More MS news articles for Nov 2001

Disabled Vet Gets His Money

November 20, 2001
By Steven Kreytak

Thanksgiving will be a bit happier this year for Paulette Mees and her disabled husband, Andre.

After 13 years of waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to approve his disability claim, Vietnam veteran Andre Mees, 48, yesterday was handed checks worth about $270,000.

The money accounts for current and back payments awarded to Mees, of Islip, who first filed for benefits in 1988, but never saw a dime until yesterday. In some cases, Mees, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, received formal denials from the agency, and in others, his lawyer said, claims went unanswered and follow-up phone calls revealed that paperwork was lost.

"I am in disbelief. I can't comprehend it at this moment," said Paulette Mees. "Bill collectors just started calling this month. Last month was the first time we couldn't pay our bills. I was getting very nervous."

Mees, who has very little use of his arms and legs, said he and his wife "kept going and going like the Energizer battery" when he was originally denied. In a slow, drawn-out voice, Mees yesterday spoke to Rep. Steve Israel (D-Dix Hills), who pushed for the payments, and American Legion representatives and reporters from a hospital bed set up in a back room of his home.

"I am ecstatic," he said. "I would never, in my wildest dreams, think this could happen."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs' New York office said she could not comment on the case because doing so would violate Mees' privacy.

On the broader issue of staffing in the New York office, an issue Israel raised as a possible reason the case took so long to resolve, the spokeswoman, Barbara Chiariello said, "Do we have a backlog of cases? Yes. Do we have adequate staffing? I am not even going to answer that."

Paulette Mees said the benefits denials centered on a provision in the federal regulations governing disability payouts between the time a veteran serves in a war and the time that veteran gets sick. Under the law, Mees is entitled to receive disability benefits if he got multiple sclerosis within seven years of leaving the service, said his attorney, Felicia Pasculli of Bay Shore.

Mees, honorably discharged from the Navy in 1976, started showing symptoms of the debilitating disease in 1979, but he wasn't diagnosed with the disease until 1984, his wife said.

Pasculli said the couple first filed a claim for disability insurance in 1988 because they were previously unaware they were eligible.

Copyright © 2001, Newsday, Inc.