Purple Heart recipients given new priority by federal government

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Published: Apr. 5, 2019 at 3:03 PM CDT
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Right now, thousands of veterans in Wisconsin and across the United States are waiting to receive disability compensation, but starting this week, vets who received a Purple Heart, could see a big change.

For years, Joe Heil dedicated his life to serve and protect.

“I was in the Navy from 1965 to 1969,” says Heil, a Vietnam War Veteran. “I served in Vietnam from fall of ‘66 to fall of ‘67.”

“We got into the area where we were supposed to be picked up, the helicopters came back to take us back to our home base," says Heil. "We got into a fire fight and I got injured.”

Today Heil wears a Purple Heart on his hat, but for many recipients like Heil the wounds are not closed.

“Several of our members that receive Purple Hearts over there have health issues that in some issues are emergency type situations,” adds Heil, a member of the Purple Heart Chapter 550 in the Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls area.

Right now, more than 83,000 veterans across U.S have been waiting more than four months for their disability claims to be processed.

“It makes a huge difference. It's compensation,” says Adam Kohls, Assistant Veteran Services Director in Eau Claire County. “So if it's taking 125 days, it's 125 days where these veterans are not receiving any compensation for their disabilities.”

Starting April 1, Purple Heart recipients are seeing a change in the all-too-common timeline.

“The Veterans Benefits Administration has announced that they will expedite or speed up claims for Purple Heart recipients,” explains Kohls.

Eau Claire County Veteran Services says the move is another step forward in tackling a long list of backlogged claims, which topped 600,000 back in 2013.

”I’ve done a few claims like this, not for the Purple Heart recipients, but for the expedited claims and I’ve seen them turn around in three days,” adds Kohls.

Purple Heart recipients are now being added to the list of other groups receiving these benefits, including Medal of Honor recipients, POWs, terminally ill and homeless veterans.

“That's nice to see that coming,” says Heil of the new change, and while he adds it’s a step in the right direction, other groups of veterans like those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, are in need of similar priority.

“They should be up there on that list also because we are losing too many of them,” says Heil. “Next to purple heart recipients I think these veterans should be number two on the list.”

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