Juneau Vet: VA breaking the rules

Richard Bailey smiles next to a bomb he painted during Operation Desert Storm after his friend, "Dave," was killed in action.

When Richard Bailey retired from the United States Air Force in 1991 after 21 years of service, he didn’t know he’d be spending the next 23 years fighting for the full benefits he was entitled to.

 

Bailey, perhaps best known around Juneau for his “Slick Rick’s Bar-B-Que,” has been waging a campaign on behalf of veterans around the country who he believes have been denied their full benefits. He said the only reason he won his fight for proper disability pay is because he found what the Veterans Affairs officials didn’t want him to discover — their rulebook for determining disability pay.

“The only reason I ended up getting mine is because I let them know I had the Code of Federal Regulations,” said Bailey, a recipient of the National Defense Service Medal.

During Operation Desert Storm, Bailey was riding in a vehicle that crashed, resulting in damage to his left shoulder that was beyond full repair. He received a prosthetic shoulder, and after the operation a letter saying he’d get 100 percent disability pay — about $3,000 a month — for three months.

“I had a prosthetic put in,” he said. “They’re supposed to give you full disability for a year for that, but they play word games with you.”

In the letter, the word “surgery” is used but “prosthetic” is not — an intentional act Bailey believes was meant to shirk paying nine months of full disability.

“If you don’t know, they don’t tell you,” Bailey said. “It’s like hidden information.”

Bailey said his fate changed when a former VA employee gave him a copy of the Code of Federal Regulations on “Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans’ Relief.” The book contains a wealth of information on how certain injuries are to be rated, and how much veterans who sustained those injuries should be paid each month. Bailey said delays in benefits payments due to a backlog in rating veterans is nothing more than a smokescreen.

“It takes you no (more) than five minutes to rate somebody, as you saw in my book,” Bailey said.

Bailey would know — after all, he’s studied every single one of the book’s 821 pages. If the pronounced creases in the binding and dog-earred pages throughout were not evidence enough, Bailey’s handwriting and highlighting is consistent from the cover to the final pages — and that’s not counting the second half of the Code of Federal Regulations (another book of nearly 1,200 pages) that Bailey has made notes in and read as well.

He added that some VA evaluations of injuries for the purpose of determining benefits only include what the veteran tells the doctor, and neglect information from military medical records.

“The rating system now is based on what you claim, not what you have, if you don’t tell them,” Bailey said. “For more than 20 years, you forget things that happen to you, but they have my records and can see these things.”

Another little-known fact is that veterans who are unable to work due to their injuries should be getting full disability payment, Bailey said.

“There shouldn’t be any homeless veterans,” he said.

When Bailey informed the VA that he was no longer able to work due to his injuries, he said his rating and monthly compensation increased. In a 1999 letter informing Bailey of the decision, the VA writes: “Now that you will stop working as on May 1, 1999, you may be entitled to a 100% ‘unemployability’ evaluation from that date.”

Bailey said the biggest problem he has with the whole system is a government-contracted insurance provider that isn’t paying what it owes veterans who sustained the most severe injuries, such as lost limbs or eyesight.

A chart in the Code of Federal Regulations indicates total loss of hearing or eyesight entitles a veteran to $50,000 for each incident. Losing a limb equals a $50,000 payout, and facial reconstruction is also covered in-depth.

“The most important thing out of all this is wounded veterans insurance is not paying out for lost limbs and serious injuries,” Bailey said.

The Empire was not able to independently confirm that those payments are not being paid.

Since he started fighting the VA on some of these policies, Bailey has helped other veterans do the same thing. He’s had veterans from Texas, Wisconsin and Minnesota write or call, asking for advice. He knows 20 to 30 veterans in Juneau facing similar hardships.

Still, he doesn’t believe the problems rest only with ousted Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.

“They need to clean house with management and leadership,” he said. “That’s the only way the problem is going to be solved. I sit here and listen to the VA and it’s all lies — because I have their rulebook.

“They’re not abiding by the Code of Federal Regulations,” he added.

Calls to the Department of Veterans Affairs seeking comment on this story were not returned.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at matthew.woolbright@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reportermatt.

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