQs from VA Website [10 Sep 2020]

φ Committee Questions VA's Prohibition Against Private Practitioner Telemental (Tele-C&P) Exams [10 Sep 2020]

φ Meeting Minutes for the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation - links to PDF copies of all meeting minutes since May 2020. [27 Oct 2020]

φ Receive An Email Message When New (Upcoming) ACDC Meeting Dates Are Announced in the Federal Register [2 Dec 2020]

Note: Dates in [brackets] indicate the date an article was published.



Introduction: What Does this Advisory Committee Do?

10 Sep 2020 – The Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation is a "statutory" federal advisory committee, which means it is specifically authorized by a United States statute: 38 U.S.C. § 546.

The Committee's purpose, defined in the statute, is to advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs regarding the maintenance and periodic readjustment of the schedule for rating disabilities [VASRD]; and to:

  • assemble and review relevant information relating to the needs of veterans with disabilities

  • provide information relating to the nature and character of disabilities arising from service in the Armed Forces;
     
  • provide an on-going assessment of the effectiveness of the schedule for rating disabilities [VASRD]; and 

  • provide on-going advice on the most appropriate means of responding to the needs of veterans relating to disability compensation in the future.

Note: VASRD = VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities, which is located at 38 C.F.R. chap. 1, pt. 4.


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December 2020 Meeting

Advisory Committee on Disability CompensationVirtual Meeting, December 1–2, 2020 | Open to PublicAgenda

22 Nov 2020 – You can listen to these ACDC meeting sessions by calling 800-767-1750, and then enter access code 75937#, shortly before 0900 EST on Tuesday (1 Dec 2020) and again on Wednesday (2 Dec 2020), if you want to hear both sessions of the Committee proceedings.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation (ACDC) will meet on December 1–2, 2020. These will be a virtual meeting, open to the public.

Click here to review the Agenda for the meeting (PDF file).

If you submitted a Public Statement, note that public statements will be read (or mentioned?) at the beginning of each session, i.e., at about 0905 EST. (See table below for meeting start times in different U.S. time zones.)

I posted my public statement online (PDF file)Worthen Public Statement: VBA's Tele-C&P Exam Rule is Biased Against Veterans.

The deadline for public statements was 19 Nov 2020. See 85 Fed. Reg. 68121 (Oct. 27, 2020).

The table below lists the Tuesday start times for different United States time zones.

Meeting Start Times in Various U.S. Locations*

Location

Day

Time

Time Zone

Honolulu, HI

Tuesday

0400

HST

Anchorage, AK

Tuesday

0500

AKST

San Francisco

Tuesday

0600

PST

Phoenix, AZ

Tuesday

0700

MST

Denver, CO

Tuesday

0700

MST

Chicago, IL

Tuesday

0800

CST

Washington, DC

Tuesday

0900

EST

Puerto Rico

Tuesday

1000

AST

U.S. Virgin Islands

Tuesday

1000

AST

Guam

Wednesday

0000

ChST

*Each of these locations has a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) office.

Remember you will not be able to speak during the meetingsbut you can listen to the proceedings by calling 800-767-1750, and then enter this access code: 75937#


Removal of DBQs from VA Website: Update

30 Sep 2020 – More C&P exam news from the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation ...

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently posted the Committee's July 14–15, 2020 meeting minutes.

The Committee received a presentation from Earl Hutchinson, Director, Medical Disability Exam Quality & Program Management Office, Compensation Service, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) about the removal of Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) from the VA website.

Here are excerpts from Mr. Hutchinson's presentation (from the minutes) with » my comments:

"The availability of DBQs created an industry characterized by abusive business practices that harmed Veterans. After Veterans had paid for these exams, they were often unusable by VA and delayed the claims process."

» From what I've heard this has certainly occurred, although VBA did not present any statistics in this regard, so it is not clear what percentage of DBQs from third-party firms were unusable and caused delays. That number would be helpful to know.

"The requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act made it impossible for VBA to synchronize internal DBQs with external, or public, ones."

» This has been a problem for a while. Apparently, the OPM review process for all federal forms—new or revised—is onerous.

"Medical records from a Veteran’s treating physician were more influential to the outcome of a claim than a DBQ completed by a business established for the purpose of profiting off of claimants for VA benefits."

» This pejorative characterization is probably true for most such organizations, but not necessarily all of them. In other words, we should not assume that every organization that charges a fee to assist veterans prepare their disability claim exhibits unsavory or illegal business practices.


Federal Advisory Committee Questions Removal of DBQs from VA Website

10 Sep 2020 – 

Key Points


Federal Advisory Committee, May 2020

At the May 2020 meeting of the federal Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation, members responded to a letter received for the Public Comments portion of the meeting.1

Ann G. Knowles, Director of Sampson County Veterans Services (North Carolina) wrote the Committee to express her opposition to VA’s recent decision to remove DBQs from its public-facing website.

