Augusta veterans turn to Rep. John Barrow to get Veterans Affairs disability benefits



When Sydney Grant left the Marines in 1971, doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs told him that he would receive 30 percent disability for an injury he received during the Vietnam War.

A year earlier, VA surgeons repaired an abnormally large vein that had formed in the Augusta veteran’s scrotum, but Grant, 69, now says the swelling has returned, along with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe back pains.

In the past 20 years, Grant has petitioned four times for more disability compensation and has been examined on three of the appeals, most recently in March to remove a testicle.

Today, he receives 10 percent disability from the VA, a minimum designation that’s good enough for about $130 a month.

“Each day, I am fighting the VA more and more – the appeals are endless,” said Grant, who served from 1968-71. “I guess I’ll have to go crazy to get the treatment I rightfully earned.”

More than 200 veterans with similar grievances filed into American Legion Post 205 on Highland Avenue Thursday in hopes that U.S. Rep. John Barrow could help them get disability benefits.

Barrow already has visited veterans in Douglas, Statesboro and Waynesboro, Ga., for special office hours. He said the most common problems veterans are facing with their claims are long waits for decisions, mishandled documents and confusing communications between the military and VA.

“My job as a legislator is to fix the bureaucracy, and I’m doing all I can to cut through the red tape,” said Barrow, who will meet with veterans in Dublin and Vidalia on Monday. “There are too many veterans getting the runaround.”

Augusta veteran Ollie Washington, 63, said he his working on his third appeal in eight years. He served in the Army from 1973-81 and receives 10 percent disability for a service-connected injury he sustained in his left knee during a field exercise at Fort Campbell, Ky.

The veteran said that he is scheduled to have arthroscopic surgery on Aug. 13 at the Augusta VA to remove bone fragments from his knee. Doctors hope the surgery will improve his quality of life, he said.

Like Grant, though, Washington suspects things will improve only if he gets 30 percent disability, or $395 in benefits a month, to join the YMCA or the Salvation Army’s Kroc Center.

Washington said his condition improves significantly when he uses the Augusta VA’s therapeutic pool, which is available to veterans for only one 12-week session every six months because of high demand.

“Over the years, I have fought through the pain, but now my bad knee is throwing off my posture and affecting my back,” Washington said. “It’s just getting progressively worse.”

Barrow said he plans to take each case submitted to his office for review and use his experience with the federal government to provide the benefits that veterans deserve.

Officials from the VA, the Georgia Department of Veterans Services, the Augusta Warrior Project and the American Legion were present to help him with claims.

“Together,” he said, “we can get things done.”

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