7 On Your Side I-Team helps wounded veteran get full VA disability benefits
BETHESDA, Md. (WJLA) - He put his life on the line, losing a leg in Afghanistan while serving his country. But an Army soldier being treated at Walter Reed is now fighting for benefits his family believes he should get. And now they've got 7 On Your Side.
When Sergeant Eric Hunter risked his life for his country the second time, he came home with more hardware than just the Purple Heart medal. He’s got a prosthetic device on his right leg and chunks of metal holding together his left.
“He stepped on the bomb the day before our one-year wedding anniversary,” says Kenna Hunter, Sergeant Hunter’s wife.
The incident happened in 2012. It was the day one step set Hunter back a thousand more. Kenna Hunter explains, “I've been at his bedside every single day. I've watched the blood, the sweat, the tears and all the pain he's been through.”
Hunter, now 27, had 60 surgeries. He experienced the loss of his right leg and countless hours of physical therapy to hold onto his left. It’s become normal for his family to watch him fight. Just not like this.
“It is kind of like a slap in the face,” Sgt. Hunter said.
The soldier’s latest scar comes courtesy, not of war, but from a battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs. This week the agency gave Hunter a disability rating of 90%. The decision, Hunter believes, shortchanges the remaining leg he's struggled to save but can barely use.
“I have a lot of muscle tissue, nerve damage. My ankle locks up and doesn't move anymore,” Hunter said, “I expected better (from the rating). It just didn't happen.”
The Hunter family expected a 100% disability rating given Eric’s injuries – which include more than just his legs. And they're not alone.
Bethesda Doctor Craig Bash has spent decades independently evaluating soldiers fighting their VA ratings. Eric Hunter is now one of them.
“From what I can see, he's underrated in a couple areas that would make a big difference in his overall rating,” Bash told ABC7.
The difference, just 10 percent, is a vast divide in benefits. 7 On Your Side has learned that would drop Hunter's monthly disability payment by more than a thousand dollars. It could also impact housing and education for his family.
But when Kenna Hunter went public on social media and with ABC7, they say the VA took action swiftly. Yesterday the family says it was contacted by a physician from the VA who indicated there had been a mistake or miscalculation and promised to change Hunter’s rating to full disability. A spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs tells 7 On Your Side the case is under review and declined to comment further for now.
Even if the change is made for Sergeant Hunter, he wants more. Not for himself, but for other soldiers.
“The most important thing is making sure people coming back in the future don't have to go through this, that it’s that much easier for them,” Hunter said.
If you’ve experienced a problem with your disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs and are willing to share your story, 7 On Your Side wants to hear from you. Email I-Team Investigator Joce Sterman at firstname.lastname@example.org.