Transforming Service to Veterans
Paul Lawrence is an Army veteran and also served as the Under Secretary of Benefits at the VA. During his time with the VA, he worked to streamline the bureaucracy to help veterans get the benefits they apply for quickly and accurately.
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Scott DeLuzio 00:00:00 Thanks for tuning into a Drive on Podcast where we're focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community, whether you're a veteran active duty guard reserve, or family member, this podcast we'll share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio 00:00:22 Everybody welcome back to the Drive On Podcast today. My guest is Paul Lawrence. Paul is an Army veteran and also served as the Undersecretary of Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs. During his time with the VA, he worked to streamline the bureaucracy to help veterans get the benefits that they apply for, quickly and accurately., Paul is also the author of the book, Transforming Service to Veterans. In this episode, we're going to talk about Paul's time at the VA and how he's helped veterans along the way, and as well as a little bit about his book at the end. So, welcome to the show, Paul, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Paul Lawrence 00:01:01 Hey, thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me with you. Yeah. it's an interesting story. I grew up in an army family. My father was a career military officer in the army. He was in the Signal Corps. We moved all around the world during the cold war thing, lived in Europe a couple times back and forth, and I was actually born in Japan. I left after a year, so I don't remember anything of it. So basically it seemed natural that I would join ROTC when I was in college. I did, I joined army ROTC. I delayed my going in so I could go on and get my PhD in economics at Virginia Tech. And then I went into the army. So I did my three years. I completed my ROTC requirement. I got out and then I moved to Washington and became a consultant to the government, primarily working in accounting firms, consulting to the government.
Paul Lawrence 00:01:50 And so that's where I was. When someone said, Hey, you should apply for this cool job at the VA. And that's how I became the undersecretary of your benefits. I would definitely say being a veteran and being in a military family really kind of informed my thinking and really, while it wasn't all my life, it was a significant part of my life. And some of the things I still remember, my father taught me and I still remember, I think about all the time, that was some of the things that led me to want to serve.
Scott DeLuzio 00:02:16 And I think it's important to coming from a military background to kind of have that understanding of what is important to, to the veterans and having that in, in your family history, in living the military life, moving from one base to another and moving all over the world, you kind of get a sense for that probably from an early age, where some other people who may not have had that experience, they wouldn't have been able to experience that in and wouldn't have that understanding necessarily of what it's like, to be in the military, and part of a military family, especially
Paul Lawrence 00:02:54 Right. And to move, to live in foreign countries where they don't speak English, where you can learn different languages and see the whole kind of thing where you deal with people who do not like Americans and you don't understand why. So yeah, it's really eye opening. And it's just, in retrospect, it was a pretty amazing experience. And I know my father thought as much too, he had come from a small town outside of Boston. He was the first person in his family to go to college, and now to be traveling all around the world was just like, wow, this is pretty amazing. When you think about where he came from.
Scott DeLuzio 00:03:26 Yeah, absolutely. And I know that's true with some of the people I served with as well. They never really left kind of their hometown area. And then, all of a sudden now we find ourselves in Afghanistan and other places throughout the country as we're training and whatnot too. So, it's definitely interesting to see that with other people as they progress through their military career. Let's talk about your time with the VA. Now, the VA, it's obviously a big organization, it's responsible for many different programs, not, not just the benefits, you were a part of, but, could you give an overview of kind of what the VA does and specifically what you were responsible for with the veterans benefits administration?
Paul Lawrence 00:04:16 Sure. A good way to think about the VA is sort of like about 400,000 people a little bit less when I was there and it's divided into three sort of, they call administrations, but think about them as operating companies, right? And so the largest is the veterans health administration, all the doctors, all the hospitals, I forgot the number 500 hospitals, the largest integrated medical system in the United States, right. Sees everybody and does that. So most people have envisioned that picture.. They are large in terms of people, but actually when you add up all the benefits, the veterans benefits administration is actually larger between the budget, as well as all the money paid for benefits. So it's about 25,000 people. That was what I was in charge of. And it does what it says, the benefits, disability compensation, pension, fiduciary, home loan guarantee
Paul Lawrence 00:05:07 No money down home purchase the GI bill, the education benefit, VRE (veterans readiness and employment). And I forgot one more insurance- large insurance company within. And so basically takes care of all the benefits. And then the last one is the national cemetery administration, which is pretty clear, whatever rent runs, a series of cemeteries for folks to be honored at the end of their service to all of us. And so it's much smaller as you can imagine, but they're really, really good at what they do. They win all the customer satisfaction scores for best organization, like anywhere public or private. It's a pretty amazing organization. So most people immediately think about VA. They think about the hospitals VHA, but the first interaction when you become a veteran is actually with the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is why it's so important as folks come into the system, they have a very positive experience and often disability compensation is one of the hardest things to start with. So it's really one of the challenges to make it a good experience when people come away going.” Yeah, my military service was great. And when I became a veteran, that was also good too”. So that's really the challenge.
