It does matter that on Memorial Day, President Trump tweeted, “Happy Memorial Day! Those who died for our great country would be very happy and proud at how well our country is doing today.”
It matters because his chaotic management style and basic indifference to others’ suffering have real consequences, particularly for veterans.
Recently, the president nominated his White House physician, a man with little administrative experience, to head the Veterans Administration. The vetting began, and in short order the good doctor withdrew his name from consideration amid talk of substance abuse. Now Robert Wilkie, a vetted candidate, awaits confirmation.
Veterans need care they aren’t getting. They need benefits that are difficult to access. That’s the public story.
On a personal note, I watched my parents try and fail to get the veterans’ benefits they deserve. First you serve your country, and then, when you’re humbled by age and infirmity and in need of government services, you’re required to find your way through a morass of red tape.
Perhaps that’s why only 5 percent of veterans who are entitled to the Aid and Attendance Benefit actually apply for it. My dad was seeking this specific benefit, which is available to any veteran who served in any war. It doesn’t have to have involved service in action, and there doesn’t have to be an injury. The benefit is available to those who require additional health care; eligibility is tied to personal assets. The reason I’m learning about the process is because my dad was eligible for the benefit, and he was in need, and he died last November. My mother, 95, is now eligible for his benefits.
My family is persistent, but we’re struggling. We need proof of my dad’s honorable discharge in 1954. The V.A. eventually informed me that all those papers were destroyed in a fire. For a fee, they provided me with a nearly illegible copy of his last pay stub, the best proof they have of his service.
We also need a copy of our parents’ marriage license, which, because it was filed 73 years ago, now resides in the government vaults in downtown Manhattan and will require persistence to dig out.
Through the years, we have witnessed epic V.A. scandals, from conditions at Walter Reed Hospital to backlogs in medical appointments. And while veterans languish, Trump has ordered a military parade that will cost many millions of dollars.
The V.A. website is so confusing and so poorly written that it is basically incomprehensible to me. Just when I think I know what I need to do to secure the benefit, there’s another link, or an exception to a rule.
Once the paperwork is filed and if it is accepted, it takes six to nine months for the V.A. to rule on eligibility. According to veterans of the process, applications bounce back for all kinds of random reasons, and appeals can take years. Think “Bleak House.” The application used to be four pages long, but the V.A. found the time and energy to create a new form that is 20-something pages long.
At veteransaidbenefit.org, I read advice from others who have gone through the work of applying for Aid and Attendance. One veteran said, “Do not be surprised that the individual with whom you speak will not know about this benefit or be knowledgeable about it. You will have to be persistent in getting to speak with someone who does. Regretfully, this is more common than not.”
We are speaking here of people who gave years of their lives to serve our nation and now are in need of government assistance. My dad served as a captain in the Army during the Korean War. He had to step away from us, his young family, and from his work, for 24 months. He put his life on hold.
When I hit a wall with all the paperwork and looked for agencies that help applicants negotiate the process, I found that people are charging thousands of dollars to handle the paperwork and make applications to the V.A. It has become a big business to lead people through the paper chase. And it’s illegal. On the V.A. website it says that no one can charge for filing eligibility papers for the Aid and Attendance Benefit. Of course, folks have figured out ways around that prohibition.
My parents had family members to advocate on their behalf (not that we’ve been successful). What happens to other elderly and infirm vets who have no one to fight for them? Can they turn to the commander in chief?
Copyright 2018 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.