I’m just a Veteran who helps other Veterans. I’ve done that for over 20 years. This is my last case as an untrained Veteran’s Advocate – and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen.
Tom served his enlistment in the US Army Security Agency in Germany. Geo-political events of that era placed him and those with whom he served under enormous pressure. Tom began to experience panic attacks. To cope his Sergeant advised him to drink. He did but still he couldn't cope and began to experience panic attacks more frequently. He was placed under care in Nuremberg Army Hospital 3 times: twice in late 1969, and under psychiatric care the first week in January for 11 days.
When he was released from the hospital, Tom was reassigned to base gym. There he continued to drink, and had frequent panic attacks. During that period of time he became agoraphobic and lived in the gym. It became so impossible for him to leave the gym that his meals were brought to him. He lived like that for a year. When his service obligation was up he elected to take a European discharge "to get himself together for the flight" back to the States. He went to a local hotel and remained in a panic state for 2 weeks. On his first attempt to fly back to the states, the Pan-Am flight attendant barred him from the flight for being too nervous. On his second attempt another airline had a physician give him a shot to calm him down and he made that flight.
Upon returning to the states Tom continued to drink heavily. Following his discharge he lived for a time with his parents in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. When they found Tom to be too difficult to handle, Tom’s father purchased a house nearby for him. He still lives there and will as long as his 90 year old mother remains alive. She is currently in assisted living. Tom survived on occasional handyman jobs but depended on significant financial help from his parents.
In 1980 he got psychological help privately. That continued until 2000. In 1999 he was hospitalized for 5 weeks with pneumonia at the local VA hospital. That year he filed a disability claim with the Veterans Benefit Administration. The VBA contended that his records did not reflect a service-connected need. They refused to consider his hospitalization in Germany. In 2000 a VA psychiatrist determined that he was unemployable. In 2001 he was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown.
January of last year his sister contacted me for help. I talked with Tom. He has been sober ever since his breakdown. The drinking took its toll. He has cirrhosis of the liver and is not eligible for a transplant. Tom has been on dialysis since this summer.
In March Tom filed another disability claim with the Cleveland Veterans Benefit Administration. He supplied them with his records, past copies of all his orders, and proofs everything you have just read. At that time I located a Cincinnati-based lawyer who specializes in Veterans Benefit claims. She read his file and believes that he has a rock-solid claim dating all the way back to 1971.
In an e-mail to me his lawyer said:
“Any letter to [Secretary] Shinseki should make clear that a 2007 VA psych report linked his current diagnosis to his in-service symptoms. That should have been enough to grant the claim, and I do not understand why it was not. It is my understanding that [Tom] gave the VA copies of his service medical records with one of his recent requests to reopen: if true, that is the reason any award should go back to the initial date of his claim.”Over the holidays Tom got an answer to his last disability claim. The VBA denied him. None of his problems - either physical or mental - are service connected in their opinion. That’s when Tom stopped eating, became dehydrated, and missed 3 dialysis treatments. To their credit, the VA dialysis center called Tom’s brother – listed as next of kin – to see what was going on with Tom. His brother went to the house, found Tom barely alive and took him to the VA hospital. He has just been released.
That date: January, 1971
Over the last year I have reviewed Tom’s case with 6 different Veteran’s advocates. We all agree that what we believe happened here is this: In 1971 Tom got the welcome home most Veterans of that era received – the VA refused him help in spite of his record of psychiatric treatment in Germany. In 1999, the VBA looked at his case and saw their mistake. Instead of correcting it, they just ignored him once again. The same thing just happened for the 3rd time.
I cannot believe that the same VBA which provides my disability is treating Tom like a piece of garbage. Neither can his lawyer. His lawyer will appeal, and then appeal again. While the VA owes Tom hundreds of thousands of dollars for his disability going back to 1971, what the VA really owes Tom is his dignity – and an apology.
For more than 20 years I’ve been a Veteran who helps other Veterans. There is a term of art called Veteran’s Advocate and I’m not a trained Advocate. I color outside the lines – I always have. Writing this as a diary for Daily Kos is not because I want to tarnish the VA, but because the treatment Tom received in 1971 so drastically contrasts with the treatment both he and I are getting now.
I have been a diabetic for a long time. Recently I was tested for short-term memory. I’ve lost it. For that reason I no longer feel capable of being a reliable Veterans advocate. But, for Tom . . . I've got his back. I'm not giving in, I'm not giving up, and I'm not going away.
UPDATE & NOTE TO TOMThis is now a recommended diary. I want to thank everyone who made that possible. Tom, what it means for a diary of this type to make the Recommended List is that the Daily Kos community - those who participate in this blog - believes your problem and the treatment you have recieved merits everyone's attention.