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Craig's Blog

Big improvements in VA self-service for disability claims processing

Well, you can use something like TurboTax to do your own taxes. You get the right records, and use their software to submit an entire package.

Sometimes a CPA has to get involved, and they can use their own expert software to get the job done.  In either case, getting the right docs can be a pain, and then they need to be scanned in and sent to the right place. Once docs go electronic, they're easier to get to the right places, and harder to lose.

Veterans Affairs is now deploying something real similar. Looks like it's decently user-friendly, adjusted for the way that vets and veteran service orgs (VSOs) really operate. The software also accounts for all the laws and regulations, the rules that VA has gotta follow to write checks.

A vet would start up eBenefits, online, click on "Apply for Disability Compensation" and start filling in forms. In many cases, data fields get filled in automatically.

VA employee helps an Army veteran apply online for benefits at recent Association of the US Army conference.

VA employee helps an Army veteran apply online for benefits at recent Association of the US Army conference.

Hopefully, the vet can get some help and file a Fully Developed Claim, verifying that there's not more info to submit.  Fully Developed Claims (FDCs) get done relatively fast, and even if something's missing, the claim is queued up fairly quickly.

A vet can get help from a VSO, they have the Stakeholder Enterprise Portal. A VSO officer can check out the claim and move it along the process.

For more details check here and here.

Benefits to this stuff mean that the right evidence and documents can get to the right places much faster, resulting in way faster processing. With some luck, the huge stacks of paper at VA Regional Offices will start to shrink.

Web-literate vets should find that the online part of this is much like stuff they already use.  Gathering the right data maybe still be a challenge. VA's on it, getting VSO like Disabled America Vets and also the Legion. I'm following up to the extent a nerd can do.


Thank you note for VBA workers

Government workers don't get much respect these days, and are sometimes the targets of unfair abuse. That's not right.

In particular, I've been working with people from the Department of Veterans Affairs, mostly with workers from Veterans Benefits Administration, VBA.

A lot of work should've been started the middle of the last decade, but only since 2009 has VBA been able to start catching up at an impressive rate. That means developing new systems, and means that currently, claims processors are putting in five months worth of mandatory overtime.


It's not easy, requiring a lot of culture change, and moving to new systems while providing continuous veterans support via the old systems. This is difficult under the best of conditions, and worse when taking the verbal equivalent of friendly fire. That's like trying to remodel the plane you're flying on while your own side's shooting at you.

However, that story isn't being reported, so VBA workers get a lot of unfair crap, and that's not right.

I bear witness to the good work these guys are doing, first hand.

In 2009 I participated in a VBA employees' competition, where they suggested business process changes to expedite claims processing. In particular, I voted up what's become Disability Benefits Questionnaires, DBQs. I'm now quietly working with VA folks to improve their use.

A nerd's gotta do what a nerd's gotta do, so, for the record, I bear witness to the good work VBA people are doing, and will continue to follow through.


America's 50 Worst Charities

Hey, this is a really big deal. How often do you give to charities when you believe in their cause? You may think that the org is doing really good work, but I am actively involved with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), and unfortunately that's not what's always happening.

Hundreds of charities claim to help those in need. But of the millions of dollars raised each year, how much goes to cancer patients, disabled vets, and dying children? For some charities, almost nothing goes toward direct aid. CIR and the Tampa Bay Times worked to create a list of the 50 worst charities in America.

top 10 worst charities

It's important to be aware that you're not giving your hard earned money to bad actors.

The nation’s 50 worst charities have paid their solicitors nearly $1 billion over the past 10 years that could have gone to charitable works.


Some of the findings that CIR released include that:

  • The 50 worst charities in America devote less than 4% of donations raised to direct cash aid.
  • Some charities give even less than 4% to direct cash aid.
  • Over a decade, one diabetes charity raised nearly $14 million and gave about $10,000 to patients.
  • Six orgs spent nothing at all on direct cash aid.

There are a lot of charities out there who really have their boots on the ground doing good work and spending their donations wisely, but you need to make sure to do your research before you give. Bad actors are out there to take your money, and the cause you were donating to may never see the actual money.

The Center for Investigative Reporting shares a CNN report that will air tomorrow, 6/13, at 8pm EDT. They'll show you what happens when a reporter tries to confront the executives of some of the charities on the list above. And you'll find out how one charity network spent nearly 70% of the millions they raised on fundraisers.

