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Veterans Share Frustrations on Obtaining Disability Benefits

Hispanic Vietnam veterans shared their frustration about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability application process at the first “Red or Green” Listening Session hosted by AARP New Mexico as part of its multicultural outreach work. AARP will be conducting a series of listening sessions in the Albuquerque area over the next several months covering a variety of topics.

Several veterans recently met with Shanna Lapsley, AARP New Mexico Associate State Director Multi Cultural Outreach, and Gene Varela, AARP New Mexico Associate State Director Community Outreach, at the South Valley Multipurpose Center, to go over their experiences in trying to get benefits.
 
The veterans said the main issue they face when applying for Veteran’s Benefits is that they are denied and the reasons why are not clear or make little sense. One veteran said he has been applying since 1969.
 
One of the main roadblocks to accessing benefits is the government requires the veterans to list times, dates, incidents and witnesses to prove they are disabled either mentally, physically or both, by their wartime experiences. The veterans said this request is ludicrous because before going into a firefight they didn’t document where they where or who they were with and afterwards run around gathering statements as to who saw what.
 
It is the belief of this group that many veterans get so frustrated with the system they simply give up. Many do not wish to relive their time in combat again because of the dreadful memories that resurface. They said the government asks veterans to relive the worst moments a person has ever experienced over and over again only to receive denial notices year after year.
 
Another veteran said he struggled to keep a job and his family together. But when he was working on his disability request he was told that he surely did not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because he had remained married, had stayed with a job until he retired and he was not an alcoholic.
 
Giving Back to Vets, an article from AARP the Magazine spurred some of these vets to approach AARP for help in advocating for better treatment by the VA. Their hope is that if more vets talk about their experiences that the administration will review its process for considering disability requests and how veterans are treated.

Lapsley said she plans to follow this initial discussion with further discussions widening the process to include meeting with state and federal veterans’ agencies to review the application process and to explore ways to improve the system; find ways to hear from other veterans who have been through the process to learn from their experiences; and consider ways to provide information and guidance to veterans who need assistance.

To obtain more information on the listening sessions or join in on the discussion on veteran’s issues, call Shanna Lapsley at 505-603-6101or e-mail slapsley@aarp.org.

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