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Valley Veteran Hopeful VA Program Speeds Up Claims Process

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WESLACO – A 20-year battle has a Rio Grande Valley veteran pleading for help. He says his claims to the Department of Veteran Affairs are running into red tape.

Pedro Ruiz served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1990. He says he's been holding onto detailed records of his VA claims ever since. He says he carries his battle scars with him every day.

Ruiz suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, the after-effects of two strokes and hearing loss. 

"They used to fire over you and all that," says Weslaco veteran Ruiz.

For 26 years, Ruiz has carried his VA records inside a bag.

He says he has asked for help for all his ailments. Ruiz believes most of the benefits he's asked for got lost in a bureaucratic VA system.

"They come and they say, 'yeah yeah,' then they go back. The only thing I got is my hearing so far," he explains.

Though he says getting the run-around can be tiring, Ruiz continues to appeal the VA for the health coverage he needs.

"I do it. I've been doing this for years and they've been sending me here and there," he notes.

CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to the Hidalgo County Veterans Service Office.

Veterans Service Officer Felix Rodriguez tells us two new VA programs are making the claim filing and appeals process move faster.

Rodriguez tells us he's been using the VA's Rapid Appeals Modernization Program, or RAMP, which eliminates one major step in the claims process – waiting for an invitation to ask for a hearing.

Rodriguez adds he found RAMP to be efficient recently while working with a veteran.

"We checked the box where we say that we want the higher level review, plus an informal conference. My name goes here and my phone number and then the veteran signs it. Once they receive it over there, it wasn't 10 days before they received a phone call," explains Rodriguez.

Rodriguez says RAMP made the claims process more informal.

Ruiz says he takes advantage of any new program the VA offers. He tells us he will be using the RAMP program very soon.

Rodriguez says the fact that RAMP is more informal is a good thing. They can just talk to an appeals board member over the phone.

He adds that the VA has another new program in its beginning stages called Early Applicability of Appeals Modernization.

Rodriguez tells us the Early Applicability of Appeals Modernization program allows the VA Appeals Board to partner with other veterans groups to identify veterans who are dissatisfied with a decision on one of their benefits claims.

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