It’s not an exciting story – no Hollywood-style explosions or graphic, camera-ready disfigurement – but it plays out every single day, in every single city. Veterans are injured in service, require post-discharge treatment and support, and cannot get it due to Gordian bureaucracy, nightmarish mazes of paperwork, and seemingly uninterested personnel.
(I’m being generous in designating them “seemingly uninterested” instead of “maliciously incompetent.”)
Our veteran is a man who served his country, and came away with an injury that will only continue to get worse over time. He would have been a sailor forever, but that first blown disc resulted in his medical discharge. Over the years more discs have blown, only one correctable by surgery, which he paid for that out of his own pocket.
He’s refused the mountain of drugs thrown at him by VA doctors hampered by budget, training, or simple indifference, opting instead to live with the pain and be a father and husband instead of a semi-human lump. He’s undergone years of physical therapy and pain mangement education, yet still the discs continue to bulge and the pain increases. Laser surgery is an option, but at 20K per disc, not one offered by the VA. So he endures, knowing that someday he will no longer be able to work, and that he has a family for whom he wishes to continue to provide.
With that in mind, three years ago he embarked on the process required to update his disability rating. It is currently 10%, the same rating he’d been given on discharge, over 17 years ago. Every disabled vet knows what came next: months upon months of MRIs, Xrays, and hellishly painful examinations.
Finally, after three long years, the updated rating came in the mail: no change.
The Veteran’s Administration had bureaucracied him. He failed to include the ream of records from the intervening years of treatment and visits from discharge to claim update, therefore the injuries were deemed not service-connected.
He was given one year to appeal.
All records were collected, from both cities were treatment had occurred, despite one city “losing” the original request. This took five months.
An independent physician was paid an exorbitant sum to conduct another hellishly painful exam, review the ream of records, and write up their own opinion. This took another few weeks.
An appointment for the next month was made with a Disabled American Veterans advocate, then rescheduled by the DAV for three weeks later. Two more months gone.
Finally, with the help of the DAV representative, the appeal was submitted.
Today he discovers the DAV representative in St Petersburg has no record of the submitted appeal. Nor are they listed as having service-related power of attorney, as he had requested many months ago, which would have allowed them to use official channels to contact the VA directly to query the status of the appeal.
There are no phone numbers for the St Petersburg office, you see. But there are plenty of armed guards and a very advanced-looking security system.
So now he has two months until the appeal window closes, and he cannot contact anyone to determine what exactly is going on. The national Veteran’s Administration contact attempted stonewalling, then finally allowed they could contact someone in the Communication office, who would in turn send him an email response…in three weeks.
For those of you playing along at home, this leaves him exactly six weeks to redo his appeal, if they’ve mysteriously “lost” the original ream of records and paperwork.
He is my husband. The bravest, strongest man I’ve ever met. The way our veterans are treated is utterly disgraceful. And it absolutely must stop.
**UPDATE, from Husband**
I thank you all for your input. (This is the guy she was writing about by the way)
Update to the story is this: I contacted the VFW guy who works at the St Pete regional VA office yesterday afternoon. I figured that since they somehow had him as my point of contact instead of the DAV, I would give it a shot. He had no notifications, nothing entered into the computer, no hardcopy reports, nothing at all showing that the regional office had even received my appeal paperwork. So he got irate and said he would check on it, in person, upstairs in his building where the paperwork is processed, this morning.
I got a call from him about 3:30 today.
It seems that there are so many boxes and tubs of papers that the people who work in the office up there couldn’t even tell him which general area of the room to start looking in. Let me rephrase that. There are so many boxes of backlogged envelopes full of veterans’ paperwork of all varieties, laying all over the office with no apparent order, no apparent system of filing, and no apparent date stamping, that even the people whose job it is to handle the intake of mail from veterans asking for help can’t even begin to say where to start looking for any individual veterans correspondence.
So my VFW guy, great guy on the phone by the way, tells me this: fax to HIM personally (not the regional office) the form to say I disagree with the VA’s finding and will supply corroborating paperwork. He will then WALK IT UPSTAIRS PERSONALLY to hand-feed it to the clerk, who will time/date stamp it, enter it into my computer system, and therefore I will beat the August deadline, regardless of when they clerks actually find my already-submitted paperwork.
So, thank your VFW. Thanks to all of you. Thanks to Glenn for linking this on his site. And to any reporters who want to bring this to light, thank you as well. I have always been a private person, but I am at the “willing to talk to the press” stage or at the very least wish someone from the press would get into the office in St Pete and ask them what exactly they think we the people are paying them to do.
–UPDATE: Over a month later and here’s where we stand:
- The appeal filed was for ONE issue, not the SIX for which he was denied.
- They still have not found the over 1000 pages of records sent to them.