One Soldier Recieves Long-Awaited Benefits…300,000 More Still Waiting
by K. Morgan Barker
On February 1, 2007 VT posted an article about Patrick Feges, a Purple Heart veteran who had received NO benefits after his family wrote to us. Apparently, the story captured the interest of the VA and Patrick's benefits were quickly given to him, except for his education benefits, which he is still waiting for. KPRC TV channel 2 in Houston picked up the story and even interviewed some of you, our readers. The following article and video are the result of that investigation.
VT wants to thank the Creasebaum family, the Feges family, Brian Sasser, KPRC TV and all the veterans who called or wrote in. Hopefully this will result in benefits that are received in a timely manner for ALL veterans.
And to Patrick and all our veterans…WE SALUTE YOU. Thank you for your sacrifices on our country's behalf.
If you are a veteran who has not received your benefits, please write to us. We would like to hear your story and, if possible, help.
Wounded Soldiers Not Getting Needed Benefits
HOUSTON — Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of an Investigators story that aired on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m…
Tonight, Local 2 investigates why wounded soldiers coming home from Iraq may not be getting help they've been promised. We've uncovered a huge backlog of veterans — some waiting years for assistance. The delays are causing many more sacrifices for soldiers and their families back at home. Investigative reporter Amy Davis joins us now with what she's discovered.
Tonight, we'll tell you the story of one soldier from Sugar Land. His sacrifice in Iraq has been followed by silence here at home. It's silence from the one agency supposed to help wounded veterans when they try to move on. Why are some soldiers waiting so long for help they've more than earned?
Among all the fighting across Iraq, Army Private Patrick Feges was just walking to the mess hall thinking about his birthday.
"The bomb went off," said Feges, a Purple Heart recipient. "I doubled over and looked down and saw I was hit."
That's when more than reality hit Private Feges.
"One of my first thoughts is, 'I may not make it to be 20,'" Feges said.
A mortar blast in Ramadi, Iraq, tore through his stomach.
"The next morning I got a call, the morning of his birthday, that he'd been downgraded to very critical," said Mary Jowell, Patrick's mother.
And his mother in Sugar Land could only pray her son would survive.
Mary Jowell flew to see her son as he came out of life-saving surgery in Washington, D.C.
"He was on a ventilator. I could barely see him," Jowell said. "He was banged up. His abdomen, legs — wire tubing everywhere."
But after five weeks in four hospitals in three countries, Private Patrick Feges survived.
"The first couple of weeks were horrible," Feges said.
But he says treatment by the Army was first class.
President George W. Bush came to visit.
During rehab at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Gov. Rick Perry awarded him the prestigious Purple Heart.
But after being medically discharged out of the Army, recovering at home in Sugar Land, Feges and his mother say he was all but forgotten by the Veterans Administration.
"Maybe if he had got this help when he got out, things would have been different," Jowell said.
"I guess I was sort of ticked off, you know," Feges said. "I lost a lot of faith in the V.A. system."
You see, it's been 19 months and the V.A. has not sent Patrick any of the many benefits he earned — more than $10,000 in disability benefits and money for education.
The Purple Heart veteran must work full time to pay for his full-time culinary school in Austin.
And his mother, while raising four other children, is working two jobs, 16 hours a day to also help fill the gap.
"I didn't want to see him struggle. It wasn't fair to see him struggle after what he went through," Jowell said. "So, I chose to get a job, and I send the paycheck I get from them — goes to him."
"It just does not seem right at all," said U. S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison serves on the Senate Veteran's Benefits Committee.
She tells us the average vet's wait time for benefits is six months, but found the V.A. has a backlog of 300,000 total veterans waiting for help.
She says Feges' case is not acceptable.
"Nineteen months is way out of the ballpark, there's no question about it," Hutchison said. "This needs to be looked into."
Private Feges originally signed up here at the Houston V.A. office.
Employees did tell us there have been delays in processing claims, but could not specifically tell us how many of those still waiting are wounded soldiers from Iraq.
"How many other kids are going through this exact same thing?" Jowell asked.
"These boys, they've gone through so much," Jowell said. "Live in their shoes for just one day."
There is some good news. Since our investigation began late last year, and Feges' relatives sent this letter of his situation to a Web site called Veteran's Today, Feges was finally contacted by the V.A.
This weekend, he received his first veteran's benefits check for 19 months of back pay.
However, he's still waiting to receive the money for his education.
The V.A. released the following statement.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs places emphasis on completing all veteran's claims in an expeditious manner. Claims concerning the seriously injured Iraqi veterans receive special priority handling. It is regrettable that in this case, special handling did not occur.
Mr. Feges was seen by the OEF/OIF coordinator during his hospitalization and placed on the VA seriously injured registry. Normally, these claims are received and coordinated by the OEF/OIF coordinator, out-based at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Mr. Feges did file a claim several months later, however, it was not handled by our OEF/OIF coordinator and as a result not identified as a seriously injured Iraqi veteran. The veteran's claim has been adjudicated and payment of benefits, to include retroactive benefits, is scheduled to pay on Feb. 14, 2007.
Improvement in the identification and priority handling of these cases continues so to minimize the possibility of a reoccurrence. Data cross-matches are now conducted on all pending claims and the seriously injured registry to ensure that these cases identified and handled in accordance with current priority procedures.
It is our sincere goal to provide timely information and benefits to all the veterans that we serve. We continue to strive to improve processes and procedures to ensure our most seriously injured are provided the benefits that they so desperately deserve."
Click here to view the video.
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