The year he qualified for a Purple Heart in Vietnam was not his worst.
The year he got the hip replacement was not his worst, either.
Nor was the year he got the other hip replaced.
His triple bypass? Not that year.
Not even the year he underwent surgery to remove much of his ankle bone and insert a rod through an area that still held shrapnel.
Nope. Good ol’ 2013 ranks as the toughest of his 64.
“I can’t wait until Jan. 1,” he jokes.
At this point, it’s surprising Jim Pewton can muster a laugh.
Since the start of the year, the Cuyahoga Falls resident was forced to move his family out of a house that had developed black mold ... his wife broke her leg and missed three months of work ... and just last week, his daughter, a cheerleader at Kent State, tore her ACL during practice and will undergo surgery Friday.
But that’s not even the worst of the worst. Pewton says this also could be the year his family plunges into “financial ruin.”
His economic problems begin and end with Veterans Affairs, which, for reasons that are incomprehensible to your favorite columnist, simply refuses to believe that Pewton’s daughter, Lindsay, is a Kent State student.
Sitting at a picnic table in the backyard of his small house off Bailey Road, Pewton unfurls enough paperwork to choke a recycling bin.
I won’t parade you through each document, but suffice it to say he seemed to have his papers in order. They included photocopies of VA forms he was required to submit, correspondence back and forth with various VA offices, even letters from KSU congratulating his daughter on making the dean’s list (every quarter so far).
Pewton says Kent State also sent letters on his behalf directly to the VA.
Despite this apparent flood of documentation, the VA informed him July 16 that, because his daughter was no longer enrolled in college, his monthly VA benefit was being cut from $1,114 to $988. That $126 difference is not a deal-breaker. Here’s the deal-breaker:
The VA says that, because he was getting benefits for which he didn’t qualify, he had been overpaid $3,090, an amount the VA is going to recoup from future benefit checks starting in November.
In other words, he will get no VA help in November, December or January.
To rub salt in the wound, he was told that, if the VA had somehow made a mistake, the agency would correct the problem “within 15 months.”
Big backlog, he was told.
“It didn’t take 15 months for them to throw me off,” he says bitterly.
Pewton has talked repeatedly to the regional office of the VA and also worked with a regional representative of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Now, you wouldn’t think it would be extremely difficult to prove to a rational organization that your kid is enrolled at a college. So what’s going on?
Holly Barnett-Reba, spokeswoman for the Regional VA Benefits Office, agreed to look into the situation if Pewton would sign a release.
Well, here’s a little insight into how the VA operates.
When Barnett-Reba said she couldn’t talk about the situation without his written permission, I told her I would type a statement, drive to the Falls, have him sign it, then fax it to her at the number she had provided.
Within an hour, she had a fax that read, “I authorize the Veterans Administration to discuss anything about my situation with the Akron Beacon Journal.” The fax included his VA case number and home address.
Not good enough
An hour and a half later, she sent me an email saying she got the fax but, “Unfortunately, the release has to be on a certain form. I have attached it for your convenience. I apologize for not attaching it on my original email to you.”
For MY CONVENIENCE?!
Yeah, very convenient. Thank you for forcing me to make the drive twice because you, the media relations specialist, forgot that the media must make these kinds of requests on a special form.
Nevertheless, an hour later, she had her second release.
(The fact that the woman addressed her reply to my initial email to “Mr. Dwyer” does nothing to boost my faith in her paperwork competence.)
Apparently, Mr. Pewton has been graced with this same type of “convenience.”
The VA’s proclivity for “convenience” extended to eventually blowing us off completely. Told I would need a response by Friday — two days after my initial contact — the agency didn’t call, didn’t write, didn’t ask for more time, didn’t do anything.
Meanwhile ... Lindsay Pewton is a junior who is studying forensic psychology. She started in August 2011 and will graduate in the spring of 2015.
She works full time as a receptionist during the summer and for as many hours as she can cram in during the school year. Combined with grants and scholarships, the family has been able to walk a financial tightrope.
Lindsay’s father never made it to college. He went directly from his Stow High School graduation to the Marine Corps and served two tours of duty in the least popular war in American history.
Despite his combat injuries, Jim Pewton spent more than 30 years working in local plastics shops until his body finally gave out about six years ago.
Ironically, his honorable discharge took place on May 4, 1970.
Like many other Vietnam vets, Pewton was treated as a leper, rather than someone who put his life on the line for the country.
Four decades later, he seems to be receiving the same kind of treatment.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.