Charles Cooley, a Vietnam Veteran, is smiling today. For the past 2 years, he had his benefits cut despite suffering from diabetes, heart disease, arterial disease, neuropathy and asbestosis. The VA rating board ignored federal policy and was caught by reporters.
His story was picked up by The Post-Star, which in turn published numerous stories about Cooley’s claim. The family was payments away from losing their home when VA officials reversed their decision because of the outcry. Not only did they reverse their decision, but they increased his disability level to 100 percent and awarded 5 years of back pay, back to 2005.
For years, Cooley received a 40 percent rating from the VA for his conditions. Around two years ago, he filed for an increase based on his worsening health. When the board met to review his claim, he requested a reschedule of the hearing due to illness. They refused and revoked his entire disability rating with no hearing at all.
The Department of Veterans Affairs stated the rating board should have allowed Cooley to reschedule. In addition, they should not have revisited the question of his service-connection. For that reason, VA officials did a full review of his claim and awarded a sizeable check to the Cooleys that will help the family live more comfortably.
“That’s what we’re here for, to help as much as we can,” said Frank Lagalbo of the New York Regional Office. “We have an office of folks here who are compassionate and interested in helping veterans.”
But the advocacy group Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association was more realistic. “If they get caught doing something and we can point it out by regulation, they do their turnabout,” stated its director John Rossie. “But unless you’ve got something like that to lean on, it’s and arm-wrestling contest.”