Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Witness Testimony of Eddie J. Senior, (Veteran), West Harrison, NY
Good morning. I would like to introduce myself. My name is Eddie J Senior. I come before you today in the hope of getting the much needed help with regards to my disability claim as well as the claims of many other Veterans. I also wish to share with you my personal experiences with the Veterans Administration and the hardships and frustrations of the VA Claims Backlog.
I served in the Army from January, 1985 to March, 1993. I was deployed for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991 with the 101st Airborne Division. Up until that time I never had an issue with my health. I served as a helicopter crewmember which required a yearly flight physical and I was considered to be in excellent health. Shortly after returning from the Persian Gulf my health began to decline. The Army doctors were unable to properly diagnose my illnesses. Over a short period of time I became unable to perform my duties as a Sergeant in the Army and because of my health problems, was forced to leave the service.
After leaving the service my symptoms persisted and my health continued to decline. I eventually received a letter from the VA urging me to come in for an examination because of my service in the Persian Gulf. During my initial visit I was examined by a VA doctor and was asked to talk about my condition and symptoms. He quickly dismissed them as something that was “all in my head” and that I was fine. I continued to go to the VA Hospital in the Bronx, N.Y. and received several tests and examinations. It was during this time that I was advised by the personnel in the compensation office where my exams were scheduled, that I should file a claim with the VA based on my current condition. They suggested that I do it as soon as possible considering the long amount of time it would likely take to receive a decision. My initial claim was filed in early 1995.
In October of 1995 I noticed a lump in my neck. I immediately went to the VA Hospital emergency room. After being told by the doctor that I should not have waited so long to come in I explained to him that I have been coming to the VA hospital for about 8 months and that I’ve been told over and over that there was nothing wrong with me. After further examinations and a surgical biopsy on the lump it
was discovered that I did in fact have something wrong and that it was very serious. The surgeon who did the biopsy said that she saw something that she had never seen before. She requested that a specialist be bought in to help. The second doctor performed 2 more surgeries, the first to diagnose, and the second to remove the cancer that had been found. The third and final surgery, scheduled for 1 ½ to 2 hours, took 9 ½ hours because of the severity of the cancer. During my post operative care the surgeon explained to me what he had found and that he had never seen a case of thyroid cancer as severe as mine. I had hoped this would solve my health questions but soon realized that this was not the case. My symptoms, which include fatigue, headaches, respiratory and psychological problems continued and worsened.
Prior to the discovery of the cancer I was denied VA benefits for my symptoms for lack of evidence proving service connection. Soon after the diagnosis of the cancer I was awarded a non service connected improved pension. On the award letter for the pension it was stated that I was being awarded 50% for Depressive Disorder, 100% for Thyroid Cancer and Fatigue, Dizziness, Concentration Difficulties and headaches. *(See Exhibit #1) I was given the 50% Psychological rating as a result of a C & P exam that was given to me in December, 1997. Unknown to me the examining VA doctor stated in his report that this condition was “directly associated” with my military service. (*See Exhibit #2) This should have given me a “Service Connected” rating of 50% for this symptom. I contacted the VA regional office and was told that the pension was the best decision that I could get.
It wasn’t until I contacted the Westchester County Veterans Service Office and reviewed my records, both in-service and VA medical, with the Veterans representative that I was made aware that the decision and rating I was given was incorrect.
I re-submitted my claim to the VA in August, 2005 stating the facts and re-submitting evidence related to my claim. Approximately one year later I received another denial. My service officer then assisted me with submitting a Notice of Disagreement. After waiting almost another year I was scheduled for my second C&P exam at the VA Hospital in May 2007. After waiting for the exam report to be completed I requested a copy from the VA I read through it and noted statements made by the examining doctors where they concluded that my conditions started and or were caused by my time in service. (*See Exhibits #3, 4, 5)
With this information in hand I truly believed, as did my Veterans Service Officer, that I would receive a service connected disability rating of 100% retroactive to my date of discharge. Unfortunately this was not the case. I recently received an award letter from the VA notifying me of their decision to grant me a 60% service related rating for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
While waiting for a decision, and on agreement with my Veterans Service Officer, I contacted the office of Congressman John Hall to seek assistance with this matter. A letter on my behalf from Congressman Hall’s office was given to the VA asking them to review my records including documentation of medical records indicating service connection for psychological conditions that were earlier documented by the VA Also service connection dating back to my date of discharge with regards to the opinions of the VA medical doctors. This letter was a reflection of the beliefs of my Veterans Service Officer that this claim is not being given a proper rating or retroactive date.
The recent decision letter dated Sept. 7, 2007 made no mention of the Psychological condition and the disability rating of 60% for the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was only backdated to September, 2005 instead of March, 1993. This decision will now require yet another appeal. The information in my claim file clearly states, on VA medical doctor reports that my condition manifested in service, was caused by my service and persists today to a degree that is considered totally disabling according to VA regulations. As noted on the letter of decision page 3, it reads: The examiner also stated: “That your Chronic Fatigue Syndrome accounts for your array of muscle pain, joint pain, difficulty concentrating, respiratory problems and sleep disturbance.” (*See Exhibit # 6) These are the same symptoms that I have been repeatedly denied service connection since my initial claim in 1995. (*See Exhibit #7) On page 4 of my 2007 C&P exam report it states in comment 1 that my symptoms in service are more suggestive of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. (*See Exhibit #8) This statement proves that this condition was present while I was still in the service. I do believe that if these facts were recognized, a continued appeal on my behalf would not be necessary and I would have been awarded the correct disability rating and retroactive date. This is just an example of the frustrations experienced by many veterans who file claims with the VA
As I stated earlier, I find myself needing to file yet another appeal. This will only delay this process yet again. It has been explained to me that this appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals could and most likely will take approximately 2 more years to have my hearing with even more time for a decision. It is these kinds of delays that cause extreme frustration and stress as well as financial hardship for many Veterans.
I have personally been waiting 12 years to settle this matter and hope by coming here today to speak about my case that I will be able to get the help needed to finally bring closure to my claim.
In closing, I would like to thank you for your time and attention to this urgent matter of importance to myself and the many other Veteran’s who find themselves in the same situation. Thank you.