Getting veterans the benefits they deserve: 2NEWS tackles a nationwide backlog with Veterans Affairs
8:00 PM, Sep 27, 2013
11:00 AM, Sep 27, 2013
WESTVILLE, Okla. - Ninety miles east of Tulsa, in the small town of Westville, Charles Sawyer waits patiently.
"From the last time I reopened it, it's been one month short of two years," he said.
Charles dedicated 20 years of his life to the army, retiring in 1986. Over the years, the injuries he sustained while serving his country have worsened. So he re-filed a claim in 2011 for 100 percent unemployability.
"The letters just kept coming," he said. "I would get a letter saying we're still working on your file. Then I'd get a letter saying we need more info on your right knee and sinus condition that I never claimed."
Charles is not alone in the waiting game as 14,000 Oklahoma veterans are currently waiting on their claims to be processed. But for Charles, time is not on his side.
"I just finished 31 sessions of radiation on my left chest and that wasn't very pleasant," he said.
Charles has stage 4 lung cancer. At this point it is not curable but treatable.
"I had seen the segment on TV of the retired gentleman you had helped and I thought I'll give it a shot and maybe you can help me too," said Charles.
So we went to work immediately contacting the Department of Veterans Affairs in Muskogee requesting information on Charles' claim.
Two weeks later 2NEWS received an email stating a rating decision had been completed and Charles would be getting the money he deserved.
"Just blows me away it got done that fast," he said. "I'm really grateful for you guys stepping in and getting the matter resolved."
Charles will be awarded one-time retroactive benefits totaling more than $27,000 with a monthly award of $2,200.
"I am so happy to have this resolved with and done and now I can get on with my life," he said.
A life Charles does not take for granted. Outside of his chemo once a week, he's looking forward to focusing on his family, his hobbies and he may even go back to school.
Despite the struggles with the VA, he can reflect on his time in the military with nothing but good memories.
"If they'd let me, I'd re-enlist tomorrow," he said. "We have some fine young men and women serving."
Last month President Obama spoke at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention. He told them the backlog must be eliminated. The president acknowledged progress on the problem has not moved as fast as he wanted but said he was confident that VA officials are on the right path. The goal remains to have the backlog to zero by 2015.
2NEWS contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs in Muskogee. They tell us since January, nearly 7,600 claims pending more than 125 days have been completed and 40 percent of claims in Muskogee are now fully electronic.
Efforts are now focused on completing claims pending more than a year old as of Oct. 31 of this year. The Muskogee office has already completed 41 percent of those claims.