By ZACH MORGAN; Guardian staff writerOctober 14, 2008
The Claims Division of the Fort Polk Judge Advocate General's office received an award from the Judge Advocate General in Washington, D.C. last week. The 2007 Judge Advocate General's Award for Excellence in Claims was given to the Polk office based on compliance with regulatory standards and innovation in providing outstanding claims service. This is the 10th time the Polk office has received the award in the past 11 years, and their ninth consecutive award.
The Claims Division has three main functions:
Aca,!Ac Personnel claims involve individual Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians who work at Fort Polk. The most common personnel claims involve the damage of personal property while relocating. The claims office works with moving companies to ensure the compensation of the Soldier or civilian.
Aca,!Ac In the tort claims mission, the office defends the Department of the Army against claims of negligence. Currently, the claims office continues its effort to assist U.S. attorneys with the extensive litigation stemming from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The office was also recognized at a recent U.S. Army Claims Service tort claims conference for its efforts in the aftermath of the hurricanes.
Aca,!Ac Affirmative claims are the effort of the JAG to collect compensation where a third party was at fault. Due in large part to the efforts of Helen Harrington, a paralegal at JAG, the Polk office settled a single affirmative claim of $1.8 million in 2007. This was 10 percent of the amount recovered Army-wide. Another important function of affirmative claims is the recovery of expenses for Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital. When a patient receives care at the expense of BJACH, and a third party is at fault, "we go against the faulty party's insurance company and collect the money," said Craig Jenkins, chief, Claims Division. "We then deposit it into BJACH's operating account, which helps them improve the delivery of health care to our community.
"Part of our success over the years comes from our philosophy that a Soldier who brings a claim to our office shouldn't have to go any further than our office to get what they're entitled to. The Army standard is that no claims office should have more than 7 percent of their cases appealed. This office has less than 2 percent. People might look at that percentage and say, 'maybe you're paying too much,' but we try to pay what a claimant is entitled to on the first go round, and that directly correlates to a good satisfaction rate with our office."
Jenkins indicated that each person in the office is a source of its success. The receptionist, Laurie Hopkins, "is one of the most important people in the office," he said. "She's the first person everyone sees." In an environment where the customer is not always happy when they come in the door, a friendly face is essential.
"Soldiers have so many more important things to be doing," said Pat Getchel, general claims examiner. "We try to get them their entitlements the first time."
Getchel explained the office atmosphere. "I have always enjoyed working at JAG," she said. "It's like a family. We cross-train to do each other's jobs. I think that's one of the keys to the effectiveness of this office."
Getchel said the group works for the award year round.
"It makes us more aware that this is the goal that we're supposed to be reaching for anyway," she said.