After 40 years, Aiken veteran gets VA disability

Friday, May 30, 2014 5:07 PM
Last updated Saturday, May 31, 2014 7:34 AM
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David McRay has a baseball cap about him being retired Army on display in the backseat window of his 1981 Chevrolet Corvette that reads, “I’ve survived damn near everything.”

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Army veteran David McRay, of Aiken, fought the Department of Veterans Affairs for 40 years to get total disability. On Dec. 1, 2012, he finally received approval for $154,314 in past-due benefits and $3,309 a month for living expenses.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN
Army veteran David McRay, of Aiken, fought the Department of Veterans Affairs for 40 years to get total disability. On Dec. 1, 2012, he finally received approval for $154,314 in past-due benefits and $3,309 a month for living expenses.

For the 64-year-old Aiken veteran, that saying sums up the past four decades of his life.

Since serving in South Korea and the Panama Canal as a military police officer from 1969 to 1973, he has suffered two strokes, needed a right knee replacement and developed an incurable skin rash and rectal tear that has compromised his quality of life.

He fought the Department of Veterans Affairs for 40 years to get total disability, and on Dec. 1, 2012, he finally received approval for $154,314 in past-due benefits and $3,309 in monthly payments to take care of all living costs.

“They denied me on endless appeals, but I never gave up and perfected my claim,” McRay said. “I was persistent.”

McRay’s struggles are not uncommon within the VA health care system, but his success is.

One year after a backlog of pending disability compensation claims peaked at more than 611,000 in March 2013, the VA has reduced that number by about 44 percent to 344,000 claims and decreased the time veterans wait on average for a decision by 119 days compared with this time last year.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who resigned Friday, said in a news release that since establishing the goal in 2010 of processing all claims within 125 days, his department has transformed the decades-old, manual paper claim approach into a state-of-the-art electronic process to reduce processing time and input errors.

He added that the VA has also increased productivity through enhanced training, streamlined business processes and other initiatives such as mandating overtime and prioritizing the oldest claims, allowing VA’s 56 regional benefits offices to exceed monthly production records four times in fiscal year 2013.

The department’s national “claim-level” accuracy rate, determined by dividing the number of cases that are error-free by total caseload, is currently 91 percent – an 8 percent improvement since 2011.

“No Veteran should have to wait to receive earned benefits. Through a combination of transformation initiatives and the hard work of our employees, we are making significant progress toward our goal of eliminating the claims backlog in 2015,” Shinseki said in an April statement. “We still have more work to do, and no one is more committed than our Veterans Benefits Administration employees, over half of whom are veterans themselves.”

Though Shinseki said the VA strives to eventually achieve an accuracy goal of 98 percent, McRay said the department got his claim wrong since 1973 and he has at least 100 pages of evidence to prove it.

Since 2005, the Army veteran has accumulated a file of 50 personal letters and statements, 13 VA forms, 20 medical treatment records, and 13 responses and four appeals on his case.

That includes documents from the Phoenix and Augusta VA medical centers and support from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Before 2005, McRay said he also collected documents from VA offices in South Carolina, Florida and Texas, and support from Sen. Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., who died in 2003.

“It seems like my case was going in a circle,” McRay said of his initial application. “Because of the bureaucracy, it takes so long. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

VA award decisions show McRay was first granted individual un-employability of $2,376 on June 1, 2002. Six months later, he was approved for cost-of-living payments of $2,408.

It was not until he retained Thomas O’Brien, an attorney at the medical reimbursement law firm Feiler and Associates in Marietta, Ga., that he said VA claims processors began “knocking on the door,” to get him his full benefits and $1,500 in clothing allowance.

Now, McRay gets 60 percent disability for anal fissure, 30 percent for his right knee replacement, and 10 percent for skin care.

“The system itself can be maddening at times,” said O’Brien, who has been an accredited VA attorney since 2010 and practiced disability for the past decade. “It’s a lengthy, time-consuming process and the wait is obviously the worst part.”

O’Brien strongly recommended veterans and their families read VA’s schedule for rating disabilities and relate their case to the law, which divides disability requirements into 15 areas of the body, using evidence generated mostly from medical records.

“The sooner the veteran can begin to establish the nexus between those conditions and their medical records, the clearer their case becomes in an earlier stage,” he said.

O’Brien encouraged veterans to chase and submit their own medical records and histories as early as possible. He said in Georgia seeking copies of medical records, except on some mental disabilities, is free if someone is applying for a medical disability program.

McRay said his case is living proof O’Brien’s advice works.

“The VA was paying me at their pace,” McRay said. “Now, they’re paying me at my pace.”

Learn More

VA claims processors continue to prioritize disability claims for homeless veterans, those experiencing extreme financial hardship, the terminally ill, former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing Fully Developed Claims (FDC).

