Red tape trauma: 851,000 war veterans await benefits

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By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today

Published: June 12, 2013
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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Michael “Mickey” Flynn D’heron waits for the VA on his backyard patio.

Between his small brick home and the sound wall that barely cuts traffic noise on busy Memorial Parkway, he bides his time, drinking Miller Light and smoking Pall Malls. He’s waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate him for the demons he brought home from Iraq.

“I’ll tell you the truth. I never believed in mental illness,” says D’heron, a city firefighter and former Army reservist. “Never. I always thought that you suck it up; deal with it. And then this.”

D’heron, 32, served from 2008 to 2009 as a military police officer in two of Iraq’s most violent cities during heavy combat after a surge of 20,000 American troops into the country in 2007. Now he spends nights outside on his patio, wrapped in a heavy blanket, hunkered down in an office swivel chair, isolated from his wife, Jennifer, his newborn son, Liam, and a stepdaughter, Kayla, 7, who puzzles over dad’s “Army sickness.”

“It’s like he’s not even part of the family most of the time,” Jennifer says.

He filed his disability claim March 7, 2012. President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki say veterans should wait no more than 125 days for a resolution. As of Wednesday, D’heron will have waited 463 days.

He’s among 851,000 veterans awaiting answers on compensation claims for wounds, illnesses or injuries incurred during their service. Two out of three have been waiting more than 125 days for an answer.

Post-traumatic stress disorder left D’heron with panic attacks so severe he can no longer serve as a New Brunswick city firefighter, his dream job since he was 7 and saw his firefighter father charge into a burning building on Christmas Day. He took the job in 2006, two years after the elder D’heron — by then deputy chief in New Brunswick — died in a fire rescue attempt. City fathers wept at Mickey’s swearing-in, celebrating a family legacy enduring.

That legacy is over. D’heron needs VA compensation for the combat-related PTSD that effectively robbed him of his firefighting job.

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Soldiers in Hawaii join in outreach to help homeless veterans

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By Allison Schaefers
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Published: June 12, 2013

HONOLULU — Sgt. 1st Class Maurice Smith, an Army journalist stationed at Fort Shafter, was on a rescue mission Tuesday to save his fallen comrades — the many homeless veterans who call Hawaii streets their home.

“It’s tough being on the street,” said Smith, who spent two years of his youth homeless in Philadelphia with his single mother and two siblings. “But I remember some people that we encountered were very genuine and sincere in their efforts to help us. Now I’m building it forward.”

Smith was one of about 250 active-duty military personnel from U.S. Army Pacific who teamed up with military and homeless service providers to comb Waikiki, Diamond Head, Kakaako Park, Chinatown and Iwilei for homeless vets.

During the one-day mobile outreach, staff from the Waikiki Health Center, US Vets, the West Oahu Vet Center, the Institute for Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided services such as medical and mental screenings, information on veteran benefits, enrollment services and assistance with claims.

While the number of homeless veterans has been declining nationally, it has risen on Oahu in each of the past three years, according to “point-in-time” counts of homeless people on Oahu.

The latest count, conducted Jan. 22, tallied 398 homeless veterans on Oahu. That is 8.4 percent more than in 2012 and 34.5 percent more than in 2010. Homeless veterans accounted for nearly 9 percent of the 4,556 homeless people who were counted across Oahu this year.

“We were surprised to see a little increase,” said Darryl Vincent, chief operating officer of US Vets and chairman of Partners in Care — Oahu’s Continuum of Care, which oversaw the count, a requirement for getting funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “But it’s probably the result of the war winding down and more service members getting out of the military or coming back from duty with issues and falling into homelessness.”

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