Scott DeLuzio 00:06:13 Yeah. And it is a challenge. I think back to my transition when I got out of the military and I was looking into what benefits were available. And at times it felt like I was drinking from a fire hose.
Paul Lawrence 00:06:30 Fire hose, yup.
Scott DeLuzio 00:06:31 That's just so much stuff to go through. And, you know, we even had those, those classes where they sit you down and they say, okay,, these are the benefits that you're eligible for, and here's how you apply and this, that, and the other. And, and you, you go through it at, you know, a sprinting pace and,it's just, it's almost overwhelming. And so,you know, from, from my side of the table, from the,, the veteran side of it, the of all of this, it, it really, I felt like I needed to go and do some of the legwork myself and actually understand what's available to me., All the information, all the paperwork was great. I needed to sit down and actually try to understand all of it, because there's just so much, and, no fault of, of anyone who tried to send me through all of this, this stuff, it's just,, it's a lot of material to go through in a short period of time. So,, you know, in your book, you talk about your initial assessment of the veterans benefits administration, when you first You know, got him into that role., and there were some things that were working well and others needed some improvement. Can you talk about how you made this initial assessment and how you prioritized, what needed to be done and, and the, the improvements that needed to be made?
Paul Lawrence 00:07:54 Well, one of the things, one of the things I went through the confirmation process is the veterans benefits administration has a lot of information about how well they're doing. They produce a lot of information. How many claims are being processed, How many things are being done, GI bill claims are being done. How many people are getting pension and the like, and it was easy to read reports from GAO- the government accountability office, or watch hearings, congressional testimony and see what was going on. So I had a pretty good sense of what was taking place, in each of the benefits. They call them business lines, each of the business lines that was going on, but I had some initial hypothesis about how well things were going or not going. I also knew that when I showed up in 2018, especially in disability compensation, there had been a LAR a period of time in the 2013 and 2014 period where the backlog of claims claims that were over 125 days waiting to be resolved had been really, really large, more than 600,000 and had just gotten down to about 70,000 when I showed up.
Paul Lawrence 00:08:58 So I knew it was an organization that had made tremendous improvement, but I did have some questions about how well some of the other business lines were going. So I spent a lot of time early on talking to the leaders, getting a sense for who really understood their business and so I got a pretty good sense early on as to who was doing a good job and who quite frankly, probably was in the wrong job. I noticed that there were a lot of promotions that were ten-year based versus merit based. So I had to deal with that. And then quite frankly, the one thing I never understood coming from the private sector was what I'll call middle level, middle level layer. So for example, Scott, if you are running a business, you have pretty good responsibilities in the VBA. When I first showed up, you would report to a deputy under secretary who would then report to me.
Paul Lawrence 00:09:46 And I thought, well, if you're really good at your business, you don't need these folks between me and them and talk about stuff, right? They aggregate information, and sometimes you just lose information. So have I removed the whole layer of management and converted those positions to help solve more veterans problems. So I thought that was really helpful to empower people, to run their business, because I mean, I think everybody who does stuff, whatever it is, you always think you're worthy of more responsibility earlier than you get it. You always think if I would just get these knucklehead bosses out of my way, I would do a better job. And I believe that too. And I did that. So I really sought to, you know, move layers, find the people who were really good and quite frankly, had a passion for caring about veterans. I just noticed that after a while, people kind of got into a wall and were comfortable, what I call coming up short or not really adhering to the law.
Paul Lawrence 00:10:38 They weren't doing fraud or whatever, but they weren't really kind of following through on the promises. So there was a little bit of that. So quite frankly, I knew my time there would be short and I really wanted to help veterans and have the service be better. That's part of why I took the job. You know, you said, why, why do you take these jobs? Well, I was naive. I wanted things to be better and I was going to go do things like that, streamline move people around to get them really focused on getting benefits to veterans.
