Wounded Warriors Still Can’t Get Help from VA…

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Ty Ziegel once was a bright eyed young man with his whole life in front of him. His once boyish face is now burned beyond recognition by a suicide bomber’s attack in Iraq around Christmas 2004.

He lost part of his skull in the blast and part of his brain was damaged. Half of his left arm was amputated and some of the fingers were blown off his right hand.

Sounds like a no-brainer for VA benefits right?

Wrong. 

His next battle would be with the VA when he returned home as a wounded warrior. 

In an inteview with CNN he said, “Sometimes, you get lost in the system.”

“I feel like a Social Security number. I don’t feel like Tyler Ziegel.”

His story is in many that exemplifies how the VA is simply ignoring wounded vets from Iraq. Many wounded veterans return home feeling that the VA has abandoned them. 

“The VA system is not ready, and they simply don’t have time to catch up,” said Tammy Duckworth, a wounded veteran who heads up the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs. 

VA Acting Secretary Gordon Mansfield said cases like Ziegel’s are rare. The majority of veterans are moving through the process and “being taken care of.” 

But are they?

More than 28,500 troops have been wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including about 8,500 that have needed air transport, according to the U.S. military. A recent Harvard study found that the cost of caring for those wounded over the course of their lifetime could ultimately cost more than $660 billion.

In Ziegel’s case, he spent nearly two years recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Once he got out of the hospital, he was unable to hold a job. He anticipated receiving a monthly VA disability check sufficient to cover his small-town lifestyle in Washington, Illinois, but the check was much less than expected.

After many inquiries, Ziegel finally received a letter from the VA that rated his injuries: 80 percent for facial disfigurement, 60 percent for left arm amputation, a mere 10 percent for head trauma and nothing for his left lobe brain injury, right eye blindness and jaw fracture.

“I’m not expecting to live in the lap of luxury,” he added. “But I am asking them to make it comfortable to raise a family and not have to struggle.”

Miraculously, within 48 hours of telling his story to CNN this summer, the Office of then-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson acted on Ziegel’s case. The VA changed his head trauma injury, once rated at 10 percent, to traumatic brain injury rated at 100 percent, substantially increasing his monthly disability check.

My question is, why does it take bad publicity on CNN for our government to take proper care of our war veterans?

You have to wonder about the fact that maybe this country won’t remember in five years that there are war wounded that need to be helped, and that their president and the VA don’t seem to be advocates for substantial change in the benefit system for vets.

Garrett Anderson with the Illinois National Guard, for example, has been fighting the VA since October 15, 2005. Shrapnel tore through his head and body after a roadside bomb blew up the truck he was driving. He lost his right arm.

The VA initially rejected his claim, saying his severe shrapnel wounds were “not service connected.”

“Who would want to tell an Iraqi or Afghanistan soldier who was blown up by an IED that his wounds were not caused by his service over there?” said Anderson’s wife, Sam.

After pressure from Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the VA acted on Anderson’s case. He has since been awarded compensation for a traumatic brain injury.

It is an outrage that that the VA system operates in a way that it takes people of power to get proper care to vets. 

In July, President Bush and a commission appointed to review the care of veterans returning from war announced the need for a complete overhaul of the disability ratings system, which dates back to World War II. The VA is now considering action on the commission’s recommendations.

However, no real change is happening.

We feed the war machine at the drop of a hat, but we never consider that the war machine comes home and that it also needs feeding there. 

I guess Americans just continue to pursue the path of least resistance…it’s easier to destroy than it is to repair, and when the destruction is in Iraq and the things that need repair aren’t in your living room, we can conveniently ignore them.

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Posted on November 19, 2007, in George Bush, Human Rights, Iraq War, Military, Politics, Social Policy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. The one piece of good news is that Ty Ziegel did get 100% benefits after a review by the VA. They “upgraded” his 10% disability for cranial trauma to 100% for significant brain damage.

  2. Yes, but only after some stuffed shirt stepped in to help. That is patently wrong. Vets should be able to get their benefits without this kind of nonsense.

  3. Well, you’ll never get an argument from me on that score. I am a vet and dealing with the VA has not always been a pleasant experience. Although, truth be told, dealing with civilian benefits organizations doesn’t seem to be much better.

  4. Oh, I know. SSA and local DSS are brutal.

  5. Let’s please add my HMO to the “brutal” list 😛

  1. Pingback: Wounded Warriors Still Can’t Get Help from VA… | Political news - democrats republicans socialists greens liberals conservatives

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