An Austin man wants to live life independently. He says he can’t because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs continues to delay services.
Marco Martinez needs wheelchair access at his house, among other items deemed medically necessary.
The veteran’s administration approved the plans to build, but delays left him without hope.
“I know for me I will have no relief, until I die. Death will be welcomed,” said Martinez.
Martinez is in pain every single day.
No night is ever peaceful.
His multiple sclerosis flared aggressively three weeks after his wedding years ago.
“I got married at 40. My wife was 40. We both had good lives. We thought we would have a great life together. I love to work,” said Martinez. “The plan was for her to retire and for me to be the bread winner in the house. I felt like I betrayed her. I went from being a healthy and strong person to being extremely needy, almost like a child, trapped inside a body that failed me from head to toe.”
Martinez was in the US Army from 1987 until 1992. He worked in environmental health and earned the Airborne, Air Assault and Expert Field Medical Badges.
He deployed to Panama in 1989 as part of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) stationed at Ft. Ord, California.
Then, he deployed to Desert Storm in 1990, as part of the 714th Medical Detachment stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
The disease and other medical problems like PTSD and Fibromyalgia puts Martinez at 100 percent service-connected disability now.
“I have fallen down the stairs, up the stairs on the carpet, on the tile, on the pavement, in the garage,” said Martinez.
He asked the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs for help with getting doctor recommended, medically-necessary items around his home. The VA approved the veteran’s application for the independent living services.
“It’s actually a great program, for people like me who are incapable for joining a normal society,” said Martinez.
The approval was in 2015.
“Unfortunately, an entire year went by and essentially nothing happened,” said Martinez.
Martinez said he started making inquiries himself.
He learned in order to get a lift or ramp at his home, he needed to start the process over again. Too much time passed since the first approval.
Then, in order to get a ramp, red tape required Martinez to get a wheelchair from the VA first. So, he wheeled himself into his physician’s office.
“The chair took about three months to come in,” said Martinez.
“Once I got the chair, I had to go back to my primary care physician, and request a referral to go back to prosthetics, so I could have a ramp evaluation,” said Martinez.
The evaluation approved, but Martinez is still waiting.
“Central Texas Veterans Health Care System understands Mr. Martinez feels VA has not been responsive to his requests in a timely manner, and for that we apologize,” said Deborah Meyer, Public Affairs Officer for Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in an email to KVUE News.
“I believe most citizens want veterans injured in the military to be take care of. This is not an entitlement. This is something that people sacrifice, possibly die for,” said Martinez. “I served my country, did the best I could do, and I would do it again. But when you are damaged, you’re damaged.”
KVUE asked the VA to explain the delays last year. They didn’t give us any answers until we expressed our own frustrations, sympathizing with Martinez.
“VBA must be resourced properly to meet the needs and expectations of veterans,” said Paul Varela, Assistant National Legislative Director for “Disabled American Veterans” in a legislative hearing.
The DAV pointed out the VA is backlogged at processing claims.
“For the second consecutive year, the administration has not requested a staffing increase,” said Varela.
A VA internal audit in 2013 noted delays in processing paperwork. The VA blamed coordination among its departments for delays.
It further states, “staff members would not approve requests for lift chairs unless veterans absolutely needed them because their medical goal is to promote continued mobility.”
It rolls down to people like Martinez.
“It’s not a way to live,” said Martinez.
The VA denied our request for an interview, but asked for specific questions. We submitted our questions and those from Martinez.
They provided two statements.
“The VBA is well-aware the bids are coming in well over double the maximum grant allowed. This is largely based on living here in Austin. So they know this is impossible and I will continue to fall and hurt myself over and over and over. That's not improving my quality of life,” said Martinez in reply to the statements.
He says the VA's grant and offer to help would still cost him thousands of dollars.
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