Backlog Due in Part to US Urging Vet Claims

Readers of Tom Philpott's Military Update Column Sound Off

Here is another thought on why VA is struggling with a disability claims backlog.

As director of the Fort Bliss National Cemetery from 2003 to 2008, I worked closely with the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) office at Fort Bliss.  We were part of a pilot program to bring soldiers right from the Department of Defense into the VA system seamlessly. These members were scheduled, rated and had benefits payable when discharged versus the practice from my era of being told, "If you ever have problems, come see us at the VA."

Hell, I worked for VA, and was out for years, before ever submitting a claim rather than being sucked into the system and placed on the teat of Uncle Sam without truly needing the services.

That may not be the best analogy, but I warned them at the time that doing so could overburden the system in benefits paid and delays in processing claims, especially because all Iraq veterans' claims were done first, at that time.  It was further burdened a medical system already experiencing almost unbearable delays. 

I am not saying any of these veterans were not or are not entitled to benefits.  But "if you build it they will come" when they need it, why did we "process them" before they were even out or had requested services?

At the time it seemed a worthwhile cause but back then the VBA couldn't process a claim in less than 18 to 24 months.

VA secretaries did add some presumptive diseases to increase Vietnam veterans' claims.  But there also is no doubt that, as with Gulf War veterans like me who are still fighting them on chronic undiagnosed illness issues, VA waited until cost-to-benefit ratio was more in their favor to acknowledge many known issues. 

ROBERT (BOB) FLITCRAFT
Sergeant, USMC-Ret.
Via email

THAILAND AND AO EXPOSURE

Former VA Secretary Anthony Principi noted that veterans with certain ailments need only show they set foot in Vietnam during the war to be eligible for Agent Orange-related disability compensation.  That's true.

Not mentioned is that certain Vietnam-era veterans based in Thailand from Feb. 28, 1961 through May 7, 1975 are also eligible.

This herbicide was used at most military bases in Thailand to clear vegetation around installation perimeters. This was disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act and finally recognized by VA.  Verification can be made online at: www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/Thailand.

Thank you for continuing efforts to bring military issues to the public.

ROBERT P. PAIGE, JR.
Colorado Springs, Colo.

You're correct.  As the website explains, Vietnam-era veterans whose service involved duty on or near perimeters of bases in Thailand in that period may qualify for VA benefits.

Veterans identified as having served in these areas sometime from Feb. 28, 1961, to May 7, 1975 include: Air Force veterans who served on Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) bases at U-Tapao, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, Udorn, Takhli, Korat, and Don Muang, near the air base perimeter; Army vets who provided perimeter security on these RTAF bases and Army vets who were stationed on some small Army installations in Thailand with military police units or assigned as an MP at or near the base perimeter. – Tom Philpott

APNEA NOT DISABILING

I am responding to your news column on changes sought in disability rating for sleep disorders.  It caught my eye because I had a roommate in Kuwait with sleep apnea.  As a former soldier she received a 100-percent disability rating and $1300 a month in disability compensation.  She had a machine in her room to help with her condition.  As a contractor she works 12 hours a day, six days a week.

 My question is: If she's 100 percent medically disabled, why is she healthy enough to work 72 hours a week in a hostile environment of extreme heat and cold and wicked desert winds.  She passed a PT Test that includes running 1.5 miles in 17 minutes or less, doing 19 push-ups in two minutes or less, and qualifying on the shooting range with a 9mm handgun and a M-4 rifle. Really?

As a roommate, she made my life miserable.  We worked the same schedule and had the same days off.  But because her sleep habits were not normal, she made it very difficult for me to get rest I desperately needed.

Sleep apnea never stopped her from working, however.  And several military personnel working at our camp had the same condition and never missed a day's work.

DEBORAH L. THOMPSON
Beebe, Ark.

USE A RECLINER

I would like to detail my recent experience with Obstructive Sleep Apnea, which may help others with this condition.

After many sleepless nights, seven months of trying various full-face masks and using two different CPAC machines, my doctor informed me that these do not work for me.  I sleep on my back and am a "mouth breather."

During one of my sleep center studies, the technician forced my to sleep on my side and noted that my breathing pattern was 100 percent better that way.  I tried to sleep on my side but, due to a shoulder injury, it became a problem.

I took a trip to Las Vegas and on my return flight, a "red eye special," I was forced to sleep in an upright position for five hours. I was deeply concerned I would snore and disturb others.  Much to my surprise I slept soundly without snoring for the entire flight.

I put the puzzle together and realized I could sleep in a recliner at home to prevent my obstructive apnea, which is caused by tongue rollback.  I have found the proper position to sleep in a recliner to prevent snoring blockage and now get a good night's sleep.  I am sure many of your readers may have the same problem. This is just one solution.

JOSEPH BLANDO
Via email

SAME-SEX MILITARY BENEFITS

As a Marine Corps veteran I feel there should be no question of full military benefits being extended for same-sex marriages.  The common ground same-sex marriages are trying to achieve is stability for families.

The military and Congress have begun to redeem themselves on this issue.  A concern now should be how the military will compensate service members wrongfully discharged as gay.  Another is how will gay retired members receive benefits for their spouses.

VICTORIA JOHNSON
Suffolk, Va.

CLOSED COMMISSARIES

Can you explain why commissaries, which supposedly are not paid for with appropriated funds, are being closed an extra day a week due to sequestration?

W.A. "BUTCH" HANSEN
Captain, USN-Ret.
Pensacola, Fla.

Commissaries do receive appropriated dollars.  The taxpayer subsidy amounts to $1.4 billion a year.

Base exchanges, on the other hand, are not impacted by sequestration because they run on store profits, which also helps to finance other base morale, welfare and recreational activities. – T. P.

Letters may be edited for clarity or length.  Write to Military Forum, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, send e-mail to militaryforum@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com

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About

Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families.

Visit Tom Philpott's Military Update Archive to view his past articles.

Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

Glory Denied

Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.

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