INVESTIGATION: Veteran's Battle for Benefits
For seven months CBS 6 has investigated the harsh reality more than one million Veterans face everyday. Many are having the hardest of times battling for their benefits they feel their owed after they put their lives on the line for their country.
Chauncey Robinson who you met in September has been battling the Veteran's Adminstration at all levels for 17 years and continues to get no where with his case. If you recall he was an Army private during the Gulf War. An assault inside his barracks left him with a permanent heart condition. He has extensive medical documents that ties that assault to his heart condition but insists the V.A. keeps delaying his case.
In our intial report back in September both the N.Y. Regional Office of Veteran's Affairs and the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs only released statements to CBS 6 regarding Chauncey's case. While CBS 6 offered to drive down to New York City for a one on one interview, this time around they agreed to talk but only by phone.
Diana Rubens the V.A.'s Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Field Operations admits that there is plenty of room for improvement inside their system. She says changes have been made to the process but when CBS 6 e-mailed them later asking what those changes have been, they never responded.
Since Chauncey has been unable to get anywhere with his case, we decided to invite him in on our interview with Diana Rubens. Chauncey asked specific questions about his case in which Rubens couldn't answer and asked that he submit his questions in writing. Not getting anywhere his 17 years of frustration came out. "Why is the Regional Office not taking accountability for their administrative error. Don't sit there and tell me that this is on me! It's on that office!
CBS 6 was only granted 15 minutes for the interview. When our time was up we asked for more time for Chauncey but were declined. The Press Person Sue Hopkins stayed behind. That's when Chauncey spoke again. "How in the world can you say you're trying to help me! 17 years! How, How How! Do you know how I feel right now. You don't care about me at all. There's no compassion there maam. I'm sorry but that's the way I feel!"
Many Veterans say their call for help hasn't been answered by local leaders as well even though they answered the call for duty. So CBS 6 made a call to Senator Kirsten Gillibrands office. The Senator agreed to speak with us via satellite from her Washington D.C. office. Our first question was about Chauncey and when he might finally get an answer. "I will place calls to the VA and I will find out what the status of his case is. We'll talk to him today" says Senator Gillibrand.
Senator Gillibrand's office did call Chauncey. Her office also says they are waiting for a call back from the VA so they can walk through his case line by line with them".
Sue Frasier has been battling for her benefits for more than 34 years. We introduced you to her back in September. She too has medical records that ties PCB water and air contamination on the base she served in the 1970's to her many diseases. Since our investigation nothing has changed on her case either. "There are one million cases in the backlog, one million. It's about chronically underfunding the VA. It's always about not enough resources, caseworkers and not enough people to answer the phones" says Senator Gillibrand.
Which is why she says her colleagues in Washington are working to change that.
"One of the bills we're actually debating right now on the Senate Floor is the VA bill. There's money put in that bill to help with the backlog. Money set aside specifically for hiring people and getting the backlog reduced on a timely basis" says Senator Gillibrand. Gillibrand adds that any Veteran battling for their benefits should call her office if they need help.
Both Chauncey Robinson and Sue Frasier aren't so sure that will work but one thing they do know for sure. They're not going away and neither are the one million veterans caught up in the backlog of claims.
I see that Congress has given the money to the VA to hire almost 2000 new claims processors, the problem with that is it takes almost 2-3 years before they are trained to the point of being able to adjudicate the claims, the CFR 38 is huge and it takes a long time to learn what is needed to approve or deny claims according to the VA rules. Sue Frasiers claim deals with toxic exposures and Chauncey's is 17 years old I don't know if his circumstances are similar to mine where I got my PTSD service connected to a robbery and attempted murder at Fort Wainwright Alaska back in Feb 1975 and my cardiologists showed how the early onset of cardiac disease was secondary to my SC PTSD. With the VA the doctors need to play connect the dots and show exactly how the PTSD is related to the cardiac symptoms. I think that with Chauncey trying to get back pay to the Gulf War, that is one of the reasons the VARO is denying the claim, 17 years of back pay is roughly 425,000 dollars if his PTSD is 100% and he is trying to get the cardiac secondary to PTSD then that would be at a level the VA calls SMC S a difference of about 300 a month and for 17 years that would be a difference of 61,200 dollars approximately, a lot of it depends on if Chauncey is service connected for PTSD from the assault in the barracks, if not, then he has a lot of problems.
Monday, December 21, 2009
INVESTIGATION: Veteran's Battle for Benefits