Veteran fights for disability compensation

November 12, 2012 2:55:13 PM PST
A local man fought for his country for 27 years, but says in retirement he says he is facing his biggest battle yet.

First Sgt. Richard Sierra served nearly three decades in the Army. He retired in 2005, and in 2007 he filed for disability compensation for service-connected injuries.

His claim was denied in July 2008. Richard appealed, but was denied again.

"Every time I talked to someone in the VA system, they would tell me you are going to have to wait a long time, we have 300,000 people waiting," Richard said.

Richard was one of the veterans waiting. He continued to fight by appealing, but got two more denials.

Richard's wife, Tamara, was with him every step of the way.

"It was very depressing to me that he was trying to fight the battle, how he got depressed, and he started withdrawing from the family too," Tamara said.

After four denials Richard was able to state his case in front of a veteran law judge in 2011.

"The waiting period to go through and appeal a three year waiting period to go in front of a judge, sit there for 20 minutes, address the situation," Richard described the process.

In March 2012, the Board of Veterans Appeals granted Richard his injuries are service-connected. The ruling meant Richard would be owed thousands of dollars in back pay which goes back to his first claim in October 2007.

Even after the board's decision, the money didn't come. Six months later Richard still didn't have the more than $26,000 he was owed.

With no answers, Richard turned to me.

Once I got in touch with the Department of Veterans Affairs office in Winston Salem, progess was made.

"Within 30 minutes after you called and they called us, our claim moved two steps further," Richard said. "To me it's very frustrating that you have to do such dramatic measurements to get what you're actually owed and fought for."

It took a few weeks, but Richard's claim was processed. More than $26,000 in back pay was deposited in his bank account.

"One battle is finally over, but my thing is this is not just about me and my husband, this is about a lot of veterans out there not getting what they are deserving," Tamara said.

Richard is not the only veteran waiting. Just in the Winston Salem office, which deals with the claims for vets in our area, a rep told me there are 34,000 claims to be processed.

Of those, 22,000 are considered backlogged, as they are more than 125 days old.

The rep said even though the center completed a record number of claims in the last three years, their incoming claims exceeds the completed. She adds that the average time from start to finish for a claim is 332 days.

The rep said there are a number of initiatives in place to reduce the backlog, the biggest one being moving to a paperless system.

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