Scott DeLuzio 00:11:06 Yeah. And that's, that's really encouraging to hear that, you know, there, there are people at the VA,, especially in the benefits side, because like you said that's a lot of times the first touch that people have with the VA after getting out of the service. And it's encouraging to hear that there are people who are out there working to make these improvements. I know, personally, I've applied for benefits for the first time that I applied for any sort of benefits. I think the initial application that I put in was sometime in August of that year and it wasn't until February or March of the following year that it ended up getting approved., but then the second time I applied for something else, you know, that was service connected.
Scott DeLuzio 00:11:58 it was a matter of weeks that it got approved. I think it was just before Halloween that I applied and it was before Thanksgiving that it was approved and everything went through. So, you know, just from my own personal experience and it was around the time frame that we're talking about here while, while you were, in there as well. And so II, you know, I know that there were definitely some improvements made just from my own personal experience. I can't necessarily say for everybody, but,you know, it definitely looked like things are moving in the right direction
Paul Lawrence 00:12:36 Well, that's, that's good to know. And to kind of echo your point. I mean, by and large, the folks I've found at the veterans benefits administration will first 55% of them are veterans. So they understand that the highest percentage is virtually anywhere in government. So it's all literally veterans serving veterans. And by and large, they really want to do the right thing. There's no incentive to deny what everybody thinks, well, they're just going to deny they get more bonuses that they deny claims that's not true, but the system is hard and complicated. The requirements on information to prove it is complicated. So sometimes it just gets into difficult situations, but it's intended to be like you say, present the information, demonstrate that you're worthy of this benefit and then get our veterans the benefits, right. And most people want to do that. They want it to be seen as working for an organization. That's really good, not one that everybody kind of makes fun of. They want to be on the winning team, just like everybody. And so it was natural to talk about, you know, you know, the publicity should be about how good the organization is performing and how satisfied veterans are. And like you say, how quickly they're getting their benefits versus having to explain difficult situations and why things weren't working. So that was the intention.
Scott DeLuzio 00:13:49 Yeah. and from what I've seen, like I said, it seems like things are moving in that right direction. But, something that you sort of briefly touched on it, some of the difficulties that come into getting some of these, these benefits approved and some of the requirements and all that kind of stuff. And one thing that I think would help to understand a little bit better from the veteran's perspective is, some of the congressional mandates. And you talked about this a little bit in your book as well. you know, the difficulties, that, the VA faces when, when they have to implement these new mandates that come down from Congress, basically if you're making a product in a factory and use the same materials in the same process, each time you can pretty reliably come out with a consistent product time after time, you know?
Scott DeLuzio 00:14:38 , but when you are administering benefits, it can sorta be thought as a repeatable process, assuming nothing changes, you know, applicants fill out the necessary paperwork, submit the documentation and, you know, either the criteria or doesn't, but then you throw in a congressional mandate and things change and all of a sudden all the processes and everything else. So, you make the analogy of building a plane as it's flying, So what were some of the challenges that the VA faced and, and will continue to face I'm sure. In the future, as new mandates come into play, regarding implementing these new changes?
Paul Lawrence 00:15:17 Well, you're right. It's exactly that. So the repeatable processes, that's what goes on? Get claims, do whatever they're a little bit different, but you can get good at it. And then what happened while I was there, which was good because he remembered the former president really put veterans at the center of the administration. He came in and said, I want to fix a lot of these things. Well, the famous thing he talked about, the accountability act where he'd run around and say, you can now say you're fired? But what followed after that were two laws that really did affect the VA. One was the appeals modernization, which made it easier to appeal your decision, as well as the Colmery acts or the forever GI bill. So those basically change major processes that went on at VVA and those laws have due dates..
Paul Lawrence 00:16:03 You know, within one year within one year of this law, you will have changed the GI bill program in 18 months, or this, you will have modernized the appeals process. So when I got in, we were coming towards the end of the last year, but the last part of that first year to modernize the Colmery Act the forever GI bill. And it was not going well. They just hadn't sought down the wrong approach. The wrong contractors have been hired. So I got to, you know, deal with a very messy situation and say, Hey guys, this isn't going to work. We have to start a new plan and kind of start over. So that one took a year longer and that resulted in hearing and scrutiny, but eventually it all got figured out and everybody was owed. Money was back paid, and generally worked out pretty well.
