Veterans Looking For Answers


Thursday, March 15th 2007, 8:12 pm
By: News On 6


An issue that has long plagued our war veterans is the bureaucracy and red tape they deal with before they even see a doctor, and the problem may be getting worse. News On 6 anchor Jennifer Loren reports veterans and the people who help them at the American Legion in Muskogee are fed up.

Joey Ray Stillwell came home from Iraq two years ago with severe posttraumatic stress disorder. “You don't sleep too well,” said Stillwell. “I myself have become really nervous about a lot of things."

Stillwell worked with explosives in Iraq and was nearly killed when a roadside bomb threw his Humvee off the road. The explosion left him with hearing loss.

He came home two years ago, but because of the so-called VA bureaucracy, he just saw a doctor for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

"It was kind of like every place I went to try and get some help with it was kind of like a brick wall was put in front of me,” he said. “They either wouldn't tell me nothing or they'd tell me to go somewhere else and whenever I'd get there they'd tell me to go somewhere else. And then, it's just a big ole' mess really."

There are several manuals that service officers use to help veterans, and if it weren’t for them the veterans would be responsible for going through the manuals themselves.

Those service officers say they've been dealing with red tape since Vietnam, but it's worse now than ever before.

"The attitude of the VA itself over the last two or three years had gotten to the point of, they've become an adversary now and not an advocate for the veterans," said Veterans Service Officer Jim Smith.

Smith says the regional VA office in Muskogee is focusing on the almighty dollar and not the veterans.

"The director told me directly, years ago when he first came here, that he was a guardian of the taxpayers money,” said Smith. “And I say he is the guardian of the United States Veteran. If he can't get that then he needs to go on down the road."

And now that Stillwell has found an advocate and a voice, he couldn't agree more.

"I mean I done my part for them,” Stillwell said. “Why can't they do their part for me, you know?"

Veterans Service officers say anyone who needs assistance from the VA needs to contact a service organization for help. Service officers have the knowledge and the manuals to help. They say those manuals, by the way, cost more than $150,000 a year.

For more background on this story, click on the links below to read additional stories about the Muskogee VA Medical Center.

3/13/2007 - Local Veteran's Hospital Under Fire

3/14/2007 - Patients Defend Muskogee Veterans Medical Center