Dear Sgt. Shaft:
We have been in combat with the VA for far too long now, since 1987.
My wife was injured at boot camp in 1980 and did not receive proper care at that time. She was also the victim of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), which should expedite her claims, but has been ignored thus far.
The original rating was 10 percent (or 10 percent of the money the VA will give her) due to an injury to the left ankle, requiring a cloth brace for stability. Since then, she has progressed, first to two braces, then to two metal braces, And later adding two knee braces as well. She uses crutches to get around and occasionally requires a wheelchair or power chair. The VA has provided all of the braces and crutches for all these years, so they do recognize her injuries.
She has developed a list of other symptoms, such as lumbar and cervical problems due to the crutches, fibromyalgia, and developing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to non-treatment of the sexual assault in boot camp. After multiple claims and appeals, her rating remains at 10 percent. She was recently fitted for a special walker, because the crutches are causing wrist problems.
After going through all six stages of a Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) appeal (2008-2012), the Appeal was remanded for more information and possibly more examinations. All the additional info requested is in her local VA treatment records, and I have seen the file. It is more than 6 inches thick.
According to the U.S. Code, Title 38, Section 5109B: “The Secretary shall take such actions as may be necessary to provide for the expeditious treatment by the appropriate regional office of the Veterans Benefits Administration of any claim that is remanded to a regional office of the Veterans Benefits Administration by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.”
I have written our congressman, various agencies, and even the president, and finally did get a lame response of “we are working as quickly as we can.” I am not buying it.
Via the Internet
As you know, as indicated by your following letter, the Sarge referred your wife’s concerns to the powers that be at the VA.
Dear Sgt. Shaft, Superhero:
I wish to thank you for your help, I am not sure what you were able to do, but after getting nowhere after writing our congressman, the president and some other organizations, I wrote to you, not really expecting an answer. I just had to do something.
Again, I do not know what you did, but two days after I emailed you my wife’s info, she got an urgent call from the Cleveland Regional office, apologizing profusely because, precisely as I thought, they had NOT put her in expedited status, as she should have been in a case from 2006.
She had two compensation-and-pension appointments last week and another today, and hopefully is back on the right track to getting upgraded.
Thanks again, and I hope I don’t need help again, but if I do, I know where to look.
Jim and Lynne L.
• The Sarge joins the national commander of The Veterans of Foreign Wars in expressing outrage that a Time magazine columnist has called for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki.“Freedom of the press isn’t a license for Joe Klein to twist reality about someone who has volunteered virtually his entire life to serve his country,” said John E. Hamilton, who leads the 2 million-member Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and its auxiliaries. Mr. Klein’s column, titled “Ten Years After: A National Disgrace,” is posted on the magazine’s website and is being published in its March 25 edition.
“Secretary Shinseki has one of the toughest jobs in America,” said Mr. Hamilton, a combat-wounded Marine Corps rifleman in Vietnam. “It is his responsibility to heal, help and care for our wounded, ill and injured veterans from all generations. What he doesn’t need is criticism from those who have little or no understanding of the real issues or challenges facing his department.”
In his column, Mr. Klein criticizes Mr. Shinseki for being quiet and reserved, as if the secretary of the nation’s largest integrated health-care network and second largest federal department has time for a publicized social life. Mr. Klein hides behind a so-called “legion” of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who say the secretary lacks the creativity and leadership skills to run the VA, plus sympathizes with their complaint of not being moved to the front of the line ahead of other — but older — disabled veterans. Still worse, Mr. Klein accuses Mr. Shinseki of not capitalizing on the mass murder allegedly committed by an Army staff sergeant in Afghanistan.
“What occurred in Afghanistan was a tragedy, not an opportunity,” Mr. Hamilton said. “The Department of Defense and the VA expend an enormous amount of resources on programs and outreach to provide mental-health counseling to those in need, but you can’t mandate any program that first requires someone to voluntarily step forward and ask for help. That same limitation also confronts all of us who are in this battle to end military and veteran suicides.”
“And regarding the columnist’s personal attack, just because the secretary prefers a lower profile to someone who might ‘tweet’ their every movement doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It just means he’s too busy doing his job, and that’s to fulfill our nation’s promise to her veterans.”
For years the VFW has testified before Congress about the lack of funding for the VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration, especially in the areas of automation and proper staffing. Mr. Hamilton said the secretary did the absolute right thing to grant additional presumptive service connections for Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans, but he acknowledged that organizations like the VFW and others who employ service officers to help veterans file their claims knew that the increased workload would overwhelm the existing system.
• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sgt. Shaft was hatched in April of 1982 at the home of the veterans' newspaper, Stars & Stripes, in Washington, D.C. This moniker combines the name of its creator, John Fales, Marine MOS in Vietnam and "Scout Sgt.," with the military expression when wronged, "Shafted."
Sgt. Shaft's wry sense of humor, empathy for the underdog, and strong love of country and fellow veterans closely mirror the nature of its creator.
In addition to writing the column, John Fales is President of the Blinded American Veterans Foundation. His decorations include Purple Heart, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Service Medal, New York State Conspicuous Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Combat Action Ribbon, and South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Sgt. Shaft has no twin.