Paul Lawrence 00:16:45 Appeals modernization was a really big change and a really good change before if you were unhappy. And this is, what's funny, Scott, about VA, unlike virtually any other government agency, you're unhappy with any decision VA has, you can appeal it or have somebody review it. Most people sort of say, let me try, try doing this with the IRS and see what happens, right. So you could do this, but the process was really long and onerous like three to seven years. So a new process was designed and it's kind of clever. It's no longer to appeal when you show up, back up DVA, it's a decision review. So you can have a higher level review, right? It's another set of eyes like the NFL or supplemental plan, which is you produce more evidence, right? Those were happening very, very fast. That was a really big change, but a good change.
Paul Lawrence 00:17:29 And then the last change I dealt with just towards the end of the end of 2019 was finally got legislation to deal with the blue water Navy, agent orange, that folks who were exposed to herbicide, who would serve all 12 miles, less than 12 miles off the coast of Vietnam during the conflict. And it's been exposed to Agent Orange. So they finally got benefits and that was a long time coming. So that law had to be implemented on time. So it really, you know, you sort of have people who are really good at the process, like you said, doing the same thing over and over again, and now they have to figure out how they're going to change this. It's a very different skillset. It's normally under tremendous scrutiny because the laws have timeframes. You know, everybody's, it's sad, there's a large constituency rooting for VA to fail.
Paul Lawrence 00:18:15 So they're sort of watching, you know, when is the Titanic going to hit the iceberg? So it was really a lot of pressure to get it right. And so in those three instances with a separate reset schedule for the forever GI bill, all of them were done on time. All of them began exactly as it was planned. So it was really a good news story. And one that quite frankly, I don't know what was expected because again, I think people were thinking, well, it's VA, it's BBA. Somehow this will turn into a mess and everybody will be unhappy. So yeah. But you're right. It's funny. It's just not what you imagine. Right. You know? Oh, there's major legislation. Well, that's good for veterans until you realize, well, yeah, but somebody's got to go actually do that. Right. And, and, and just to kind of give you an order of magnitude, the forever GI bill, part of the changes were like how the veterans who use the GI bill got the monthly housing allowance.
Paul Lawrence 00:19:04 So to demonstrate the order of complexity in the original GI bill, the servicemen's readjustment act of 1944, the housing allowance is described in 44 words. So it said you will get a hustle. And I thought, well, okay. In the forever GI bill, the way the housing bill is done is over 4,000 words. So order of magnitude of complexity that had to be put into computer programs and as a manager, there were a whole bunch of problems. So yeah, that's kind of it. So the good news is there was more legislation to improve services to veterans; the challenge wasn't forced to actually go and deliver the benefits. And one of the things I really came away with thinking it's easy to promise more benefits to veterans, right. Everyone feels good. All Congress people like to do it. It is another story to actually deliver those benefits or stated differently. You promise benefits, but they don't get delivered. You really haven't done anything for veterans. And that's kind of what I really had a real good sense of.
Scott DeLuzio 00:20:00 Yeah. And, and that's the thing, when Congress passes these laws and they get signed passes the bills and they get signed into law. And you're sitting there with hundreds or perhaps thousands of pages of documentation that you now have to go through and convert that into a computer program or something, somewhere along the way to, to now have the people who work there, be able to utilize that and, and turn that into the benefits that, that go out to the veterans., it's a big undertaking and
Paul Lawrence 00:20:33 And it's actually, it's actually kind of the opposite. The laws tend to be really short and you have to figure out what it really means. Right. And then you have to go and sort of like, well, what were you guys imagining when you were writing this? Right. So it's actually some, sometimes just the opposite,
Scott DeLuzio 00:20:49 Right? Yeah. That's true too. maybe you're even having to fill in the blanks of what was actually intended by some of us, this legislation that gets passed. So, and the reason why I brought that up is because, like you said, there's veterans working for the VA. Those veterans want the benefits to go to the right people in the right circumstances. They, they don't, they're not sitting there holding back and trying to through somebody over and not allow these veterans getting the benefits that they deserve. But, but at the same time, it's, there's, there's real people behind this and it's not just a computer program. There's somebody who has to interpret all of this and create the systems and everything behind it.
Scott DeLuzio 00:21:43 And so, I wanted to highlight that part because I thought it was really interesting. In your book, I wanted to highlight it because a lot of times, we can get mad at a computer when it's not giving you the answer that you want it to. But you know, a lot of times we don't understand that there's, there's a person on the other end of that computer who is doing their best with what they have to work with. And sometimes the timelines, you know, may or may not be the right kind of timelines for implementing some of this stuff. And so maybe having a little bit of compassion, a little bit of patience with, with some of this stuff, is in order, you know?
