Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Finally, a Scrap Metal Solution from Lansing

After almost a year of waiting and a few delays, communities grappling with scrap metal theft have a solution out of Lansing.

HB 4593, introduced by State Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) in April 2013, passed the House and Senate in late March. The bill was presented to Governor Snyder yesterday, April 2 and he is expected to sign it into law soon.

Michigan ranks 10th in the nation in scrap metal theft, according to the Michigan State Police, while Ohio is No. 1. The Detroit-Warren-Livonia region is 8th highest in terms of scrap metal theft. The number of incidents of illegal scrapping increased from 527 in 2011 to 1,402 in 2012, according to the state police.

The two sides reached a compromise on the issue by requiring that payment for any items worth more than $25 be mailed to the person selling the materials at an established address, not just a post office box. The legislation also calls for the creation of a database of all people selling materials to scrap yards, but it’s not certain yet who would pay for it or maintain it.

The current law calls for mailing payments for anything worth more than $50. Some supporters of the legislation, despite casting yes votes, expressed concern on the $25 threshold.

However, in a political climate often marked by divisive rhetoric, it’s encouraging to see a bipartisan effort toward solving a problem that affects both individual and community safety.

Check out Winchester Consulting Group’s past blog coverage of the scrap metal theft issue:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An Absolute Disgrace: Veterans Dying on VA Hospital’s Secret List

Kristina Derro
Veteran Advocate

This is just disgraceful.  CNN has been reporting for months on the extended delays for health care appointments suffered by veterans across the country and who died while waiting.

However, new revelations of secret lists and shredded evidence show that long-waits could be just the tip of the iceberg. At least 40 veterans died waiting for appointments at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system, many of whom were placed on a secret waiting list.

This secret list was devised as part of an elaborate scheme by the VA managers in Phoenix who were trying to hide that 1,400 to 1,600 sick veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, according to reports from CNN.

Dr. Sam Foote, who just retired after 24 years with the Phoenix VA, said in an exclusive interview with CNN that, “The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules.”

Foote said that there’s an “official” list the VA shared with officials in Washington that shows that they were providing timely appointments, which Foote calls the “sham list.” Then, there’s a real list that’s kept secret, where wait times can last more than one year.

Internal e-mails obtained by CNN show that top management at the VA hospital in Arizona knew about the practice and even defended it.

Meanwhile, veterans languish and many are dying while waiting on this secret list.

The VA requires its hospitals to provide care to patients in a timely manner, typically within 14 to 30 days. So instead of entering veterans’ doctor’s appointments into the computer system, Foote said, staff were instructed to enter appointment information, take a screenshot and print a hard copy, and then not save the appointment.

It’s as if the veteran was never there. According to Foote, the scheme in Phoenix also involved shredding evidence to hide the long list of veterans waiting for appointments and care.

"That hard copy, if you will, that has the patient demographic information is then taken and placed onto a secret electronic waiting list, and then the data that is on that paper is shredded," Foote said.

The only record of veterans having been to the VA was on that secret waiting list, Foote says. And veterans would not be taken off that secret list until they had an appointment time that was within the 14 day timeframe for timely care, giving the appearance that the Phoenix VA’s wait times were greatly improving.

CNN also obtained e-mails from July 2013 showing that top management, including Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman, was well-aware about the actual wait times, knew about the secret electronic list, and even defended its use to her staff.

In one internal Phoenix VA e-mail dated July 3, 2013, one staffer raised concerns about the secret electronic list and raised alarms that Phoenix VA officials were praising its use. The email reads:

"I have to say, I think it's unfair to call any of this a success when Veterans are waiting 6 weeks on an electronic waiting list before they're called to schedule their first PCP (primary care physician) appointment. Sure, when their appointment is created, it can be 14 days out, but we're making them wait 6-20 weeks to create that appointment."

The e-mail pointedly adds: "That is unethical and a disservice to our Veterans."

And what is the VA’s response to all of this? A whole lot of nothing. CNN was sent the following statement from VA officials in Texas, quoting Sharon Helman:

"It is disheartening to hear allegations about Veterans care being compromised, and we are open to any collaborative discussion that assists in our goal to continually improve patient care."

With the Phoenix VA’s secret list now catching the attention of representatives in Washington, the “collaborative discussion” referenced in Helman’s statement may transform into a full-blown congressional investigation.

