Vote Against Ending Veterans' Individual Unemployability

For a pdf copy of our letter, download here

June 12, 2017

US Congressman Ro Khanna

California’s 17th District

900 Lafayette Street, Suite 206

Santa Clara, CA 95050

 

Dear Congressman Khanna:

Located in San Jose, California, the Veterans Supportive Services Agency, Inc. (VSSA) is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as an Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501 (c) (3) nonprofit charitable agency.  Staffed by mostly volunteers and established in January 27, 2011, VSSA’s sole purpose is to provide life-time enhancing supportive services to US Veterans and families. 

Currently, VSSA is serving over 1,300 clients, and has helped over 150 veterans attain100% service-connected disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  Though we are located in San Jose, our Veteran clients originate from throughout the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, State of California and some parts of the United States.

We are writing to you in response to President Donald Trump's plan, as included in his budget, to end Individual Unemployability (IU) benefit payment to seriously disabled Veterans once they reach retirement entitlement age of sixty-two (62) with the Social Security Administration (SSA).  Eventually, this proposed budget would impact approximately 225,000 Veterans.

Background:  According to the VA, in order "To establish entitlement to compensation as if 100 percent disabled based on individual unemployability (IU) a Veteran must be unable to secure or obtain employment by reason of service-connected (SC) disability."  In other words, a "Veteran's unemployability is a result of SC disabilities."   Their service-connected disabilities are so severe that they cannot continue to retain their current employment, or obtain any substantially gainful employment now or in the future.

Once a Veteran receives 100% total disability rating based on IU, more than likely the Veteran will not work again. When the Veteran stops working, this Veteran will discontinue contributing into her/his Social Security Retirement Account.  If the Veteran has worked at least forty (40) quarters or ten (10) years contributing into Social Security, this Veteran will eventually receive a small amount of Social Security Retirement Benefits once this Veteran reach the retirement age of 62. 

On the other hand, as included in one of our examples, if a Veteran stops working and discontinues paying Social Security Taxes before fulfilling the minimum requirement of working at least forty (40) quarters or equivalent to ten (10) years in order to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits, this Veteran will not be qualified to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits.

Examples:  At twenty (20) years old, Leo C. decided to serve our country and joined the United States Army.  While in the Army, his Occupational Specialty was 11B 10 Light Weapons Infantry.  He eventually served for three (3) years, a year of which was served in Afghanistan. While serving in Afghanistan, he experienced and witnessed several traumatic events resulting in being rated at 70% with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  

Shortly, after his three (3) year separation from the Army, he worked sporadically for ten (10) years prior to him being declared unemployable by his VA Psychiatrist.  Today, Leo is rated at 70% PTSD but because of the severity of his service-connected disability, he is being paid at 100% totally disabled rating.  With a 100%, he is being paid at approximately $3,400 a month because of his wife and children.

Leo is now thirty-six (36) years old.  In twenty-six (26) years, Leo would reach the age of sixty-two (62).  At this time, the President's Budget Proposal would have Leo retiring with Social Security Retirement Benefits.  But Leo doesn't qualify.  Even though Leo doesn't qualify, he will have to give up his VA IU 100% disability payments. 

At this time Leo's children are no longer dependent and Leo is now receiving 70% at $1,445.71 (today's rate).  When he was at 100%, Leo was receiving a $3,071.11 a month (also today's rate).  Without his IU, he will only receive $1,445.71, a total loss of $1,632.40 or 53% reduction in his monthly family income. He will lose 53%, or $1,632.40 upon reaching the age of sixty-two (62).  Imagine the debilitating financial impact this loss would bring to Leo and his wife at retirement.

David G. spent eight (8) years, between 1977 though 1985, serving our country with the United States Navy.  David suffered numerous injuries while serving our country and as time moves on, these injuries continue to get worse that by April 1, 2016, at age thirty-five (35) he receives VA 100% IU rating.  

Because his service connected disabilities made him unable to continue working, he applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) with the Social Security Administration (SSA).  Subsequently, the SSA approved his SSDI application allowing him to continue receiving Social Security Disability Benefits rather than waiting to receive his Social Security Retirement Benefits at the age of sixty-two (62).

The Budget proposal by the President would result in David losing his IU when he reaches sixty-two (62).  Like Leo, David, at today's rate, would be receiving $1,576.84 on his 70% rating and $2,915.55 on his IU.  At retirement age when the Social Security Retirement kicks in, David would lose the difference between his 70% and his IU totaling $1,576,84 or a 54% reduction.  Because he is already receiving SSDI, by the time he reaches sixty-two (62), his SSDI would be converted into SSA Retirement Benefits with no gains and no loss.  Amount would remain the same.

