Tim Sanders, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stands vigil at S.W. 21st and Gage near the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center in protest of the loss of benefits to veterans. Veterans, he says, aren't being taken care of.
Army veteran fights for his VA benefits
by Mike Hall
April 11, 2008
Walking up and down the sidewalk near the Colmery-O'Neil VA Medical Center, Tim Sanders looks like a model for the "Army Strong" ad campaign.
Except, that is, for the placard he is holding high proclaiming, "Vets are losing their benefits."
Sanders, an imposing 6-foot-3 inches tall, isn't the picture of health he appears to be. After tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he is considered 50 percent disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. He suffers physical, emotional and now bureaucratic problems.
For starters, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He also has back and knee problems from paratrooper duty.
"The transition from combat veteran to civilian was very difficult for me," he said.
Now 32, he is entitled to care at the VA medical center and normally receives a VA check for $730 each month. This month his check was reduced to $196. He can't pay his rent or other bills.
The VA asserted he owed money for medical expenses he incurred in 2006. The VA began retrieving the money from his monthly allotment. But Sanders insists he doesn't owe the money and believes the error is being corrected, thanks to the efforts of a Veterans of Foreign Wars representative who went to bat for him.
Sanders still hasn't seen the missing money, but even if it arrives soon, he is on a mission to bring public attention to what he considers the VA's insensitivity to the needs of veterans like himself.
So, he continues picketing at S.W. 21st and Gage as a matter of principle. "I believe our government is being a tyrant. I'm proud of my country. I'm not proud of my government," he said.
Because of his arthritis and back and knee problems, he often is limited to picketing two hours a day, waving to friendly motorists who wave and honk.
"I've had it," he said. "I've been passive. I'm not going to be passive anymore." He said the medical expense he was being dunned for was supposed to be covered by the VA because he was eligible for VA medical care for two years following his leaving the Army in 2005.
He had high praise for Scott Ferguson, the VFW representative in Topeka who worked long and hard to correct the error.
When he went to the VFW office at the medical center, he found 10 other veterans waiting to see a representative with similar problems.
Two district representatives in U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda's Topeka office, Jefferson Lawson and Adam Stolte, said they hadn't heard about Sanders' case, but weren't surprised.
When Lawson was asked if the office received a lot of complaints from veterans about similar problems, he replied, "extremely."
He and Stolte can tell lots of horror stories, but they also try to put the complaints in perspective.
"People don't call us with good information," Stolte said. So there is no way of knowing how many veterans receive good service, he said. And, he said, almost every VA employee they deal with is well-intentioned. The problem is the system.
Lawson explained there are two divisions of the VA — The Veterans Health Administration that provides the health care and the Veterans' Benefit Administration that sends out the checks to qualifying veterans.
"I can tell you from experience those two agencies do not talk to each other," Lawson said. Barry Inman in the VBA office in Wichita, which serves Kansas, was asked earlier this week if he could confirm Sanders' situation had been corrected. Inman did a records search and reported back that he had no information on Sanders because he was "a Missouri veteran, not a Kansas veteran."
Told that, Sanders replied: "I'm a Kansas resident. I'm no longer a Missouri resident." In fact, he is a Kansas resident because of the VA. He was receiving some health care from the VA in Missouri, but was referred to Topeka because it was the nearest center with a post-traumatic distress disorder unit.
Even more, he called the VFW service office at Colmery-O'Neil and was told they have paperwork showing his records were transferred from Missouri to Wichita on Sept. 19, 2007.
Boyda blamed the problem on an overburdened system. She said Congress increased funding for the VA by $6.6 billion last year and by another $4.9 billion this year. More is needed, she said. "This is the real cost of war," she said. "It's easy to wear a yellow ribbon. Veterans need real help. And that takes money."
Sarah Little, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, said the senator continues to support greater funding for the VA.
Both Roberts and Sen. Sam Brownback also have representatives in their Topeka offices designated to deal with veterans' issues.
by Larry Simons
This is surprising? Bush doesn’t care if the troops DIE, and how many die, let alone the quality in which they live after they return from war! This is a fucking travesty of gargantuan proportions for a multitude of reasons.
First and foremost, these are the very people who are sacrificing everything to defend this country; the very country who has, in turn, betrayed them. Even leaving aside the fact that this war is illegal, unconstitutional, unauthorized by Congress and under the guise of being a “war on terror” (when it is really an excuse for the Bush administration to invade a country to secure its oil fields and to protect Israel), it is plain to see to even the dumbest American in the country that this war may be the biggest blunder in our nation’s history. The LEAST our corrupt government could do to safe face (even if it’s very little) would be to take care of the troops!
Second, with the combination of the war profiteering, the record-setting oil and health care profits, it is just downright criminal activity to not take care of the troops who fight to defend the very freedom we enjoy. We have the sources, the technology, the equipment and the finances to take care of these troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The fact that this is not happening should result in record-setting numbers of convictions. Start with George Bush.
The media is also complicit in this as well. If media outlets would cover stories like this, then more and more people would know this is happening and the outrage level would reach the heavens, and maybe, just maybe pressure would be put on the criminals at work here within our own system.
Where is Bill O’ Reilly, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh when these stories break? Of course, they would just say it’s “far-left propaganda” being used by the Democrats to increase anger at the Bush administration.
One question: How could we get any angrier at Bush than we already are? These mother fuckers from the media never fail to turn a personal tragedy into a political agenda. To the O’ Reilly’s, the Hannity’s and the Limbaugh’s, it will not be about Tim Sanders getting $534 less for his bills and expenses, it will be about the “LIBERAL LEFT-WING FRINGE” trying to badmouth America, Bush and the war. People who politicize personal tragedies should gear up and march their fucking asses right over to Iraq and Afghanistan and fight the very war they support.
Or maybe Bill O’ Reilly will start a new campaign on his website for people like Tim Sanders. Buy a copy of Bill O’ Reilly’s book, some “no-spin zone” ties or “no bloviating” duffle bags and for every item that is purchased, people like Tim Sanders will get $1. By the time O’ Reilly sells enough so that Mr. Sanders gets $1,000, Billo gets $81,000.
One might ask, why doesn’t Billo or Hannity just give to the troops directly from their salary since they roughly each make 10 million a year? Because if they gave directly while they knew Tim Sanders was still alive, they wouldn’t be able to launch a stupid campaign to raise the money in which purpose would be two-fold: 1) To profit and 2) to hope some troops die (between the time they need the money, which is RIGHT NOW, and the time they get the money), so the number of troops on the help list decreases.
What I find amazing is that I’m the “conspiracy nut”, the one who gets accused of “hating America”, yet I want the troops to live and to be well cared for when they return home. Seems the REAL lovers of America want them dead on the field or dead on the streets of America from starvation and homelessness.
If I’m called an “America hater” for wanting troops alive and well cared for, then I’ll be an America hater. I’ll gladly accept being called names if it saves lives.