Paul Lawrence 00:22:24 Yeah. Well, I sort of agree and disagree, right. So I think that when you're delivering benefits to veterans, right, I mean, they're right to be demanded. It is like, Hey, I expect this fast. And, and, you know, we all live in a world where things are getting fast, right. Pizza in 30 minutes packages in two hours. And the like, so I would say VBA was getting better, but the world was getting better, faster. So it looked like they were falling behind. So, you know, I think it's reasonable to expect that veterans should get world-class service from the BVS. Right. So that's difficult, but it can be done. Like you pointed out in your second time through the system, your claim could be done much faster. So, it's sort of like both parts of the equation working together. If veterans produce a good claim and they can get help to do that with all the information assembled and ready, VBA should be able to go through it lickety-split and say yes or no, based on the information where things get kind of crosswise if it's incomplete.
Paul Lawrence 00:23:23 And so somebody has got to go find their military record, right. Or the documentation about their injury wasn't done because, you know, back in the day they just sucked it up and took aspirin and they don't really have evidence that their knee was hurt or whatever. So that's where things get, you know, kind of squarely. And of course you can imagine somebody has been horribly wounded and has lots of issues that gotta be dealt with. And so it's just more complicated. So it all makes sense, but, but people get frustrated, right. And they get disappointed, right? And while 75% of the time they do get yeses, 25% of the time they do get no's. And so no one likes to know no matter how elegantly it's presented. So it's just kinda how it all works. But I do think that the goal should be, really good service with veterans and waiting is just really not acceptable. And that folks should always be vigilant to try to minimize that.
Scott DeLuzio 00:24:19 Right. Yeah, well, put, I think that makes a whole lot of sense, too.,you talked about, you know, sometimes the paperwork is incomplete or they don't have the right documentation and things like that.You worked with some of the veteran service organizations that are out there to help improve, the relationship between those organizations and the VA and, and, and trying to help facilitate the process of the veterans, applying for the benefits and everything., Talk about that, that process and kind of what the goal there was in terms of improving that relationship and how that's helped, with the overall process for the applications and everything.
Paul Lawrence 00:25:05 So it was really interesting. We all know about the American Legion and VFW heard of maybe you played American Legion baseball or some such thing like that. Right. But, and they're large organizations. You can see the guys, men and women with the funny hats, right? So you really, I got the chance to work with them to better understand,how they represent and advocate for veterans. And so they are very much involved in the claims process. They have services, service officers, veteran service officers who will help veterans fill out their claims. They understand the VBA processes. And so they're invaluable and realize that's kind of what I realized, which is these are essentially,, virtually extension of VBA at one level in terms of how much they help. Now, they, of course also heard about all the warts and were good at reminding, you know, VA and the VA, Hey, here's where things are coming up short.
Paul Lawrence 00:25:55 But when agendas overlap, when people were working on the same problems, they were invaluable. And so I found the time meeting with them, especially the leaders. I'd try to be with the leaders once a month of what they call it, the big a,, the ones that really were the largest and, you know, able to process claims, really valuable. And so that was good. And even when they told you to stuff you didn't like, you really got a sense that these are informed consumers. So I liked that a lot. And that's probably something I would point out to folks, if you are like looking at filing a claim, or, you know, getting help interacting with VA or VBA in particular, you can go to these organizations, they have service officers and at no charge, they will help you through the process. So, in many ways it's kind of like going to a specialist, you can learn it yourself, but they've been doing this over and over again. And so that's one of the things I would tell people all the time when they say, wow, this stuff is really hard to. Get a service officer from a VSO, or quite frankly, from your state. Each state has a department of veterans affairs with some version of that. They also have service officers to help them. So I found that really invaluable and they were great partners, and they would tell you the history of about stuff and how things came to be. And, you know, I found a very positive relationship.
