Triple-Amputee Iraq Veteran's Struggle with VA Bureaucracy Heads into 8th Month
On May 14 Breitbart News was able to speak with former Airman Brian Kolfage, an American hero who lost both legs and his right hand during a rocket attack in Iraq in 2004.
He told us that "about a year ago" he received paperwork from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) informing him that he "was being overpaid." He said the VA claimed they had "overpaid [him] something like $4,000."
Kolfage said his initial reaction was, "What the heck is this?" He called the VA and told them he was never overpaid and he that was trying to understand what was going on.
The phone call was followed by more paperwork and forms that he had to fill out before, Kolfage says, the VA told him what was going on: "They said that because [he] was remarried and had not informed them that [he] was divorced before getting remarried, they ended up overpaying 'X' amount of dollars." The letter explaining the situation came approximately eight months ago—September 12, 2013.
Kolfage said the VA is set up so that if veterans fail to inform them of a marital status change "within a year" of the change, they owe the agency back pay from that point forward – "even if it's ten years down the road." Thus, even though his marital status change only lasted long enough "to equate to about one hundred dollars" in pay – he was divorced only a matter of months before being remarried – the VA is basing their estimate of thousands of dollars for the time that passed between the marital status change and their finding out about it.
He said his Congressman – Representative Ron Barber (D-AZ) – got involved, as well as his staff, and Kolfage got a call from a VA debt center which said, "We'll take of this." He said the VA debt center told him he just needed to send in a certain form and "a statement about why [he] didn't think he owed the money." He faxed the form and the statement, and a couple of months later he got "another letter saying they were going to start taking the back pay out of his checks."
He contacted the VA and they said, "We never got your fax. We got your cover letter but we never got the form."
Kolfage said someone he knew who worked at the VA told him the reason they were being so stringent with him was because he had told his story to the media. (Breitbart News first reported on Kolfage's plight on November 11, 2013.)
He then spoke to his counselor at the VA and was informed that he "owed even more money" because he was going to school full time and "gets education benefits." Moreover, because he did not inform them about his divorce "way back when" they said they "overpaid [him] for [his] education benefits," and now they want "a couple thousand dollars more tacked on to the approximately $4,000 this all started with."
Kolfage said, "Even though the VA knows the status change was for three months, they are basically shafting me."
Kolfage's battles against insurgent forces in Iraq are over, but his battle with the VA continues.
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.