Filing an electronic FDC is the quickest way for veterans to receive a decision on their compensation claim.

Regardless of the status of their compensation claims, veterans who have served in combat since Nov. 11, 1998, are eligible for five years of free medical care from the VA for any illness associated with their service.

Veterans can learn more about disability and other veterans benefits on the joint Department of Defense/VA Web portal at

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stuaby 05/30/14 - 07:00 pm


bubbasauce 05/30/14 - 07:58 pm
It's a darn shame the way our

It's a darn shame the way our veterans have been treated over the years. They look like they may finally get some help after the VA has been exposed!

Speakmymind 05/30/14 - 08:15 pm
Bilking the system

This is nothing to celebrate. This is our taxpayer money going to someone bilking the system. And this is just one example. There are tens of thousands more. Money going to veterans who claim "disability". A couple things you should know. First, the VA does not equate disability with inability to work. In fact, there are thousands of VA staff that are receiving 100% disability yet work full-time with no impairments in their ability to work. Second, most of the "disability" conditions are not service connected. They are not the result of military service. The VA now pays veterans for medical conditions they acquire after their discharge from service. These individuals would naturally acquire these medical conditions anyway to due to age or heredity. However, since they are veterans, it is been decided to hand them money for it. Your taxpayer money! This is a scam. I'm all for paying disability to veterans who have a service connected disability. But the vast majority of claims being paid out are not service connected. It's cases like this.

vinnydelicious 05/30/14 - 08:21 pm
Did I miss something?

Were these injuries service related, or did they occur after he served?Poor reporting. What the heck is anal fissure? Did he fall on some corkscrew pasta? I'd probably take that one to the grave with me. This case doesn't pass the smell test

dichotomy 05/30/14 - 08:33 pm
You get anal fissures from

You get anal fissures from receiving too many butt chewings.

I'm sorry....I just couldn't help myself.

restguy 05/30/14 - 09:31 pm
Served 4 years?? He isn't

Served 4 years?? He isn't retired army...

proudgunowner 05/30/14 - 10:03 pm
I cry foul

None of these "disabilities" sound like they are service related. I'm all for taking care of veterans who are injured or receive disabilities while serving, especially in combat, but this is OUR money being given away. He's going to be paid over $3300 per month for life now? Back in the FOUR YEARS that he served I believe that the pay would have been no more than 600 to 800 per month. (my brother served in the AF around that time and this is what he told me). I wonder too how much the attorney is going to get for this rape of the system??????

jdsgirl63 05/30/14 - 10:20 pm
He looks like he's living

He looks like he's living pretty large for someone who is disabled. This story doesn't clarify if he's been working for 40 years, where did he get these "injuries"? When did he have the 2 strokes? Why did he need his knee replaced and when? I won't ask about his anal injury because I just don't want to know!

I know several people who are on 100% disability from the military, yet they work civil service jobs and to know them you'd never guess they had a disability of any kind. Then there are a few I know who were in for 4-8 years, never saw combat, have 80-100% disability from the military and are collecting a pension from other government jobs on top of that.

Meanwhile, I see these young men and women coming home from Afghanistan in a sorry state and nothing seems to be being done for them. They believe their country will take care of them, whether physical or mental issues, and they get next to nothing.

thauch12 05/30/14 - 11:23 pm
Bilking the government

It's really hard to feel any sort of pity for this guy when it seems that all of his "disabilities" had nothing to do with his service to the country. The Corvette doesn't help his case either...

avidreader 05/31/14 - 06:37 am
to SpeakMyMind

I agree with you. I am compassionate and considerate of our veterans -- I am one -- however, I am personally aware of two disability cases that are a ruse. Mr. McRay's South Korea and Panama were not war zones during his four-year enlistment. There is probably a lot more to be told than what is reported in this news piece, and I would like to know more details.

Also, jdsgirl63, your response fits in with my views.

freeradical 05/31/14 - 07:50 am
" Since Serving " ?

When I first read the headline I was certain the man's maladies would

be easily understood to have originated in uniform.

None of the injuries I receive VA comp for occurred " Since serving "

they all occurred wearing the uniform .

I do understand the residual issues of things like agent orange but

nothing in this article makes any such claim of residual injury .

In fact the use of the word " since " seems to make clear that such a

connection is not being alleged .

internationallyunknown 05/31/14 - 07:59 am

How is this any different from those who receive SNAP benifits.....

my.voice 05/31/14 - 08:39 am
Maybe you were denied so many

Maybe you were denied so many times because your claims were not concurrent with actual disability? I see it took a "one call that's all" attorney to get your jackpot. You, sir, are a disgrace.

PS is that Jesus on the hood of your car?

redapples 05/31/14 - 08:49 am
Shameful VA!