Representative Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has been investigating delays in veterans’ care across the country. In an April 9 hearing, Rep. Miller learned that even the assistant deputy undersecretary of the Veterans Health Administration wasn’t being told the truth about the secret list and was never aware of its existence.

Congress has now ordered that all records in Phoenix, secret or not, be preserved in anticipation for a congressional investigation.

To read more on this issue, check out CNN’s report:

Monday, April 28, 2014

VA Hits Important Benchmark, but Problem Far from Solved

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) took a step forward toward alleviating the backlog of disability claims, but that problem is still far from solved.

For the first time since February 2011, the number of backlogged disability claims dropped below the 350,000 mark. That’s a decrease of more than 250,000 cases in the past year, a pace that officials believe they can maintain to bring the backlog to zero by 2015.

Still, 350,000 veterans remain in what has been a rather long waiting line for the past several years. The backlog number is based on the number of claims pending for more than 125 days.

VA Undersecretary of Benefits Allison Hickey said that new technology, the new paperless claims system, better training of claims workers, and improved communication systems have all contributed to the decrease. In addition, the Undersecretary acknowledged that mandatory overtime for claims processors over the last two years has been a critical tool for shrinking the backlog, but constant overtime is not a sustainable business model.

Although there is much work to be done, this is certainly welcome news. The backlog number is also at its lowest mark since before claims tied to new presumptive illnesses from Agent Orange exposure overwhelmed the benefits system.

The move to make those presumptive illnesses eligible for VA benefits in 2010 was popular among veteran advocacy groups, but it also led to a dramatic slowdown in the completion of disability claims as tens of thousands of new cases poured into the claims processing system.

The VA’s ability to deal with claims quickly and reliably came into question, and the Department received stricter scrutiny from Capitol Hill. Now, almost four years later, it seems as though the VA has achieved some progress toward shrinking the backlog for veterans.

To read more on this issue, read the Army Times recent report:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Importance of Implementing a Computer Network Policy

Matthew Worley, Esq.

In an office setting, supervisors have known that improper use of the company’s technology results in poor productivity and lost profit.  There’s nothing worse than walking into an employee’s workspace and seeing facebook or youtube on the computer screen.  One of the most effective tools for preventing such abuse is implementing and enforcing a written computer network policy.

Regardless of the type of company, any computer network/IT policy should meet certain minimum standards.  The main purpose of such a policy is to explicitly define permitted and prohibited uses of the company’s computer systems.  The policy should state what the consequences for violations are as well.

Such a policy should be in writing and distributed to all employees.  Additionally, the employer needs to obtain from each employee an acknowledgement (in writing) that they received, read, and agree to abide by the policy.

In short, such a policy needs to convey to all employees that the company owns the computer systems, there is no expectation of privacy, and violations of the policy can result in discipline.  Having such a policy in place can increase productivity and keep employees accountable.

If you need advice about drafting and implementing an effective computer network and electronic communications policy, contact the team of legal experts at Fausone Bohn, LLP.  Our attorneys can walk you through the development of a policy specifically tailored to your needs.  Contact us at (248) 380-0000 or online at  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Vietnam Vets file lawsuit against US military for discharge upgrades

Jim Fausone, Esq.
Veteran Disability Lawyer

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a widely accepted disability today and I have been writing on the topic frequently. It was not always so. Now the condition is at the center of a lawsuit against the US Military. The lawsuit, which seeks class action status, could ultimately affect tens of thousands of veterans.

Five Vietnam War veterans sued the U.S. military on Monday, March 3, saying they were denied some veterans services after receiving other-than-honorable discharges for actions that resulted from PTSD.

The lawsuit called on the military to upgrade the discharges of veterans of the conflict who suffer from PTSD. Veterans need an honorable discharge status to receive benefits and services. However, the military did not recognize PTSD in the 1960s and 70s at the time of Vietnam.

According to the lawsuit, “The military gave these service members other than honorable discharges based on poor conduct such as unauthorized absence without leave, shirking, using drugs, or lashing out at comrades or superior officers. These behaviors, however, are typical of those who have recently experienced trauma and were symptoms of the veterans' underlying, undiagnosed PTSD."

The lawsuit further notes that the US armed forces now have procedures in place to diagnose PTSD and will offer honorable discharges to soldiers, sailors and airmen who suffer from the condition, but have not retroactively applied those benefits to Vietnam veterans.

