Veteran dies waiting for benefits

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by SUSANNAH FRAME / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @SFrameK5

KING5.com

Posted on November 7, 2011 at 11:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 7:17 AM

TACOMA - After a yearlong fight to obtain an important veteran’s benefit for Barry Mangan of Tacoma, the check finally arrived from the Veteran’s Administration in June of this year. It was $63,780 to adapt his home. Mangan had a fatal disease that left him living in a wheelchair and in need of housing adaptations such as a lift to get in the front door and wider doorways. But obtaining that grant money turned into a complicated, frustrating process for the family.

"It was completely demoralizing and energy depleting," said Barry's sister Carol Kindt.

In February 2010, VA doctors diagnosed Mangan, 54, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  ALS is a fatal, progressive disease that the military has linked to military service. It does not affect brain function, but destroys the nerve cells that control muscle function.

“It’s so hard when your body is your prison. Because ALS does not affect the mind. It doesn’t affect the thinking or how you feel inside,” said Barry’s wife Debbie Mangan. “His body was his prison.”

Men with any history of service in the armed forces are twice as likely to contract ALS as men with no military history.

Mangan served in the Army in the 1970’s in Germany. As a veteran with ALS, he was eligible for medical care from the VA as well as equipment to help him get around, and grant money to adapt his home. 

This avid outdoorsman, health nut, Sunday school teacher, engineer and father of five would end up confined to a wheelchair, unable to maneuver around his home.

“To keep him at home, to die at home. Those were the goals,” said Kindt.

The VA expedited Barry Mangan’s application for the grant money because ALS patients can disintegrate quickly. Most die between two and five years after diagnosis.

"We were told because of ALS we are priority one. That expedites things. It puts you at the top of the list," said Debbie.

The family says the VA provided excellent health care for Barry. The VA was also quick to provide pieces of equipment as his muscles atrophied, such as a ramp to get him into the back door. But as months went by  they didn’t hear a word about the grant to remodel the house.

The family felt they’d gone from the top of the list to bottom of the heap. While time was ticking for Barry, family members rushed around trying to get answers. Instead, they say they got unreasonable requests.

The VA insisted Barry sign certain documents; an impossible task for someone with advanced ALS. "That was part of the frustration. Barry could no longer write," said Kindt.

The family got requests for more medical records. These were forms they'd already sent in."It's already been submitted over and over again, what more could we possibly give you?" said Kindt.

At one point a person working with the family in Seattle told the family the Denver VA Regional Office, which processes housing grants, had lost their paperwork. It all needed to be resubmitted.

“How could you lose it? We have someone’s life staked on this. This paper is worth its weight in gold,” said Debbie.

Officials in Denver say they did not lose paperwork.

While they waited for the check, the Mangan’s moved Barry into a veteran’s nursing home in Lakewood. He couldn’t navigate his wheelchair in the house anymore.

“Everybody was telling us it will be soon. We’re just waiting for one more paper. We’re waiting for one more announcement. It will be soon. We’ll be starting on the house (soon),” said Debbie. “For the children he wanted to come home. He was ready to come home and I said I can’t. I can’t bring you home yet.”

The KING 5 Investigators tried to get to the bottom of what happened with Barry’s case. The reporters got different explanations. The Denver VA sent KING 5 News a letter which said the nursing home stay slowed down the process. 

“The admission into the nursing home delayed the decision on grant approval pending the doctor’s release saying Mr. Mangan would be able to return to his residence,” wrote an official from the Denver office.

Debbie Mangan had never heard that before.

The Denver office told KING 5 News they did their part to expedite the process. But they refused repeated requests for an interview.

A year after sending in the first application, hope finally arrived for the Mangans via UPS: the check for $63,780. Debbie Mangan celebrated the fact her husband was coming home.

"I was elated, I immediately called the VA in Seattle and said I have the check in my hand and he said great. Let's have a meeting Thursday. Let's get this going," said Debbie.

Thirty minutes later, after months of work and waiting, Debbie Mangan got a call from the nursing home. Barry had passed away.

"I have never felt joy turn into sorrow so fast," said Debbie.

Barry died alone on June 21, 2011 in the nursing facility, waiting to come home to his family.

"But it didn't happen that way. He wasn't home. He wasn't home because of the paperwork. One more piece of paper, there was one more thing," said Debbie.

The next day, Debbie Mangan sent the check back.

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