Meet 3 vets battling for VA benefits
By Susan Edelman and Michael Gartland
New York military veterans who survived the hell of war are now fighting the Department of Veterans Affairs to get the benefits they’re owed.
More than 8,500 New York vets, injured or ill as a result of their service, await decisions on their disability benefits. And those who appeal a decision face a wait of at least two years — and often much longer, advocates told The Post.
Stuck in a bureaucratic “black hole,” the New Yorkers feel the pain of vets who, as a government report has revealed, waited an average 115 days for a first appointment in a Phoenix VA hospital.
At least 23 deaths can be attributed to the waits, the VA admits. The head of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki, resigned Friday.
Army veteran, Daniel Perelmutter, 72, was denied aid for his heart transplant.
“It’s been in the news how vets are dying while they’re waiting. I feel I’m in that class of people,” said James Morris, 71, an ex-Marine reservist who has sought disability payments for more than 10 years.
The VA failed to award Morris benefits even after 2010, when its own psychiatrists confirmed he had suffered for decades as a result of the daily beatings and hazing he endured in boot camp.
“It’s OK to serve your country and get killed or maimed for life. But God forbid you want something when you’re wounded. You’re treated like the enemy,” he said.
In other cases:
A Staten Island vet in his 70s has been waiting more than three years on his appeal for VA benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from combat in Korea.
Despite a diagnosis of bone cancer, he can’t get a reply, said Nancy Morgan, a lawyer who helps vets.
“We want them to make a decision before he passes away,” she said.
An upstate woman who served in the Air Force in the Gulf War was raped by a fellow airman and suffered PTSD.
After appealing a denial of benefits in January 2010, she was notified last March that payments of about $1,500 a month were approved. Records showed the approval had been rendered two years earlier. The single woman had gone on food stamps in the meantime.
“We sent letters, we called. No response,” Morgan recalled.
Daniel Perelmutter, 72, of Brooklyn, was in the Army on the eve of the Vietnam War. Injured when his truck was hit by a Japanese army vehicle, he required “14 surgeries, six rods and 40 screws,” he said. An infection led to a condition that two years ago required a heart transplant — which the VA refused to pay for because he was a month past age 70.
“The VA is supposed to assist veterans to get the most they’re entitled to,” he said. “The fact is, you put in a claim, and you find yourself in an adversarial position.”
For the last 10 years, he has appealed his benefits, saying, in part, that a miscalculation resulted in underpayment. When the VA finally admitted owing him $26,191, it sent him a check for $21,719.
“It’s rare to get a decision that is not rife with errors,” Morgan said.
Christopher Palumbo, 27, in Brooklyn criminal court for his arraignment on Thursday, May 29,2014.Photo: Riyan Hasan
Marine Christopher Palumbo, 27, has waited more than a year for the VA to help him deal with the PTSD he suffers after three tours in Iraq, his mother told The Post.
Last week, he was arrested for carrying a shotgun on a Brooklyn bus. In November, he was charged with hitting a 68-year-old man.
His mom fears help won’t come.
“You have to keep hounding them to get what you need,” Jasmine Palumbo said. “The VA is set up to deny that problems exist.”
When he was admitted to the Manhattan VA hospital this year, he was medicated for a week and released with a referral to a homeless shelter with no clinical follow-up, said his lawyer, Dan Lynch.
“He had survivor’s guilt,” his mom explained, saying he talked of friends who died in combat.
Meanwhile, Morris, a married father of 10, says the abuse he suffered at boot camp on Parris Island, SC, “ruined my life,” causing financial and family dysfunction.
Every day, his drill instructor punched him and knocked him down. One jab cracked four teeth. The sergeant also “squeezed my testicles with his fist while I hung on the chin-up bar,” Morris said.
Recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Morris has hired lawyer Greg Rinckey to represent him.
“If I die before they make a decision, I think they’ll just drop the case altogether, and my wife will be out in the cold,” Morris said.
VA rep Meagan Lutz admitted big backlogs but said the agency cut its waiting list by 36 percent last year. She said the average time for an appeal is 562 days.
“We have more work to do,” she said, “but we’ve made strong progress.”