My father proudly served 30 years in the US Army and was an infantryman in WWII, Vietnam and Korea. His purple hearts confirmed his service-related injuries and permanent impairments and only after my mom begged him to file his claim did he do so only to be denied. Because of pride (common with that generation) he did not appeal and passed away after much suffering from his service-connected maladies. Money would not have reversed his suffering, but it would have paid for better medical care than what he received through the years! I sat by his bedside MANY a day and night while he lay there dependent upon a lackadaisical hospital staff for care. Shameful!

BombquishaDavis 05/31/14 - 08:56 am

You hit it on the head. Better recruitment needs to be done. Some are enlisted WITH problems, only to come out and get 100%.....shouldn't have been there in the first place. I have a friend who served in sliced up in hand to hand combat, had to kill the guy with his bare hands. Lives on his private property and swears he hears people in the woods behind his home...Mickey Mouse could have made the diagnosis....PTSD to the max. Has had probably 50 jobs in his lifetime.....for years they said he had no reason for PTSD. One friend had a documented sexual assault by a higher up. VA care is not free for her. Then there is the allowances.....VA needs an overhaul from the bottom up.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/31/14 - 09:27 am

I join the chorus of those above who conclude that this man is receiving veterans benefits from illnesses that are not service-related. It is wrong, wrong, wrong.

John Locke
John Locke 05/31/14 - 09:45 am

I spent 20 years on active duty in the US Army and retired. This guy makes more per month than I do and he spent 4 years, during peacetime, in Panama and he gets this??? How in the hell did his injuries stem from that??? It is stories like this that are designed only to generate outrage. But the VA system works, if you don't try to abuse it. Most of those complaining about the system are doing so because they just want money - tax money. Complain, get sympathy, but no real injuries or problems. I heard someone is trying to get VA benefits because they got Agent Oranged at Fort Gordon - they said it was falling out of the sky on them. Really? This Aiken "veteran" is a leach, which is why real veterans can't get service because people like him clog up the system.

Sweet son
Sweet son 05/31/14 - 11:09 am
I hope his 'friends' who might be smart like most of us will

shun this guy! Like the rest of you I didn't see any ailment that could be related to 4 years in the military. And Wesley, you should not have written about this rouse! And Vinny, an anal fissure is a tear in your 'butt hole' that can be easily repaired. It usually occurs when bricks are passed through that orifice and we all know how to manage that.

Dixieman 05/31/14 - 01:38 pm
Typical msm journalism

Even in Augusta, a garrison town, reporters generally know little to nothing about the military. They can't even get the nomenclature for ranks, MOSs, etc. right! Possibly this guy got a medical disability discharge after 4 years, but it's not very clear from the article. His hat says "retired" which if he served only 4 years must mean retirement due to disability, but anyone can buy a hat. And how come he never went to Nam in 1969-73? Not well researched or written.

just an opinion
just an opinion 05/31/14 - 12:37 pm
The Entitlement Crowd

When will they ever go to work and stop looking for every excuse not to? This man has health issues but so do a lot of people. Adapt and learn to survive. There's a tennis tournament at Newman Tennis Center this weekend. Guess what? They're all in wheelchairs! I wish he and others would go watch.

insamniac 05/31/14 - 12:07 pm
This is why the VA has so many PR and efficiency problems.

It's taboo these days to speak out against service members and vets, but in my 5 years in the Army, and my 10 years working on Ft. Gordon since, the overwhelming majority of 'disabled' vets I've met have similarly fraudulent sounding ailments. The worst part is that people (VA reps included) encourage you to get the highest disability rating you can. Some people I've met even boast about how they're working to get their claims to 100%, then complain about people getting government 'handouts' in the next sentence. One that's come to annoy me the most is probably 50% for sleep apnea. That's like $1k a month (and will increase) for life! These people are putting a huge burden on VA funds (our tax dollars).

It's unfortunate that people with legitimate service related problems, that hinder their ability to earn, have to compete with people who just want to supplement their earnings from a job they can work with no problem despite their 'disability'.

I wish they would revise the system to better weed out the riffraff, but I'm sure it's a very delicate balancing act, especially when you get these Saul Goodman wannabe lawyers involved.

mavie325 05/31/14 - 09:05 pm
What a relief that they

What a relief that they finally got what they deserve, right? - Mint Springs Farm

corgimom 05/31/14 - 09:22 pm
Dixieman, lots of people

Dixieman, lots of people didn't go to Vietnam. Some stayed stateside, some went to Germany or other places.

Many veterans never saw 1 single day of combat.

Warnin 07/01/14 - 02:59 pm
What was actually "service related"

Are "WE" paying this guy for normal medical deterioration. I know quite a few folks who have had knees replaced who never served and I know officers can be a pain in the [filtered word] but I don't think that causes fistulas. What "service related" injury is he being compensated for? I can see why they put him off so long, because this doesn't sound like something the military service caused. Maybe just a job of poor reporting.

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