Tough times for military vets trying to get VA health benefits - FOX 32 News Chicago

Tough times for military vets trying to get VA health benefits

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Even as Memorial Day honors those who gave their lives in service to the country, there is often anger and frustration for veterans battling bureaucracy for their health benefits.

"You know I'm 33 years old", says Michael Lannon, a marine veteran from Zion, "and I wake up in the morning and I can barely move."

Lannon was among the first U.S. Marines into Afghanistan after the attacks of 9/11, helping to secure an air field for fighter planes.

Lannon described to us his role in the longest helicopter raid in marine corps history, a six-hour helicopter flight from his ship, the USS Pellou, into Afghanistan.

He served for four years, earning a number of medals and commendations, but he paid a price.

"I have bad feet, bad ankles, bad knees, bad back," he says. "I have tennitus in my ears. which is why my ears ring constantly."

Stories like his are common. And just as common, are long, frustrating delays in the processing of disability claims.

"I mean, to go four, five, six months, and not even touching a person's file. And when you ask them why,  its, 'we're busy!!'

Lannon wanted a ten percent disability increase because of new, painful problems with his feet. The VA told him it should take eleven months, but after more than a year, his case was going nowhere.

In a letter, the VA said it was "sorry... but we have an extraordinary amount of pending claims." Lannon's calls to the VA's 800 number also sometimes got a rude response.

"Then he said I needed to learn some patience, and he hung up."

The VA admits to heavy backlogs. This week, benefits chief Allison Hickey told the Associate Press there are 560,000 veterans with overdue claims. She says it's partly due to veterans like Lannon who have numerous medical issues. The average now is eight-to-nine ailments per veteran.

Lannon says that's no excuse.

"One of the things they teach us in the marine corps, is you adapt, you overcome, you improvise. you do whatever you've got to do to get that mission done, and this is the VA's mission. And they're not doing that."

Well, Mike Lannon DID get the benefits he was seeking -- but only Fox Chicago News contacted a regional VA office.

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