Watchdog Tip of the Day: How to get veterans benefits

Are you having trouble getting your veterans benefits. The Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber shares a shortcut with you to get it done. In our Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, we try to solve problems in under a minute.
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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

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Watchdog Tip of the Day: Don’t fall for fake lottery winnings

Seniors, especially, gets letters in the mail telling them they won a big lottery. The only problem is, usually, they never entered. Don’t fall for this scam, says The Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber.  In our Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, we try to solve problems in under a minute.
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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites:

Personal: YankeeCowboy.com

Hipster site: DaveLieber.org

Watchdog Tip of the Day: What to do when your car is towed

Your car has been towed and you KNOW it’s not fair. How do you fight back? Fortunately there are ways. In this Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, Dallas Morning News Watchdog desk administrator Marina Trahan Martinez has some suggestions.
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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites:

Personal: YankeeCowboy.com

Hipster site: DaveLieber.org

Watchdog Tip of the Day: Fight a bad water bill

Your water bill arrives and it’s ultra-high. But when you contact the water department, they don’t care. What do you do about a high water bill? In this Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber shares ideas about how to prove to your water department that it made a mistake.

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Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.\

Still here? Visit Dave Lieber’s other fun websites:

Personal: YankeeCowboy.com

Hipster site: DaveLieber.org

Watchdog Video Tip of the day: A school mistreats your child

A school is mistreating your child, and you want to learn more so you can fight the system.
The Dallas Morning News The Watchdog columnist  Dave Lieber shows you how to file an open records request.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute. See more free Watchdog reports here.

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Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Bam

Texans need front license plate – or face $200 fine

Here I am, The Watchdog, solving the mystery of the Texas front license plate.

Texans need a front license plate by Dave Lieber, Watchdog columnist of Dallas Morning News

If your vehicle doesn’t have a front license plate, or a rear one for that matter, as of September 1, 2013, you’re looking at a $200 fine. 

Which leads to another amazing discovery I made while solving the mystery of the front license plate. (More news coming!) For the past two years, until Sept. 1, 2013, any motorist in the state of Texas who was stopped for not having a front or rear Texas license plate could not be fined. That’s right. Not be fined.

Legislators in 2011 accidentally removed the punishment portion of the license plate law. (Uh-oh.) The law was on the books, but the fine was inadvertently deleted. (Embarrassing.) That made traffic cops much less likely to make stops for a missing front plate. They could write tickets with no fine. (Where’s the fun in that?)

In Texas, a law enforcement officer is allowed to stop any vehicle if a front or rear license plate is missing. It’s the same as an officer making a stop when a driver runs a stop sign, makes an improper lane change or, everybody’s favorite, drives too slow.

As readers of The Dallas Morning News Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, now, with the punishment tacked back on to the law, the fine for a missing front or rear plate is specifically set at no more than $200.

The mystery of the front plates in Texas came up when I mentioned it in a recent Watchdog report that the license plate law is a personal pet peeve. If Texas requires a front plate, why is the law rarely enforced? The result is a lot of cars without front plates. How come they get away with it? Either enforce the law or dump it.

I see it as a safety tool that helps eyewitnesses and law enforcement identify the bad guys. Front plates double the chance for a clear ID of, say, a hit-and-run driver, a child molester or a killer.

Drivers, including Corvette and Prius owners whose cars don’t come with ready-made front license plate brackets, tell me they are concerned. Hey, nobody wants to drill holes in their beauty’s front hood.

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One reader suggested, “Instead of forcing the law, why not eliminate front plates? Lots of states do not require front plates. The extra plate costs the state money. Put the savings in the highway fund.”

Another: “I think if cops would include checking stickers and license plates to the list when they pull someone over it would start to force more people to get current. Right now cops only ask for driver’s license and insurance.”

Car and truck owners without front plates may now be rushing out to Pep Boys for brackets. Or they could be running to their favorite auto parts website for the right make and model number. Yep, it’s my personal pet peeve, but please don’t blame me.

Who then? I looked up the recorded vote this year for House Bill 625, author, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving. The state Senate voted 31-0 for the new law; the House voted 139-4.

I talked to representatives of the San Antonio and Houston police departments who lobbied for it. Summarizing, they said both front and rear plates make it easier and safer for police to do their jobs.

With a money fine back in the law, San Antonio police Sgt. James Jones says he expects more officers to make no-front-plate stops.

“That would be enough to pull somebody over,” he said. “That is a traffic violation.” Officers will check for driver’s license, insurance and any outstanding warrants, he says.

I understand there are people across Texas who will not believe this is happening, people who’ve driven without front plates for years, and yeah, the Corvette and Prius owners.

There’s a bit of urban folklore about front plates in Texas. Considering the bungling in state law that was corrected, that’s no surprise. But let there be no doubt. The law is clear.

As of Sept. 1, 2013, it is required that all registered vehicles, including commercial vehicles, must display both front and rear plates.

“An offense under this section is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.”

Let the drilling begin.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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The Watchdog mystery shops a Dallas congressional office

This could have been a Watchdog report about how a congressman’s office messed up. If that were true, nobody would be surprised. But it’s not.

