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Augusta veteran fears disability benefits may be revoked

Sunday, June 15, 2014 5:03 PM
Last updated Monday, June 16, 2014 9:39 AM
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Some veterans wait years for the federal government to award them 100 percent disability for service-connected injuries and illnesses, and apparently there is no guarantee that the monthly payments will last a lifetime once approved.

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Jesus Martinez, a Marine veteran who has received disability checks for post-traumatic stress disorder since 1997, could have those benefits reduced or halted.  SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
SARA CALDWELL/STAFF
Jesus Martinez, a Marine veteran who has received disability checks for post-traumatic stress disorder since 1997, could have those benefits reduced or halted.

Since 1997, Jesus Mar­ti­nez, a 78-year-old retired Marine staff sergeant in Augusta, has received a monthly $2,858 check from the Department of Veterans Affairs for post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he was diagnosed after 20 years of service.

Now the VA has reopened his claim and is “strongly encouraging” the Vietnam veteran to send information and evidence in support of his disability, according to a letter mailed to him April 21 from the agency’s Regional Benefit Office in Atlanta.

Nine days later, the office scheduled Martinez for a disability evaluation June 20 at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center to examine his health and medical evidence. A notice confirming the evaluation stated: “Because this appointment has been scheduled at the
request of the regional office and may have an impact on your benefits, it will not be possible to reschedule this exam.”

“It upsets me greatly,” said Mar­tinez, who served from 1953 to 1973. “Since then, I have been really shaky.”

He wrote back to the Atlanta office May 6 saying he considered the original letter a threat of the VA’s “absolute and elite unquestionable authority” and that it awakened suicidal thoughts and painful war memories and made him paranoid of a possible witch hunt against him.

Velda McCoy, a spokeswoman for the VA Regional Office in Atlanta, could not comment on Martinez’s case because of privacy laws but said there might be instances when the VA determines “there is a need to verify either the continued existence or the current severity of a disability.”

“In those instances, a routine future examination may be requested,” she said. “If re-examination shows the severity of the disability has changed, then the evaluation of the service-connected disability may change.”

McCoy said if an evaluation results in a reduction or end to compensation payments, the veteran is notified and given 60 days to provide additional evidence to show that compensation payments should continue at their present level. If none is received, the award will be reduced or ended effective the last day of the month in which
the 60-day period ends, she said.

The 2013 VA benefits handbook shows Martinez is already receiving more than the maximum $2,816 for 100 percent disability.

A letter dated Aug. 13, 1997, confirms the VA granted Martinez 100 percent service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the agency’s benefit hotline stated Thursday that his most recent payment was processed May 30.

The average wait time for a veteran to have a disability claim processed is about 165 days, according to VA estimates, but the letter sent to Martinez said the agency could make a decision on his claim after 30 days if it does not hear from him.

McCoy said claims generally are not changed after initial approval but that every situation is unique.

“Unless the condition improves or the veteran has children or gets married, in general once service connection is determined and payments are awarded, that’s what they collect,” she said.

Martinez has an honorable discharge, a Combat Action Ribbon and a Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. He said he does not plan to attend the evaluation and just wants to receive the benefits for which he was originally approved.

He has copied the chairman and ranking members of the House Committee on Vete­rans Affairs on all correspondence to the VA for help. McCoy said the Atlanta office will reach out to Martinez.

“I should receive what I was first promised,” he said.

Comments (15) Add comment
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IBeDogGone
3015
Points
IBeDogGone 06/13/14 - 07:26 pm
7
0
Treatment

Is he still receiving treatment for PTSD? With my job which I fund my own disability plan I can only receive treatment if my disability continues. I understand his concerns and appreciate his service to our country and do not know the extent of his disability so I will not judge on this case. I do know many people receiving large disability checks that are very able both mental and physical to work to support themselves and their dependants.

Better determination of benefits might open the budget for better VA care for veterans that have never used their benefits until the really needed them.

corgimom
34215
Points
corgimom 06/14/14 - 11:07 am
5
1
Social Security reviews cases

Social Security reviews cases of people that are on disability and requires them to recertify. Like me, I have to recertify on a routine basis.

I don't know what the problem is.

Because many people DO get better in time, and in order to stay on disability, people need to keep being treated.

If they aren't being treated, then maybe they aren't 100% disabled.

corgimom
34215
Points
corgimom 06/14/14 - 11:10 am
6
1
He doesn't need to copy

He doesn't need to copy letters to anybody, he needs to go to a physician and get certified.

What's the big deal?

But if he doesn't attend the evaluation, he will probably lose his benefits, that is a foolish idea to not attend.

eschamb
154
Points
eschamb 06/14/14 - 06:16 pm
0
5
Retirement after 1997

Why is the VA even looking at cases that were determined 17 years ago to a War veteran with honorable 20 years service? I think the VA has more important things to fix than try and re-evaluate a 17 year old decision of their own.
A more important question is what happened to his disability from 1973 till 1997?

Junket103
452
Points
Junket103 06/14/14 - 07:02 pm
4
0
This is Not news

The VA routinely will re-evaluate a case if they suspect fraud. It could be that a family member, friend, neighbor or former friend reported him to the VA as possibly committing fraud. The VA is then obligated to evaluate the situation. It could be that his record was flagged several years ago for a periodic re-evaluation to verify the severity of the condition.

