At your service

Two groups that help war vet­er­ans team up for a great mis­sion: They're help­ing Amer­ica's her­oes to cut through red tape.

Wayne Quigley is a Vi­et­nam War vet­er­an who was dia­gnosed in 2002 with Type 2 dia­betes.

A Mar­ine, he was the only mem­ber of his large im­me­di­ate fam­ily to serve in Vi­et­nam and to de­vel­op dia­betes.

Over the last nine years, he’s paid for test­ing, doc­tors’ vis­its and med­ic­a­tion. Re­cently, though, he was read­ing vet­er­ans’ pub­lic­a­tions that men­tioned that Type 2 dia­betes could be con­sidered a ser­vice-re­lated ail­ment.

So, Quigley met with Joseph Buckley, as­sist­ant de­part­ment ser­vice of­ficer for the state chapter of the Vet­er­ans of For­eign War.

“He asked, ‘Where’ve you been?’ ” Quigley said.

The North Wales man is fil­ing a claim with the as­sist­ance of Buckley, who ap­pears each Thursday at U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s dis­trict of­fice, at 7219 Frank­ford Ave. He’s also been in con­tact with the U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Med­ic­al Cen­ter, at 39th Street and Wood­land Av­en­ue, in West Phil­adelphia.

“The gal down there said I meet the cri­ter­ia. All I have to do is the cross the t’s and dot the i’s,” he said.

Quigley was at Schwartz’s of­fice re­cently to meet with Buckley, a 60-year-old Vi­et­nam vet­er­an from May­fair, and Mike Gab­ri­el, a 28-year-old Ir­aq War vet­er­an from Park­wood. Like Quigley, they are former Mar­ines.

Since early May, Buckley has been at Schwartz’s of­fice every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to handle VA claims and an­swer eli­gib­il­ity and pa­per­work ques­tions for con­stitu­ents. An in­di­vidu­al does not have to be a mem­ber of the VFW to par­ti­cip­ate.

Through the Wounded War­ri­or Pro­gram, Gab­ri­el works full time for the con­gress­wo­man as a vet­er­ans’ con­stitu­ent ser­vice rep­res­ent­at­ive. He per­formed the same du­ties for former Rep. Patrick Murphy.

Gab­ri­el as­sists con­stitu­ents with is­sues such as of­fi­cial cop­ies of sep­ar­a­tion doc­u­ments, medal re­place­ment and the vet­er­ans’ cemetery in Wash­ing­ton Cross­ing. He can dir­ect vet­er­ans to re­sources in areas re­lated to edu­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment, train­ing and busi­ness op­por­tun­it­ies.

Schwartz, whose late fath­er was a Korean War vet­er­an, is happy with the part­ner­ships with the Wounded War­ri­or Pro­gram and VFW.

“It’s worked very, very well,” she said. “Vet­er­ans have honored us with their ser­vice. One of the most im­port­ant func­tions of my of­fice is to help vet­er­ans with pa­per­work. We al­ways have vet­er­ans call­ing with ques­tions and con­cerns, and this is a way to of­fer im­me­di­ate ser­vices and get an­swers and res­ol­u­tions about the be­ne­fits they’re eli­gible for.”

Gab­ri­el sees the avail­able ser­vices as a great con­veni­ence.

“Vet­er­ans don’t have to drive from the North­east to West Philly,” he said of the VA med­ic­al cen­ter. “May­fair’s a bet­ter op­tion.”

In ad­di­tion, fil­ing claims can be dif­fi­cult, and a back­log de­vel­ops when doc­u­ments are not com­pletely filled out.

“The pa­per­work is con­fus­ing for a lot of people,” Gab­ri­el said. “The VA pro­cess can be cum­ber­some. We walk them through it.”

As the VFW out­reach co­ordin­at­or for south­east­ern Pennsylvania, Buckley is out in the com­munity. Be­sides his weekly stint at Schwartz’s of­fice, he is a reg­u­lar at the med­ic­al cen­ters in West Phil­adelphia and Coates­ville, dis­cuss­ing is­sues such as dis­ab­il­ity com­pens­a­tion, pen­sions and wid­ow be­ne­fits.

