Veterans speak out at congressional hearing
U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, is chairman of the committee that is responsible for authorization and oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the second largest department in the federal government. Miller also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.
"We know the system is broken," said Miller, who flew to DeSoto County for the event. "Veterans deserve an accurate and timely adjudication of their claims. They (VA) still have a long way to go."
The meeting and appearance by Miller was organized by First District Congressional candidate Sam Adcock.
"Our veterans have sacrificed much and our country hasn't always done as well as it should in taking care of our veterans," Adcock said. "This is a grand opportunity on behalf of North Mississippi to engage him (Miller) directly. It's also an opportunity for the chairman to hear from veterans in North Mississippi. We are grateful for their service and sacrifice to our country."
Miller said the VA has launched a two-year campaign to lessen the backlog of disabled veterans' claims. Miller was candid in his assessment of the VA.
"What we found out was that it was systematic all around the country of them (VA) manipulating data and lying about records," Miller said.
Miller added that most VA employees go to work each day with the best of intentions of helping the nation's veterans. However, some administrators have failed the system and need to be fired, according to Miller.
"Accountability is the biggest problem that exists with the VA right now," Miller said.
There are presently more than 300,000 appeals of claims by disabled veterans, according to Harmon Massey, the immediate past Veterans Services Officer for DeSoto County.
There are more than 15,000 veterans in DeSoto County, according to Massey.
James Littleton, 67, of Horn Lake, served with the 101st Airborne of the U.S. Army during Vietnam.
He now suffers from heart problems and diabetes due to Agent Orange, a jungle defoliant used during the conflict.
He doesn't understand why his medical claims take so long to process.
Traveling to the VA Medical Center in Memphis is disheartening, according to Littleton.
"If you go out to the hospital, you watch all of the guys going in with wheelchairs and walkers it looks pitiful," Littleton said.
Dan Wilkins, 73, of Olive Branch, also suffers from the after-effects of Agent Orange, such as skin cancer, prostate cancer, cardiopulmonary disease and other maladies.
"It's been frustrating because of all of the delays," Wilkins said.
Susan Harlow, is the daughter of a deceased veteran and wife of a disabled veteran who lives in Amory and drove to DeSoto County to attend Monday's town hall meeting.
Harlow said her father "lost his dignity" in a state-run VA nursing home in Kosciusko.
"They treated him like he was nothing," Harlow said of her late father, Thomas Nabors. "He was there for six months. We brought him home to die."
Harlow said she fears having to go "through mountains of paperwork" for her husband who was "knocked off a tank" and injured his back.
"It's too late to help my father," Harlow said. "Maybe, I can help my husband."
Massey empathized with the veterans' concerns.
"Delay is not on the side of the injured and diseased veterans," Massey said.
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at [email protected] or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.
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