KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- There may finally be some hope for veterans battling appeals with the V.A.
“RAMP”, or the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, started about a year ago.
Steve Fisher is a veteran who began his battle for benefits back in 2007. He has spent a decade fighting a bureaucratic paperwork war with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
To put it in perspective, his fight for benefits lasted longer than the war he served in.
Fisher served three tours in Iraq and has survived three roadside bombs.
“I heard a big boom, lots of smoke, ringing," he recalled. "Everyone was rushing to get us out of there."
One roadside bomb was the worst one.
“It separated the entire truck in half,” he said. “Luckily, everyone survived, but we were all knocked unconscious and medevacked to Fallujah Medical.”
He suffers from PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, hearing and vision loss, and nerve damage -- especially in his back.
Fisher said his life changed after that blast. So, he applied for benefits when he finished his tours.
The V.A. approved some, but not all, of his claims. He has been in appeals since 2009.
“This has all been going on since then,” he said. “Here it is -- 2018.”
He first applied in 2007. It took two years for the V.A. to approve some of the claims. Then, that kicked off the long appeals process as his file bounced from Washington back to the regional level twice. As time passed, his medical reports became outdated.
“I had to go to new exams,” he explained, “do all the exams again.”
Fisher describes a frustrating, bureaucratic, never-ending process.
“Every time I get a new letter from the V.A., it’s a sinking feeling,” he said. “My heart drops and then I open it. Every time I opened it, it hasn’t been a positive outcome; it's been a nightmare.”
He’s not alone. Many veterans across the nation report similar problems.
Last year, KCTV5 News reported on Phil Nash who is battling the V.A. for benefits, as well as cancer.
“We have to fight for the compensation we are entitled to,” Nash said.
In pictures from his service, one can see planes spraying Agent Orange.
The V.A. originally approved his disability benefits because his cancer was directly connected to his exposure to Agent Orange.
Then, he had surgery and was considered cured, so the benefits stopped.
However, when his prostate cancer came back, the benefits did not. Since then, the cancer has spread.
Nash’s case is on appeal. It has taken years, it is still not resolved, and he is losing hope.
“I’ll probably be dead,” he said.
“I have several friends who have given up and these are friends in heavy combat,” Fisher said. “They are missing limbs, organs from mortar attacks. They are having the same issues I’m having.”
The V.A. has promised things will improve and, for Fischer, he’s finally seeing results.
KCTV5 News first spoke to Fischer when he was concerned the new rapid appeals process wasn’t working. We followed his story and the program did resolve his claim in the promised time frame.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” he said. “It still hasn’t hit me yet. It’s still really new to me, definitely. When I wake up in the morning, now I have a smile. This is great!”
However, one has to remember this was a 10-year battle that lasted through three presidencies. So, only time will tell how well the program will work overall for veterans across the nation.