“Out­reach is the new wave,” he said. “We’re com­ing out and find­ing vet­er­ans.”

Buckley likes to say that he of­fers dir­ec­tion and nav­ig­a­tion in deal­ing with vet­er­ans and speaks ef­fect­ively and ef­fi­ciently with gov­ern­ment agen­cies, all in or­der to cre­ate a fully de­veloped claim. He ex­pects to re­main busy, as Vi­et­nam vet­er­ans are gen­er­ally in their 60s and young­er vet­er­ans are re­turn­ing from Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan.

Both Buckley and Gab­ri­el agree that it’s dif­fi­cult to en­gage young­er vets.

“They want to get on with their lives, raise a fam­ily and be in­volved with their oc­cu­pa­tion,” Buckley said.

Ad­ded Gab­ri­el: “It’s hard to reach out to these guys. They’re not ex­actly at VFW meet­ings.”

A primary is­sue for young vet­er­ans is post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­order. The fed­er­al Vo­ca­tion­al Re­hab­il­it­a­tion Act is avail­able for these vets, provid­ing pay­ments for tu­ition, fees, books and com­puter equip­ment.

“They’re not aware of these things,” Buckley said.

The vis­it­ors to Schwartz’s of­fice had a vari­ety of is­sues.

George Craigie, of Burholme, served in the Mar­ine Corps from 1942 through ’46. The 87-year-old is in­ter­ested in learn­ing about hous­ing op­por­tun­it­ies for older vet­er­ans and their spouses.

“I’d like to get to a nice place if I had the money,” he said.

Michelle Brooks, of Lawndale, lost her hus­band Gary in 1999. A Vi­et­nam vet­er­an, Gary Brooks died of lung can­cer at age 52.

“He nev­er smoked a day in his life,” she said.

In April, ac­quaint­ances asked if she was re­ceiv­ing be­ne­fits, based on the U.S. mil­it­ary’s herb­i­cid­al war­fare pro­gram, known as Agent Or­ange.

“He was there when they were spray­ing,” she said. “His death was ser­vice re­lated.”

Brooks con­tac­ted the Driz­in Weiss Post 215 hall, at 913 Tyson Ave., and was dir­ec­ted to Schwartz’s of­fice.

“I thought I had noth­ing to lose — bet­ter late than nev­er,” she said.

Cindy Lin­ton traveled from At­lanta to be with her 75-year-old fath­er, Don­ald Mar­tin. He lives on Ban­don Drive in the Far North­east and is a con­stitu­ent of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, but Buckley will help any­one in the five-county area. Fitzpatrick also em­ploys a vet­er­ans’ con­stitu­ent ser­vice rep­res­ent­at­ive.

Mar­tin and his wife Ann both need med­ic­al at­ten­tion, and their daugh­ter is hop­ing to find avail­able in-home care or a nurs­ing home.

“I’m re­search­ing what he’s qual­i­fied for and re­search­ing fur­ther what fa­cil­it­ies would be ap­pro­pri­ate,” Lin­ton said.

Ed Nowakowski, of the Far North­east, is an Army vet­er­an of Vi­et­nam. He’s pre­par­ing to take a test to de­term­ine if his hear­ing loss is ser­vice re­lated, and Gab­ri­el and Buckley are help­ing him file the ap­pro­pri­ate pa­per­work.

“They’re great; they’ve been really help­ful,” he said.

Mark Pog­gio, of Old Somer­ton, served in the Gulf War. He re­tired from the Mar­ine Re­serve in 2005.

The VA denied a claim for treat­ment of an un­dis­closed con­di­tion, and his fath­er-in-law — the re­cently de­ceased long­time ward lead­er Mike Stack Jr. — had urged him to con­tact Schwartz.

Pog­gio has un­der­gone doc­tors’ treat­ments as his claim is pending, and he is con­fid­ent Gab­ri­el and Buckley will do all they can for him.

“I think they’ll be very help­ful,” he said. “They’ve prob­ably seen and gone through this many, many times be­fore.” ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ 

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