West Michigan veteran struggles to navigate Veteran Affairs System

Posted at 11:32 PM, Feb 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-02 23:32:19-05

KALAMAZOO, Mich.-- A Vietnam Veteran paid a hefty price for our freedom. He lost his eyesight, and then years later his leg from agent orange. Now, he's just trying to live comfortably in his own home.

His war injuries have caused him to struggle with simple everyday movements like getting down the hall, or stepping into the shower.

He called the Fox 17 Problem Solvers a month ago because he couldn't navigate the Veteran Affairs System for a Housing Grant to make his home easier to get around, after his amputation. You can watch this story here.

After our story aired, the community rallied to help Randolph. After waiting almost a year, he finally got the housing grant from Veteran Affairs Department.

The Randolph's are still facing major obstacles within the Veteran's Affairs System.

"Unfortunately with the government, they say things, and it looks like we are progressing, and then hit stone walls. I am still hopefully optimistic," said Darlene Randolph, Scott's wife.

Difficulty with navigating the system is much bigger than the Randolph's, there are hundreds of veterans in Michigan looking for the same care and attention.

War memorabilia decorates every corner of the Randolph's home. The constitution hangs from their living room walls. It acts as a constant reminder of their freedom. Even their wedding photos have the theme of 'God and Country'. It's no secret Scott loves this nation.

"I am glad I did what I did, and I'm glad I went when I went," said Scott.

There's one thing he didn't think about before shipping off.

"The red tape is just ridiculous. The lawmakers have to realize that if they are going to send people to protect and go to service, they have to weigh the costs. The cost isn't just death, but what shape we come back in," said Scott.

Scott came back from Vietnam in 1972, suffering from the effect of Agent Orange, a poisonous herbicide that U.S. military sprayed on trees and crops during the war.  Scott says it led to the loss of his eyesight and eventually his leg. Getting around his home became nearly impossible with the width of his wheelchair compared to the width of his doorways and hallways. Scott is 6 foot 2 inches and over 250 pounds. The Randolph's gave Fox 17 a first hand look at how hard it is to get around the home last December.

A week later, Fox 17 Problem Solvers was able to provide some much-needed relief at the hospital. You can watch the full story here.

Fox 17 surprised Scott with a contractor who wanted to update Scott's home, and a nursing company offering service hours. In addition, the VA finally reached out to give him the answers he'd been waiting for.

"We have never heard from anybody. Everyone was telling us no. We had dealt with Detroit, we had dealt with Kalamazoo office, Battle Creek office, we always got a no," said Darlene.

The Randolph's invited us to a meeting at their house with a Veteran's Service Officer to help them fill out what looked like an endless stack of paperwork.

"This is a long and daunting process, and I want others to understand how it works, and the challenges that go with it," said Darlene.

Finally, a chance for a Specially Adapted Housing Grant, which would pay for improvements to the home so Scott could move around his home. If approved, the officer told them it could take another 6 to 8 months until construction.

"I feel like a pinball," said Scott.

Even though Scott feels battered around, there was small progress.

"We got a letter approving the adaptation to the housing grant," said Scott.

A $70,000 grant, and a million dollar smile on Scott's face.

"Everything is coming up roses," said Scott.

Consequently, not all of these stories have happy endings.

"It's much bigger than us. It's a lot bigger than just one family," said Darlene.

There are over 661,000 veterans in Michigan, of that, the fourth largest VA Department in Michigan is Kent County. Kent County VA only services 1700 vets a year. Only 40 veterans apply annually for housing grants like the Randolph's.

Carrie Roy of the Kent County Veteran's Affairs Department knows navigating the system isn't easy. She's a disabled veteran too.

"I would say a lot of people fall through the cracks, because it's convoluted. There is so many moving parts," said Roy.

David Lee who will be doing the work for the Randolph's house says most veterans don't get that far.

"Typically this stuff lasts a long time. It could take months and months and months, or they don't get it approved at all," said Lee.

After the Randolph's finally get the housing model they want, it'll take David Several weeks to finish the drawings and send to the government.

"They are looking at papers, and we are nothing but a number. These are not numbers these are people's' lives," said Darlene.

It's been a roller coaster ride in the dark for Scott, but even through his blindness, he can still see a glass half full.

"That's just the way it is, I don't know what else to tell you," said Scott.

If you are a veteran seeking help call 1-800-MICH-VET.