Mental illness is very hard for the general public to identify in the casual or distant encounters that happen daily. Which makes it different than a physical disability to appreciate in terms of the impact. At one time the VA rarely awarded 100% for PTSD. Those cases usually required long term hospitalization and were lowered after discharge to the community. Congress changed the way VA rates mental illness and continues to do so in response to the longest war in our history. In fact, the changes no longer require the mental illness to be related to combat, but could be for any event occurring during service, even peacetime.

This is not news. In this case the Veteran should have been encouraged to keep his appointment. As Corgimom points out, failure to keep the appointment gives VA the option of dropping his rating, which will be the exact opposite action he wants.

Since he has been rated for this condition for many years he should be able to pass the the evaluation and keep the rating.

corgimom
34215
Points
corgimom 06/15/14 - 04:54 pm
6
0
Eschamb, does that mean that

Eschamb, does that mean that you don't think that Social Security should make me recertify my disability? I worked for 24 years before I became ill.

There have been so many strides made in medicine that there's a good chance that he could now be helped.

Disability is only supposed to be as long as you are ill. It never is, and never was, designed to be a lifetime benefit.

There are very few things any more that qualify for an automatic lifelong disability.

If he isn't taking any meds, and not going to any doctors, yeah, he will be in trouble. You have to show that you are making an appropriate, demonstrated effort to get better.

Little Lamb
47011
Points
Little Lamb 06/16/14 - 07:57 am
4
0
Healing

Another reason to check is that sometimes the cause of a disability is healed. It is not right for Martinez to receive payments for a PTSD disability if he no longer has the disability.

It's time to go in for a check-up.

jimmymac
42949
Points
jimmymac 06/16/14 - 08:44 am
0
0
DISABILITY
Unpublished

If I was on disability from my employer it would be terminated when I was old enough to qualify for SS. Why shouldn't he fall under the same guidelines?

JRC2024
9309
Points
JRC2024 06/16/14 - 09:20 am
4
0
No it is not right for anyone

No it is not right for anyone to receive payment for a disability they do not have. All should be checked and rechecked at random intervals.

my.voice
4927
Points
my.voice 06/16/14 - 09:58 am
0
0
“I should receive what I was

“I should receive what I was first promised,”

So you are on the buffet plan? I see little to worry about if you are still suffering, in fact, Im more apt to give you a raise considering your service. That said, if you aint disabled, you dont deserve the $$$.

corgimom
34215
Points
corgimom 06/16/14 - 11:35 am
0
0
I guess the next time Social

I guess the next time Social Security sends me a recert notice, I should call the newspaper and send copies of the recert letter to lots of people, and get really upset that they DARE to ask if I am still disabled.

When I read the part about that he is having suicidal thoughts, my concern was that he should be taken to Behavioral Health and admitted immediately. Suicidal thoughts are to be taken very seriously, they are an extreme life-threatening emergency, and I wonder how is it that he is standing there getting his picture taken for the newspaper, if he is having those kinds of thoughts.

He should be hospitalized and getting appropriate treatment, not posing for a picture in the newspaper.

And by doing so, he is HURTING, not helping, his disability claim.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 06/16/14 - 04:33 pm
1
0
Once again

Once again there are people posting that know nothing about what they are talking about. This is not Social Security, nor is it some employee health plan. It is the Veterans Administration. The VA has its own laws that have nothing to do with SS or your private health plan. Once a veteran receives a disability rating for a permanent disability, there are very few circumstances that could warrant them being taken away.

corgimom
34215
Points
corgimom 06/16/14 - 08:12 pm
0
0
Navy Gary, that was true in

Navy Gary, that was true in the past, but it's going to change. It has to.

And it needs to.

corgimom
34215
Points
corgimom 06/16/14 - 08:14 pm
0
0
But those disability

But those disability evaluations- they are all the same. There aren't too many ways that you can evaluate someone for mental health disability.

Speakmymind
33
Points
Speakmymind 06/16/14 - 09:25 pm
0
0
Once again...things need to change

The VA turned disability from a condition of not being able to work into an entitlement program.

You can see from the article that this guy is entitled.

He knows he's in jeopardy of losing money because he has not been receiving treatment for the PTSD he claims. If it was really that bad, he would have received treatment as long as he suffered PTSD. Without evidence that he is receiving treatment for his alleged condition, he is hoping to rely on public outrage to protect his perceived entitlement. Don't fall for this act.

PTSD is a treatable condition. People get better from it. The only obstacles to getting better are alcohol/drug abuse or financial incentive to stay sick. Unfortunately, the VA gives a financial incentive for people to stay sick or claim they are sick. This needs to change and I'm hoping that it does.

Navy Gary
1615
Points
Navy Gary 06/16/14 - 10:14 pm
2
0
What needs to change

What needs to change is everybody and their brother thinking that they are the smartest people in the world. The VA system, at its inception, was one of the best in the world. Decades upon decades of budget cuts, bureaucrats thinking they know better, government employees abusing their powers and politicians trying to get elected has turned it into what we have now.

As for this man...Once a veteran has been rated 100%, totally and permanently disabled for ANY reason, the veteran DOES NOT have to recertify. Rightfully so too, I will add. Some have waited many years "in the system" to get the rating, it would be rather cruel to have them relive THAT nightmare again. Believe me, if any veteran gets a disability rating for PTSD from the VA, there is documentation and medical evidence to back up the claim.

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