FRUSTRATED TO DEATH: For Many, Access to VA Benefits Can Mean the Difference Between Life and Death

Veteran Douglas Briggs throws up his arms in frustration May 21, 2012 during a town hall meeting between veterans and the VA as he makes his feelings known about VA failures to provide benefits to injured veterans. Next to him, trying to calm the noisy crowd of vets is VA Regional Director Willie Clark. Veterans in N. California, many recently home from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffering from PTSD/TBI, must wait an average of 320 days for the VA to grant benefits claims; meanwhile, 18 veterans per day commit suicide. (Don Bartletti)

Angry Veterans Demand End to Backlog of Disability Claims

by Maria La Ganga
Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO — Horatius A. Carney spent seven weeks in a military hospital after injuring his knee while in the segregated Army Air Forces. He first filed a disability claim in 1947. He is still waiting for a response.

Lisa Scott, an Army communications specialist who served in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, waited seven years for the Veterans Benefits Administration to approve her disability claim for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Ari Sonnenberg served three tours in Iraq and came home with a traumatic brain injury, PTSD and internal injuries. “Haunting memories of the horrors of war” drove him to attempt suicide, he said, and he called the office of Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) for help navigating the veterans benefits system.

On Monday, Sonnenberg left the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs hospital so that he could testify during a heart-wrenching forum attended by more than 200 veterans seeking to expedite stalled and bungled disability claims. For more than three hours they vented about a system that they said actually makes their lives worse.

The main target of the frustrated, often tearful, men and women was the Oakland office of the Department of Veterans Affairs — which serves an area from Kern County north to the Oregon border; it has the second-largest case backlog of any regional office in the country, behind Seattle.

“I’d like to use this opportunity to express to the VA benefits section how the unnecessary delay and loss of documents and mishandling of information caused added stress and anxiety to my already difficult life,” Sonnenberg, pale and shaking, told the packed hearing room. If not for Speier, “I would still be floating around the system.”

Read the rest of this story:,0,3974777.story


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