The men involved in the lawsuit were 17-20 years old when they enlisted in 1967-70, and all are in their 60s today. One was the victim of a poison gas attack on his first day in Vietnam, and another’s duties included sorting through body parts of soldiers killed in combat.

Law students working in Yale’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic prepared the suit on behalf of the five veterans.

After repeatedly running into cases of veterans with PTSD who were effectively being denied benefits because of their condition, the law clinic decided to file suit. We applaud this effort and we recognize the problem is real and the court solution maybe a long shot.

At Legal Help For Veterans, our experienced staff can also help with PTSD claims. You can learn more about our PTSD veterans’ services at our website,

To read more about this lawsuit, see the Reuters report at:

Also check out LHFV’s past blog on changing the stigma behind PTSD for veterans:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Social Security Launches Expedited Veteran Disability Process

Kristina Derro, Esq.
Veterans Disability Lawyer

The government has launched a new process to expedite Social Security disability claims for a special category of veterans, the Social Security Administration announced Tuesday, March 18.

Under the new process, Social Security claims from veterans with a Veterans Affairs Department disability compensation rating of 100 percent Permanent and Total will be treated as high priority, and qualifying veterans will receive expedited decisions.

However, the VA rating does not guarantee an approval for Social Security benefits; it only ensures the process will be expedited for those veterans. The veterans still must meet the strict eligibility requirements for a disability allowance.

Carolyn Colvin, acting Social Security commissioner, said the new process is similar to the way the agency currently handles disability claims from wounded warriors.

"We have reached another milestone for those who have sacrificed so much for our country and this process ensures they will get the benefits they need quickly," Colvin said in a news release. "While we can never fully repay them for their sacrifices, we can be sure we provide them with the quality of service that they deserve. This initiative is truly a lifeline for those who need it most."

To receive the expedited service, veterans must tell Social Security they have a VA disability compensation rating of 100 percent Permanent and Total and must show proof of their disability rating with their VA notification letter.

Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.), who introduced legislation in Congress to promote the initiative, praised the change.

“No one wants to put America’s veterans through a bureaucratic runaround,” he said in the release. “As the baby boomer generation ages and more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need care, this common sense change will help reduce backlogs and cut through unnecessary red tape so that our most disabled veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Veterans Going Through VA Appeals Process Wait an Average of Over 900 Days

Kristina Derro, Esq.

The Department of Veterans Affairs’s (VA) “appeals resolution time” shot up to 923 days in fiscal year 2013 – that’s up 37% from 675 in the previous year, according to the department’s annual performance report.

The appeals resolution time is the average time it takes for a denied claim to work through the VA’s appeals process. That means veterans are waiting nearly three years on a decision as to whether they will receive crucial disability benefits.

Disability benefits are awarded to veterans who suffer physical or mental injuries during their military service, ranging from $131 a month to $2,858 a month for a single veteran.

The 923 day tally for 2013 is over half of the Department’s long-term goal of 400 days, and still well over its short-term goal of 650 days. One likely culprit for this troubling trend is the VA’s overall backlog of claims awaiting an initial decision.

The VA has been engaged in a very public battle to reduce its overall backlog. By 2015, the department wants to get the backlog to zero. That would ensure that no claim is pending for more than 125 days. This goal has received the most attention from Congress, the administration, and veterans groups, which has apparently left the appeals resolution time issue to take a backseat.

“As the VA has pushed to end the backlog, there’s been a diversion of resources from the appeals system to tackling the backlog,” said Jacqueline Maffucci, research director for the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in a recent Stars & Stripes report.

Laura Eskenazi, the official who oversees the Department’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals, cautioned that the long processing time “is not at all indicative of inactivity.”

Veterans who appeal their initial decision, either in part or in full, are slotted into a separate system, which extends their wait-time on a final decision even longer. That appeals process has evolved into a multi-layer system since its inception in World War I. Veterans, survivors, or their representatives may prompt a new review of the entire appeal at any time by submitting new evidence. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals then grants, denies, or, most commonly, remands the case to a VA regional office for additional review.

Few attorneys are experienced in the difficult prosecution of VA claims. Our legal staff at Legal Help For Veterans has over a decade of experience in dealing with VA disability appeals and employs a network of medical specialists, many former military physicians, who can ensure your claim has the best likelihood for success. Our staff includes former officers and enlisted personnel; we are veterans helping veterans and have experience in these very issues.

