HARRIS: VA Saga Drudges Up Old Horror Stories

Ron Harris, Special to The Informer | 5/27/2014, 8:48 p.m.
Whenever the mention of failures in the Veterans Administration bubbles up, I always flash back to Allen Curry, Tim Squier, ...

Whenever the mention of failures in the Veterans Administration bubbles up, I always flash back to Allen Curry, Tim Squier, Daniel Carpenter and, most tragically, Jonathan Schulze, four Iraq War veterans who in 2007 were suffering in relative obscurity like hundreds of thousands of fellow battered warriors — all victims of Veterans Administration backlogs.

Back then, little attention was being focused on the gauntlet veterans had to endure to receive medical care at the VA. A few journalists were writing about the problem, but, to be honest, the story wasn't getting much traction. The VA wait for returning veterans had grown from four to six months. Still, there were no Congressional hearings or senate panels. There were no irate elected officials. And nobody in Congress was calling for the head of the Veterans Administration to resign.

But there was Curry, then 47, emotionally and physically wrecked by the war, unemployed and on the verge of losing his house after waiting two years with no results for the VA to adjudicate his disability claim. He had been a Chicago postal worker making $60,000 a year before he was called to Iraq as a reservist. His war injuries left him unable to work, the government agreed, but still no check.

Down south in Copperas Cove, Texas, a little town off Highway 190 about 53 miles southwest of Crawford, then-President George W. Bush's "White House West" retreat, Daniel Carpenter was struggling to feed his wife and three small children. He had been an Army sergeant and medic, but war injuries had left him unfit for service and he had lost his monthly salary of more than $3,000. But despite being unable to hold a job due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the accompanying medication, the VA said he was only 60 percent disabled and issued him a monthly check of $1,125.

Tim Squier lived in Coldwater, Michigan, with his wife and child. He also hailed from one of those small towns from which came most of the service men and women who fought in America’s two wars on terror. Squier was a wreck — bad knees, bad back, screwed-up hearing, all courtesy of the roadside bombs that had hit his vehicles. He had PTSD and his short-term memory was shot. During a flashback, he almost killed his 11-year-old. Nearly penniless, he, too, was awaiting VA's judgment.

And then there was former Marine Jonathan Schulze. Schulze, 25, from Stewart, Minnesota, population 588, a recipient of two Purple Hearts for injuries, hanged himself four days after being told he was 26th on the waiting list for 12 beds in a VA ward for mental illness. The media had reported other returning veterans who had also committed suicide.

As a journalist, I talked to Iraq war veterans who were literally fishing in nearby lakes to feed their families, begging up the poorest parts of the cow from the local butcher, living in ragged trailers with no electricity. Many told me that they felt their country had abandoned them. All the talk about supporting the troops, they said sadly, was just talk.