CINCINNATI — Veterans across the country filing claims of service-related medical issues are in the waiting game. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced a plan to hire around 2,000 employees to help with the case backlog, which at the end of October hit 260,000 cases.
The most recent claims they are reviewing are from August 2019 and earlier, according to a statement from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“All I get is 'I don’t know,'” Maurice Thomas said.
Thomas served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1971 to 1983. During his service, he said he witnessed a fellow service member's suicide, was attacked by a fellow service member and saw dead bodies of combatants. He said the impact of what he dealt with in the Marine Corps lingers still today.
“I mean I’m taking medicine for nightmares; I’m taking medicine to keep me calm,” Thomas said.
Over the past several years, since he stated receiving medical treatment at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, Thomas has received treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He also completed the Stress Disorders Treatment Program at the VA facility in Fort Thomas, Kentucky.
“All prescribed by doctors,” Thomas said. “It’s nothing I’m going over and asking for. They’re telling me I need this.”
He filed his initial compensation claim for PTSD with the VA on July 16, 2010. It took two years, three months and 28 days to get his denial.
The VA said the denial was in part “on the grounds that no in-service diagnosis was found, and no in-service stressor could be corroborated.”
The appeal of the decision was filed March 5, 2013, and it took more than four years for a formal hearing on the appeal. Thomas provided additional details of the traumatic incidents, or stressors, for the VA to consider. The VA said the information was submitted to the National Archives and Records Administration to research and corroborate the events, and said the stressors could not be verified and no Compensation & Pension exam was warranted.
“I think they’re waiting for me to die," Thomas said. "I’m 71 now and I started this when I was 60."
In addition to the frustration over PTSD compensation, erroneous information was entered into his official VA medical file. The scenario written up indicated Maurice Thomas had been charged with domestic violence, assault, child abuse, drug possession and drug trafficking.
“Which is a total fabrication,” Thomas said.
A check of his criminal background shows none of those charges exist. The only charge is for DUIs, of which Thomas said he was self-medicating to deal with his demons from the trauma he faced during his service.
In response, the VA said, “It appears the examiner misread the information in the veteran’s claims folder regarding criminal charges. VA is working with the vendor to have this corrected and will take appropriate action to reassess the veteran’s claim.”
As for the PTSD compensation, it took nearly 10 years to the day from his initial filing to receive an actual C&P examination to determine whether he has a case. These exams are contracted out by the VA. The examiner Thomas visited has been doing these exams via the contractor LHI since August 2017.
“He’s paid by the VA to do these interviews," Thomas said. "It was supposed to last for an hour and a half and, I’m being generous, it took him 20 minutes."
The VA, based on the psychologist’s examination, said “the evidence shows no mental health condition diagnosed by the examiner.”
When the VA was pressed regarding Thomas’ own VA doctors prescribing PTS treatment, the VA responded said, “Although the evidence includes prior long-term treatment for PTSD through VA, there is insufficient support for the PTSD diagnosis in the evidence of record. The goal of treatment is to improve or extinguish the symptoms or condition; therefore, after treatment, it is possible that PTSD diagnostic criteria are not met and there is no diagnosis of PTSD.”
The decision doesn’t sit well with Maurice Thomas.
“They should have the doctors in the VA who are treating us make the decision,” he said. “Why are you hiring it out to somebody I see for maybe an hour and they’re making a decision for my life?”
Maurice Thomas has filed another appeal to his case.
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