Thursday, June 20, 2013

Veterans Should Apply To VA With Online #EBENEFITS System Now!

According to a VA Press Release (June 18, 2013), you can apply now for veterans benefits even if you have not collected all your records. Although you will need to get complete documentation as soon as possible for your claim to be processed, if you START your application NOW, then your benefits will start accumulating as of the day you started.
If you're a Veteran who is NOT registered with the VA Health Care System, STOP! Don't bother reading the rest of this post - GO TO EBENEFITS AND REGISTER NOW!
Otherwise ... In the past, you needed to complete an application and mail it it; then benefits started accumulating. This meant that the VA got a lot of paper, instead of the more easily processed electronic applications; it also meant that veterans missed out on days, weeks or even months of benefits because it takes time to gather papers.
That has now changed. Even if all that you know about your claim is your own name and the date you entered service (?how likely is it that you've forgotten that?) you should start the online application today so your benefits start accruing. You can go to a VSO office to fill out the rest of your claim - if they can't help you, then find another VSO that's a little smarter.
Here's the full press release:
"A new online application from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) enables disability compensation claims to be processed faster in a more end-to-end electronic environment, and VA is urging Veterans and their Veterans Service Organization  (VSO) representatives to make full use of its capabilities to receive speedier decisions and reduce the backlog of claims.

The availability of the joint VA-Department of Defense Web portal eBenefits, which now integrates with the new internal Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) electronic claims processing system, marks a major milestone in VA’s transformation from paper claims records to a fully digital operating environment, one of the keys to VA’s goal to eliminate the disability claims backlog by the end of 2015. VBMS has now been fielded at all 56 Regional Offices across the country, ahead of schedule.  VA will continue to upgrade and improve VBMS based on user feedback, and add features and tools that make it faster and easier to process claims. Instead of filling out and mailing paper forms to VA, Veterans can now use eBenefits to enter claim information online using a step-by-step, interview-style application, with pre-populated data fields and drop-down menus similar to popular tax preparation software.

“There are so many advantages to making this move from paper to digital – for both Veterans and VA” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “Veterans can now file their claims online through eBenefits like they might do their taxes online.”

By filing electronically, any compensation benefits that are awarded will be effective back to the date the Veteran started entering their claim information in eBenefits.  From that initial claim establishment date, each Veteran has up to a year to gather all necessary records and hit “submit” to preserve their original date of claim.

eBenefits allows Veterans to upload digital images of records and evidence to support their claims, bypassing the need to physically mail in personal records and wait for confirmation of receipt. VA is advising Veterans to gather and submit all relevant medical records and file a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) in eBenefits, which entails entering all available evidence at the time the claim is submitted and verifying to VA that they have no more evidence to submit. Veterans filing an FDC will receive priority processing over the traditional claims process.   VA can typically process FDCs in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, and there is no risk to Veterans in filing an FDC.  If VA finds that there is a piece of relevant evidence that was not submitted by the Veteran, but is needed for a rating decision (like private medical records), claims processors will work to obtain that evidence on the Veteran’s behalf and process the claim in the traditional way.

Once logged into eBenefits, Veterans can also choose to have an accredited VSO representative assist with their claim submission by filing an electronic power of attorney form.  Using a companion portal, the chosen VSO representative, with proper authorization, will be able to see the contents of a Veteran’s claim, track its status, and add additional information when needed. A Veteran and his representative can even work a claim simultaneously while both are logged into the system, enabling VSOs to assist more Veterans in their homes or even remotely.

VA will still accept claims in paper form, though processing may take longer than for an electronically-submitted claim.  As of this summer, VA scans all new paper claims and uploads them into VBMS so they too can be processed electronically, though without many of the benefits provided when Veterans initiate the process in eBenefits such as guided questions that help ensure complete and accurate information and the immediate receipt of information without having to wait for the scanning and processing of paper documents. In addition to filing claims online, registered eBenefits users can track their claim status and access information on a variety of other benefits, like pension, education, health care, home loan eligibility, and vocational rehabilitation and employment programs.

A free Premium eBenefits account is required to file claims electronically. The quickest and most convenient method of establishing a free premium eBenefits account is to complete the remote verification process through the eBenefits home page, or use DoD’s common access card (CAC) to register for and/or upgrade to a free premium account.  Veterans can also establish an account by telephone at 1-800-827-1000, option 7, if they are in receipt of VA benefits via direct deposit, or by visiting a VA regional office or TRICARE Service Center (if they are a military retiree). For the location of the nearest VA regional office, visit and search the VA regional benefits office locator.

While compensation claims are pending, eligible Veterans are able to receive healthcare and other benefits from VA.  Veterans who have served in recent conflicts are eligible for 5 years of free healthcare from VA. Currently, over 55% of returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans are using VA healthcare, a rate of utilization greater than previous generations of Veterans.

