Congressman's staff helps veterans cut through VA red tape
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - There are so many boxes and stacks of files in Bob Becker's office, it's hard to step inside. Becker has a carefully cleared patch from the door to his desk chair.
There's a few empty chairs just inside the door. The rest of the space is covered in manila folders filled with details of the hundreds of veterans he's helped in the last three years.
Becker is the District Director for Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-09). Officially, he's responsible for operating Pittenger's district offices in Charlotte and Mooresville. But his real passion - that comes through in the photos that dot his office and the passion in his voice - is helping veterans navigate the bureaucratic red tape they encounter at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"Sometimes we can bring light on a subject where maybe the case has gotten over to the side and sits there," Becker said, explaining his role in the greater VA machinery that churns out healthcare, disability pay and countless other benefits to millions of military veterans each year.
"There are about 300-plus programs that VA has going on for veterans, any of which can have a bump in the road," Becker said. "The majority of what I do are VA appeals. I do a lot with VA healthcare, veterans that have problems getting an appointment."
On Your Side Investigates has spent months detailing the problems area veterans have experienced in trying to get help from the VA. Our work continues as we hear from dozens of local veterans who have been denied disability benefits or have waited months for medical care.
It's a job Becker has been doing for 15 years, first with then-Representative Sue Myrick and now with Pittenger.
Becker explained that, often times, he helps bring a perspective or uncover information that often goes missing when a veteran tries to work with the VA on their own.
"The VA may wait sixty or ninety days for a reply for something and the veteran may not even know he needs to reply," Becker said. "Things that we may learn, that maybe the VA won't tell you, might help the claim."
Becker's connections and commitment to helping solve veterans' problems has made him the go-to guy for veterans' groups in the area.
Currently, Becker is handling 385 cases involving VA claims.
One of those cases is that of Patrick Morgan, who served in the Korea during the Vietnam War.
Morgan, who was in the army, was stationed near the demilitarized zone separating North Korea and South Korea. Decades after Vietnam, military officials confirmed the use of the toxic chemical Agent Orange along the DMZ.
Now, Morgan said, he has three medical conditions included on a list of diseases caused by Agent Orange.
He started a claim for disability benefits connected to the Agent Orange exposure in May 2011. Morgan said he turned to Becker for help after three years of unsuccessfully trying to navigate the system himself.
"I had a claim in with the VA since May 11, 2011. It was denied and then you have to put another claim in and I really didn't know how to do all this stuff," Morgan said. "Bob, through Congressman Pittenger's office, basically had the ability to find out information: where my claim was, when it would probably be adjudicated."
Morgan, whose claim is still in the final stages of being processed, received good news from the VA in December.
"Five years and it could've been settled in 30 days," Morgan said of the time it's taken the VA to process his claim. "Bob is very, very instrumental in keeping your spirits up and go on. He says to hang in there, it'll finally get resolved."
Morgan said his story is not unique. The veterans who meet at Richard's Coffee Shop in Mooresville, a popular veteran hangout, have a saying.
"The thing that we say down at the coffee house, that is delay, deny and wait 'till they die is the motto of the claims (department) at the VA," Morgan said.
"The system works but it's just so overloaded. You put a claim in, they deny it, then you have to go through the appeal," Morgan said.
Becker said he's seen some improvement at the VA over the past year and a half, starting with the agency's efforts to digitize its mountains of paperwork. Becker said he department is also working on streamline its organization, including things like combining 18 websites into one.
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