Scott DeLuzio 00:27:12 Yeah. And hat's a great thing to have too, because, you know, from,, your side, it streamlines, the process, it gets the right paperwork filled out in the right documentation and everything like that is being submitted. So that helps the claims process in, in approvals or, or denying,, in either case, but, but it's able to get through much quicker because you're not waiting for now we'll send in this extra piece of information and all that extra stuff. so I think that it's a win-win really, it's a win for a VBA because you're able to process these claims much quicker, but it's also a win for the veterans because they get their answer, lot quicker as well. And, they don't have to jump through all the hoops of trying to learn the whole process. When there's someone else who's out there who already is kind of a subject matter expert on
Paul Lawrence 00:28:12 They've been doing it. They know what a complete form they know the mistakes people make. They prevent you from doing it and they help make sure you get the decisions timely. So, no, that's really, really good. And, many of them offer a wide range of services. I don't want to do a commercial for them all, but they have auxiliary groups for families. I mean, they really are veteran service organizations. Now I know they're going through transition too, because it's previously tended to be an older group. And I think some of the post nine 11 veterans are not, this is desirous of interacting in certain ways, but,, eventually it'll get all figured out as well, but yeah, they're there and they can be helpful as well as the states, like I said.
Scott DeLuzio 00:28:52 Yeah, absolutely. And for the post nine 11 veterans who, who might be listening to this, I, would encourage you to reach out to some of these organizations, even, even join the VFW or American Legion or, any of them, again, not giving a commercial necessarily to, to all of them, but, reach out to them because there are older people who are members of these organizations, and they've been through a lot of this process before and, and other things that you might be going through as well. And, you know, it just helps to have that experience available to you. And, you might be able to pick their brain and get some of that information out of them as well. So, it's not going to hurt anything, to reach out to them
Paul Lawrence 00:29:33 And they know that they need to recruit younger members. So the ones I visited, I visited a lot of the posts in the chapters back in the, when you could travel. And a lot of them were understood. It's like, Hey, look, the lifeblood of our organization is post nine 11 guys, men and women. And so I've met lots where the commander was opposed to the first post nine 11 commander they had ever had. Right. Recruiting folks and the like, and so,yeah. Some of the stereotype is true, but a lot more of it was not as people began to so take,kick the tires, give it a look, but I think you'd be surprised. And,, like these wine history, fellowship, camaraderie information,, so for example, a lot of them have emergency funds,you're down on your luck and you need $500,000. A lot of them give that out just because they care about veterans.
Scott DeLuzio 00:30:23 Yeah. That's a great service. That's available to the veterans as well. And that's amazing that there's people out there who are doing that type of stuff. So what would you say to someone who maybe had a bad experience with, their benefits or something along those lines, , a few years ago before, all these changes that were made to kind of streamline the process and make things better,, for the veterans,, maybe they got turned off by the VA or VA is not going to help me. They'renot going to process this claim and, things just didn't work out for them, for whatever reason., they got turned off by the whole process. What would you say to someone who maybe was in that situation and given the current state of affairs with, you know, the benefits and everything now?
Paul Lawrence 00:31:15 Yeah. So I would say if it was probably more than four years ago, I would say, come on back and give them a second chance because things have gotten better. Okay. And I would, I would say, well, what happened? Was it an incomplete claim or something that it couldn't be figured out? Like you point out Scott, go to a service veterans service organization, get someone to help you to have the best interaction possible, but I would definitely come back. And if you had a bad experience, again, thanks to the new process to appeal the appeals modernization law, I say, you know, file an appeal and get somebody to look at it again. So I would definitely, I would definitely encourage people to connect with the VA. Okay. Yeah. Everything isn't perfect, but it is like the VA. And as a veteran, you should figure out what's there for you because there's a whole range of benefits.
Paul Lawrence 00:32:02 Hearing about people who had a bad experience was very frustrating. But another thing that I learned was folks who just never interacted with the VA. Well, I never knew I was allowed to do that. I sometimes didn't even know I was a veteran. Like, I didn't know, I could have my college paid for, I didn't know about all these things. So it was really disheartening to hear about folks who had a bad experience or they would say I'm fighting with VAs. If that's kind of the verb you're supposed to use, but others, like, I didn't even know. There's so many benefits. Congress has been so generous for folks to serve that the I don’t know one was equally frustrating. Right. So I take your point at the beginning of the show that it is a fire hose, but at least they're stopped there. Right. And the internet and resources and whatever. So I would just say, compared to when I got out, when transition was, here's your DD 214, goodbye. Okay. It's better. It's still got a long way to go, but you know, so yeah. So come back, come back in some form, come back.
Scott DeLuzio 00:33:03 And what about the people who maybe , they had, maybe a knee injury or back injury or something like that and their service. And, they don't want to file a claim because they feel like, well, I'm going to be taking that away from some other person.
