Four-year battle with VA ends in victory for Williamsburg Army vet


WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — “We’re working on it”: That’s essentially the message James Graves kept getting from the Department of Veterans Affairs since early 2017.

It started when he asked the VA for some disability records so he could get job retraining through vocational rehabilitation. Along the way, the department made a potentially devastating mistake that affected a dozen other veterans. Now, with the help of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Graves is finally getting the benefit he was seeking.

Graves has hip, knee and ankle problems. He teaches high school and walking the steps and halls was making his disabilities worse.

“The regulations states that if your disability has worsened, that they are supposed to retrain you in another area, and that’s what the voc/rehab failed to do,” Graves said.

Graves had certification that his disability had gone from 40%, to 60%, and eventually to 100%. He sent for some additional records he needed from the VA. But as we reported in the spring of 2017, that’s not what he received.  

“I received other veterans’ social security numbers, financial bank statements and personal information,” he said. Graves had in his hands sensitive and confidential information that someone else might have used to damage those 12 veterans.

Instead, Graves returned the originals to the VA, but not before copying and forwarding them to the 12 veterans themselves. Meanwhile, Graves still waited more than three years to get what he originally sought.

“It was just delays and delays, and it was just frustrating,” he said.

After Graves got Kaine’s staff involved, he finally received a letter last week confirming that he qualified for the retraining he deserved.

The battle was won, but the bitterness lingers.

“We go out and we serve our country, and it’s just shameful that we have to come back and research things that the folks that are supposed to be trained in should have known,” Graves said.

His message to other veterans: Keep fighting for what you’re entitled to, but it’s important to be able to document your claim.

That’s what made the difference for him, even if it did take nearly four years.

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