Vets & Their Families Speak Out
East Orange, N.J.
Thank you so very much for shedding light on my brother Juan Jimenez’s plight [Joshua Kors, "How the VA Abandons Our Vets," Sept. 15]. I know his story is shared by many veterans. Juan had the courage, the tenacity and the desire to have his story heard. He will forever be my hero. Juan embodies courage, strength, compassion, passion and a strong desire for justice–especially when it comes to his Army brothers. Again, from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul, I thank you.
LAURA JIMENEZ BURROUGHS
I read about Sgt. Juan Jimenez and the VA. This is the same thing I have been fighting as a Veterans Service Officer for the Marine Corps and Veterans of Foreign Wars. No one wants to take us seriously, and the VA continues to run us over. There is a high concern for Iraq veterans (and there should be), but we are forgetting our World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans. We need to put the train back on the track and force the VA to listen to us and care for us. I need help for the radiation veterans, for the Navy WWII vet who was sunk in the Pacific and ignored by the VA. I wish I was capable of yelling and having people in America hear me. Help us turn Veterans Affairs around to the needs of the Veterans!
I feel abandoned by the VA also, although my story is different. I served in the USAF from 1962 to ’65 and had an honorable discharge. I retired from my civilian job at 62. I applied for care at the VA and was rejected. They said it’s because I have money saved to retire on. I have had to get health insurance through the state pool for $2,800 a month. What happened to my so-called GI benefits? Will they not allow my burial in a military cemetery either?
"How the VA Abandons Our Vets" hits the nail on the head. Older vets are getting the same treatment. My husband served twenty-three years in the Air Force–Korea, Japan, France and two tours in Vietnam. I finally talked him into going to the VA to try to get his disability upped from 10 percent. The VA denied his claim. My husband has Alzheimer’s disease and is soon going to need more care than I can give him. He doesn’t want to pursue his claim, as he thinks the VA may take his 10 percent disability away. All veterans deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. They certainly are not getting it from the VA.
Los Gatos, Calif.
I am a Navy veteran who cares deeply about her service to the country during Vietnam and her service now to veterans who come to the VA. I often read your magazine. However, Joshua Kors’s article makes me re-evaluate everything you publish. Like Kors, I sat through two weeks of the VA trial he wrote about. Unlike Kors, I saw both sides of the story. Whatever happened to balanced journalism? This story couldn’t have been more distorted and at times simply wrong. Shame on Kors and shame on The Nation for not demanding balanced and fair reporting.
KERRI CHILDRESS, VA spokeswoman
My husband filed a claim for PTSD in 1983 and passed away in 1989. For six years the VA failed to assist him with this claim. We had two teenage children, and I was told not to file for them because by the time the claim got processed they would have reached their majority. I have been through numerous hearings and cases. I have been given wrong information. After years of fighting, service-connected death was finally granted, but I am still battling the VA for his accrued benefits. The bottom line with the VA is deny, deny, deny and maybe the veterans and their survivors will give up or die. This is what happens. The VA abandons our finest in their hour of need.
This article was right on the money about the VA delaying and denying veterans their benefits, even when it is obvious they deserve them. I have fourteen–no typo, fourteen–VA doctors who concur that I have service-connected PTSD from my time in Southeast Asia. But since I was not a decorated combat soldier, they say I have to prove my stressor. I even had flashbacks under anesthesia while the VA doctors were giving me treatment.
My claim is six years old. The kicker is that the Winston-Salem VA regional office requested, and lost, my entire package of service and medical records. If I hadn’t had my discharge papers, they would have said I’d never been in the service.
I had a good job but started having problems. Now the VA doctors won’t allow me to work, but the VA won’t compensate me. I spend my time assisting veterans in filling out those "simple" twenty-six-page claim forms, and the VA always either loses them or waits six months and asks more questions. One vet I helped had a Purple Heart and a Silver Star and had received a battlefield promotion. He was denied benefits.
JAMES "BUTCH" KIRKMAN
New York City
I was touched by the letters I received in response to my article on Sergeant Jimenez and the wounded veterans who are suing the VA. Laura Jimenez Burroughs has my respect, as do the thousands of women like Paula French, whose husband is battling the VA with one hand and Alzheimer’s with the other.
I appreciate VA spokeswoman Kerri Childress’s letter as well. Had she specified which aspect of my article she found "distorted" and which passages were "simply wrong," I could address her concerns. As a reporter, I’m committed to neutrality and accuracy. That’s why I made sure to include a range of VA voices: spokeswoman Childress, VA appeals board chair James Terry, mental health chief Ira Katz, deputy under secretary Michael Walcoff, former deputy under secretary Frances Murphy and Sergeant Jimenez’s VA doctor and VA rater.
Many readers asked for more information on the legal limitations placed on veterans. As I discussed in the article, wounded veterans cannot pay a lawyer to file their disability application. But if one volunteers to work for free, veterans can use a lawyer’s services. Currently, says William Fox, an expert in veterans’ law, fewer than 1 percent of veterans who are filing disability claims receive a lawyer’s assistance.
But the legal landscape is changing. Last year the president signed the Veterans’ Choice of Representation Act, which allows veterans to pay a lawyer during the later appeals stages of the benefits process.
In the next few days, Capitol Hill may deliver another dramatic change: the Disability Benefits Claims Modernization Act. Written by Representative Jon Hall, the act would eliminate the "proof" process for obviously wounded soldiers like Sergeant Jimenez, paving the way for immediate benefits. Hall’s bill passed the House in July without opposition. Senators Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer are working to push the bill through the Senate in the remaining days of the 110th Congress.