Paul Lawrence 00:33:21 Yeah. So that's a really good point, Scott. That's absolutely not true. Okay. The way Congress has allocated the money is,, benefits are, is just an increasing pot. So if everybody filed for their back and whatever, the number of dollars available goes up, It’'s called a mandatory spend. You have to go spend this money on veterans benefits. So, yes. And so there's two components of that. , Are you the same per person exiting service? as you were going into service, hearing knees back ankles, other sort of problems. If you're not file a claim, and while you might only have minor injuries or disabilities, now later, things get worse. So we would always say, come back every three to five years, your hearing will get worse. If you were in the artillery, for example, around aircraft .
Paul Lawrence 00:34:18 So yeah, it's really sort of intended to help folks. And again, the difficult experience was people who show up now, they're,, served in the service in their early twenties. Now they're 40 or 50, they might hearing is gone and trying to link that to your service is harder. Whereas if you've just done it earlier, you would then go in and say, “Hey, I need an increase” as opposed to starting. So I would tell people the money is absolutely there. You're not taking it for anybody. This is stuff you earned. The language around benefits is earned. It's not entitled. It's not whatever. It i's earned. And these are things that are written into law for our veterans. And that's why I keep going back to service in the military of our country is a very noble thing and benefits, and the VA is there to reward our veterans.
Scott DeLuzio 00:35:06 Yeah. And I'm glad that you made that point and clarified that for anyone who might feel like they're, they're taking away from somebody else or, or, or things like that. Because I, I, I've heard that so many times from, from people who are, if they have an issue,, they just refuse to apply for the benefits because they feel like if they take it, then somebody else who might be worse off, isn't going to get the benefits. And I know that it's not true, but it's good to hear from, from someone from, from your side of the house where, you know, you, you know, more about the, you know, how the benefits work and, and where the money comes from and how it's allocated and everything like that., so people who are listening, if you have any of these issues, anything that service connected, just like, what Paul was saying, if, if you are different coming out of the military than you were going in, apply for those benefits, because,, you know, you're, you're not thinking of taking it away from anybody.
Scott DeLuzio 00:36:09 You are just basically applying for what you deserve essentially, right? Yeah,
Paul Lawrence 00:36:15 That's right. That's absolutely it. And if they have a thing they might, they might, they might, they could do as a search engine, top 10 reasons why people get disability compensation, let's see knees, ankles, noise, like PTSD, you know, these things are sort of well-known, you might go, yeah. You know, that is, that does happen. I mean, it does happen. And so you are aware of that, you know?
Scott DeLuzio 00:36:39 Yeah, absolutely., so pick a look, at, at those top 10 reasons any other issues that you might be having, look at those too. I know that the VA has a whole schedule of different conditions that there's various ratings for and everything like that. you know, I know the, the, the math on those ratings could be a little confusing and cumbersome, but there's still something out there for you, if, if that's what you're,,, eligible for, I should say.
Paul Lawrence 00:37:14 Right, right. Yeah. And it's funny, we won't touch on the math, but that's one of the things where complexity is overtaking it. It's just hard to understand it, but it all makes sense when you think about the layers and layers of rules and bureaucracy and court cases and whatever, but it is one of those complexities, but yeah, I think your point's a good one, Scott,, if you think you're some apply for benefits, there's no harm in doing it. If you think it wasn't right. Come back, come back and have the decision review. That's certainly a reasonable thing.
Scott DeLuzio 00:37:44 Yeah, absolutely. I did do an episode about, Maybe six or eight months ago or so, on, on veteran benefits and, and how that math is. It actually works out. So I'll link a link to that in the show notes. So if anyone's confused about that, doesn't know how it works., I'll link to that in the show notes, so everyone can go back and take a look at that episode as well. Paul, I'd like to give you the opportunity to,, share with everybody,where they can find your book, learn more about, you know, what you do and, and, where to find you on social media and things like that as well. And, and anything else that we maybe we didn't cover that you, you might want to touch on as well?
Paul Lawrence 00:38:29 Sure. So I'll do all of that. So my book is called Transforming Service to Veterans., you can find that on, you know, as I, as my kids, as I tell my kids great Christmas gift. Okay. But, those, and I wrote the book that just explain, like what goes on at the VBA, what my experience was, how benefits are actually done. And like you pointed out Scott, what, what it is to sort of go through this process and, you know, write about what takes place in government. And I did it in part because I was really disappointed by people who go to government and then later talk about stuff they could have done when they were in government, but didn't write everything in the book and stuff I did, I had to deal with difficult situations. I had to move people. I had to fire people.
