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When will those who fought our wars get their due?

Nov. 5, 2011 at 6:05 a.m.


With the troops coming home at the end of the year, Americans are happy to have their young men and women home and out of harm's way. There are still yellow ribbons and signs of support for the troops all over this proud country, even though this has been a long and sometimes unpopular war. The treatment of our servicemembers by the people of this country has been excellent from this proud veteran's point of view, but the treatment by the country they served is nothing short of appalling.

I served our country for more than 20 years, went to Iraq a few times and was awarded a Purple Heart and a couple of Bronze Stars. In 2005 while in Sammarra, Iraq, my vehicle hit a roadside bomb, and I was wounded. The explosion left me with TBI, traumatic brain injury, severe hearing loss and chronic lower back pain. During a firefight in 2006, I received some shrapnel in my right eye. All these medical issues have been documented by numerous medical professionals from the Army, civilian and the Veterans Affairs. Prior to leaving the military, I again underwent medical screening exams from the VA in order to receive compensation for my wounds, as I am unable to perform the same type of work as I was prior to being wounded in combat. I was told prior to leaving the military that my case would be resolved within 100 days of my leaving the service, but that it could be completed sooner. I left the military on July 21, 2011 and on September 1, 2011 I was officially retired from active duty.

I began the process of applying for VA medical benefits and during the process asked the Texas Veterans Commission if they could check on the status of my medical disability benefits. I was told that it was all complete but that it might take nine months to a year to complete and that there was nothing that I could do but sit and wait. During the waiting period, I won't be called in for additional screening, or asked about my condition over the phone. I will have to sit and hope my packet doesn't fall through the cracks. I won't be suddenly not disabled, or not have bills to pay. My packet is compete but is awaiting a yes or no answer, and if I am given a no, then the process starts all over again.

If I applied for welfare, food stamps or unemployment, would I have to wait nine months to receive benefits? Then why should it take a combat veteran, who has served his country and as a result was wounded in war, take that long? It took an Iraqi insurgent less than a second to change my life forever, but it will take my country up to a year to compensate me for it. I called Congressman Ron Paul and asked if his office could assist me. I was told that the only way to expedite the system was if I was on hospice, over 70, or homeless. So if I was a World War II vet still waiting on compensation, about to die of my wounds, or if I lose everything, then I am able to go to the head of the line? This should be unacceptable to any citizen of this country. Why doesn't the VA have enough people to promptly review the paperwork of our veterans? I'm not looking for a handout, I'm a soldier who was wounded in combat fighting for our country.

I volunteered to serve my country. I wasn't drafted, so when asked to go fight I went thinking that should I fall into harm's way, my family would be taken care of. I signed up to fight all my country's wars against all enemies foreign and domestic. I went and did that a few times, and now I am left fighting bureaucrats. When April 15 comes around, I won't be able to tell the IRS, wait awhile longer, I'm understaffed. When my property taxes are due, I can't say let me look over the paperwork and get back to you in a year.

Thanks to family, I am able to work for and support myself. I can't help but wonder, though, how many disabled vets are suffering while waiting for a signature. I doubt any of these vets who suffer PTSD are doing better as a result of such a large stress in their life. How many families are hurting because the father or mother went off to fight for their country, and now they are playing the waiting game? If the only thing the VA is waiting on is a signature, then they need more pens or hands to start signing with. For our country to be in two simultaneous wars during which numerous men and women were injured in the line of duty - how is this not a priority for our government? This Veterans Day, call your elected officials and let them know how dissatisfied you are.

How long can we as a nation continue to keep an volunteer force if those volunteers are treated like this when they come home?

Michael Allen was a Sgt. First Class in the U.S. Army, a branch he served in for more than 20 years. He now owns the Bayrat Bar and Grill in Seadrift, where he resides.

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