This is the latest effort in support of the Secretary’s plan to eliminate the backlog. On May 15, VA announced that it is mandating overtime for claims processors in its 56 regional benefits offices through the end of fiscal year 2013 to help eliminate the backlog, with continued emphasis on high-priority claims for homeless Veterans, those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and Veterans filing Fully Developed Claims.

In April, VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for Veterans who have waited one year or longer.   On April 19, VA began prioritizing claims decisions for Veterans who have been waiting the longest by providing decisions based on evidence currently in hand that allow eligible Veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits quickly while waiting for their final eligibility decision.

For more information about VA benefits, go to  For more information on VA’s Transformation, go to"

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Bullet Standard: A Modest Proposal

Ever notice how the same people who want us to go back to the Gold Standard almost always think that they need a whole lotta guns?
Have you *ever* met someone who favored reasonable regulation on dangerous weapons who also wants the end of paper money.
Friends, let us reason together. There is a compromise:

The Bullet Standard!

Congress can enact a simple law, backing paper money with bullets. I suggest this should be to make each bullet worth a flat amount, such as $5.
Now all the people who want solid specie can be happy. Some would prefer a pocket full of 22s for the convenience, others would display their bling with a pile of .50 cal.
The people who want to cut down on gun violence could also be happy. Everytime someone blazes away they would literally pay a price, which should lead some of them to be more thoughtful. Large-capacity magazines could be retooled into change purses, and coin collectors would do their part in taking millions of bullets out of the marketplace.
I appreciate that there are problems with this system, as there is with any system. We'll probably want to draw the line on explosive shells; explosive money is just too reminiscent of uncontrolled inflation.
There would be a problem in cutting over to the new system. Banks are notoriously short of bullets, and cash drawers would have to be retooled to fit bullets instead of bills. ATMs will have to be "recalibrated" as well. But these are transitional issues. We've tried almost everything else to heal our economy and reduce gun violence; why not attack both problems at the same time?

Why Samsung Sidekick Is A Terrible Phone

I got the Samsung Sidekick over a year ago, and it has been a pretty bad phone. It's cute, and has some fun features, but it fails as a phone and if it were a person, you'd say it's a thief.
The most dishonest thing this phone does is authorize charges for applications without telling me. I have to monitor my bill carefully to see what new charges it decides to rack up. Then when I call customer service, they say that this is impossible and anyway it's not their responsibility.
How I think it works is this:

  • It's a touch screen
  • It comes pre-loaded with applications that you can't remove, such as TeleNav GPS and T-Mobile TV.
I've tried removing those, and I can't: the manufacturer has them locked in and the "Uninstall" button is greyed out. This would be merely an annoyance except that the touch screen occasionally goes off on its own and starts punching it's own buttons.
Let's say the phone is in a pocket and I'm walking around. The random motion of my walking results in buttons being pushed. If I'm lucky, it's merely a telephone call (the infamous "butt dial") which can be funny or embarrassing, but it's no big deal. Sometimes it's another application: the camera, or anything, really. Random screen touches do random things.
Making the problem worse is that the phone locks up, a lot. It pauses, and then it rips through a whole lot of actions, as if it was storing them up and then executing the ones it "remembered".
Today, however, I discovered a big deal. Normally the bill comes in and I file it; it's a six-page bill loaded with the minutiae of charges; T-Mobile is dedicated to the proposition that if it lists enough stuff, you'll eventually stop looking. And that's what happens; after a year of discovering that reading through the six-page bill is a waste of time, I stopped reading through the bill and just filed it.
Today, however, as I filed the bill I noticed it was over $168. That's an absolutely crazy amount so I looked deeper. Buried on page 5 were charges for T-Mobile TV ($9.99 a month) and TeleNav GPS ($21.99 a month).
I never watch TV on my phone. I have no idea how the TV app got turned on, but I didn't do it. The charitable explanation is that it got "butt-dialed". There are less charitable explanations.
The Tele-Nav GPS issue is more clear. When I got the phone, there were two navigation applications. I used one for over a year with no charges and no problems; the world is full of navigation software and there's no reason to pay for it.
Some time last month, there was another update to the software. I was on my way somewhere and when I picked the navigator, it said it had to download an update; was that ok? I said sure, run the update, and thereafter the 1st application was gone and I was using the 2nd. I didn't really care; they all do the same thing and as long as it worked, it didn't matter to me.
Imagine my surprise when I read my bill and saw that I had in theory assented to pay those thieves $21.99 a month! This was not a case in which an honest person had come to me and made me an offer; I had no idea that there would be any charge; if there was any "fees apply" language it was too tiny to notice, and of course the entire interaction was carefully calculated to slide by me without notice (as the T-Mobile TV app had.)
I called T-Mobile "Customer Service" and after arguing with a clerk and then a manager, got the last 2 months charges for the T-Mobile TV reversed; they refused to go further on the grounds that the T-Mobile contract allowed challenges only for 60 days. They also said they'd put in a "request" to have the TeleNav GPS charges reversed, and that should take 3 days. Finally they said they'd "block" those apps for my device. They said they could not do more because T-Mobile was not responsible for the apps on my phone.
So what it boils down to this this: 
  • Thieves craft apps likely to be butt-dialed or to otherwise get the semblance of consent for taking my money without my knowledge
  • Thieves at Samsung install apps on phones that I can't remove; they don't tell me this when I buy the phone; they profit because the app maker gives them somethng for doing this
  • Thieves at T-Mobile pass the money from my bank account to the app thieves; T-Mobile helps the app thieves by hiding their charges in a 6-page bill; T-Mobile profits from being the bagman for the thieves.
Your second defense in this case is to read the bill every month and immediately contest every unexplained charge.
Your first defense is not to deal with these thieves. Of course, it's probably too late; you're probably already using a phone of some sort and there's a good chance they've picked you pocket.

