When Uncle Sam called in 1970, Wayne T. Hathcock answered. Drafted, he served in Vietnam, first as an infantryman and then driving a tank in the Americal Division, stationed near Chu Lai and Da Nang.
Hathcock earned two purple hearts and a bronze star with a “V” device; he also brought home with him some shrapnel as a souvenir. But today, when the Barrington man calls the Veterans Administration to try and find out what the progress is in securing health benefits, he says it’s the same answer he’s been getting for the last five months: “It’s in process.”
Hathcock has developed cancer, and he has undergone both radiation and chemotherapy treatments. His doctors believe the cancer could have resulted from exposure to Agent Orange, a condition approved by the VA for benefits.
Dealing with frustratingly long wait times on phone calls, or for benefit approval, is nothing new for many veterans.
Kathleen Boyle, a public-affairs representative at the VA administrative offices in Providence, explained that all phone calls are normally routed through a national call center. To reach Boyle in public affairs, a Providence Business News reporter spent 20 minutes on hold before talking with Jason (no last name provided), working out of a call center in Columbia, S.C. “There is a tremendous backlog; we’re working with limited resources,” Jason said.
According to Boyle, “it takes about six months, unfortunately” to access benefits. There are currently about 150 employees working to process claims in various stages, she said. She recommended that Hathcock come down in person to the offices to check on his benefit status. Informed that transportation for Hathcock was an issue, Boyle offered to help arrange a personal visit from an advocate.
Hathcock’s former company, Key Container, in Pawtucket, where he worked for 35 years as a production manager, has been supportive, continuing his health insurance. But Hathcock said he lives in fear of receiving his COBRA notice in the mail.