The VA was very wise in having the IU policy.  The IU is designed to compensate those of us whose injuries are so severe that we could not continue to work or to obtain any substantial gainful employment.  As you can see, approving the President's proposal will have a tremendous financial impact on Veterans who are receiving 100% VA IU ratings.  As our examples have shown, these financial impacts could result in Veterans living on Poverty leading into homelessness.

There are many more Leos and Davids among our disabled ranks.  What is being proposed and the impacting consequences on the Leos and Davids are nothing short of travesty and injustice.  Is this the way to honor those of us who suffered injuries while serving our country by placing us in jeopardy, in poverty with the eventual results of homelessness? 

As a Veteran who served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, I hope our country would be more sensitive to those of us who suffered lifetime injuries. Don't discard and ignore us because our usefulness is over.  Think where our country would be in the future if this is the way we treat our Veterans today. 

I hope you could find it in your heart to vote against the President's proposal and leave IU alone as it is.

With honors,

Tito A. Cortez, MSW

Vietnam War Disabled Veteran - US Army

Founder and Volunteer Executive Director

 

cc:

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, California

US Senator Kamala Harris, California

US Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, California’s 12th Congressional District

US Congresswoman Barbara Lee, California’s 13th Congressional District

US Congresswoman Jackie Speier, California’s 14th Congressional District

US Congressman Eric Swalwell, California’s 15th Congressional District

US Congressman Jim Costa, California’s 16th Congressional District

US Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, 18th Congressional District

US Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, 19th Congressional District

US Congressman Jimmy Panetta, 20th Congressional District

Supervisor Dave Cortese, President, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

Mayor Sam Liccardo, City of San Jose

Rose Herrera, former Vice-Mayor, City of San Jose

Johnny Khamis, Councilmember, District 10 and Veterans Community Liaison, City of San Jose

L. Schreiber, Commander, American Legion, California, 13th District

Fran McVey, Chairperson, National Guard and Veterans Affairs Commission, Santa Clara County

David Sanders, President, United Veterans Council, Santa Clara County

Warren Finch, President, Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 201

 

"We Honor Veterans" Program

The "We Honor Veterans" Program is a nationwide program that many hospice organizations participate in. This program recognizes Veterans for their service to our Country. Each Veteran is presented a framed "We Honor Veterans" certificate and an American flag pin that is pinned on their shirt or collar. The presentation and pinning is normally performed by another Veteran. This "Pinning" event has a very positive effect on the Veteran, often bringing them to tears.  At this point in their life there are not many things that effectively touch their hearts as much as this "Pinning" event does.  VSSA, and American Legion Northside Post 858,  are currently supporting two local hospice organizations: Bridge Hospice and Pathways Hospice. Our Chaplain, Pastor Bill McCorquodale, is deeply involved in this Program and serves as our primary point-of-contact with the hospice leadership and often performs the "Pinning".

One of the Veterans who was recently "Pinned" by Pastor Bill was a 99 year old WWII veteran,  Alfred Ratledge. Mr. Ratledge's family was so delighted in how much the "Pinning" event positively affected Mr. Ratledge that Pastor Bill and his wife were invited to attend his 100th birthday celebration. When Pastor Bill shared this event with our VSSA Board of Directors,  one if our Directors, Ms. Angel Sangalang, contacted California Assemblyman Kansen Chu who personally came to the celebration and presented Mr. Ratledge with a Certificate from the State Assembly in honor of his Service to our Country and reaching his 100th Birthday.

Recently Pastor Bill was invited to be the Keynote speaker for Pathways Hospice's "We Honor Veterans" Kickoff Event. During this event, Pastor Bill presented certificates to five of Pathways employees and volunteers who are Veterans.  The "Pinning" itself was performed by Pathways CEO Barbara Burgess, who served in the U.S. Air Force as a nurse.

We, at VSSA, are excited to support the "We Honor Veterans" program and look forward to expanding our support and participation in the future.

