Richard Hughes, of Trenton, who served in Army from 1979-82, and worked in the Department of Defense for 18 years, has had health issues since 2009, and he only was recently diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and other nerve issues, his wife, Julie, said.
As Julie Hughes shared their story with U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, on Wednesday, she talked about how the couple had had to fight with Veterans Affairs for benefits.
“This has been a battle,” Julie Hughes said.
Bost was at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4183, outside of Scott Air Force Base, to talk about veterans-related legislation on which he has been working, much of which is aimed at improving the VA system and helping veterans receive benefits.
“It is the world’s largest bureaucracy and any bureaucracy is hard to control, but we must get a handle on it,” Bost said. “Many people are happy with the services they receive. As large as they, if 5 percent is unhappy, that’s a large amount of people.”
The proposed Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act would ensure veterans receive annual cost-of-living-adjustments equal to those on Social Security.
The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act would create three avenues for veterans to appeal claims.
One way would be the “local higher level review lane” where an adjudicator reviews the same evidence considered by the original claims processor.
There would be a “new evidence lane” where a veteran can submit additional evidence to be reviewed and have a hearing. Finally there would be a “Board Lane” where an appeal would transfer immediately to the Board of Veterans Appeals.
The bill would allow the secretary of Veterans Affairs to test the new system prior to full implementation and would allow some veterans already going through the appeals process to opt into the new system.
“Because of the burdensome bureaucracy that exists in it, we have 740,000 veterans in the appeals process,” Bost said. “Some of taking three, five, 10 years, many losing their life before the appeals process is done.”
The legislation is a response to the backlog of appeals in the VA. Between the 2015 and 2017 fiscal years, the amount of pending appeals increased from 380,000 to 470,000. Between 2013 and 2016, Congress appropriated an additional $200 million that President Barack Obama requested to help deal with the backlog, but it is estimated it would take at least five years to resolve the current backlog, according to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“The idea that someone that has served this country, (who) is due the benefits, would not have the opportunity for a fast appeals process is just wrong,” Bost said.
Both pieces of legislation have passed the House. Bost said he hopes the senate takes up the legislation soon, but said committee leaders are in agreement with the bill language.
Bost also spoke about legislation that was signed into law requiring accountability and outside inspections for dining services at VA hospitals, as well as the VA Health Center Management Stability and Improvement Act, which has been introduced and is meant to address VA medical centers not having permanent directors.
The management stability and improvement act was introduced in the House in February.
“You cannot have someone in a management position for only 120 days and think they could get the problems straightened out,” Bost said. “Make sure your management positions are (people) who are willing to stay and is staying in those locations to truly cure the problem.”
Larry Newell, of Belleville, asked about the veterans Choice program.
He suffered an injury on Oct. 5, but it took him until Oct. 26 to be able to see a doctor and it took an additional three weeks to have an MRI approved.
The doctor recommended physical therapy, but he has yet to be able to have physical therapy, and Veterans Choice program has yet to pay for the services rendered.
The Belleville resident also said his VA is in Chicago, but he should be able to go to St. Louis for services.
“Anything south of Springfield, we should have our own (facility),” Newell said.
Bost said he has been arguing for that change.
“To any of us down here, it makes no sense that we’re right across from St. Louis not being able have a region, instead of working out of Chicago,” Bost said.
Bost discusses current events
• On reports President Donald Trump is considering pulling out of the Paris Accord on Climate Change:
“The problem is if you pull out, what happens in the future... Sometimes it’s better to stay in and do what other countries do and say we can’t meet that requirement right now. We’ll see with what the President moves forward with … My opinion as a member of congress is maybe we stay in, but the say, let’s look at reducing, but always with these accords is we end up following it, and someone else bails on it. That is a real problem. (Trump) is the one who talked about renegotiating.”
• On the ongoing Russian investigations:
“What bothers me is we have two subcommittees one in the House, one in the Senate, doing the investigation on this. The problem is, we’re spending our time focused on that, and even now the media, said there is nothing they could find ... Let’s makes sure we do the full research, but we need to get focused on the issues at hand, tax reform, doing health care reform, dealing with reducing government over burdensome bureaucracies so we can put people back to work. This is an issue out there, we’ll let the committees do the work, I’ll watch it closely, just like you.”
• On what it would take to impeach Trump:
“I have to have actual proof, I’ve been through an impeachment in the state of Illinois. Guess what it took? It took an indictment, proof, and then 14 charges, and we did (impeach). Impeachment, we all saw what that could do in this nation, when you try to move forward with an impeachment before there’s actually something that’s impeachable. What it does is it causes a larger divided in an already divided nation. Let’s let the president do, what the president does in his job. That doesn’t mean we don’t have the committees that we’ve got looking into it…. But all of us can’t shut down doing our jobs, and our job is running this nation.”