• November 28, 2014

Wife says VA claims backlog led to suicide

Homeless veteran overdosed in Killeen

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Posted: Saturday, June 22, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 4:32 am, Sat Jun 22, 2013.

The body of a 60-year-old homeless man was found by the train tracks in downtown Killeen last week, a victim of a drug overdose, police said.

His wife, who was found next to him with a near-lethal amount of blood pressure medication in her body, said her husband, Larry Pittman of Blakely, Ga., was the victim of an overtaxed system.

What drove Larry Pittman over the edge was desperation — felt by many disabled veterans — that his disability compensation claim would never make it through the Department of Veterans Affairs, said his wife, Penny Pittman, 49.

Soldier’s story

Larry Pittman, a decorated Vietnam veteran, served in both the Army and the Navy for a total of 14 years, according to his Department of Defense form 214.

After joining the Army when he was 18, Pittman worked in transportation for the Army during the Vietnam War, earning the Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and other honors.

He was honorably discharged from the Navy as a second class petty officer in 1985. His last assignment was aboard the USS Belknap, a guided missile cruiser.

What wasn’t mentioned on his DOD form were the health problems he suffered following his time in the military: hearing loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, heart disease and skin cancer from exposure to Agent Orange. A VA document, provided to the Herald by Penny Pittman, said the VA was in the process of determining if any of those ailments began when Pittman was in the military.

In early 2012, Pittman applied through the VA for disability compensation for his injuries. More than a year later, he was homeless and still waiting for the claim to be processed, his wife said.

Claims backlog

The immense backlog of VA claims has impacted many veterans.

The Waco office, where Pittman’s claim was sent, is one of the largest VA offices in the country. It also has the second-highest number of pending claims in the country, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Currently, 43,104 claims remain undecided at the Waco office, down from 51,875 in July 2012, according to the office of U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. More than 32,603 — 75.6 percent — of the claims at the Waco office have been pending for more than 125 days.

“The backlog with the VA system is unacceptable,” Carter said in an email. “Our veterans gave their commitment to this country when they took the oath to join the military. We have failed to reciprocate that commitment by making it nearly impossible for many of them to get help, medicine, appointments, benefits and services they need.”

Despite the mounting backlog, some headway has been made in the past year. The VA reduced the number of backlog claims by more than 65,000 nationwide through an overtime initiative started in April, according to a report this week.

Out of work

Pittman held several jobs after the Army, including a position at Lockheed Martin, Penny Pittman said. However, psychological issues brought back from the war haunted him and made it difficult for him to keep a job. The couple moved to Killeen because Pittman’s son, Blakely Pittman, was stationed at Fort Hood. But soon after, the son was sent to South Korea. Unable to find work, Larry and Penny Pittman lost their Killeen apartment in December, she said.

The couple lived through the winter under the bridge at Long Branch Park, and homelessness began to take its toll on Pittman’s body. He suffered several mini-strokes during the past six months, according to hospital records.

“When we were homeless, his blood pressure got worse,” Pittman said.

Larry Pittman continued to contact the VA to check on his compensation claim, which he filed the year before, according to his wife.

Tom Morley, a spokesman for the Waco VA office, said it did not receive Pittman’s claim until February. Morley said Pittman’s disability case was about to be rated at the time of his death.

Morley also said there is no backlog for homeless veterans, which are given fast-track status. But the Pittmans became homeless after the claim was filed.

“We were at the VA two or three times a week,” Penny Pittman said. “We lived there.”

On June 10, after getting news of further delays on his claim, Pittman chose to end his life, Penny Pittman said.

“We were downtown and I was trying to get a hold of the VA,” she said. “He said, ‘Penny I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to leave you with this but I can’t do this anymore.’”

That afternoon, the couple made a pact to commit suicide together, she said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to do this without you. I don’t want to go through this alone,’ And now I am here and he’s not here.”

 

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1 comment:

  • JimS posted at 1:03 pm on Mon, Jun 24, 2013.

    JimS Posts: 10

    How does a Country HONOR It's Fallen, by Their Own 'Sacrifice' in Taking Care of the Brothers and Sisters They Served With!!
    The Whole Country Served, Not Just The Many Caring Groups, with handfuls of members and volunteers, who have to fight for funding when successful and not getting grants, Within!!

    "If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too — not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American." -Andrew Rosenthal 10 Feb. 2013

    Rachel Maddow: "We got a huge round of tax cuts in this country a few weeks before9/11. Once 9/11 happened and we invaded Afghanistan, we kept the tax cuts anyway.
    How did we think we were going to pay for that war? Did we think it was free?
    Then, when we started a second simultaneous war in another country, we gave ourselves a second huge round of tax cuts. After that second war started. The wars, I guess, we thought would be free, don`t worry about it, civilians. Go about your business." 23 May 2013

    “Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

    WHY? GOOD QUESTION THOSE SERVED SHOULD ANSWER!

    Prior too this present Executive and Veterans Administrations and just touching on the problems:

    Army Times Oct. 16, 2008 - VA claims found in piles to be shredded

    CNN iReport October 25, 2008 - House Vets' Committee To Probe VA Shredder Scandal

    Tampa Bay Times Oct 27, 2008 - Hundreds of VA documents improperly shredded, review finds {Tampa Bay Times search page and series of articles}

    CBS News February 11, 2009 - Veterans' Claims Found in Shredder Bins

    And more disturbing in relation to even before and through the early years of the Afghanistan, quickly abandoned missions of, and Iraq occupations, this:

    ProPublica and The Seattle Times Nov. 9, 2012 - Lost to History: Missing War Records Complicate Benefit Claims by Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans
    "DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War."

    Add in the issues of finally recognizing in War Theater and more Veterans, by this Veterans Administration and the Executive Administrations Cabinet, what the Country choose to ignore from our previous decades and wars of: The devastating effects on Test Vets and from PTS, Agent Orange, Homelessness, more recent the Desert Storm troops Gulf War Illnesses, Gulf War Exposures with the very recent affects from In-Theater Burn Pits and oh so so much more! Tens of Thousands of Veterans' that have been long ignored and maligned by previous VA's and the whole Country and through their representatives!

    These present wars have yet to be paid for! Rubber stamping and rapid deficits rising started before 9/11 and continued with same for the wars. But especially in the early some six years of extremely little being added to the Veterans Administration budgets by those Congresses, and since obstructed by same war rubber stampers, as to the long term results of War, DeJa-Vu all over again.

    "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." - Abraham Lincoln

    USN All Shore '67-'71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country '70-'71