Independence High School interviews VSSA Veterans

Hello, my name is May and I’m a Senior at Independence High School. In Ms. Zausch’s 6th period economics class, my classmates and I created a company to learn about entrepreneurship and how a business is created and managed. We were sponsored by Junior Achievement, a non-profit, volunteer based organization created to help K-12 students prepare for their future. Our company name is Libertatem, or Independence in Latin. As a class we chose to sell baseball caps with an original design by the VP of Finance, Dillon. The design was an eagle with the American flag imprinted inside. Libertatem chose this design to represent our school and our nation because it is the U.S. national emblem. Because our design focused mainly on independence, we chose to donate 10% of our profit to a veteran organization because the veterans once fought for our independence. As the Public Relations representative, my job was to seek out a charity. But the President of Libertem, Melisa, mentioned VSSA to me since we passed by it on our way to teach students at Noble School. I immediately searched VSSA on Google and called their number. I spoke with Tiara about setting up a meeting with the veterans to have an interview, take pictures and videos.

On April 6th, Melisa, Kristy, Amy, our photographer, and I dropped by VSSA for the interview. We spoke to 7 veterans (Tito, Sam, Cris, Pastor Bill, Mike, Larry and Jerry) and learned about their years in the service. I learned so much more that day about the Vietnam War from them than I ever did through a textbook. I understand that talking about their past experience in the service wasn’t easy, but they told us more than we could ask for. It was truly an amazing experience to listen to these wonderful veterans share their story with us. I truly cherish and appreciate the time the veterans took out of their day to meet with us and the years they spent in service fighting, not just for me, but all of us.

I enjoyed our conversation so much I asked if we could schedule another day so my class could meet them also. On May 5th, Tito, Cris, Pastor Bill and Mike came to our school to speak to my class. My class enjoyed meeting the veterans and even some stayed behind to ask more questions. VSSA is an amazing organization to work with and meeting the veterans was a wonderful experience. Thank you again VSSA for working so closely with us. Thank you Tito, Sam, Cris, Pastor Bill, Larry, Jerry and Mike for your service.

Pastor Bill McCorquodale- VSSA Chaplain Services and Spiritual Counselor

Pastor Bill

Time and again when we are in need of Emotional Help, Spiritual Counseling, Family Counseling, Life Coaching, Bereavement Counseling, Memorial and Funeral Counseling and other counseling services for our emotional needs, we are very fortunate to have Pastor Bill.  Pastor Bill's services are a much needed welcomed addition to our wide array of services.  Those of us who suffer with PTSD at times see a road ahead, much too dark to travel.  Pastor Bill's help provides us a shining light, making it easier for us to see there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As  Chaplain of both VSSA and American Legion Northside Post 858, Pastor Bill is an Ordained Minister and Local Pastor who volunteers here at the VSSA.  He is a US Navy Vietnam Veteran serving from 1968 to 1974.  Before entering full time ministry, Pastor Bill spent 35 years in High Tech companies, serving in multiple leadership positions.  He is an active member of the American Legion, VSSA's Representative to United Veterans Council of Santa Clara County and an active member of Vietnam Veterans of America.

Pastor Bill's office hours at VSSA are on Monday and Wednesday. Please call (408) 770-2527 to schedule an appointment.

Helping our Homeless Veterans

By Tito A. Cortez

We work closely with the Homeless Veterans Emergency Housing Facility at 10 Kirk Avenue known to many of us as the Kirk House in San Jose, California.  And we were lucky because after 2 years, we were able to help our First Homeless Veteran received a 100% disability rating.  

Additionally, with the help of our Brother Kevin Martin, a Veteran Homeless Peer Counselor with VA Palo Alto Health Care System and Menlo Park, our caseloads have, over the last three months, catapulted to over 90 homeless Veteran brothers and sisters coming to VSSA to apply for service connected disability compensation claim.  Thank you, Kevin.  Brother, this is your mission.

When we were serving, we made a promise to never let anyone of our brothers and sisters left behind especially during war.  The same should be true now that our brothers and sisters are Veterans.   

And we are highly thankful of our brothers and sisters in Monterey County, Fort Ord, California, for continuing to help our Homeless Brothers and Sisters by sponsoring their 3rd Annual Stand Down to be held in August 19, 2016 to August 21, 2016. If you can spare a little bit of time, please go to www.vtcmonterey.org or call Marlene at 831-883-8387 x 238. 

We are also very excited of Ms. Marion Moses, Director of the County Veterans Service Office of Santa Clara County in announcing before the Veterans Voices of Santa Clara County that she and her office will be sponsoring a Stand Down for our Homeless Veterans in Santa Clara County and Silicon Valley in the near future.  Thank you, Ms. Moses for caring and sponsoring a Stand Down in Santa Clara County.