For more information, visit our website at

To read more on the appeals resolution time, see the Stars & Stripes Report here:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

How Employers Can Avoid the Pitfalls of Michigan’s Wages and Benefits Act

Matthew Worley, Esq.

In order to avoid hefty fines, penalties, and even criminal liability, all employers and business owners should be familiar with Michigan’s Payment of Wages and Fringe Benefits Act.  This law details how and when employers must pay wages and fringe benefits to employees, and also prohibits certain actions by employers regarding these payments.

Where employers commonly run afoul of the Act is when an employee is terminated or resigns.  The typical scenario involves deductions by the employer from an employee’s paycheck – without the approval of the employee.  The Act requires that, prior to any deductions from wages, the employee must affirmatively consent in writing to the deduction.  As can be imagined, obtaining consent to reduce a terminated employee’s final paycheck can be, to put it mildly, difficult.

For example, if an employee is terminated but has in his possession a laptop owned by the company that is not returned, the employer cannot automatically deduct the cost to replace the laptop from the last paycheck without the employee’s written consent.  The employer still has a right to get the laptop back, but they have to pursue other means to get it, rather than automatically deducting its cost from wages owed to that employee.

Any employee who believes that their employer has violated the Act may file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.  Upon a finding that the employer did violate the Act, remedies include payment of all wages and benefits due the employee in addition to penalties, damages, attorney fees, costs, and even criminal charges in certain circumstances.

The Act contains many other provisions that employers should be aware of including maintenance of employee and payroll records; what to do with an employee’s final paycheck if they pass away; and payment of fringe benefits.

If you are a business owner and have questions about the requirements of this Act, or any other laws affecting your business, contact the experienced attorneys at Fausone Bohn, LLP at (248) 380-0000 or online at  

Monday, April 7, 2014

On Their Own: Children of Veterans Facing Mental Health Issues

Jim Fausone, Esq.
Veteran Disability Lawyer 

We often report on the issues and hardships facing our nation’s veterans. But what many don’t realize is the impact these returning veterans have on families and their children. Life goes on after and life beyond the touching homecoming video clip or news report and it is not always a “happily-ever-after” scenario.

It's estimated that as many as 5 million kids have had a parent or sibling serve in Iraq or Afghanistan since 9/11. Approximately 30%, or 1.5 million, of those kids are significantly more likely to consider suicide and have mental health problems compared to non-military kids.

A recent 60 Minutes report told the story of 15 year old Abigail Barton, who expected her father, an Iraq War veteran, to return home and still be the “fun parent” that he was before he left. That was not the case.

Abigail’s older brother, Alex, attempted to commit after his dad returned home. Their mother said it has been “devastating” for her kids to see the changes in their father as he deals with the post-traumatic stress of Iraq. It is as if they, too, are dealing with PTSD.

And sadly, the Barton kids receive no help from their school or the VA.

The VA spent almost $500 million last year for PTSD treatments for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. But their family members may receive counseling "if determined to be essential to the effective treatment and readjustment of the veteran."

Simply put, veterans’ kids who have mental health issues are largely on their own, if they get help at all. Compounding the problem is a lack of awareness on this issue.

Christal Presley, who has started a group called United Children of Veterans, had a similar experience with her father, Delmer Presley, a Vietnam veteran. “While my dad was hiding away in his room, I would lock myself away in my room," Christal said in the 60 Minutes report. "I would vacillate between depression and rage just like my father."

Then, at the age of 30, Christal began picking up the phone to get her father to talk about the war. After dozens of phone calls, slowly, her father began opening up. And talking helped both Christal and her father.

After a lifetime of silence, Christal dared to go public and shared her story in a blog that went viral and eventually became a book. She's received emails from thousands of veterans and the children of veterans as far back as WW II. "I think part of me still feels the relief of, 'Christal, you're not alone,'" she told 60 Minutes. "And the other part of me feels so sad, because I wasn't alone."

Christal says that now she understands that talking and sharing your story can be a matter of life and death.

The stories of veterans’ lives upended by PTSD are all too familiar, however, we should not forget about their children whose stories are unknown – and children who are on their own in dealing with their mental health issues.

You can learn more about Christal Presley’s United Children of Veterans at her website,

Friday, April 4, 2014

Why New Businesses Need Legal Help

Matthew Worley, Esq.

