WAAY 31 I-Team Investigation: VA disability claim appeal delays

Veterans here in the Valley often wait for years to get decisions about the disability appeals claims. Vets are hopeful changes are coming soon.

Posted: Oct 2, 2018 4:51 PM
Updated: Oct 2, 2018 6:42 PM

WAAY 31’s I-Team investigated frustrations facing veterans here in the Tennessee Valley and across the country. Right now, nearly half-a-million of our military veterans have been waiting for years to have their disability claim appeals heard.

We looked into the VA appeal delays for a Lawrence County man and what the Veterans Administration is doing to correct the problem for all vets.

"All this is a lot of noise,” Mike Love told WAAY 31. Love was talking about his Army training. “And of course we trained with grenades.” It was high decibel training for a potential high risk deployment to Vietnam.

"The whole time when we went through Airborne school, we jumped out of a C-141 jet that has jet engines.” Love trained with the Army 101st Airborne in Kentucky. With the war ending, he missed out on going to Vietnam. Instead, he served at Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska.

Love believes his Army training hurt his hearing.

"The older I got, the worse it got,” he told us. “And still right now, sitting here right now, I've got ringing in this ear especially. And it's getting worse."

All Love wants from the Department of Veterans Affairs is a hearing aid. Instead, he’s gotten rejection letters, one after another. “In this pack, I applied for disability on this form,” Love showed us. “And then it was denied and I appealed it."

That’s when Love’s frustrating quagmire of appealing the VA’s decision began. He’s already been waiting more than three years. "In August of 2015, I filed this form for application for disability compensation. And then I was denied in December of 2015. And we appealed it in December of 2015. And I haven't had a hearing or anything," Love explained.

"VA Disability Claims: it's where a veteran has a service-connected disease or injury,” Calvin Underwood told WAAY 31. Underwood is a veteran himself. Retired from the Navy, he now helps fellow vets navigate the disability claims appeal process.

For decades, that process has been mired in confusion. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie calls it “… a complicated appeals system that was buried in several layers of law.”

Many local veterans have looked for help from VFW Post 4190 in Decatur. “Continually, we'll get two to three a week that calls or comes in,” Underwood said. “It seems like the harder we try to get them done, the more keeps coming.”

For veterans who died serving in the military, one way we pay tribute to them is by building monuments. Many of our living vets face the monumental problem of appealing their VA disability claims. It’s battle after battle in a war that can last several years.

Underwood is eager about promised changes. "They're going to change their whole appeal process,” he told us.

President Donald Trump signed the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act just over a year ago: August 23, 2017. Congress mandated a February 2019 deadline. One snag in modernizing has been extensive computer system upgrades

To get ready, the VA has been training its employees and looking to hire hundreds more. Some critics are skeptical, but the VA vows it will meet the deadline.

To fill the gap until then, the VA says it’s working to help veterans through RAMP, the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program. About 1,500 VA employees have been processing RAMP claims. Love filled out his paperwork for RAMP this past June.

Finally, last week, he received a letter acknowledging his claim is in the RAMP system. Love has no idea, though, when the VA will make its decision. "Whether our case is scheduled or nothing, you know."

Like Love, his fellow veterans continue to wait: six years on average. Other veterans never get an answer. According to the VA’s data, since 2009, more than 35,000 veterans have died with their claims unresolved.

The problem makes Calvin Underwood heartsick. "They've given their youth and their health for this country that we all might be free,” he told us. “And yet they're second-class citizens when it comes time they need some help back from the VA."

Mike Love is hopeful the VA will speed up its appeals process. That’s what hundreds-of-thousands of veterans are hoping for, too: "That it gets someone's attention at the Veterans Administration -- that they will hear these claims of veterans quicker than what they're doing now."

WAAY 31 reached out to the Veterans Administration. But, we haven’t heard back from the VA.

Huntsville
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 45°
Florence
Clear
51° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 51°
Fayetteville
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 45°
Feels Like: 46°
Decatur
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 45°
Scottsboro
Clear
49° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 46°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530011

Reported Deaths: 10946
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson763591519
Mobile40875804
Madison34676503
Tuscaloosa25717451
Montgomery24308585
Shelby23389248
Baldwin21093307
Lee15844169
Calhoun14481313
Morgan14281279
Etowah13813353
Marshall12203222
Houston10553280
Elmore10036205
Limestone9952150
Cullman9647193
St. Clair9634239
Lauderdale9413241
DeKalb8821185
Talladega8210175
Walker7222277
Autauga6914108
Jackson6803111
Blount6645136
Colbert6291134
Coffee5503118
Dale4826111
Russell440038
Chilton4263111
Franklin425482
Covington4120117
Tallapoosa4006152
Escambia393276
Chambers3559123
Dallas3544151
Clarke350861
Marion3111100
Pike310177
Lawrence299898
Winston273772
Bibb260463
Marengo249164
Geneva248777
Pickens233760
Barbour230757
Hale222577
Butler215869
Fayette212062
Henry188744
Cherokee184345
Randolph179941
Monroe177040
Washington167039
Macon158650
Clay155956
Crenshaw151957
Cleburne148741
Lamar141834
Lowndes138553
Wilcox127029
Bullock123041
Conecuh110129
Perry107526
Coosa107128
Sumter104332
Greene92334
Choctaw60424
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 852072

Reported Deaths: 12245
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby955251616
Davidson89317933
Knox50606634
Hamilton44219493
Rutherford43026434
Williamson27986217
Sumner23978349
Montgomery20232225
Wilson18779233
Out of TN1839297
Unassigned17048134
Sullivan16760294
Blount15486193
Bradley15010149
Washington14582245
Maury13493172
Sevier13377175
Putnam11376175
Madison11164242
Robertson9755131
Anderson8758172
Hamblen8604173
Greene7864155
Tipton7349103
Coffee6903121
Dickson6835110
Cumberland6726132
Carter6628158
Gibson6524145
McMinn650698
Bedford6502128
Roane6281105
Jefferson6198124
Loudon612469
Hawkins6050107
Lawrence593087
Monroe583795
Warren554881
Dyer5423106
Franklin514690
Fayette506177
Cheatham454755
Obion453896
Cocke449699
Lincoln435263
Rhea434375
Marshall418658
Campbell415463
Weakley412564
Giles3995100
Henderson378876
White363270
Macon361778
Carroll361483
Hardin357167
Hardeman351864
Lauderdale318544
Henry317976
Claiborne317773
Marion312547
Scott311645
Overton300861
Wayne296134
Hickman283846
McNairy281654
DeKalb279554
Smith277439
Haywood271162
Grainger262550
Trousdale250022
Morgan249739
Fentress241347
Johnson240839
Chester214351
Bledsoe214011
Polk207624
Crockett203448
Unicoi203449
Cannon192031
Union190534
Humphreys179526
Grundy179234
Lake170326
Sequatchie169729
Benton165940
Decatur158639
Lewis158126
Meigs138825
Stewart132428
Jackson131936
Clay110131
Houston109333
Perry106628
Moore101017
Van Buren84623
Pickett75924
Hancock58912

Community Events