Why Wear a Veteran Hat

By Tito A. Cortez

Veterans, my brothers, and sisters, often wonder why I always wear my Veteran hat.  

My brother Don, who is a Vietnam War Disabled Veteran with the United States Navy, told me he doesn't want to wear any Veteran hat because he doesn't want to be recognized as a Veteran.  My other brother George, on the other hand, who is a peace-time Veteran, doesn't wear his Veteran hat because as he said, "I didn't do nothing."

The biggest generation ever to fight the War, our WWII Veterans. love to wear their hat.  My Filipino WW II Veteran brother said he loves wearing his Veteran hat because as he stated, "I am proud to have fought for our freedom."

Well, I love wearing my Vietnam War Veteran Hat because I am proud of having served our country and I am not ashamed of having served in Vietnam with the United States Army. 

In fact, I'm not ashamed to tell my brothers and sisters that as unpopular as it was,  I volunteered and joined the Army during the Vietnam War.  And to show you how proud I am, I  own over 20 Vietnam Veteran hats I have collected over the years.  

According to the VA Profile of Veterans: 2014, there are 19,386,589 (231,986,987 non-Veterans) Veterans, who served in our Armed Forces.  Wouldn't it be awesome, when at any given day, at any given time, you meet an individual who is wearing a WWII Veteran Hat, Korean War Hat, Vietnam War Hat, US Army, US Navy, USMC, Coast Guard, Air Force, Iraq Veteran, Afghanistan Veteran, Gulf War Veteran etc...

Imagine, we will be visible and wouldn't it be nice to know there are many of us who were willing to sacrifice our lives so others can enjoy our freedom.  

So, my brothers and sisters, the next time you are wearing a sports hat or a team hat or whatever, how about changing it to a Veteran's hat and be proud of what you are--a Veteran who was willing to sacrifice everything because what is the use of living without our freedom.  

But according to my brother, Frank, who is also a Vietnam War Disabled Veteran with the US Army, it is our choice as to whether or not we want to wear our Veteran hat.  After all, he said, "we served to preserve one of our most precious freedoms-- our freedom of choice".

 

Time Wasters...

By Tito A. Cortez

A Veteran who, while serving in Vietnam, as one therapist worker in writing this Veteran's Nexus letter,  served with the "First Cavaliers ... and the Rice Patties".  

Being a Vietnam War Disabled Veteran myself, and if you served at all, you can tell by now that he served with at least the First Cavalry Division, and in fact, engaged in some firefights, not in rice patties (hamburger anyone?) but in rice paddies.  

Or just by looking at this write up, you could also guess he could have served with the 101st Air Cavalry Division. This "Therapist's" writing resulted in this Veteran receiving a denial for his service connected disability claim for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Even though this Veteran didn't received an award for PTSD, he decided to remain with this agency with the hope of having different result the next time around.  The next time around was no different.  This Therapist, who claimed to be a Navy Combat Veteran having served aboard a Destroyer, wasted his time, the Veterans time (3 more years before rated) and most of all, wasted the VA times.  This Therapist works for the VA and he should know better.
 
Somehow through word of mouth, this Veteran found out about us. He came to see us on April 9, 2015.  What we found out was a highly decorated soldier and in his record, this Veteran served with Co. A., 101st Aviation Battalion,  101st Air Cavalry and later on to 3rd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, not "First Cavaliers". When we looked at his record, he wasn't even diagnosed with PTSD even though this Therapist declared otherwise. 

As most us should know in order to be approved with service connected disability based on PTSD, the Veteran has to be diagnosed, preferably by a VA Psychiatrist not a "Therapist".  Additionally, the Veteran must complete a stressor validating the traumatic events he was claiming.  His previous claims contained neither of these.

So when this Vietnam War Veteran came to us, our first step is to arrange for him to have an appointment with a VA Psychiatrist and be diagnosed.  The next thing was to assist the Veteran in completing a Stressor and partner with him the rest of the way until his mission was completed.

He came to us on April 9, 2015, and by June 6, 2016, he received his 100% service connected disability compensation.  Even those who served with "First Cavaliers", sometimes when corrected could received what they richly deserved.  

Whatever the governmental slogan is in helping us, Veterans, to this "Cavaliers" VA staff, helping our veterans is a job, a career and money to pay the bills.  To us, on the other hand,  it is our mission.  We don't get paid to help others reach their mission.  We go with them and accompany them along the way until the mission is accomplished.

And we tried very hard not to be a time waster.

