Houston Chronicle – A 94-year-old disabled World War II veteran from Houston who waited seven years for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make a final decision about his benefits has once again found himself snared in VA’s record claims backlog.
More than 909,700 veterans’ claims are pending nationwide, including almost 90,000 in Texas. At the Houston VA Regional Office, an additional 13,673 cases are being appealed as of this week.
The Houston Chronicle first featured William J. Maxson in a 2009 article that detailed the former Army infantryman’s long battle with VA to increase his disability benefits. He was 91 at the time.
After the Chronicle published Maxson’s story, the VA resolved his appeal, and granted him 100 percent individual unemployability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, service-related hearing loss and shrapnel imbedded in his back.
But Maxson got tangled in VA’s bureaucracy again when officials declined to add his nursing home in Tomball to a list of approved facilities because it did not participate in the Medicare or Medicaid program.
A subsequent spike in the nursing home’s rates forced Maxson to move in with his son last year. He asked the agency to increase his monthly compensation for “aid and attendance,” a pension available to wartime veterans who need in-home care or live in a nursing home.
The VA told Maxson his case would be expedited because of his advanced age, but almost a year has passed and he still is waiting. He and his family worry he will die before the agency finally responds to his request.
“Well, they figure the war’s over,” Maxson said. “They don’t even want to bother with you.”
Maxson’s situation highlights the plight of elderly veterans, who are running out of time for the VA to process their claims. Maxson is one of a dwindling number of America’s Greatest Generation who receive service-connected disability benefits from VA: 191,425 as of the end of last fiscal year, down from 217,449 in 2010.
“A reasonable man or woman would look at my father’s case – he’s totally disabled – and say, ‘Why are they doing this to this 94-year-old man?’ ” said Maxson’s son, Denis Maxson. “There’s no reason for any World War II veteran to go through all this. It’s sad.”
If the VA is going to reject a claim, officials should do so within a reasonable time frame of 30 to 60 days and not leave an elderly veteran in limbo for a year or more, he said.
“If my father is not entitled to these benefits, somebody should know this right away, particularly since I’ve sent them documents almost every month for 10 months,” he added.
In an email dated June 11, a VA official confirmed the department had received Maxson’s claim on July 28 of last year at the Houston VA Regional Office.
“Your claim is open and in the Development Phase,” wrote the official, Donovan W. Thompson, National IRIS Response Center manager. “This phase is where we obtain evidence to support your claim. It appears all the requested information has been received and it is in line to be sent to the Decision Phase for a decision to be made.”
For most claims, the Development Phase takes an average of 213 days, Thompson wrote.
‘Waiting to be reviewed’
After that, the claim must go through two more phases: the Decision Phase and the Notification Phase.
Thompson said Maxson’s request to expedite the claim based on his age is “waiting to be reviewed” at the regional office.
“We apologize for the delay,” he wrote. “We are currently processing a large volume of claims, and we are doing our best to process these as quickly as possible. We generally process claims in the order received. However, we have asked your claim to be expedited due to your age. We appreciate your continued patience and hope to have an answer for you soon.”
In response to an inquiry from the Houston Chronicle, VA spokeswoman Jessica Jacobsen said the department needs a medical review to determine Maxson’s current outstanding claim.
“That is ongoing right now as I understand it,” Jacobsen said. “But due to his health and medical status it will hopefully be something that can be coordinated with the local medical physician … without the need to be seen in person.”
The medical review should be completed within 30 days, she said.
“VA tries very hard to expedite WWII claims, but unfortunately sometimes the nature of the claim can take many steps,” Jacobsen said.
In Maxson’s case, the Houston Regional Office representative personally contacted the VA medical center to ensure his claim was expedited, Jacobsen said. “In addition, the veteran’s representative, his son, was contacted by the medical center to apprise him of actions taken on his father’s case,” she said.
Denis Maxson said he appreciated VA’s efforts after the Chronicle sent written questions about his father’s claim to the department last week. But if his aging father had to wait so long for an “expedited” answer from the VA, he dreads to think of the delays experienced by younger veterans.
“If possible, I would ask that everyone who reads your article to say a prayer for the VA in Texas,” he said. “Pray that somehow a miracle takes place and that these 100,000 plus service veterans receive answers to their claims.”
Source: Houston Chronicle (Chron.com), July 8, 2012, by Lindsay Wise