CHEROKEE COUNTY, TX (KLTV) - Bradley Michels, an Air Force veteran who served in Korea and Germany, died last month due to complications with ALS. His widow, Janie, continued to fight with Veteran Affairs (VA) for benefits after his death.
This fight for benefits began in 2010 when Bradley first filed his claim with the VA.
Janie contacted KLTV in December, and after the report aired, our newsroom received a call that the Regional Office would be reviewing Ms. Michels' claim.
Today Janie got some long-anticipated news.
While in the office of Cherokee County Veteran Service Officer David Thomason, she received a phone call from the Veterans Benefits Administration.
Larry Meador, Assistant Veterans Service Center Manager, told her that service connection for ALS had been granted retroactively.
The VA approved her husband's claim and would be commencing financial benefits that will start coming to her immediately.
"Thank you so much. I wish my husband could know that," she said.
As a county employee, Thomason helps families like the Michels with the VA. He got involved with the Michels' case in July of 2014.
"It's long overdue, obviously" said Thomason. "I'm glad that they have made a decision, finally."
Veteran service officers like Thomason help veterans and their families navigate the process of filing paperwork or claims with the VA.
As far as Janie is concerned, it's a battle that people who fought for this country should not have to encounter.
"I just wish it would be easier for other families…" said Janie. "I fought on my own for four years before I knew that there was somebody to help me."
Thomason recommended that those having trouble dealing with the VA benefits process contact their local county veterans service officer.
National organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Disabled American Veterans are non-profits that also provide assistance.
Bradley was officially diagnosed with ALS in the weeks just before his death. Thomason said that ALS is categorized by the VA as a presumptive illness.
"…if there are other folks out there that are dealing with ALS, all you have to be was in the service." said Thomason. "If you came down with ALS….you can get help."
Marlan Waldrop, director of the Veterans Benefits Administration in Houston, said that the VA regional office took a closer look at the Michels' claim after seeing KLTV's December 30, 2014 report.
"We review the daily news and we look out for things like this." said Waldrop. "We just started trying to coordinate… so we could take care of Janie and her family."
There are 519,000 claims for benefits pending with the VA, said Waldrop. "This is a forty percent reduction of the number of claims we had pending in July of 2012."
"It won't bring my husband back," said Janie. "But it will make things less stressful and better for me and my kids."