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Federal shutdown is slowing aid to some veterans

Joseph Groner uniform

Joseph Groner in uniform

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Updated: November 17, 2013 6:28AM



The federal shutdown did not cause Joseph Groner’s problem, but his problem won’t likely be fixed until the government gets back to work.

Groner, 89, a World War II veteran suffering from cancer, is more than a little anxious for that to be sooner than later, seeing as he’s not confident he has much time left.

Groner is waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to process a disability claim he’s had pending since 2007.

The claim was originally denied, but Groner appealed, and after a five-year wait, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals ruled in his favor in August. The ruling entitles him to a yet-to-be-determined award of back pay and a monthly check going forward.

But after the favorable decision, the actual processing of Groner’s payment disappeared again into the VA bureaucratic abyss, and now all claims work has slowed to a crawl because of the shutdown.

Even if Congress and President Barack Obama can work out a deal Wednesday, the two-week shutdown will undoubtedly be used as an excuse for months of delays at the VA.

Chalk up another victim of the idiots who think closing down the government, even a partial shutdown, doesn’t hurt anything.

Let’s stipulate: There are higher stakes involved in the Washington stalemate than Joseph Groner’s VA claim, or even the claims of a thousand veterans like him.

The potential collapse of the nation’s economy should top the list of concerns.

But sometimes it helps people grasp the big picture when they can digest a small piece of it.

You don’t have to be a fan of government to understand it performs necessary functions that directly affect a lot of lives, even if you don’t perceive yourself as one of them.

The processing of disability claims by our nation’s veterans is one of those functions.

Groner, who lives in Lincolnshire, enlisted in the Army in 1942 and ended up serving on the Hospital Ship Marigold from June 1944 to December 1945 in both Europe and Asia.

Groner was assigned as a pharmacy tech, but when the Marigold arrived in Japan at war’s end in the summer of 1945, he was pressed into duty as an x-ray technician.

He had no training for the role and therefore knew nothing about the importance of shielding himself from the radiation produced by the x-ray machine.

It was an extremely busy time for an X-ray tech aboard the Marigold as the ship’s crew processed thousands of newly liberated Allied prisoners of war, each of them getting at least one chest X-ray.

“I was taking pictures all day long, being exposed to all this radiation and radioactive poisoning,” Groner told me by phone.

About 20 years ago, Groner developed lesions and was eventually diagnosed with lymphomatoid papulosis and later anaplastic large T-cell lymphoma. A doctor told him his health problems might be related to the X-ray exposure.

Groner sought help from the Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic at John Marshall Law School, and alum Frank Del Barto has represented him pro bono ever since.

The Board of Veterans’ Appeals ruled in Groner’s favor after bringing in a medical expert who determined he had likely been exposed to 20 times the acceptable amount of radiation.

Groner is proud of the work he did in the Army and would gladly do it again, but he still thinks his country bears some responsibility for the position in which it put him and wants this resolved.

“It’s finally coming to an end, but it isn’t coming to an end. In the meantime, I get older and weaker,” Groner said.

“They won’t have to pay for long because I won’t be here for long,” he added, as if hoping the promise would hurry his claim.

Groner blames the “politicians in Washington” for the budget impasse, but he isn’t picking sides.

“I’m not saying one or the other is at fault,” Groner said. “What we should do is sweep them all out.”

As I’ve previously written, I think it’s the Republicans’ fault, and the sooner more people recognize that and put the blame where it belongs, the sooner this will be resolved. But I don’t want to drag Groner into any partisan skirmish.

He’s a man who deserves the attention of his government, and as things now stand in Washington, he can’t get it.

Email: markbrown@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkBrownCST



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