Troubleshooter

Veteran receives benefits despite destroyed records

Friday, October 14, 2011

Since 2009, 82nd Airborne veteran Sgt. Gerry Propst has been fighting for military benefits after suffering several injuries while on duty.

After countless roadblocks, he contacted ABC11 for help. ABC11 exposed the problem of a lack of military records from the first Gulf War. The military ordered those records to be destroyed.

Now, Propst has what he's been fighting for. His drive kept him motivated to keep his case alive.

"I think it made all the difference," he said. "I think it would have been bogged down for years if it wasn't for that story. No doubt in my mind that they called me on the phone within a week to make that appointment. It usually takes months to get those appointments."

Propst knows the system. He served in the first Gulf War and has many war stories to tell, but what he doesn't have is most of his medical records from his five years of Army service.

"They told me the only thing that they had was my physical before going in, and an ear exam going out," he explained. "Well, how do you lose everything in between?"

During ABC11's investigation, we confirmed a letter from the Army that has an admission about what happened to those records from the first Gulf War.

It states," Units were told to destroy their records since there was no space to ship the paper back to the states." It also states that was in "direct contradiction to the existing Army regulations."

The Army goes on to say in the letter it discovered "nearly all records below the brigade level no longer existed."

Propst says among the missing records is documented proof of a serious back injury he suffered during a parachute assault in the Middle East. The injury haunts him years later as he fought for compensation.

"As I got older, back and hips and stuff like that started to bother me more from these injuries," he added. "So, I started seeking VA medical care about three years ago and just immediately hit a brick wall right away."

A brick wall because the VA had no record of Propst's back, knee or ankle injuries while in the military.

"I've been dealing with denials," he said. "I know I'm not alone."

In May, ABC11 told his story and quickly after it aired, Propst heard from the Veteran's Administration.

"A week or ten days after the story, I got a call from the VA, which typically I get things in writing to tell me they scheduled me for an exam," he explained. "I went to that exam and the doctor told me the VA pretty much conceded all the injuries, [and] he just had to rate me."

It took a few months but Propst received written confirmation from the VA that his back, knee and ankle injuries are now all considered military related.

"I went to 40 percent disabled to 70 percent disabled, which meant I no longer had co-pays for my medical care ever again," he said. "Of course, it made [an] astronomical money difference for me in compensation but mainly the care. That's what I was after -- to have the medical care taken care of that I needed -- and now I don't have to worry about it anymore. It was such a relief, like the world had been lifted off my shoulders. Finally, someone believes me, and the fight is over."

While Propst's fight is over, he says he knows there are still many other veterans out there fighting the same battle.

"I just thank you guys so much for all you did," he said. "I truly believe if it wasn't for that, it wouldn't have come to light as quickly, and I just encourage everybody to pursue it, pursue it because it will make all the different in the world if you stick with it."

He encourages other veteran's who are in a similar situation as he was to keep fighting.

ABC11 highlighted another veteran in August, who also is fighting for his benefits for injuries he says are military connected. While he did not get an exam following ABC11's first story, he is still waiting to hear about the VA's decision.

There are also organizations out there to help veterans:

North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs: http://www.doa.state.nc.us/vets/

Disabled American Veterans: http://www.dav.org/

Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina-Cares: http://vlcnc-cares.org/

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