With Detroit’s arts and creative industry booming, there are a lot of new business startups in southeast Michigan. While the owners of these entities may not be aware, solid legal advice from the beginning is imperative to protect their assets and achieve their business goals.

Initially, perhaps the most important decision for a business is what type of entity it should operate as.  There are three basic considerations when determining the type of entity to form:

1.      Insulation from liability;
2.      Tax treatment; and
3.      Flexibility to raise capital for the company.

Businesses are usually operated as sole proprietorships when formed, which is a flexible type of entity but does not provide the owner with any insulation from the liabilities of the business.  In other words, if the business incurs a debt or adverse judgment, the owner’s own personal assets (house, savings, boat, etc.) are in jeopardy.

In order to insulate owners from this potential personal liability, various types of entities are available.  These include limited partnerships, C-Corporations, S-Corporations, and Limited Liability Companies (LLCs).  The type of entity is chosen after a careful consideration of the business type and the three basic factors outlined above.  For example, a C-Corporation provides the most methods for raising capital, but it is subject to “double taxation.”  Other entities enjoy the limited liability of C-Corporations, but have “flow through” tax status.

LLCs are a hybrid of partnerships and corporations.  They enjoy flow through status for tax purposes and the owners are not personally liable for the debts of the company.  LLCs are one of the most common types of non-public entities. 

Other important legal aspects to consider for a new business is the preparation of non-disclosure agreements and employment agreements specifically tailored to meet the protection needs of each specific business enterprise.  A professional and well-drafted business plan should also be created and updated regularly.  If you are the owner of a new business, we would love to sit down and discuss these topics with you.  Contact our experienced team of legal professionals at (248) 380-0000 or online at  

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Medicare Fraud: Who’s in on it and how they’re getting away with it

Mark Mandell, Esq.

Imagine a single mom with five kids with no income on record and struggling to make ends meet – sounds like an eligible candidate for government subsidy programs. She signs up for the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Medicaid for herself and her children and gets government assistance to help cover her rent.

But in reality, she’s married, her husband has an all-cash business, which allows her to rake in thousands of dollars a month via welfare programs and remain undetected by the government.

This situation is all too common throughout the US. Savvy individuals are able to game the healthcare system through tricks such as getting married under religious law but not state law. These individuals scam taxpayers time and time again.

The amount of taxpayer money down the drain from fraud and spent on curbing fraud are jaw-dropping.

The federal government is projected to lose $19.6 billion in “improper payments” under the Medicaid program. Accurate fraud figures can be hard to calculate since improper payments aren’t necessarily fraudulent--they could be due to an error either by the government or recipient. Fraud estimates for fiscal year 2014 are up from last year’s $17.4 billion, but down from 2010’s $22.5 billion estimation of improper payments.

Federal Medicaid Spending is projected to be $298 billion in 2014, and Medicare is projected to be $603 billion. The SNAP program cost $79.9 billion in 2013. The White House requested $389 million to fund the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General in an attempt to better curb waste in the 2104 budget.

In February of this year, the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office announced the largest health-care fraud takedown in the history of the District. The multi-year effort led to more than 20 arrests and schemes involving millions of dollars in fraud, kickbacks and false billings in the home health-care services field throughout the nation’s capital.

Ron Machen was the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C. on the case. He said his office was tipped off to the scheme when certain agencies were requesting 300% more than other Medicaid beneficiaries over the past several years.

“We were wondering what the reason was for such a skyrocket in growth,” Machen says in a recent Fox News report. “We used wires, cover agents and beneficiaries to uncover them.”

What they uncovered was eye opening. The investigation busted personal care assistants misrepresenting the amount of time they spent with beneficiaries. These beneficiaries would fill out inaccurate time sheets and submit them to home care agencies. While the sheets listed them as being seen by assistants for up to eight hours, in reality the personal care assistants never saw the patients.

The beneficiaries were elderly, disabled and low-income, said Machen, and recruiters would offer them kickbacks of $200 a week and coach the patients on what to say if someone asked about their work.

Healthcare fraud is also an increasing concern with the Obamacare overhaul.

If you have questions about health care fraud, or are afraid that you may have been the victim of a fraud, contact the experienced attorneys at Fausone Bohn, LLP, by calling (248) 380-0000 or online at

To read the Fox News story on this fraud bust, click here: