Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A trail of mistakes by the Department of Veterans Affairs has led to heartbreak for an Army veteran's widow. She calls the treatment of her husband's case careless and fears it could happen to other families.
Karaoke was one of Raymond Fafard's favorite past times when he was well. His widow, Johnnette, is thankful that at least his voice lives on. The Vietnam veteran proudly served his country but Johnnette says the dedication he gave wasn't returned. He died in February.
"He didn't get what he should have," said Johnnette.
Years after his service, his health problems continued to grow. So Johnnette helped Raymond file claims with the VA. One of the ongoing issues was his deteriorating sight. Initially, Johnnette says the VA awarded Raymond 20% compensation for his eyes, then increased it to 30%. But as vision got worse, Raymond asked for more.
His request , according to a letter from the VA, was denied. It says records show his eyesight hadn't gotten bad enough to qualify for higher compensation under the Code of Federal Regulations 4.85. Why is that number so important?
"When I went to figure out what this coding was it's for ears," said Johnnette.
Ears, not eyes. The denial cited an evaluation of hearing impairment.
"I don't see no human being on earth that can see out of their ears," said Johnnette.
She says that was just one of the careless mistakes the VA made in dealing with Raymond's claims. When she requested Raymond's file in 2007 the VA sent her a box full of records. Among the paperwork, claim information for other veterans.
"I said how many people do you have in here that's not you," asked Johnnette.
She found two. When she called the VA to figure out how other veteran's sensitive medical records got into Raymond's file, she says the VA told her to send the paperwork back.
"Why am I going to send it back to you that's my weapon right here I can show you, you did wrong," said Johnnette.
She says they also did wrong by losing some of Raymond's paperwork, which led to another setback. In an October 2011 letter the VA wrote we have not been able to locate the original paperwork submitted for the claim. Because the Fafard's didn't re-submit the same paperwork, the claim was denied.
"It's a horror story," explained Congresswoman Dina Titus.
Johnnette reached out to Congresswoman Dina Titus who sits on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. Her office found even more mistakes the VA made.
"He died in a VA hospital and after that they sent him a notice saying that he had missed his medical appointment," said Congresswoman Titus.
Johnnette wants to make sure no other widow gets that same notice.
"I have a man who is dead now, your sorrys don't mean nothing to me," said Johnnette.
"A lot of the VA's response to us on this has been it's rare, that's an isolated incident, this hardly ever happens, it was a simple error. That doesn't work for the family," said Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.
"That's right and it's not accurate. It happens too often. But even if it only happened one time, that's one too many," said Congresswoman Titus.
So why does it keep happening?
"Too many hands touching claims," suggested Johnnette.
While the VA's switch from paper to digital records may help cut down on mistakes, it can't help ease the Fafard's pain. Congresswoman Titus could, at least a little bit. She helped get Johnnette the medals her late husband never received himself. Among them: a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal. The family received 11 in all, given to his children and grandchildren.
"We flew the flag over the Capitol in his honor and appreciation for his life for his service and his sacrifice and the sacrifice you all made as his family helping take care of him," said Congresswoman Titus.
"He finally got recognized," said Johnnette.
She knows the man who earned those medals was there in spirit.
The VA denied our request for an on camera interview, just as they've done with other stories we've reported at Action News that spotlight VA problems. But Johnnette won't be silent. She hopes that sharing her family's experience will help motivate the VA to improve how they handle claims.
Are you a veteran who has faced a similar situation? If so, send an email to email@example.com with your contact information.