Paul Lawrence 00:39:11 We improved the performance that I wanted to write about. It's really in many ways a good news story. I had a great team there. I mean, knowing it was the only, I was the only political point in your organization of 25,000 people. So it wasn't like, you know, I could do this all myself. So it was a great team. And I think people are interested in how the government works? They might find it interesting. Now I spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. I try to write stuff about veterans explaining benefits, or people want to follow me. Paul R. Lawrence, follow me. I try to write about, you know, something of benefits or some really interesting veteran organization that is serving veterans. I spend a lot of time trying to get people to understand there's lots of veterans out there who want to help other veterans, you know, and so to try to connect that, as well.
Paul Lawrence 00:39:58 So that's what I do. And finally, I guess the last thing I would point out is sort of, you know, how benefits are supposed to enable our veterans to pursue what I talk about as their American dream, right? Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that service and the benefits are really supposed to accelerate you. So let's kind of decompose that for a minute, right? So just think about your friends who didn't serve. Well, now they have to go, they want to go to college, they have to save or borrow the money. But if you've served in the military, you can have your college paid for through the GI bill. So you leave college with no debt or earlier than your friends who were not veterans. Okay. If you want to purchase a home, you know, and you're a civilian, you have to save for a down payment, which can be tens of thousands of dollars.
Paul Lawrence 00:40:44 If you served in the military, and you're now a veteran, you can purchase a home with no money down. This is an unheard of kind of stuff. Right? So thanks to your service, you can get educated for a good job. Okay. You can have a haul and live in a good community. You're two steps ahead of everybody. And those are probably big steps, right? And so, as you think about what services are supposed to do, I think the benefits are a really strong component to setting our veterans up, to really succeed. And that's why I think so many states actively want to recruit veterans to their state. They know they'll buy a home, they'll be part of the community. There'll be great employees for the most part by a far margin. Veterans are generally the top employees in many organizations, veteran unemployment is generally lower than the national average.
Paul Lawrence 00:41:32 So again, you kind of plan all these things right. And take advantage of and manage it correctly. This can really be a powerful, powerful thing and driving your life. So again, the service isn't supposed to be like, okay, I did it now. I forget about it. It's like, no, it's supposed to be something that kind of really pushes you along and really helps you going forward. So as people listen to your podcast, Scott, you hear about benefits and hear about things. And a lot of the stories about people, you know, succeeding, I think there's a connection there and I encourage everybody to figure out, you know, what of those things they've earned really can help them kind of move forward.
Scott DeLuzio 00:42:09 Yeah, absolutely. And it's sort of kills you to hear the stories of the people who aren't moving forward and not taking advantage of some of the things that they earned through their service. And, I really appreciate you coming on the show and sharing, you know, especially sentiments like that, where it's encouraging people to go out and use these benefits that they, that they fought for, that they earned, through their service. And, that they, and I, and I say fought for, I don't mean that they fought for the benefits, but they, were fighting for our country and, and they earned these benefits through, through that service and, and it's theirs that they've earned it. And, and, you know, I really do hope that people will, will use those benefits to, you know, like you said, kind of get a jumpstart, you know, in their lives.
Paul Lawrence 00:43:09 Yeah, that's exactly right. It's all there, find someone to help you, others will help you, you know, it's, you know, it's important that veterans connect.
Scott DeLuzio 00:43:20 Absolutely. So, Paul, it's been a pleasure speaking with you today,for everyone listening to the book again, Transforming Service to Veterans on Amazon. take a look at that, go get the book, if you're interested at all in, how the government is running the, the benefits side of things. you know, how Paul, had worked through the VBA,, and,, take a look at, LinkedIn follow Paul on LinkedIn as well. And I'll have links to all of this in the show notes. So anyone who is looking to, grab a copy of the book or,, follow Paul on, on LinkedIn, just go ahead and, click over to the show notes and we'll, we'll have all the links for you there. So thank you again, Paul, for joining me, really appreciate the time and the opportunity to speak with you.
Paul Lawrence 00:44:14 Yeah, thanks for having me on thought, Scott, thanks for having a great conversation.
Scott DeLuzio 00:44:18 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website driveonpodcast.com. We're also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at DriveOnPodcast.
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