12 OYS: Vet accuses Augusta VA of muzzling his patient advocate during benefits appeal

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News 12 at 6 o'clock / May 29, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- A veteran who has been appealing a denial of his medical benefits, is now accusing Augusta VA administrators of silencing his patient advocate.

Richard Ray said he was told by top officials that his advocate went above and beyond in helping him. The question we wanted to know was how?

While the Veterans Administration said patient advocates are supposed to resolve veteran problems, Ray said it is nothing more than intimidation by the VA.

Ray is accusing administrators at Charlie Norwood VA Hospital of muzzling his patient advocate. He said the VA representative had helped him to appeal a decision by the Veterans' Benefits Administration which canceled his coverage for medicine.

"I'm mad about it. It shows you what kind of VA system we have, that you've got people that want to help veterans, but the upper echelon don't want them to help veterans," said Ray. He said he recently met with administrators including Public Affairs Representative Pete Scovill, who explained the hospital's decision. "I had a patient advocate Mr. Reeves helping me with my problem. Well Pete, Mr. Scovill told me I could not talk to Mr. Reeves anymore, and that he had gone above and beyond, and had gone too far."

He had an honorable discharge during his first tour of duty, but admits after reenlisting Ray was given an other-than-honorable discharge.

"I wasn't treated after coming back from Vietnam. I became an alcoholic. I got in trouble," Ray said.

He said he believes his advocate was muted, because he had found proof that an other-than-honorable discharge is not grounds for denying a veteran benefits.

"I think that's wrong. That's what the man's job is. He's a patient advocate," Ray said.

As far as Ray's other-than-honorable discharge? According to the VA, "to be considered a "veteran" eligible for Department of Veterans' Affairs health care benefits, a former service-member must have been discharged "under conditions other-than-dis-honorable," Ray said that is what his battle with the VA is all about.

Ray's discharge was not dis-honorable, but listed as other-than-honorable. On Thursday, Ray and his independent advocate met at Augusta's VA in front of a medical board that could determine his future benefits eligibility.

"All we can do now is wait and hope. As it stands right now my medications not going to stop," Ray said.

We contacted the Augusta VA and asked why a patient advocate would be removed from working with someone in the middle of an appeal?

Public Affairs Representative Pete Scovill issued a statement below:

"Patient Advocates at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (CNVAMC) work to help all Veterans with their health care issues. When a Veteran's issue involves agencies other than the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) - in this case the jurisdiction of Health Eligibility Center (HEC) and Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) - the case may require the assistance of staff from many disciplines. The objective is to assign a team that can effectively and expeditiously assist the Veteran to receive the service for which he is eligible. Should CNVAMC be unable to directly assist a Veteran, our staff members call on community resources and relationships to ensure Veterans - and in many cases non-Veterans - receive assistance."

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