Fought with Dept. of Veterans Affairs for 2 years
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Miranda Valenti could tell a lot of stories about government bureaucracy. She has experienced it first-hand.
The Bay Ridge woman, who lost her husband John, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, two years ago, waged an ongoing battle with bureaucrats at the US Department of Veterans Affairs to receive her widow’s benefits. Her paperwork kept getting delayed, then lost, then found and delayed again.
Equally frustrating, Valenti said, was that every time got on the phone with the VA, the person at the other end asked her to repeat her and her husband’s vital information as if it was the first time she was calling.
“I must have told my story 20 times to 20 different people. I felt like I was getting a run-around,” she told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “My husband did his duty. He served his country. I felt my family deserved better from the VA,” she said.
The VA actually approved the benefits at one point, not for Valenti. Instead, the agency arranged for the payments to go to Valenti’s 11-year-old son Anthony. Young Anthony Valenti would not have been able to even cash the benefit checks. He does not have a bank account, his mother said.
Feeling desperate after months of running around in circles, Valenti reached out to US Rep. Michael Grimm’s office in Dyker Heights and asked for help. Grimm (R-C-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Staten Island) and his staff got on it right away. After a series of phone calls between the congressman’s office and the VA, the widow’s benefits were finally approved. The approval had been stuck in bureaucratic limbo. Once the matter was cleared up, Valenti also received back pay, Grimm said.
Valenti and her son Anthony recently came to Grimm’s office on 13th Avenue to thank him for helping them. “We’re very grateful. We don’t know what would have happened if he didn’t step in,” Valenti said.
John Valenti, a private in the US Army, did several tours of duty in Afghanistan. He developed a respiratory illness while on active duty and was receiving disability benefits after he returned home to Bay Ridge. He died of a heart attack two years ago. His widow was eligible for benefits, but her application was tangled up in bureaucracy, according to Grimm.
“There were simple mistakes that should not have been made,” Grimm said. “I don’t think it was done out of malice or that the VA was deliberately trying to prevent her from getting benefits. It’s just that the bureaucracy has gotten too big, too complex. The system is strained. It should have been streamlined a long time ago,” he said.
The paperwork mix-up left Grimm frustrated too. “She should have received what she needed from the VA right away. It should never have gotten to the point where she had to go to her congressman for help,” he said.