The Samsung Sidekick is a lousy phone in a couple of other ways. The most important is this: as a phone, it is lousy. The first thing a phone should do is let you accept calls when people call you, and the sidekick is not good at it. None of its physical buttons have anything to do with this function; when someone calls, images appear on your screen and you have to swipe a button - not push it, but make a swiping gesture - which doesn't work when the phone does not feeling like working. I have often missed calls because the phone just didn't fell like answering.

The phone often locks up. When I took it to the T-Mobile store, the clerk recommended "fixing" this by pulling the battery and rebooting. I do this several times most days. It seems worse when it's hot.
The camera is awful. While the pictures it takes are good, it often decides it's just not in the mood for taking pictures. Whether you tap the onscreen picture button or use the physical "take picture" button, camera mode waits a random amount of time from 0 to 10 seconds .... being deigning to snap the photo. This is absurd.
The phone also complains about the memory card being full and needing to have some apps uninstalled, but it doesn't matter; I can uninstall every app and delete every picture; it still complains.
The phone has a couple of good features; the keyboard in particular is nice. But these don't outweigh the stalling, the locking-up, the butt dialing and above all the thievery.
Don't. Buy. It.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Our New Shed

Thanks to a heck of a lot of help from my brother Dan, we now have a new shed.
Our old shed was falling down and not very functional. We set ourselves a deadline of mid-July for replacing it, driven by the desire to look nice for the garden walks.
For a couple of months, we pondered solutions: scratch-built using roofing leftover from our house? An open bay for recycling bins? Built strongly enough for a roof garden?
Ultimately, time and expense brought us down to this 7x7 unit from Home Depot. It'll serve us for many years; perhaps the most important part is that I am carefully layout out what goes into it, so that everything is accessible without moving anything. I'd let the old shed become a bit too full, as a result of which it was hard to get at things - ironically perhaps, putting more things in a shed seems to decrease its functionality.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

4freeCLE: The Free CLE Newsletter! June 16, 2013

4freeCLE: The Free CLE Newsletter!
June 16, 2013
In This Issue
Webcasts This Week
Webcasts June 24-30
Webcasts - July
In California
In Florida
In Illinois
In Massachusetts
In Minnesota
In New York
In Ohio
In Pennsylvania
In Texas
In Washington
On-Demand CLE
Past 4freeCLE Issues
Are You A
Minnesota Attorney Facing June 30 CLE Deadline?
Richard Clem 
Minnesota attorneys seeking to meet the June 30 deadline for credit can now consult Attorney Richard Clem's "Don't Panic" listThe proprietor of Richard Clem Continuing Legal Education("High quality, reasonably priced CLE opportunities"), Clem has put together a handy list of those that earn credit for Minnesotans. There's more than 20 credits you can earn FREE, so if you're a Minnesota attorney, go have a look here! 

Webcasts This Week
Laptop UserAny place you can access the internet, you can earn free CLE!
Webcasts June 24-June 30
Register now and put them on your calendar!
Webcasts - July
Register now and put them on your calendar!

In-Person CLEs State-by-State
Forum Audience
Each of these programs can earn you credit, at no cost, in the state in which it is held.
In addition, these programs often can earn you credit in other states. If the organizer has not applied for credit in your state, check with the credit-granting authority in your state.
New York

On-Demand CLE
Learn what you need to know from the comfort of your home or office! 
  • Ethical Issues in Social MediaUnderstand the professional ethics rules and other state bar regulations governing the use of social media. By Lexvid.
Find more on-demand programs at 4freeCLE's List of On-Demand CLE. And feel free to share this list with a friend!

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