Another time waster...

wasting time.jpg

By Tito A Cortez

The other day, a Veteran came to us for help with his service connected disability compensation claim.  He initially filed a claim for several injuries. However, all of his claim were denied. As most of us know that when you received an award letter (claim denial), included is an attachment of a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) form for appeal.  The VA is telling you if you disagree with their decision, it is your right to appeal. 

Because this Veteran disagreed with the VA's denial, he completed this NOD form and appealed all of the VA's decision.   Subsequently he mailed this completed form to the VA. 

One of the denied claims he appealed was his claim for individual unemployability.

During our interview, we asked him if he is retired.  He responded by saying he is working full-time. We asked why he applied for individual unemployability and he said his friend told him he could.  And when the VA denied his claim for unemployability, once again, his friend also told him to file an appeal.  

Without smiling, we told him that unemployability claims are for those who are no longer working and who have attained a disability rating of one disability at a minimum of 60% or if more than two, a rating of at least 70%, one of which must be 40%.  Or if you don't have this rating, you could submit your claim to the Director, Compensation and Pension Service, for extra circular consideration. 
But the VA will not consider his individual unemployability claim because he is still yet to be rated.  You have to have a disability rating before you could claim individual unemployability. 

Sometimes in life, we need to use our common sense.  When asked if this Veteran can apply for unemployment benefits, he responded by saying no because he is working full time.  

What makes him think the VA will approved his unemployability claim while working full time and at the same time yet to be rated.

Do you think this Veteran has a chance for the Appeal Board to overturn his denied claim for unemployabilty?  If we use our common sense, we don't do something this stupid.  This Veteran had a long wait for nothing.

In the process, he wasted his time in applying, especially for unemployability because he is still working full-time.  This is one example of the many things a Veteran might do in applying without knowing what he is doing. 

In the process, he wasted valuable time from the VA because as each of us know, the VA must process each claim submitted by Veteran because the VA is mandated to process every Veteran's claim for compensation.  

We all could help the VA's backlog by knowing what we are doing, and if we don't know what we are doing, ask for help from someone who knows.

Applying without knowing could in the end become a tremendous time waster, wasting valuable time that could be devoted to a brother or sister Veteran who has a bona fide claim.  

VSSA and Service Disability Compensation

By Tito A. Cortez

VSSA was established in January 27, 2011 and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a 501c3 Internal Revenue Code (IRC) charitable private nonprofit organization.  Staffed primarily by volunteers and with a primary mission of helping US Armed Forces Veterans and families in submitting their claim for service connected disability compensation, VSSA has helped over 1,200 clients resulting in over 120 of them receiving total disability rating of 100%.  In monetary terms, each of these 120 Disabled Veterans is receiving over $3,000 a month or $36,000 a year, tax free.  

Collectively, there are many more who are rated 90% and below, and if you translate those whom we have helped and now receiving compensation, you could readily see the impact on our Veterans family as well the impact on our local economy.  Nonetheless, VA compensations are truly life changing. 

The government always refers clients to each other.  Because we are not part of them, because we are nonprofit, VSSA will always be the last place to visit when Veterans are not satisfied of the help they received in completing their application for service connected disability compensation.  Time and again, many have tried other governmental places only to receive needed forms and were told to return when completed.   And some never returned.

At times, it seemed that public agencies only care to put Veterans info into their system for service statistics, symbolizing they helped a Veteran today.  They don't care about the results of their helping.  And not caring means much lip services were provided and in the process, not too many Veterans get the help they needed. 

Those who didn't get the help they needed sometimes find VSSA, a  small nonprofit agency, staffed by volunteers and yet currently managing over 1,200 clients.  With a governmental budget 70 times VSSA, our counterpart has a full time director, 5 case managers, several support staff and managing 2,500 clients.  Now, you can understand why we are the Equalizer.  We are the alternative.

What is compensation?  

A disability compensation is a monthly monetary benefit paid to Veterans who are determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to be disabled by an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.  These disabilities are considered to be service connected.  To be eligible for compensation, a Veteran must have been separated or discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. 

How can you qualify for a service disability compensation?  

First and foremost, you must have suffered an injury or injuries while serving in the military and you have documented medical evidence that in fact these injuries happened while you were serving and now they are becoming worse.  

If you claim to have suffered an injury while serving, you must still be diagnosed, preferably, by a VA Medical Doctor ensuring your injury is worse than ever. If you have recovered from your injury, you probably don't have a claim for service connected disability compensation. Should you file, your claim would probably be denied.