Veteran dies after 4-year fight with the VA

Published: Dec. 30, 2014 at 1:32 AM CST|Updated: Aug. 18, 2015 at 2:01 AM CDT
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The Michels family first filed for disability benefits in 2010.
The Michels family first filed for disability benefits in 2010.
Widow Janie Michels is still waiting on approval of benefits from the VA.
Widow Janie Michels is still waiting on approval of benefits from the VA.

FRANKSTON, TX (KLTV) - An East Texas widow says her Air Force veteran husband died last week of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, after 4 years of trying to convince the Veteran Affairs (VA) that he was sick.

Janie Michels said her husband, Bradley Michels, would do it all over again, if given the chance.

"He absolutely loved his country. He said it was important to fight for our rights and our freedoms." said Janie.

Bradley served in the Air Force from 1986 to 1996. He was stationed in South Korea, Germany and Arizona. His tour ended in 1996, but his wife noticed changes in his health.

"I noticed his health decline right after he got out of the military…right after he cleaned up after Desert Storm," recalls Janie. "He started having neurological problems…he had a slurred voice sometimes, and he started having cramps in the balls of his feet that went into his knee and into his thigh."

Janie believed that these symptoms pointed to ALS. In 2010, they filed for disability benefits with the VA. The claim was denied twice. Their most recent appeal was filed a few months ago.

Janie asked for ALS testing repeatedly, but Bradley's doctor said no.

"In the beginning, he said he didn't know what was wrong," said Janie. "After a lot of pushing, he said it was not ALS and that it was psychosomatic."

The Michels spent four years filing paperwork, going to doctor visits, and making calls to the VA.

Then, three weeks ago, a neurologist agreed to test Bradley for ALS. The test came back positive, but his claim for benefits remained denied.

Even with this new information and a diagnosis, the results were not instant. Janie said that she can rarely reach anyone directly at the VA, but she has received a great amount of help from the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC), an advocacy agency for veterans.

Jim Richman, Director of Claims Representation and Counsel at TVC, told us that ALS has been linked to military service.

"ALS is a presumptive condition for any veteran," said Richman. "Because they have determined medically that there's a much higher instance rate in vets than in the society at large."

This news comes too late for a 47-year-old father and husband to hear. Bradley died last week while waiting for the notification that the benefits for himself and his family would be approved.

"He died without the peace of knowing that we were going to be ok." said Janie.

Richman says he has seen many veterans go through this long process.

"The system is unnecessarily complex and sometimes chasing down specific pieces of evidence is quite time consuming." said Richman.

KLTV tried contact the VA about the status of Bradley's claim, but the toll free number led to multiple automated prompts that did not direct to a live person.

For now, Janie and her three dependent children are left to wait with only their memories and a continuing fight.

"We shouldn't have to fight anymore," said Janie. "This is just wrong. We have no way to pay rent and utilities, no way to buy groceries."

Bradley had a wish for his body to be donated to for ALS research after his death. Janie kept that wish and Bradley's remains are currently with the University of Texas Southwest in Dallas.

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