Committee OKs Libby bill to guarantee fairness for Maine veterans

Posted: May 08, 2017 | Senator Libby

LD 465 prevents Bureau of Veterans Services from dismissing veterans who need help

The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee voted 6-4 on Friday to endorse legislation introduced by Sen. Nate Libby that would prohibit the Bureau of Veterans Services from cherry picking claimants based on their likelihood of success at the US Veterans Administration.

Disturbing revelations about a policy at the Bureau prompted submission of the bill, LD 465. Most veterans, especially those with complicated claims, cannot navigate the complexities of the VA claim process on their own. They turn to the Bureau, which employs Veterans Service Officers, or VSOs, charged with helping veterans navigate the VA claim process.

Matthew Haley, who was a VSO with the Bureau for two years, reported at the public hearing on the bill that the VSOs were regularly told not to take up claims with a low probability of success at the VA. Instead, they were told to focus their efforts on claimants they thought were most likely to succeed — leaving veterans with the most complicated cases, who need assistance the most, out of luck.

“Every veteran, regardless of the circumstances of their service or their current socio-economic position, has the right to fair and equal representation,” Haley said.

Hayley explained this preferential treatment to Sen. Libby, the Assistant Senate Democratic Leader, and worked with him to draft LD 465. As amended by the Committee, the bill prohibits the Bureau from discriminating on initial claims brought forth by Maine veterans and requires the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services to represent any veteran bringing an initial claim to them.

“That the Bureau, which is codified in statute to provide this assistance to veterans, doesn’t serve all veterans equally is disturbing to me,” said Sen. Libby. “It simply doesn’t make any sense that they wouldn’t already be doing this, but that’s why we brought LD 465 forward.”

LD 465 now heads to the Senate for initial votes.