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 firstname.lastname@example.org