Ill-Equipped VA Only Adds to the Pain, Vets Say

CHICAGO — Sgt. Garrett Anderson never expected this feeling of betrayal. He loves his country. He supports this war. He believes in his president. He would fight again in Iraq, if he were able.

But coming home has been hell for this injured National Guardsman from Illinois, whose battle to secure medical care and government benefits has undermined his faith in his government.

The latest affront came in mid-March, when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs sent a letter denying Anderson 100 percent disability, which confers extra pay and benefits, largely because his medical records didn’t document that “shrapnel wounds, all over body” were “related to your military service.”

“You feel, you give everything you can, and then they turn around and slap you in the face,” said Anderson, who also suffered a shattered jaw, smashed eye socket, severed tongue and below-the-elbow amputation of his right arm after an explosion in Iraq. A VA spokesman declined to comment.

Getting help on the home front is a disheartening struggle for growing numbers of wounded soldiers, whose difficulties extend well beyond the conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that made headlines this year.

In cities large and small, the wounded struggle to find adequate follow-up medical care and rehabilitation services, in part because the VA has been slow to adapt to this new generation of soldiers, observers say. Meanwhile, applying for disability benefits is nightmarishly complex, and long administrative delays leave many injured veterans with little income during a crucial period.

Victor Rojas, a National Guardsman, is among hundreds of Illinois soldiers who have found themselves battling bureaucratic obstacles.

Rojas said he has “no complaints” about his care at Walter Reed, where he awoke from a five-week coma in early 2005 after suffering a traumatic brain injury during a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq. The onslaught also shattered his right knee and severed the femoral artery in that leg.

But when he applied for VA disability benefits, the government’s way of compensating retired soldiers for injuries, after returning to Illinois, “it took months and months and months,” said Rojas, 22. “I felt, like, forgotten.”

The agency lost his paperwork at least twice and required Rojas to show up at numerous appointments, even though his memory problems made it difficult, according to Eric Schuller, a senior adviser to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. A VA official in the Chicago office said he couldn’t comment on the case.

Nationally, the backlog of claims for VA disability benefits has swelled to about 400,000.
Read the rest of this article at Red Orbit.

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~ by Brad Edwards on April 12, 2007.

One Response to “Ill-Equipped VA Only Adds to the Pain, Vets Say”

  1. It amazes me how many of these stories are cropping up now…

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