SCHUMER VISITS DISABLED WNY VETERAN DALE DART, WHO HAS BEEN WAITING TWO YEARS FOR VA TO MAKE HIS HOME WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBLE; VET SUFFERS FROM SERIOUS ILLNESS SUSTAINED WHILE SERVING IN IRAQ AND KUWAIT & IS STILL CONFINED TO HIS BASEMENT – SENATOR CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION TO ENSURE VA DELAY NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN
The VA Previously Approved Home Improvements on Dart’s Home To Add an Accessible Bathroom and Bedroom for Dart, But Bureaucratic Red Tape Caused Over Two Years of Delay on the Project; Now, After Much Wait & Pressure, Construction That Was Halted Due To VA Hang-ups Will Finally Begin Again
After Pressure From Schumer, The VA Finally Selected a Contractor, Who Will Move The Wheelchair Accessible Addition Project Forward; This Hold Up & Lack of Coordination In The VA Resulted in Two Years of Waiting; Schumer Wants The VA to Make Sure This Never Happens Again To Another Veteran & Allow Construction to Get Back on Track Next Week
Schumer: VA Investigation Is Needed To Ensure What Happened To Dale Dart Will Not Happen to Other Veterans
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today, in Hamburg, visited Dale Dart at his home and launched his push for an investigation to ensure the horrible situation Dart has had to endure over the last two years will never happen again. Schumer explained that, two years ago, the Veterans Administration (VA) approved both internal and external home improvements to the Dart home in order to construct a wheelchair accessible addition. Dart is a Gulf War veteran who suffers from multiple sclerosis – linked to the use of depleted uranium in weapons used by U.S. Armed Forces during his time in Iraq – and has been confined to his basement because it is the only wheelchair accessible space in his home. In order to restore basic quality of life for a man who suffered serious injuries while serving his country, the VA approved these home improvements. However, following initial approval, a lack of internal communication within the VA over a second contractor needed to finish the work resulted in the project being halted, and more waiting for Dart and his family. Following Schumer’s urging last week, the VA will finally designate that second contractor needed to restart construction. Schumer said that while this is good news for Dale Dart and his family, it took far too long, and the process was far too difficult for the family. Therefore, Schumer is pushing for an investigation of the VA’s practices when it comes to approving and completing home improvements for disabled veterans. Schumer is therefore urging the VA Inspector General to investigate and ensure what has happened to Dale Dart will never happen again.
“The reality is waiting two years for answers is egregious, that is why I am calling on the VA Inspector General to look at how this happened and ensure such a travesty does not happen again to more veterans who suffer serious illness after serving our country. Dale Dart protected this country when he bravely served overseas, but the sad truth is the VA did not work to protect him upon his return home. After two years of red tape, only after my urging did the VA act to clear the bureaucratic hurdles and allow for construction on the wheelchair accessible addition to his home to resume. That should not have been the case,” said Senator Schumer. “While I’m pleased the VA is acting now to make the situation right, this kind of delay to improve the basic quality of life for a soldier who served his country should never have happened and the Dart family should have been in the know every step of the way.”
“This has been a harrowing experience for our family. We have spent countless hours on the phone, pouring over plans, and fighting to complete this project,” said Pamela Dart, Dale’s sister-in-law. “No one who served their country should have to go through this, which is why we asked Senator Schumer to look into fixing this situation so other veterans do not have to go through what we have gone through. We are grateful he has taken on this cause, and for his advocacy on behalf of all veterans.”
Schumer explained that when this project originally began, two VA programs – Independent Living and Specially Adaptive Housing (SAH) – both agreed that the contractor for the entire project would be KAZ Construction. After two years of planning, they broke ground last month. Around the same time, however, the VA told the Dart family a second contractor for the interior work would be needed, as it involved two different government programs. