But the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, isn’t so sure about that, despite 42 years of records that prove it.
Emmerich was an Army 1st Lieutenant with the 101st Airborne Division during Vietnam, serving as an infantry platoon leader.
On Dec. 19, 1970, Emmerich was in I Corps, the northernmost sector in South Vietnam, when his platoon attempted to overtake a valley where two other platoons in his company had been unsuccessful.
Emmerich said his company commander called in an air strike, and then asked his platoon to see what they could find.
The next thing he knew, Emmerich said, he was blown backwards.
They were ambushed.
He looked down and half his left leg was gone. He was also shot in the right leg, he said.
Emmerich received several medals for his service, including a Purple Heart, and was discharged in July 1971, retiring on disability from the Army.
Last year he retired again, this time from the civilian job he held for 41 years.
Also for the past 41 years, he’s been receiving an annual clothing allowance, a benefit earned through his service. The yearly check is usually about $700 to $800, Emmerich said.
But he hasn’t received his 2012 allowance yet, he said, because the VA said its records don’t show his injury was combat-related.
Emmerich said he’s been given the runaround while trying to get the VA to acknowledge his combat injury, even though he’s supplied proof in writing time and time again and he’s been receiving the allowance for decades.
He said the money is not essential for his financial stability, but it’s the red tape, and other veterans, he worries about.
“I just hope that they get the treatment and respect they deserve, and receive all the benefits they deserve without having to go through the hassle that I have had to do,” he said.
Emmerich is required to reapply for the benefit every year, and lately, the process has been inconsistent.
“For years my application was handled by the Prosthetic Unit at the VA Hospital in East Orange. It always took months to process, but it would eventually be processed,” he said. “Then for the last few years it was processed by the VA in [New York City].”
In 2010, for example, Emmerich received a letter saying the clothing allowance was approved. He didn’t receive a letter for 2011, but he did receive the clothing allowance, he said.
For 2012, he was to apply for the benefit back with the VA regional office in East Orange.
Records show he submitted the paperwork in July 2012.
By September, he heard nothing, so he called East Orange. No one returned his call, he said.
He called again in October. November. December. January.
No one returned his calls.
Until February — six months after his first phone call.
A rep “indicated their records indicated my injury was not combat related, and to call the VA and obtain a letter from them indicating their rating decision,” Emmerich said.
Emmerich said he was shocked to hear the delay was because the VA records said his injury was not combat related. He had been receiving the allowance for 41 years, and all his paperwork showed that his injury was in the line of service.
The East Orange office said he needed to contact the VA in Washington, D.C. for a “Ratings Decision Letter.”
So he called Washington, he said.
“They said that the letter has to be completed by the regional office in East Orange,” he said.
So Emmerich turned back to the East Orange office. He said when he called, he was basically transferred from place to place without an answer or even a game plan to get the VA what it said it needed to grant the clothing allowance.
“Previously I faxed a copy of my Form DD-214 that clearly states on it ‘Separated for permanent disability. Disability 60 percent,’” he said.
“They said that was not sufficient. I’ve been doing this for the last 42 years and have never had a problem. I am so frustrated at this point, I don’t know how to resolve this.”
Emmerich said the money will not make or break him, but he’s not thinking solely about his own benefit.
“It’s really not that important [for me], but it is a VA benefit that I’m entitled to because my pants do wear where the prosthesis is,” he said. “Now, with many more amputees coming home from recent wars, I just hope they are not having the same frustration.”
He asked for Bamboozled to help.
LOOKING INTO IT
Emmerich’s concerns about other veteran amputees is valid.
The Department of Defense said as of Jan. 29, 2013, there were 1,585 Americans who lost an arm or leg in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, so we imagine there are many new vets who would be eligible for this benefit. Not to mention all those who lost limbs in past wars and military actions.
The VA said it would look into Emmerich’s combat status and the status of his benefit, but it did not have a resolution in time for publication.
We certainly hope that Emmerich’s paperwork snafu is one-of-a-kind.
We’ll let you know what happens.
ONE MORE ITEM ON PRIVACY
Bamboozled has written a few columns exploring why it’s important to keep your driver’s license number private, and why some store return policies make that very difficult.
A reader had a follow-up question: Is it legal for companies to write your driver’s license number on the front of a check when you make a purchase?
There is no law in New Jersey that specifically addresses the issue of driver’s license numbers, but N.J.S.A. 56:11-21 prohibits retailers from writing a consumer’s credit card number on a check.
Retailers are allowed to ask to see a credit card, and may write on the check the type of card and the expiration date.
Another law, N.J.S.A. 56:11-17, prohibits retailers from writing on a check more personal information about the purchaser than is necessary to process the transaction. This includes, but is not limited to, the purchaser’s address and phone number.
A driver’s license may fall under the category of information not required to process the transaction, but it is not specifically mentioned in the statute.
“Since the law is silent on this matter, then, it is legal for retailers to write a consumer’s drivers license number on a check,” said Adam Levin, a former head of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “A consumer could sue to prevent that, and under the statute may have a good chance of arguing that such information is not required for the transaction. But short of that, this is a gray area that currently falls in retailers’ favor.”