Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear today on behalf of America’s veterans, including the veterans of the first Gulf War with whom I served. The topic which you are addressing today – the VA’s ability to handle the claims backlog – is very important to all of us who serve.
I am David Bohan. I joined the U.S. Army right out of high school in (1987 and served with the 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Division in the Gulf War. As some of you may know from the current series in The American Legion Magazine, our outfit was first across the breach in the ground war. My platoon refueled the M-1 tanks on the front lines. We hauled tank trucks full of fuel across the desert to the tanks, despite cluster mines and Scud missile attacks. You don’t forget the feeling you get when the Iraqi Army sends a Scud into your camp. I received the bronze star for my noteworthy actions.
I served six years and left Fort Riley, Kansas the moment my discharge was completed in December 1992. Like thousands of other Gulf War One veterans, I was not offered any transition assistance programs when I was discharged. No one suggested that I get copies of records of any medical treatment I received in the military. There was no mention of VA benefits of any kind, whether you are talking about hospital care or counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. All I wanted to do was get home to Oregon as quickly as possible. This has continued to cause problems for me and my ability to get VA benefits.
I spent most of the next fifteen years trying to erase my memories of the war with alcohol. Those were terrible years. Nothing worked. I had jobs at a variety of freight companies. I was married and divorced. Most of all, I drank. This was all very hard for my family, but my mother and father stood by me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
After an automobile accident involving a police officer last year, where luckily no one was injured, I realized I had to stop drinking. I checked myself into the Roseburg, Oregon VA Medical Center’s inpatient alcohol treatment program. I’ve been clean and sober ever since and I’m managing an apartment complex for my father. I’m lucky. Many veterans do not have the fantastic family support that I have. I don’t know where I would be today without them.
A counselor at the VA in Roseburg suggested I pursue a claim for my PTSD and for injuries to my left foot during the time I was stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas and recommended I contact the American Legion for help.
The VA system is confusing, overwhelming and is not at all friendly to veterans.
So many of the people at VA are not veterans and don’t understand what we are going through. You end up feeling like some of them care more about their rules and regulations and paperwork than they care about the veterans.
We veterans don’t have any idea where this piece of paper or that record is after all of this time. Regarding military records we veterans don’t have any idea were our records are kept and apparently the military doesn’t know either. I was up late at night, digging through boxes, looking for records to prove I was in the Army, that I was in the Gulf War, and that I had been in combat and that I had all of the necessary stressors to qualify for VA assistance. The memories that going through all of those materials from my Army days was very painful.
With the help of American Legion Service Officer Gregg Demarais, I received a PTSD rating from the VA. But the issues with my foot have not yet been addressed. My medical records from Fort Riley are missing. I’ve spent hours on the telephone, I’ve sent faxes and I’ve sent e-mails. But after months of trying, no one can find my records. The hospital at Fort Riley says they do not have the records of the surgeries on my foot. I have contacted the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis many, many times. But I still do not have the records of the multiple surgeries on my foot. Until I can obtain those records and present them to VA, I cannot pursue the rest of my case.
This is very frustrating and very time consuming. I understand why so many people just give up. We need to better assist veterans in need. There needs to be improvement in the communications between VA and other agencies in tracking down records. Whether it’s through technology or something else, they need to be able to do it faster and more accurately so that they can avoid situations that cause needless delays by sending requests back and forth, over and over again, with no answers to provide to veterans.
The system CAN work however. Now that I am finally in the VA health care system, some good things have happened. Doctors operated on my arm and repaired nerve damage and restored feeling to my fingers. I’m enrolling in college right now and I’m going to pursue a business degree. I also try and help my fellow veterans get enrolled in the VA system, and, when they need it; get into a drug and alcohol treatment program. I am happy to use my experiences to help, but I see many veterans go through the same frustrations that I have gone through.
I’m proud of my service and I’m grateful for the assistance I have received. But there has to be a way to make this easier for all of us.
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I look forward to any questions you may have.