EDIT: The VA provided clarification yesterday that they are not denying my claim. However, they lost it. All of it. They lost my entire claim, the claim file they had as of last month when they mailed me a copy, but now they don't have it. So...I'm a bit conflicted about this. What's better? That they haven't yet processed my claim after two years and, in fact, lost all the paperwork associated with it, meaning I get to start all over? Or that they had ignored parts of my paperwork, incorrectly stated that I didn't serve in the Gulf War, and denied my claim? Either way, that my experience confirms their abject incompetence is, I think, irrefutable. So now I know that they can't find their asses with both hands, how hopeful should I be that this next giant stack of paperwork I'm obliged to send them will be handled in any more professional a manner? And are there disciplinary actions being taken against the people who lost my claim? Or am I sending my claim to the same stooges who lost it in the first place? Oy.
For anyone who's undergone the excruciating process of submitting, supporting, and outwaiting a claim for Veterans Disability Compensation, there's a dread weight that hangs just below their heart that all the rumors they've heard are true. "The VA automatically denies claims," "The VA loses claims to buy themselves time," "The VA doesn't even know which wars were fought when, and where." That's the scuttlebutt on any of the dozens of Veteran-run sites you'll find when you want information on the process that's not artificially buffed and shined up by VA PR staff. And you know what? All three just happened to me. My claim was just denied because they 1) summarily denied the claim; 2) lost a part of my claim; and, 3) claimed I wasn't a combat Veteran because they couldn't put my Southwest Asia Service Medal and my Kuwait Liberation Medal together and come up with, "This guy's a Gulf War Veteran."
I work for the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I love it. We provide the best care anywhere, and the people with whom I work are energetic and passionate. My boss has set up a culture, the central tenet of which can be summed up with "Find a way to say yes." And we do, the majority of the time, and even when we're forced to say no, we almost always find a way to meet at least part of a Veterans needs. It's not perfect - I work in the VA's HUD-VASH program, which houses and case manages homeless Veterans - but it's the best job I've ever had, and I'm a lifer. I'm a VA lifer.
But that's the VHA, the Veterans Health Administration, which is the VA's healthcare provider. The gentle souls at the Veterans Benefits Administration, the VBA, their entire mission statement is, "Find a way, make up a way, to say no and go take a long walk off a short peer." If the VHA is the doctor, the VBA is the insurance company, and they're just as evil, just as petty and arbitrary as their counterparts in the private sector. More, from my perspective, as my doctors at Kaiser Permanente just took my money, they almost never kicked me in the teeth for the privilege.
I'm a Gulf War Veteran, diagnosed with a qualifying Gulf War Illness. I'm 41, but for over 20 years, I've felt closer to 60. Chronic pain, fatigue, insomnia, these are my normal. Tack on the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and you've got a recipe for a life best spent indoors, away from crowds, preferably in the dark (migraines, did I mention those?). These are diagnosed conditions, both by private and by VA doctors. I'm not scamming the system, I'm not looking for a handout, I'm just putting in for the benefits I earned. Any other conflict, I would have been awarded a Purple Heart. Maybe it's a Generation X thing.
So that's the long and short of it. More long than short, I waited 15 years to file my claim because asking for compensation for things that happened to me during my military service just seemed to cheapen it. I come from a military family, we've been serving you since before George Washington took command of the Continental Army. It's in my blood, ironically enough, and the image I had of myself as a soldier didn't include begging for change. If I hadn't met an upright Navy Veteran who clued me in that disability compensation is nothing to be ashamed of, I never would have filed. Once I did file, it took two years for the claim to process. Now that I'm going to be forced to appeal the decision based upon paperwork the VBA had and apparently ignored, I might have to wait another three years. 20 years, in total, that's how long it might take for me to receive the acknowledgement from my government that something was done to me in the summer of 1992 that's degraded my quality of life ever since. 20 years of waiting, and no assurance they'll do the right thing in the end. 20 years. Talk about hurry up, wait.