Vietnam Veteran William Ward of Elizabethton, a Purple Heart recipient, knows he’s on of the lucky ones.
“When the tet offensive started we had 28 helicopters and in 40 days we lost 14 helicopters and 21 men.”
The former helicopter crew chief said he flew one thousand missions in six months and was shot down three times.
Now, the 71 year-old is worried he may die before he’s compensated for a disability claim he appealed fourteen years ago.
“When I landed in the airport in Chicago, I was spit at, I was called names that I can’t repeat. And it seems like Vietnam veterans, we were pushed aside and we’re still falling through the cracks,” said Ward.
Ward has a number of symptoms of service, including PTSD, type two diabetes, hearing loss and sleep apnea.
He appealed his disability claim in 2005. “Next month is February. That will be 14 years that I have been waiting for this,” said Ward.
The Board of Veterans’ Appeals in Washington D.C. approved the legitimacy of his claim nearly two years ago in May of 2017.
Ward has also reached out to Congressman Phil Roe’s office a number of times without resolve. “He gets the same answer that I get, he gets ‘well we’re processing his claim,'” said Ward.
“You wouldn’t want a system where politicians were sticking their nose in every claim that came along. That would be total chaos,” said Roe in a Skype interview Tuesday, “What our job is, is to make sure that the system we have is fair to all veterans and is speedy for all veterans and it has not been speedy.”
Roe said the Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which is expected to be implemented in February, is intended to streamline the appeals process to help the over 350 thousand veterans across the country still waiting to be compensated for claims in limbo.
“It will have glitches when it’s first rolled out and gets up and going but it’s going to be better than what we have now,” said Roe.
Roe said the new bill builds on a pilot program called RAMP that created new avenues of action for veterans to expedite their claims.
Roe said veterans will have the option to have a regional office re-evaluate their claim, make an appeal without adding new information or go directly to the Board of Appeals in Washington D.C.
He said the VA’s goal is to process all reviews in about 120 days but he said it will take a number of years to process the backlog of appeals already on the books.
When asked what the VA is doing to expedite the resolution of claims for veterans who have already faced substantial delays, Roe said they’ve hired and are in the process of training about one thousand new claims evaluators.
In the meantime, Ward said he’s not going anywhere: “I got news for you. I’m not going to die, I’m not going to die until I get this settled. I’m stubborn. I’m an old marine.”
A spokesperson from the VA’s regional office in Nashville said she’s not sure why Ward’s claim was delayed so long following the decision of the Washington Board of Veterans’ Appeals.
She said the office is working to finalize Ward’s claim.