- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Please help my dad. The VA doesn’t care. For three years, my dad has been battling with twitching and a weakness that started in his leg. He went to the VA doctors first in Des Moines then in Kansas City. For over a year, they told him he had just had a stroke and sent him to therapy for it.

Six months ago, they finally diagnosed him with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and said it was caused from Agent Orange from serving in Vietnam.

He finally got a wheelchair a month ago but still hasn’t received a vehicle to use it in. He can barely walk now but can’t leave the house because he doesn’t have a vehicle to take his wheelchair, which is basically useless.

My mom, who is in her 60s and can barely lift him, has to get him in and out of the bathtub and try to do everything for him.

Why hasn’t the VA sent someone to their house to help? Why hasn’t the VA got him a vehicle? What good is a wheelchair you can’t even use it?

If I could afford to quit my job, I would go help them as I am the youngest and the most physically capable in the family. However I live the farthest away. I am trying to contact all I can to help him get the assistance he deserves.

Every day he grows weaker and I’m afraid he will become permanently paralyzed or die before he gets a vehicle to put his chair in. He has doctors appointments and other things to take care of and will not be able to go if he doesn’t get a vehicle.

I feel like the VA doesn’t care at all and so does my mom. She has contemplated just buying it all herself so it will get done, but it will take everything they have to get it. Thank you.

Trisha S.
Via the Internet

Dear Trisha:

I have contacted the powers that be at the Department of Veterans Affairs and asked them to provide appropriate assistance for your dad. Also, my friends at the Paralyzed Veterans of America tell me that ALS, often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” is a progressive neuro-degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.

The VA recognizes this disease as service connected for all veterans who have served on active duty for at least 90 consecutive days, and VA monetary compensation can be granted from the date of claim. There is no requirement to establish any other type of relationship such as exposure to Agent Orange.

The initial grant of service connection, based only on the diagnosis of the condition is at 100 percent. Other ancillary benefits such as entitlement to a grant toward the purchase of a specially adapted van, and for accessibility adaptations to a home, require medical documentation of the current level of disability.

You may wish to contact the Paralyzed veterans of America directly at 1-866-0857 or on line at www.pva.org. The Veterans Benefits Department at PVA is dedicated to serving paralyzed veterans including those with ALS and MS (Multiple Sclerosis).

They provide free, comprehensive benefits assistance and advocacy. Veterans like your dad can have these experts working on their behalf to avoid needless delays like you have experienced.

Shaft notes

• VA CORE, the bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona Democrat, to help tackle the substantial claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs, recently passed the House of Representatives as an amendment to HR 1960, the Department of Defense reauthorization bill.

The passage is Ms. Kirkpatrick’s first legislative victory for veterans during the 113th Congress, building on her veterans-related accomplishments from the 111th Congress. She is Ranking Member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

“From the moment I took office, I began hearing from men and women struggling with the VA backlog, and I promised to fight for them,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said. “Today’s vote is a victory for veterans across District One, from Casa Grande to the White Mountains, and from Oro Valley to Flagstaff and the Navajo Nation. And it’s a victory for veterans everywhere who have sacrificed so much for our country. This is an important step toward eliminating the claims backlog so veterans can receive the care and resources they deserve.” (audio file attached)

The VA Claims, Operations and Records Efficiency amendment directs the Department of Defense to provide the complete service treatment records of veterans to the Department of Veterans Affairs in an efficient, electronic format.

Currently, the average veteran waits more than 250 days for a decision on a claim. About 175 days of that time is the VA waiting for the DOD to send the complete records, which DOD currently processes on paper rather than electronically.

The VA CORE amendment will:

* Codify a plan both agencies agreed upon in February, in which Defense begins the immediate transfer of complete and certified service treatment records to VA, and electronic capabilities are in place by the end of 2013.

* Require the Department of Defense to provide certified, complete and electronic records to the Department of Veterans Affairs within 90 days of military discharge or release.

Backlog facts:

* The claims backlog is a growing and serious problem. As of March 30, 2013, VA had 885,068 claims pending. Of those, 613,876 claims were pending more than 125 days, at which point they are considered to be backlogged.

* Veterans are filing disability compensation claims at historically high levels. VA now receives well over a million claims every year, and the numbers continue to grow.

* The current paper-based claims system was established following World War I. Since then, statute changes made the process more complex, but no administration invested in updating the system. It was not until 2009 that our nation finally invested heavily in modernizing the claims processing 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 sgtshaft@bavf.org.

• Sgt. Shaft can be reached at .

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