Tuesday, October 31, 2006

How The VA Plays Kick the Can

There are times when I’m so angry with my government that I begin to understand what causes postal workers to snap. Now is one of those times.

I was just starting an appointment with one of my veteran clients this morning when I received a devastating phone call. It was the wife of a veteran I’ve been helping for more than a year now. Ed and I were trying to obtain for him long overdue and much needed disability compensation from the Veterans Administration. After speaking to the tearful girl I was almost too overcome with sadness and anger to go on with my appointment.

Ed, only in his late 50s, died last night just two months after learning he had cancer. He should have left for the States to start treatment as soon as the cancer was discovered, but being alone in the world and seriously affected by his condition, he needed his wife to accompany him. That’s not too much to ask, don’t you think? But evidently it was as far as the immigration jerks at the embassy are concerned.

After weeks of waiting, Immigration finally informed him that first he had to go back to the States and only then could he petition her. What a crock! These cold-hearted SOBs knew that he was going back for immediate medical treatment and he’d never be able to run the paperwork. And knowing Ed, I think he realized that if he left his beloved wife behind that it was likely he’d never see her again. He couldn’t chance that. He was not about to leave her behind. Do you see now why I despise those creeps in the embassy?

When he had first called me, frightened out of his mind with the news that he had cancer in his brain and lungs, he had told me that he was going to wait and get his airline tickets after going to the embassy and applying for an emergency visa for his wife. Knowing how heartless those bastards at the embassy are, I told him then that he should expect them to deny her a visa. For the VA, Social Security, and the counselor section—all located inside that insufferable building called the American embassy—denying is what they all do best. Unless you are a big shot, you won’t get anything but the run-around from any of those people.

What is it about American embassy staff that makes them such asses? It could be the fact that they have so much power over people, especially over little people like Ed and his grieving wife. When I walk through the embassy building, as I am forced to do three to five times a month in the course of my volunteer work for veterans, and pass the arrogant permanent staff types in there, I always feel spite for them. I realize the ill will I feel is bred from resentment, because I know very few of them, but if you only knew the pain and despair they cause! I wonder if THEY know how much they are detested out here by us normal folk.

From Ed’s widow I learned that his doctor thought it was probably stress that took him so early. His physician was surprised at how soon he passed away. He had “given” him much more time than the two months that it took him to die. She confided in me how worrying it had been for him to deal first with the VA all these months, and then finally with the embassy immigration officials, which turned out to be the final straw. This is NO joke, but I say in all sincerity that he was murdered—ultimately, he was killed by those pitiless bureaucrats.

Ed’s disabilities prevented him from working, and based on the medical evidence we had, he should have been granted compensation by the VA immediately for his primary debilitating ailments. Unfortunately, I’ve found that the VA Claims Section in Manila is made up of some individuals who habitually make incorrect decisions, almost whimsically, and then stubbornly refuse to change their incorrect determinations no matter how much evidence and precedent is stacked in front of them. This was exactly the case for Ed.

We had all the proof we needed to show that his ailment was service-connected, and we had over two-dozen case precedents that perfectly mirrored his claim. Yet, that disgraceful place made him take his claim to the Board of Veterans Appeals not once, but twice! I can assure you, Ed would have won his claim—it was IN the freaking bag—but now it will be as if he never filed at all. Once again, the bastards got their way.

Although the VA treated him shabbily over the years, and especially over this past year, unlike me, I never heard him use cross language either when talking to VA personnel or when we spoke of the VA concerning his claim. In a word, he was a very nice man, a gentleman. And now that he’s gone it seems to me that the VA as an entity is probably just fine with that. Those are bitter words, accusatory words, but that’s how I feel. You see, they play a game with veterans in need—I call it “kick the can.”

Shamefully, they played “kick the can” with Ed. The object of their game is to keep “kicking the can,” or the veteran’s claim, down the road all the way to the bitter end of the appeals process. It takes literally years, but the VA has all the time in the world. At the same time, they know that many veterans like Ed are not destined for old age. What really bothers me is that this time my guy actually died. I always tell my guys that they (the VA) play this game hoping that they’ll die so they won’t have to make the award. Each time I say it, I do so somewhat jokingly, only this time it happened, and I cannot feel worse.

Do I really think they purposely do this horrible thing? Here’s what I think. There is a culture inculcated into the hearts and minds of the people in that soulless organization that encourages VA raters and examiners to underplay and deny, if at all possible, every claim they can. Then they send out boilerplate letters to the veterans that most find almost impossible to fully understand so that they need someone like me to explain it to them. Without my help, these guys lose almost every claim they make. A lot of veterans, especially the very old or mentally infirm ones, just give up. And once again, the VA wins.

All day I thought of Ed. I remember the last time I saw him. He was jauntily walking away to catch a bus after I dropped him off at the Dau terminal following our last go with the appeals judge. We were optimistic and in great spirits during the 2 hour drive back from Manila. We had laid out our case completely and convincingly and I KNEW I could chock it into the win column. Other than that, all Ed wanted to talk about was his lovely new bride. He couldn’t believe his luck that he had found the perfect girl for him. They were married last January and now, after our successful show with the traveling judge, he knew better days were surely ahead for them both.

Her last words to me on the phone this morning were of him, “Mr. Spear,” she said, her voice strained with emotion, “I didn’t have him with me long enough.”

