By Scott Robertson
Between 1956 and 1958, Gray, Tenn., resident Harold (Dean) Ford served his country as a private first class in the United States Marine Corps. It was a great time in his life, one that Ford today says he would do again in a heartbeat.
During his time on active duty, the Marine Corps utilized rifles, grenades and tanks. It did not, Ford says, utilize hearing protection.
His resulting hearing loss is what led Ford and his wife, Madeline, to investigate whether the Veterans Administration might be willing to cover part of his medical costs. A discussion with the assistant pastor at their church led the Fords this summer to the Jonesborough office of Jerry Story, veterans services officer for Washington County. It’s Story’s job to help veterans who live in the county get matched up with all the benefits for which they are eligible.
“Mr. Ford is an 80-year old Marine vet who went in right after Korea,” Story says. “He had never used the VA Medical Center for anything. He just wanted to be able to get in the system and be able to use it. We got him out there and got him in the system. Once we did that, he came back to my office and we felt like we could apply for some benefits for him. We went through the process of filing the claim and he came in yesterday and you could tell they were both tickled to death.”
Ford suffers from tinnitus and has a hearing loss of roughly 70 percent.
“He got 10 percent disability for (tinnitus) and 70 percent for his hearing,” Ford’s wife Madeline says. “According to the way they calculate it, if he would have to go into a nursing home that would accept VA pay, he would not have to pay anything. Of course we pray that never happens, but if it does, that’s a blessing.”
Story clarifies to say that if Ford has to enter a nursing home because of his disability, it would be paid for, adding, “To get a 70 percent rating is just a phenomenal thing for the first time in the system. If a veteran can prove they’re having problems now because of something that happened while they were in the military, they can be rated anywhere from zero to 100 percent disabled.”
At 70 percent, Ford won’t have to pay for prescriptions, and likely will be free from having to pay co-pays, Story says.
“Those are the kinds of things that are happening now,” Story, who is entering his 18th month in the position, says. “It’s just a good thing to see.”
The entire experience has been a pleasant surprise for the Fords. At a time when the Veterans Administration nationwide is dealing with the aftermath of revelations of long wait times and poor service at many VA hospitals, the Fords say the process has been exemplary.
“I always thought the VA was ‘pogies joy,’” Ford says. “You know, I thought people just went there to die. I found out different.”
Adds Madeline, “They treated us so well at the VA. We didn’t have to wait to see the doctors. They were really nice. Whenever they said they would see you, they saw you on time – if they said they’d see you at eight o’clock, they’d see you at eight o’clock. They were always really nice and the valet parking is great.”
The Fords’ experience is a representative sample of what’s been happening for veterans from across the county, Story says. “I’m averaging 10 to 15 contacts a day. I’m covered up from 8:30 to 5:00 with people coming in with appointments and people walking in to find out they’ll need to make an appointment. I’m up to around 1,700 contacts since June 1, 2015.
“Almost on a daily basis now, I’m getting phone calls from veterans or spouses calling in to say they’ve been awarded their benefits,” Story says. “What we’re doing is working.”