By BRIAN SZABELSKI
U.S. Rep. Bob Latta met with Hancock County veterans Tuesday to discuss concerns about treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of the veterans said bureaucratic delays are the biggest issue.
Latta, R-Bowling Green, met with the veterans at Findlay American Legion Post 3, where he spoke in front of an audience of about 20.
“I’ve been hearing from a lot of folks in my area that the appeals process has been taking way too long,” Latta said. Latta, who represents Ohio’s 5th Congressional District, said appeals through the VA’s Cleveland office can take up to 10 years to be processed.
He also discussed recent news that a VA hospital in Phoenix had falsified appointments and logs to disguise delays in treating veterans.
“We want to make sure, good Lord willing, that this is a one-off occurrence,” Latta said.
Many of the veterans who spoke Tuesday complained of bureaucratic and administrative delays.
James Fletcher of Vanlue said he is a Navy veteran who was diagnosed in 1981 with an obstructed lungway. He filed two claims at the time, one for the lungway and another for ruptured disks he suffered when a locker fell on him while he was serving on an amphibious assault ship.
In September 2011, Fletcher said, he requested an evaluation of his disability. Two years later, the VA told him it was not going to increase his disability payment, but told him he has asbestosis and should refile his claims.
“It’s ridiculous and I don’t know what to say. They diagnosed it to me, but they wouldn’t compensate me for it,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he eventually had to get a lawyer to help him appeal.
“I’m telling you, Mr. Latta, the VA is dysfunctional,” Fletcher said. “The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand does.”
One Vietnam veteran said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder by a VA doctor, but the VA administration later questioned whether he had served. He has since had to file for a re-examination of facts in his case, meaning that despite the diagnosis, the VA will have to review the facts of his disability case.
“Overall, they’ve been good when it comes to treatment, but when it comes to this stuff, it’s frustrating. It’s like banging your head against the wall,” he said.
Mike Young, the finance officer of Findlay American Legion Post 3, asked Latta to look into how records are handled when veterans leave the service. Young said there’s no infrastructure in place for transferring records from military to civilian life.
Latta agreed that access to records should be easier for those treating veterans.
“We have to make sure veterans’ records, medical records, can be right in front of someone so they can access it,” Latta said.
Despite complaints about VA bureaucratic delays, many of the veterans had praise for Nichole Coleman, the veterans service director for Hancock County.
One veteran who had waited two to three years for a response from the VA’s Cleveland office said Coleman was able to get him the help he needed, though she had to go through the Marion, Indiana VA office to do so.
“I’m real happy with what we’ve got here in Hancock County. Nichole’s taken care of us,” he said.
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