VA: “Hurting veterans means never having to say you’re sorry”

(Please excuse run-on narrative.  ‘Started as a Facebook comment.)

The Department of Veterans Affairs cheated me out of about nine months of my life; cost me thousands of dollars of lost income; and caused me to spend hundreds of unreimbursed dollars on tuition, books, and transportation expenses by sending me a certificate of eligibility for educational benefits in July 2009 saying [summarized]: “You have 4 months and 26 days of eligibility under the Post-9/11 program.” The certificate went on to say ” . . reduced from 36 months because you used educational benefits under previous programs.” (I had obtained my bachelors and some post-graduate work under Chapter 34 educational benefits based on my Vietnam service with the Marine Corps.)  So I, rejoicing, found a (second bachelors) degree program with a political science minor at Indiana University, applied (references, tests, writing sample to ‘test out of’ writing requirement, etc.), was accepted, enrolled for 9 semester hours to support the (then $999 per month) living allowance to offset against my soon-to-be-lost salary yet allow for a slight remainder of eligibility to apply to some summer school courses, quit my job teaching at Ivy Tech Community College, paid my 20% share of tuition & fees (20% because I was only 80% vested in the current program due to only 2½ years active duty under USC, Chapter 10 post-9/11 and not the 3 years required for full vesting), the IU veterans affairs office sent my enrollment certification to the VA in November 2009 for the courses starting 10 January 2010, I had 9 hours of “A” grades going into the mid-terms in March 2010 – no money from VA. No answers to calls.  Nothing.  Finally the VA claimed they’d sent me a letter dated the day after the certificate of eligibility date (as if the VA could do anything in one day) saying it was in error, that I did not have any eligibility due to use of earlier programs. (Yes, same phrase as in the certificate about ‘use of previous programs’, just with a different conclusion.)  I did not receive any such letter.  (Was it lost in the mail? Just wait . . ) The IU office didn’t either, not even after IU submitted my enrollment certification months earlier.  Skipping over more painful details (actually, our disabled daughter was still alive at that time and I had relied upon that VA education money), a VA manager I finally got a hold of said he’d send me a copy of the never-seen ‘certificate’s in error’ letter.  I received a cover letter from him which listed a copy of the letter as an enclosure. There was no enclosure. Only his cover letter was in the envelope. A staffer for our worthless congressman inquired on my behalf. They also received a response from the VA saying a copy of the ‘certificate’s in error’ letter was enclosed.  It wasn’t. That’s three times the ‘correction’ letter was supposedly sent, and three times the addressee did not receive it – not counting the lack of negative feedback in any form to IU.  By the time my hopeless appeal got to the Board of Veterans Appeals level in Washington, DC (years later) the only relief I requested was that the VA, in similar ‘April fool’ situations, confirm the veterans’ receipt of the corrective information. That’s all I requested during my personal hearing.  My daughter had passed away and I had moved on with my life. All I wanted was for the VA to fix the system/procedures which had hurt me so that other veterans would not be so harmed.  But the VA does not want to spend the money for confirming receipt of such life-impacting letters by telephone calls, emails with ’email read’ options, or certified USPS with signed return receipts.  (Every VA application form asks for the veteran’s mailing address, phone numbers, and email address.)  ‘Would cost them too much. Well, the lack of that ‘certificate is in error’ information cost me thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours of study/writing time, transportation expenses, and time I could have spent with my daughter but did not because of being in class or preparing for class assignments (yes, this old man was up past 02:00am for one paper, past midnight for others) and tests.  I could not buy that time back with her for any amount of money.  Who knows how much it has cost other similarly situated veterans?

John W. Tilford

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