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Old 12-07-2014, 06:05 AM
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Vegas Navy Cross recipient shot down by VA benefits office

CATCH-22

Regardless of who is to blame, Lowery said he feels the VA has played a shell game with his case after he filed his claim in 1994, the year after he retired as a major.

That time, his war wounds were deemed not related to his military service because the VA had requested his medical file from Department of Defense archives but never received it. Without the file, there was no evidence of his wounds and thus no reason to schedule a physical examination, he was told.

“They explained to me they had reached their decision with no health record in front of them. I asked how that happened, and he (the claims processor) said, ‘Well, when we sent off a request to the archive to produce your medical records,’ the only thing they had was my pre-induction physical and one visit to the Nellis Air Force Base hospital after I retired,” Lowery said.

He noted that VA officials made no further effort to resolve the two-decade gap in his medical file.

Fortunately, Lowery had copied the 2-inch-thick file that includes a narrative from a U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, from March 15, 1969.

“This 22 year old CPL/USMC was admitted to this hospital on 15 March with a history of having sustained a gun shot wound across the posterior aspect of both thighs on the 5th of March,” the narrative states.

Concerned that he might have complications later in life from those wounds and his 1989 neck injury, Lowery provided the VA Reno benefits office with his copy of his medical records to reopen the claim in 2010. Again it was rejected as not related to his military service because he was in Las Vegas when his physical exam was scheduled for Hawaii.

“It’s just a shame that officials at the top in authority have done (things) where they’ve kept double logs and falsified waiting times and tinkered with people’s cases to avoid providing service,” he said, referring to the scandal at VA facilities in Phoenix.

“I’ve heard many cases of fine service on the part of the VA doctors and nurses, counselors, people who work tirelessly and do lots of things to help (veterans). But of course it’s only the outrageous failures that make headlines. My hat is off to everybody in the VA, from the clerks and logisticians and the people who keep their supplies. They do a terrific, wonderful job.”

CLOGGED WITH CASES

Patel’s confirmation that Heller’s office would assist Lowery coincided with release of a letter Friday that the senator sent to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, calling for him to “expeditiously” appoint a new director for the VA Reno office because it “has remained one of the worst … in the nation and currently has the highest percentage of backlogged claims.”

Vegas Navy Cross recipient shot down by VA benefits office

Steve Lowery, recipient of the Naval Cross and two Purple Hearts, was denied benefits by the Veterans Administration who said his shrapnel and gunshot woulds were not service related.


U.S. Marine Corps veteran Steve Lowery is shown at his sister's home near South Nellis Boulevard and New World Avenue in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Dec. 3, 2014. Lowery is dealing with the Veterans Benefits Administration office in Reno over a denial of service-connected claims for gunshot and shrapnel wounds he suffered during a firefight in Vietnam on March 5, 1969. Lowery is shown with the Navy Cross, top left, and one of two Purple Hearts, second from left, he was awarded for his actions on that day. (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)


VA Reno Director Ed Russell has been on administrative leave since July after Heller called for his resignation in the wake of an inspector general’s report that concluded problems have persisted due to poor management.

Lowery said he has “mixed feelings” about the VA’s claims process but is willing to give it another chance.

“Besides being somebody who served and was injured in service, I’m still a taxpayer. I need people who are running the government, my government, to carry out their duties. I don’t want them to open the bank vaults and say, ‘Here’s a check,’ for everybody who applies.”

Contact Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twitter: @KeithRogers2
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