This is a really big deal, and very important. Don't get fooled by bad charities. Here are some tips that CIR gives for making sure that your money is actually going to a worthy cause: There are many resources to make sure that you choose a good charity to give to, orgs who are the real deal.

Please help me spread the word by sharing this across your social platforms, and help to stop these bad actors.



Leave No Veteran Behind Wins First Bonus Challenge

Hey, I want to congratulate Leave No Veteran Behind and their team for all their hard work, and for winning the first Bonus Challenge in the CrowdRise Veterans Charity Challenge. They've really got their boots on the ground helping out Vets and their families.

The Challenge was: "Raise the Most between May 28th and June 3 at 12:00pm EST and you'll win $5000 for your charity."

leave no vet behind

Leave No Veteran Behind  (LNVB) has accomplished a lot in the four years they've been around. Here's a brief summary of what they've done:

  • Paid off the student loans of 7 Veterans totaling just under $100k
  • Directly employed over 150 Vets in transitional work with Chicago Public Schools
  • Paid out over $1.2 million dollars in transitional wages to Vets and their families
  • Trained over 250 Veterans in employment skills to include:
    • security
    • private investigation
    • bookkeeping
    • administrative support
    • information technology
    • executive management skills
  • Decreased youth violence on the Southside of the City of Chicago, according to public school behavior records, police department crime rates, and qualitative data aggregated by the University of Chicago's Consortium on School Research
  • Currently, LNVB serves over 7,000 Chicago school children on a daily basis with safety and mentorship services
  • LNVB places Veterans in long-term employment scenarios
  • LNVB has partnered with West Point Military Academy to deliver STEM training to over 100 youth in Chicago
  • LNVB has advocated for the State of Illinois' Veteran Earned Income Tax Credit to help decrease statewide Veteran unemployment rates
  • 82% of every dollar goes to direct program support

I'm honored to be able to give money to this nonprofit. I just figure that if someone's willing to risk their life for me, I should give back, and this is the least that I can do. A nerd's gotta do what a nerd's gotta do.

Make sure to check out the Veterans Charity Challenge to find out which Bonus Challenges are coming up next, and if you're on Twitter, you can follow the conversation using #VetsChallenge.




Help me give back to vets and their families

Hey there folks,

I'd like your help, if you're able, to raise money for nonprofits who work with veterans and military families. The Veterans Charity Challenge just launched today, and we'd love for you to be a part of it.

As Memorial Day nears, I've teamed up with CrowdRise and the Rahr Foundation to give $100k to organizations who really have their boots on the ground. Find out which nonprofits have already signed up here: And it's not too late for other nonprofits to sign up, if you want to share this with your favorite org that works with vets.

I may be repeating myself, but it's my philosophy that if someone's willing to serve overseas and risk taking a bullet for me, I should give back at least a little. Also, everyone should remember that it's not only a troop serving, it's also his or her family who gives up a lot for all of us.

vet charity challenge

We're helping to raise lots of money for these great orgs through the Veterans Charity Challenge on CrowdRise.

The challenge runs from May 23 at 12pm EST (today) through July 3 at 12pm EST.

Here's the deal, the top 3 fundraising teams that raise the most for their cause by the end of the Challenge will win grand prizes:

  • 1st place: $35,000 donation
  • 2nd place: $25,000 donation
  • 3rd place: $15,000 donation

In addition to the grand prizes, $25k will be given to Veterans and Military Family charities throughout the campaign as weekly Bonus Challenges, and I've agreed to do an interview with one org who wins a Bonus Challenge. And we haven't forgotten about the generous donors – there will be prizes throughout the Challenge for donors to win, too, like this t-shirt I designed that says “A nerd’s gotta do, what a nerd’s gotta do.”


If you're able, please help out these orgs. They're the real deal. I’d really appreciate it, and so would the nonprofits doing all the hard work. Visit: And, if you're on Twitter, follow the hashtag #VetsChallenge to join the conversation.

This is my small part to make a difference here; I don't see it as altruism, it just feels good. A nerd's gotta do, what a nerd's gotta do, and if you could help, it'd really be a good way to thank the vets and their families.