Iowa Veteran Finds Himself Lost in VA's Benefits Logjam

Iraq War veteran Joel Klobnak is waiting. It’s how he spends his time these days after the Department of Veterans Affairs slashed his disability pay two years ago, the Des Moines Register reports.

Klobnak, 24, a former Marine who lost his leg in Iraq in 2006, says the cut in disability pay is a misunderstanding, but he still feels forgotten.

He’s trying to support a family of four on $1,557 per month while he waits to hear whether the government will reinstate full disability pay for his injury and the mental anguish that accompanied it, according to the paper.

His appeal is trapped in a paperwork backlog that is delaying payments to injured veterans across the country.

"There's thousands of guys. It's not just me. It's a joke," he told the Des Moines Register. "I just don't understand why it takes so long."

Actually, there are more than thousands of veterans in his straits. The backlog of veterans' disability cases has been growing for years, and it now stands around 1 million, despite repeated attempts by Congress to fix the problem.

The VA said earlier this month that it would comment on Klobnak's case, but then said it couldn't come up with a timely response.

Klobnak was a lance corporal who served as a gunner on an armored vehicle in a Marine reconnaissance squad in Iraq in 2005-06, one of the most volatile periods of the war there. He said he was wounded near the end of his tour, when a 25 mm explosive round went off while he was cleaning and reassembling a belt of ammunition for an automatic grenade launcher. The explosion shattered his left leg, which doctors amputated above the knee. He was 19.

Klobnak spent six months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., then returned to Iowa with $50,000 the military gave him as compensation for his leg. He admits he wasted much of that money in bars and at restaurants.

Government doctors determined that he couldn't work, because of the pain in his leg and the post-traumatic stress disorder that troubled his mind. The determination entitled him to full disability payments, which amounted to $3,103 per month. But in April 2009, he received a letter telling him his payments were being halved because he missed an appointment with a VA doctor, the paper reports.

Klobnak said he didn't know about the appointment, which was to review his disability status, because the notice had been sent to an old address.

Klobnak appealed the pay cut, and he was granted a hearing last June. He said a veterans' appeals judge in Washington, D.C., presided via a video link to the Federal Building in Des Moines. When Klobnak was done explaining his side, the judge told him she would consider the matter and get back to him. He said he was told to expect a decision in three to six months. It's been a year.

Click to read more on Joel Klobnak’s story from the Des Moines Register