Life in this low-rated 113th Congress is apparently so difficult for all involved that when I told the congressional office that this was a positive story, at first, they didn’t believe me.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

It begins when I hear a complaint from Kala King of Garland. Her 80-year-old mother breaks her hip and receives physical therapy through home health care. The agency providing PT charges $1,200 for six sessions. But Medicare pays $2,083.

“Medicare paid nearly twice the amount that the agency billed the claim for,” King tells me.

Believing it’s a computer error, King calls Medicare to let them know they paid too much. What she hears surprises her. The Medicare representative tells her that there’s a standard amount of payment for such a service, and the system automatically pays that amount no matter the actual billing amount, even if it’s higher.

“This makes no sense to me,” King says. “It’s not cost-efficient. It just seems crazy to me and a waste of money. What am I missing here?”

Kayla King

Kala King

King says she contacted her congressman, Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, but she never received an answer. Instead, she says, she starts receiving Sessions’ newsletter.

News of this kind aggravates The Watchdog. When you contact elected officials, The Watchdog believes, they should respond in a timely and accurate manner.

But when King tells me she contacted Sessions through his website, I realize that’s the problem. Website communication with any government agency is often a big fail. Nothing works better, I believe, than a phone call or, even better, an actual office visit. Give a face and name to a problem. I suggest to King that she get in touch with a Sessions caseworker in person.

As readers of The Dallas Morning News Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, I decide to follow this journey. This is like mystery shopping a government office, similar to the way major companies send secret shoppers into their retail stores to see how shoppers are treated. Can King get a straight answer? If she can’t, you’ll know in another negative story about the 113th Congress that will surprise nobody.

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Sessions caseworker Jennifer Lang of the Dallas office is assigned the case. She is the Medicare and Social Security specialist. It takes several weeks of back and forth with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, but Lang gets an explanation. She tells King. King tells me. Now I’ll tell you.

Jennifer Lang

Jennifer Lang

Medicare uses something called a “prospective payment system” to make these payments. The services involving home health agency visits are bundled. So even though the only service King’s mother receives is physical therapy, it’s bundled with other services such as nursing, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy that she does not receive.

A Medicare official tells the congressman’s caseworker that sometimes the billing amount comes in low and, as happened with King’s mother, the payment is higher. Other times, the billing amount is high, but bill payment is lower. Either way, the Medicare official explains, they cancel each other out. Really?

The Medicare official explains that this system is better than the old system, which paid per visit. The problem was that service agencies had a financial incentive to make more visits, even if the visits were unnecessary, so they could make more money. The new system is supposed to cut back on that kind of abuse by creating standard payment amounts. At least, that’s the logic.

King isn’t pleased with the answer. She believes, frankly, that it’s dumb to overpay. Why not simply pay the billed amount, whatever it is, rather than a fixed charge? Why not cap the amount? Why not depend on a doctor’s letter to determine what’s needed? Those are King’s ideas.

But Medicare makes the rules.

What I like is that King gets her answer in detail. This is what the Founding Fathers imagined when they created a U.S. House. Hundreds of representatives from small districts across the nation, running for election every two years, accountable to the people. We all know it often doesn’t work that way.

Medicare announced in June that it’s changing some of its payment rules next year. Medicare payouts to home health agencies are about $18 billion a year. The changes will save about $290 million. That’s a drop in the bucket. At least it’s something.

I wanted to tell you about Kala King, the asker of questions, and Jennifer Lang, the answerer, because this is the way representative democracy is supposed to work.

“I figured if this happens in our bill, it happens in lots of bills,” King says. “And if you multiply it across the United States, I figure it’s a very large waste of money.”

Lang says, “We understand that sometimes it’s hard for consumers to deal with government agencies…. I was just doing my job.”

Too bad that alone is today’s world is enough to muster special attention.

U.S. Rep Pete Sessions

U.S. Rep Pete Sessions

Here’s an alert to all federal, state, county, local and school district officials: You never know when a constituent asking you for help is actually a mystery shopper for The Watchdog. I’ll be doing this again. And again.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: How to battle your government

When you want to battle your government on a big issue, The Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber shows you how to use social media.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute. Read more Watchdog reports at DallasNews.com/watchdog.

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More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

America meets Watchdog Nation/Listen to Fun Radio Interview

Watchdog Nation Debuts New e-Book and Multi-CD Audio Book

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

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Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

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Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Bam

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: How to get open records

When a governmental body won’t share information you’re entitled to, what do you do?

Learn how to get open records from The Dallas Morning News Watchdog Desk administrator Marina Trahan Martinez.

Read more Watchdog reports designed to save you time, money and aggravation at The Watchdog Page.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute.

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More Watchdog Nation News:

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

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Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

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Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Marina

 

Texas Education Agency announces new investigative unit to probe troubled school districts

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams has announced a new investigative unit to make sure the more than 1,000 Texas school districts follow the rules. The state auditor’s office had scolded TEA for not investigating cheating allegations in the El Paso school district.

tea logo

No surprise there. TEA has had a philosophy of allowing school districts to police themselves. The new investigative unit would handle complaints of wrongdoing, something state education regulators don’t like to do.

Watchdog Nation promises to watch the new unit’s work very carefully. We congratulate Commissioner Williams for making the move.

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More Watchdog Nation News:

Watchdog Nation Partners with Mike Holmes

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.