Here is an extended quote from the May 2020 Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation minutes:

Acting Chairman Pamperin read the VA response email from Machelle Harrell, an analyst in [the VBA] Compensation Service.

Ms. Harrell cited three reasons why VA decided to discontinue making DBQs available for public use:

(1) the VASRD [Veteran Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities] update had left many of the DBQs outdated, and updating them required a formal process that could take more than a year; 

(2) VA had increased its capacity to conduct compensation and pension (C&P) exams; and

(3) VA was safeguarding against fraud.

She [v] added that discontinuing public-use DBQs had no impact on the rating process or a Veteran’s ability to support medical evidence in support of his/her claim. 

Mr. Hazell felt VA’s justifications for removal were rather thin. The time required to update the VASRD negated any lag time for updating the DBQs, and VA had never provided satisfactory evidence that fraud was a significant problem.

Acting Chairman Pamperin agreed that VA did not provide much detail to support its position.

Mr. Lorraine thought the Committee should respond to Ms. Knowles’ email and that VA should provide DBQs on its public website, citing the need for transparency in the current environment. [emphasis & line breaks added to facilitate online reading]

VA Inspector General's Report

The Department of Veterans Affairs removed the Disability Benefits Questionnaires (DBQs) from the VA website after this VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) report was published:

Off. Inspector Gen., Dep't Veterans Aff., Rep. No. 19-07119-80Telehealth Public-Use Questionnaires Were Used Improperly to Determine Disability Benefits (Feb. 18, 2020).

The VAOIG summarized their findings as follows.

This review was prompted by veterans’ benefits claims transmitted from VBA’s Medical Disability Exam Quality and Program Management Office as part of an effort by VA to identify potentially fraudulent claims in response to prior OIG report recommendations.

Moreover, VA regional office staff had related allegations to the OIG hotline.

At issue were healthcare providers who did not practice in the state, territory, or country where the veterans reside allegedly being paid to complete the public-use questionnaires and document conditions meriting disability benefits without ever seeing the veteran in person.

These questionnaires were being completed via “telehealth”—health care provided remotely through telecommunications technologies. The use of private provider telehealth examinations for rating purposes is prohibited.


Committee Questions VA's Prohibition Against Independent Examiners Using Video Technology

Key Point

  • The Committee questioned why VA-contracted examiners in the private sector have been encouraged to conduct telehealth C&P exams, whereas VA forbids the use of telehealth technology by veteran-requested examiners.

Brief Summary

10 Sep 2020 – Members of the Advisory Committee on Disability Benefits discussed VBA's policy to encourage VA-employed and VA-contracted examiners to utilize telemental exam capabilities, but to forbid non-VA psychologists and psychiatrists from using the same technology. 

Veterans have a right to submit IME (independent medical exam) or IPE (independent psychological exam) findings to support their claim.

Veterans are thus at a disadvantage because in many instances if they (or their attorneys) wish to retain an independent expert, the veteran might have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles and incur significant expenses for travel, lodging, and food costs, as well as lost time from work. 

Here is what Advisory Committee members had to say about this unjust VA policy:

Mr. Wunderlich cited an Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that only 81 claims from April 2017 to September 2018 were deemed potentially fraudulent, and of those, only three were referred to OIG.

Furthermore, he argued that VA’s response did not really address Ms. Knowles’ concerns.

Mr. Hazell noted that the OIG report also mentioned the improper use of telehealth by private providers, but added that neither U.S. Code (U.S.C.) nor regulation prohibited [use of telehealth by private providers].

[Mr. Hazell] added that it was odd that VA was discouraging telehealth by private providers while expanding the ability of VHA and contract examiners to perform telehealth exams. Acting Chairman Pamperin agreed.

Dr. Sprague noted that his local Veterans Integrated Service Network had shut down all C&P exams during the COVID-19 pandemic except those that could be conducted by telehealth.

Acting Chairman Pamperin acknowledged VA’s right to make these kinds of policy decisions, but said that there was an obvious disconnect between this decision and what was actually going on, and suggested that the Committee include this topic in its biennial report.

Mr. Hazell offered to spearhead the write-up. Acting Chairman Pamperin pointed out that the topic seemed to have hit a sensitive note with several members, and encouraged Mr. Hazell to coordinate with them. Mr. Hazell said he was willing to do so.

[emphasis & line breaks added to facilitate online reading]


Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation: Meeting Minutes

27 Oct 2020 – The Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation (ACDC) posts meeting minutes on its home page. However, they post only the most recent minutes.

Starting in 2020, I began to post meeting minutes on this website (PTSDexams.net) so that you would have access to previous meeting summaries.

Available meeting minutes (PDF) can be downloaded by clicking on the links below.

Receive An Email Message When New ACDC Meetings Are Announced in the Federal Register

If you wish to receive email messages when the Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation posts notice of the next meeting dates, you can do so on the Federal Register website.

If you are a VIP Member, I posted a 4-page PDF guide—with specific instructions and images—for setting up such email notices on the VIP Downloads page.


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