Libby presents bill to guarantee fairness for Maine Veterans

Posted: March 01, 2017 | Senator Libby, Veterans and Legal Affairs

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

AUGUSTA — Sen. Nate Libby was joined by veterans and advocates Wednesday in presenting a bill that would prohibit the Bureau of Veterans Services from cherry picking claimants based on their likelihood of success at the US Veterans Administration.

Sen. Libby introduced the bill — LD 465, “An Act to Assist Veterans in Their Applications for Service-related Benefits” — during a public hearing before the Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs.

Disturbing revelations about a policy at the Bureau prompted the bill’s submission. 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, reports 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 most needed assistance, 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.

“It was disturbing to me that a public entity like the Bureau, which is codified in statute to provide services like assistance with disability claims before the VA doesn’t serve all veterans who come to them for assistance,” said Sen. Libby. “It is a public entity, funded by public sources. Shouldn’t they be required to treat all veterans equally?”

Pam Trinward, a field representative for Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, submitted testimony in support of LD 456.

“I have been caught several times with veterans coming into my office after not being allowed to submit their claims with Maine Veterans Services,” wrote Trinward. The Bureau, she said, “should not decide whether their case has merit… Let the VA make the decision.”

No one spoke in opposition to the bill. The Bureau was absent from the public hearing.

LD 465 faces further action in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, and votes in the House and Senate.