WILSON, N.C. — A veteran from Wilson who lost use of his legs after a back injury in Army training says he's caught in the military's red tape, waiting for the last piece of assistance that will let him use what he was given in 2005.
Jim Richardson, 43, considers his stack of paperwork to be a medal earned in battling the federal Department of Veterans Affairs over the aid he believes he is due because of his 1983 injury.
"When you try and fight them and you win, it's like you've done something, like you've accomplished something,” Richardson said Thursday.
He said he lost the use of both legs during Army training in Oklahoma. He hurt his back, he said, jumping through a barricade. Getting disability benefits took seven years, he said.
In 2005, the VA did give him a scooter to get around and a car lift so he could transport it.
There's just one problem.
“What do you need the lift and the scooter for, if you don't have anything to haul it on?” Richardson asked. The lift has been sitting in his shed because he doesn't have a vehicle to which he can attach it.
"That's what it's doing—collecting dust,” Richardson said, his frustration evident.
Richardson filed a claim with the VA for a vehicle grant in November 2005. Medical records prove he qualifies, he added. The VA denied the grant in April 2006, and Richardson appealed in July.
Each time the vet calls to check on the grant, however, he gets the same answer.
"They say the claim is being processed," he said.
The only way he gets around is hitching a trailer to his brother's car, he said.
Lacking the car to use the lift so he can use the scooter "keeps me home, confined a lot,” he said.
At least the VA has not lost track of Richardson.
WRAL’s Sloane Heffernan spoke with VA spokesman Vince Hancock on Thursday afternoon. He admitted the VA took too long to review Richardson's claim, saying, "We let him down." The appeal was not handled until October 2006.
It went to the VA in Durham on Feb. 2 for a second opinion, which is supposed to take 45 days.
Hancock said the department hates to use it as an excuse, but it is behind because of the volume of work. Richardson's case is one of 18,000 appeals awaiting a decision, he said. The agency handles about 60,000 claims every year.