Civil War-Era Law Complicates Veterans’ Disability Claims

Gustavo Nunez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, and his daughter, Ava Nunez.

Gustavo Nunez, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq, and his daughter, Ava.


Stories about veterans waiting years, decades even, to resolve a disability claim are not uncommon.

“I have a claim from 2003 that’s still not found yet. Nobody knows where it’s at,” said Gustavo Nunez, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. “I actually gave up on it a long time ago. I was so frustrated with the system.”

It wasn’t until the birth of his 2-year-old daughter that Nunez decided to try again for his disability benefits. Worried about their future, Nunez wants to make sure he’ll have the VA to care for his health problems related to his service because he won’t be able to afford the medical bills.

It’s no surprise that many think the Department of Veterans Affairs automatically takes care of disabled veterans when they leave the military. Continue reading


Veterans And Family Invited To ‘Debt Of Honor’ Preview

wusf_debt_of_honor_invitationFor veterans living in the Tampa Bay region, WUSF Public Radio invites you to participate in a panel discussion and preview of the new Ric Burns film “Debt of Honor: Disabled Veterans in American History.”

The WUSF Florida Matters Town Hall taping is Thursday, Nov. 5 at the University of South Florida Tampa campus, in the College of Public Health’s Samuel Bell Auditorium (13201 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612).

Please join us at 5:30 p.m. for an opening reception, and the taping that starts at 6 p.m. Seating is limited and registration is required. Please RSVP at this link, or call 813-905-6901.

A preview of the film will be followed by a panel discussion with:

  • Filmmaker Ric Burns
  • Actor and national veterans’ spokesman JR Martinez
  • Taylor Urruela, a disabled veteran who lives in Tampa

It will be moderated by Carson Cooper, the host of WUSF’s weekly public affairs show.


Haley VA Making Strides for Paralyzed Veterans

 (April 2014) Lead therapist Michael Firestone adjusts the Exoskeleton computer backpack for veteran Josh Baker, paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. Credit Bobbie O'Brien / WUSF Public Media

(April 2014) Lead therapist Michael Firestone adjusts the Exoskeleton computer backpack for veteran Josh Baker, paralyzed after a motorcycle accident.
Credit Bobbie O’Brien / WUSF Public Media

Tampa’s James A. Haley VA Hospital is using cutting edge technology to help injured veterans rehabilitate.

One of the devices, at the Spinal Cord Injury Center, helping paralyzed veterans stand and walk again is the Exoskeleton.

Using a computer backpack, robotic leg braces and a walker, veteran Josh Baker demonstrated the Exoskeleton during the April 2014 ceremonial opening of Haley’s new Polytrauma Center.

Baker said it didn’t require much effort on his part.

“If you get a good rhythm and you’re good upright, you can actually walk right along and the machine simulates it,” Baker said.

His VA therapists were impressed by how quickly Baker advanced after just two weeks of practice. Baker was on the device’s most advanced setting, where the device takes automatic steps once it senses the veteran’s foot is in the correct position.

One of the features of the Exoskeleton is that it can be programmed with each individual’s weight, height and gait which individualizes the simulated walking, therapists said.

For the first time since his motorcycle accident in November 2013, Baker said the ability to walk with the Exoskeleton gave him “a jubilation feeling.”

Witnessing their wheelchair-bound son walk again that day at Haley was emotional for his parents Laurie and Robert Baker.

Courtesy of Ekso Bionics website

Courtesy of Ekso Bionics website

Laurie Baker said anything that makes her son feel better makes her feel better. His father agreed.

“It was incredible,” Robert Baker said. “That’s the first time I got to see him walk since November and it just means so much.”

He said the device also will help other veterans living with disabilities.

“It’s going to help so many other servicemen to just give them the hope that they can stand again when they’re just stuck in a wheelchair,” said Robert Baker. “It’s just a blessing.”

Haley is one of two Ekso Bionic Centers in Florida. The other is located at the University of Miami Project.

Service Dog Cappucino Shows Off for Patriot Paws

Photo courtesy of Patriot Paws.

Watch as Cappucino helps his master dress and undress, fetches items like a bucket or a broom and even picks up trash. Mike his owner is paralyzed and was given Cappucino by Patriot Paws.

When Mike came to pick up Cappucino, he didn’t want to take the dog after learning that there were veterans on a waiting list to receive a service dog. But the Patriot Paws talked him into and said instead he would help raise money and awareness for the program. That’s what he’s doing in this video:

The demonstration was held at the 2012 United Access of Dallas Open House. Despite the large crowd, the smell of barbecue and being in a new environment, Cap showed how a service dog can help veterans.

Clock Ticking for Veterans’ Caregivers Looking for Help

Many families have committed their own resources, quit jobs and moved across country to help care for their veterans injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. So, last year, Congress passed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act to provide eligible families of the most severely wounded with benefits like respite care, counseling and a monthly stipend.

The Wounded Warriors Project campaigned for the Caregivers Act and has now made a “call to action” to get it implemented more quickly because families like the Bob and Michelle Briggs are waiting. 

Cong. Kathy Castor of Tampa distributes Girl Scout cookies to a wounded warrior during her recent visit to Landstudl Medical Center in Germany.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was supposed to have implanted the “Caregivers Act” by the end of January. But the VA is dragging its feet says Tampa Congresswoman Kathy Castor.

“There really is no excuse in my book for the Department of Veterans Affairs not to have followed through with support for wounded warrior families,” Castor said.

She added that of all the constituent services provided by her office, helping with veterans benefits is the hardest.

“Gen. (Eric) Shinseki is a dedicated department head,” Castor said. “But, boy it really wears on our veterans and they’re the last people who should be bogged down with paperwork.”

The original veterans caregiver act was signed by Pres. Barack Obama on May 5, 2010.

The VA called it a “complex process,” in a press release dated February 9, 2011, and stated that many of the “significant newly-enacted benefits will require the issuance of regulations” and that will require time and a period for public comment.

The Wounded Warrior Project website has a “countdown for caregivers clock” that shows it’s been more than 37 days since family caregivers of severely wounded war veterans were supposed to get some relief.

You can listen to the WUSF 89.7 story here.

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