How long does it take for a disabled veteran to apply for the Independent Living Program as part of the Veteran Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
Ruth Fanning, director of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service (VRES), said the average application process should take about 107 days.
But Richmond Hill resident Donald Singleton has been trying for more than 15 months and Bruce McCartney, of Midway, spent four years working to get his application processed.
"They don’t advertise this benefit – it doesn’t make sense to me," Singleton said. "If it were this hard to get into the military as it is to get serviced on VA, there wouldn’t be any military."
Singleton applied for ILP in April 2007, qualified in January and was told in March his paperwork had been submitted. That’s the last thing he heard. But he described ILP as "a good program."
ILP is aimed at veterans with service-related disabilities who are unable to pursue an employment goal, to make sure they are able to live independently. Services can include assistive technology, specialized medical or rehabilitation services, and connections with community-based support services – such as ergonomic furniture, for example.
"When a veteran applies, they are applying for employment assistance," Fanning said. "If there is an employment handicap, it’s our goal to help them ultimately be employable in the future."
McCartney became a veteran after nearly 18 years in the Army. He began his application process in 2003, keeping a diary of his process and in 2007, had 150 pages of documentation. He found out his application was approved in 2006 – but he said it sat on a desk for a year before anyone got around to telling him.
As far as why it took so long, Fanning said McCartney was not at fault. She also said the Atlanta VA office will look into Singleton’s case.
"Once we determine someone is in need of Independent Living, we do a detailed assessment…that does take some time," she said. "In (McCartney’s) case, I think there were errors that were made and those are unfortunate. I know the Atlanta office has put mechanisms in place – as we have nationally – to determine the status of cases and take appropriate action for those that are taking too long."
McCartney estimates roughly 700 disabled veterans in Bryan, Chatham and Liberty counties.
"I bet there aren’t even 70 who have ever heard of it," he said. "This is about the thousands of Georgian who paid for this program with their bodies and souls. I’m trying to get the word out."
Fanning listed several ways to apply, or check the status of an application and recommended calling a counselor and asking to speak to the manager if things are taking too long. Visit www.va.gov ; download a form at www.va.gov/vaforms/form_detail.asp?FormNo=28-1900 and mail it in; go into a field office, Savannah’s is on Montgomery Crossroads, 921-3744.; visit www.VetSuccess.gov ; or call 1-800-827-1000.
"We’re getting information out through the website and we do aggressive outreach," Fanning said. "Although this is a smaller portion of our program, it’s extremely important and we definitely want the word to get out. One case that takes too long is too many. We want to prevent what happened to Mr. McCartney from happening to anyone else."
Now that he is in the program, McCartney said good things about it, noting it’s "improved his quality of life." He received a greenhouse through ILP, which he said has helped him get re-involved with the community.
"I’m doing hydroponics and just recently had my granddaughter’s 4-H club visit," he said. "And once a week, I give my tomatoes away to everyone in the community."
To reach McCartney, email firstname.lastname@example.org with "ILP" in the subject line.