Monday, March 26, 2007

A Lot to Prove

I found this story of interest for Disabled Vets in News Enterprise On line.

A LOT TO PROVE: As a service officer for the disabled, Dave Jarrett helps hurting vets make their cases
Saturday, March 24, 2007 8:09 PM CDT

ELIZABETHTOWN — In taking the job as state service officer for Disabled American Veterans, Dave Jarrett said he didn’t fully understand what the job would entail. He thought it would be a simple matter of getting the right forms to the right veterans, but it’s turned out to be much more.

“I thought it was going to be a cake walk, because my process was very easy,” said Jarrett, who personally has been through the steps of filing a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs. “But I’ve gone from simply doing paperwork to being a cold case investigator. I’ve got to work with the veteran to go back and get things.”

Jarrett works to get veterans the disability benefits for which they’re eligible. But determining that eligibility is the most difficult part of his job.

A veteran has to satisfy two main conditions before a claim can be filed, Jarrett said. The injury or condition has to have occurred while in the military, and a determination must be made that the injury is causing ongoing problems.

“Proving something happened in the military is very, very hard to do,” Jarrett said.

Often, one piece of documentation usually can clear matters up very easily.

“The most important document they can have is their DD2-14,” he said. “It will have medals, rank and job codes. You can get a fairly good history from that.”

More often than not, obtaining that all-important piece of paper is impossible. In way too many instances — too many to count — none of a veteran’s papers exist anymore, Jarrett said.

“I find with most veterans, putting together the story on something is very hard,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe the number of veterans whose records were destroyed in a fire” in St. Louis.

For many of the people he sees, most of whom are veterans of the Korean War and earlier conflicts, even their backup records are gone.

“In addition, there was a fire at the National Archives that also destroyed records,” he said.

Occasionally, he’ll be contacted with a story that just doesn’t seem possible, Jarrett said.

“When I became the one to contact, my first case was a trial by fire,” he said.

A woman called and said her husband, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, was being discharged from the VA hospital in Louisville, even after both his legs were amputated and his colon removed.

A short investigation revealed the man wasn’t disabled by VA standards, Jarrett said.

“It was so serious I filed a claim with the DAV and keyed in the congressman’s office to assist,” he said.

Jarrett said that case played out the best way it could, resulting in a change from no disability to 100 percent. The VA even expedited the request for disability assistance, which is rare.

“The only time they do that is if it involves extreme financial hardship or a chronic condition,” Jarrett said. “This case involved both.”

Too often, veterans who were injured during a war or conflict don’t file claims for many years, Jarrett said, which makes proving their eligibility more difficult.

“The time between their service and now makes it very problematic for us to help them,” he said, but added that some specific illnesses, such as Type II diabetes and certain cancers, are easier to prove.

“Generally, the smooth rides I see is when they have something the VA identifies as presumptive.”

While there are good stories, for every person he’s able to help or even file a claim for, there are many more Jarrett has to turn away.

“When I did that [first case] I became a miracle worker,” he said. But there are many issues he can’t even touch. “There have been veterans told that there’s very little I can do for them. They expect me to do it and I can’t.”

Jarrett said he deals specifically with issues of veterans’ disability and the VA, and sometimes people don’t understand that. Sometimes they go to other organizations hurt or angry.

“I’ve helped someone and the word spreads,” he said. “They say to call Dave and he’ll fix it, but sometimes I can’t fix it. Each case is different, and I always try to be honest.

“There are certain limits I have,” he continued, explaining that questions about grave markers or medical complaints with the VA aren’t covered. “There’s nothing I can do about that. The questions and problems presented to me are multitudinal.”

He suggests that veterans who need assistance call the DAV National Service Office in Louisville at (502) 566-4482 — it has access to more resources than Jarrett does.

“For every veteran I can do something for, there are probably another six I can’t because their questions don’t fall under my jurisdiction,” he said.

One hazard of the job, Jarrett said, is not being able to give any additional help.

“One of the unfortunate parts of being a DAV state service officer is watching fellow disabled veterans succumb to their service-connected medical problems,” he said. “A lot of guys I’ve helped at the DAV are no longer here.”

Jarrett lives with metal hips and most of his intestines are missing because of an illness he contracted in Vietnam. But he said he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I didn’t take a bullet, I succumbed to a disease that wasn’t even Agent Orange-related,” he said. “I don’t carry a grudge. I did my duty and I’d do it all over again.”

Before working to get other soldiers the benefits they deserve, Jarrett had a long and storied career. An Elizabethtown native, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1969. He served in Vietnam as a naval adviser and operations officer, and in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Officer Corp.

After leaving the military, he worked as a hydrofoil instructor and 747 flight crew instructor for Boeing Co. in Seattle. After retiring in 1999, he returned to Hardin County and became active in the community — a result of his disposition, Jarrett said.

“Part of my makeup is that I like to help people,” he said. “Underlying each one of these veterans is a story, and some of them are fairly traumatic.”

Jarrett said his initial desire to take the position he now holds was to make sure veterans receive everything they deserve.

“I felt even though I had a favorable process, I knew a lot of veterans didn’t,” he said. “I’m very passionate about this. Even though the deaths of war are a tragedy, even more of a tragedy than that are those who have to live beyond that experience that occurred while they were in service.”