Veteran Decries ‘Kafkaesque’ Knot in Benefits

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A “Kafkaesque” government process is blocking benefits for a Navy medic blinded 10 years ago in an Iraqi mortar attack, he told a federal judge.
     Glenn Minney says he had served for 21 years when he was hit by mortar fire on April 18, 2005, while retrieving medical supplies during an attack on Haditha Dam in Iraq.
     The attack allegedly destroyed Minney’s vision in his right eye completely and “severely limited” vision in his left eye, plus it caused a 25 percent loss of function in the parietal and occipital lobes of his brain.
     Minney underwent a year and a half of rehabilitation for his injuries and was discharged in late 2006, according to the federal complaint he filed Monday.
     He says an Ohio hospital run by the Department of Veterans Affairs soon hired him to assist other veterans with the benefits process, but that his employers ultimately refused to accommodate his impaired eyesight with special equipment, and that other equipment was not compatible with VA computers.
     Minney finally retired in 2010 when the VA tried to have him work as a door greeter, according to the complaint. Though the job came with a significant salary decrease, Minney says he rejected the offer because his disability would make it difficult for him to actually perform the job, recognizing and greeting anyone entering the VA.
     After deductions for medical coverage, however, the disability stipend Minney began receiving in mid-2011 for himself and his two daughters amounted to just $1,200 a month.
     Minney says a nonprofit called the Blinded Veterans Association hired him last year, and that he took the job in Alexandria, Va., since the combination of salary and benefits made it possible for him to afford moving from Ohio to the metropolitan D.C. area where the cost of living is higher.
     After a year on the job with BVA, however, Minney allegedly received a letter on Feb. 15, not written in Braille, from the Office of Personnel Management, informing him for the first time that his benefits were subject to the “80 Percent Limitation.”
     Minney says the rule prevents him from finding employment that pays more than 80 percent of his VA salary without forfeiting his $1,200 stipend and health care.
     OPM informed Minney this past May that he had exceeded the limitation and that his benefits would be canceled on June 30, unable to reapply until Jan. 1, 2016, according to the complaint.
     Minney says Rep. Steve Stivers, interceded on his behalf, and that OPM told the Ohio congressman that it informed Minney of the limitation via letter in 2011.
     This letter was sent to an address Minney had not used since 2006, however, and it also was not in Braille, according to the complaint.
     Minney says OPM’s excuse for failing to accommodate him by sending a letter in a format he could read “was Kafkaesque.”
     “Mr. Minney was only receiving FERS disability benefits because the VA could not accommodate his blindness,” the complaint says.
     Minney says he has ended his employment with the BVA earlier this month but that his request for reconsideration has gone unanswered. An OPM representative allegedly communicated, however, that he “intended to deny the request.”
     The complaint seeks injunctive relief for violations of the Rehabilitation Act and Minney’s due-process rights. He is represented by Larry Tanenbaum with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld.
     Minney’s record of service, as recounted in the complaint, is inspiring.
     Before suffering debilitating injuries in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Minney provided emergency medical services to injured Marines during Operation Just Cause in Panama, Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf.
     His history of military honors includes the Purple Heart and the Presidential Unit Commendation.
     As a reservist from 1997 to 2005, Minney served as a firefighter and paramedic with the Chillicothe, Ohio, VA fire department.
     Minney was one month away from retirement on the day he was blinded in combat.

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