I doubt if I get much sleep tonight. It’s already almost 2 a.m. and my mind is running in circles. Discouraging times like these make me wonder how long I can keep doing this.


Anonymous said...

Phil, so sorry to hear about that guy. I think a big part of the problem is that in the US the immigration people handle immigration affairs while outside it's handled by State Department staff. I recently ran across a Yahoo group where state department people exchange ideas and they seem to be some real upper class snobs who think it's their duty to keep as many foreigners out of the country as possible, irregardless of merit.

I had a bad experience with them as well. I married a Mexican girl but while waiting for her visa we lived and worked in Juarez, just across the river from El Paso. I worked on the US side and just crossed the bridge daily. I just let the immigration thing in my wife's hands. Every month she'd go to the consulate and every month was told she needed one more document. It just went on and on but I was naive and assumed that they'd get it right eventually.

Then one day I came home and found her sobbing. She said she'd had one more appointment and was called into an office. The guy reminded her that US law does not allow certain people into our country, such as communists, criminals, prostitutes, etc. He asked her if she understood that. She said yes. He then passed across the table an 8x10 photo of a girl. My wife told me the girl did look somewhat like her but it was not her. The official then said that he thinks she's a bar girl in the photo and will be denied the visa. She just lost it at that point and ran out sobbing.

I got it solved by calling my senator's office and she had another interview within 5 days, and was treated with respect. We soon got the visa and moved to the US.

You're right, Phil. Embassy staff are pretty obnoxious folks.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your friend Ed. So young, and newly wed. And seems to be a nice guy. I pity his wife too. I can't comment about the American Embassy, but you're probably right that it was stress that took his life that quick.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Alec, my first encounters with embassy staff was as a marine embassy guard in the late 70s. Those people definitely had a superiority complex, a feeling that they were a cut above the people that came into the building for help.

I remember one night trying to explain to a young political officer that our position in post 1, the embassy lobby, was untenable. I told him that if were attacked in a concerted way that we would have maybe 30 seconds before being overwhelmed and killed. I argued for a more secure postion. This was 1977, before the takeover of the US embassy in Iran. He told me it wouldn't "look good" to make the building fortlike and went on to say that it was our job to die if necessary. I wanted to shoot that arrogant little pissant. I was only 20 at the time and he was maybe 4 years older than me. He'd been to college and had served as a foreign service officer... In otherwords he was a civilian know-it-all pantywaist. His attitude is typical of the asswipes that serve in the State Department. No wonder they piss everyone off.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Hi Nice. Yes, Ed was a wonderful man and it will take a while to get over the fact that he's gone. I put my heart and soul into helping him and it feels terrible that it was all for naught. I'm sure the Canadian State Department folks are much nicer than their American counterparts. I think they must train our people to be jerks or they choose people with that personality profile.

Ed said...

I never wanted to know the immigration department but I ended up marrying a Filipina and knowing it too well. Like you, it makes no sense to me how they do business. We want to grant amnesty to illegal people who suck away our tax dollars and contribute little and yet deny others truly deserving. My mother-in-law wanted only to attend the wedding of her first born and was denied. Later it was the birth of her granddaughter and was denied. Only after getting a senator involved and applying for the fourth time was she finally approved for a one time visa.

Once again I am going through the visa process again in getting her conditional status removed off her greencard. Hopefully this will be painless but I never get my hopes up anymore.

Sorry to hear about Ed. Can his wife get any benefits he might have received?

Amadeo said...


Alec brought out a point that apparently has not been resolved over all these years, at least from some 27 years ago when we moved to the US.

There continues to be a disconnect or no effective lines of communications between Immigration people and the State Dept as represented by the embassies and consulate abroad.

When my wife and 2 kids landed here and presented papers before Immigration, their first reaction was that of surprise on how the consulate then in Cebu processed their papers.

And with the present set-up where Immigration is now just a little cog in the Homeland Security machine, this could get worse for those transacting abroad.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I think what it actually points out is the capricious nature of the buttheads who run each of their little "empires" all over the world. They become giddy with their own power and start to act like they really are royalty running a fiefdom.

Anyone who has ever had to deal with these people are immediately struck with their obnoxious nature. Back in the 80s, I took my stepson into the Tokyo US Embassy to get a visa to take him to the States with us. The consular officer had the gall to interview me through the glass with the tiny speaking holes and insisted that I yell my answers out loud enough for everyone in the room, perhaps 200 people, to hear, and with my 13 yr old stepson standing right next to me. Most of the questions were very personal and embarrassing and had to do with the fact that he was born out of wedlock, and this consulate jerk made me yell out the circumstances of Michael's birth. I practically had to scream out the words, "HE'S ILLEGITIMATE, OKAY?!" It was completely unnecessary. I see why they hide behind the glass because if I could have I would have thrashed his smug foreign service officer ass.

American officials overseas are supposed to be over here to look after fellow citizens living overseas, but usually they are more concerned with their own creature comforts and the time of that night's dinner party. I worked around these folks for a year and I know them. They suck.


Those people at the Embassy and the VA do indeed suck. They are oxygen thieves who feed their egos by using the power and control they have over people to screw them over.

PhilippinesPhil said...

SF Soldier, very succinct, and accurate!