N.J. veterans press government on problems

New Brunswick Home News Tribune, NJ

Jim Manning partially broke his knee during a parachute jump in 1952, when he was an Army paratrooper during the Korean War. When he tried to file a disability claim, the government told him his file was destroyed in a fire.

In the late 1990s, hoping that his file was among thousands of old military documents found in St. Louis, he filed a fresh claim to get disability pay amounting to about $100 to $300 a month. He’s yet to hear back from the Department of Veterans Affairs about whether or when he’ll get the money.

“How many years do you wait for this stuff to happen?” the 73-year-old Neptune resident asked Wednesday during an informational trip he took with about 50 other New Jersey veterans.

“We’re supposed to have something like 8,000 veterans in New Jersey that have not filed claims because they get discouraged. You file a claim and you have to wait a year and they delay everything,” he said. “And the (veterans) say, ‘To hell with it. There’s no sense in even doing it.”‘

The veterans, most of whom fought in World War II and Korea, came to get briefings from the Bush administration, disability groups and Congress. They were invited by Rep. Rush Holt, D-Hopewell Township, who has arranged similar meetings for police officers, nurses and librarians.

Holt said the meetings let constituents learn about national issues and give him an opportunity to find out how constituents feels about proposed changes to federal policy.

Ronald Dash, a 56-year-old Vietnam War veteran who lives in Willingboro, was furious when he learned about proposals to increase the prescription drug co-payments and charge each beneficiary $250 per year to accommodate the growing numbers of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many veterans also took the opportunity to talk about problems they’re facing, such as long bureaucratic delays.

Christine Hill, VA deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs, said the department is trying to automate more functions and promised to forward the vets’ concerns to top officials.

Carteret resident Jack McGreevey, the 77-year-old father of former Gov. James McGreevey, was unfazed. He came to press the cases of octogenarian friends who were waiting for months to hear back about their disability claims. Displaying a letter from the VA that promised action in 45 days, the Marine Corps veteran of World War II and Korea said, “Next month, it will be 11 months. They’re not improving the system. They’re jerking these guys around.”

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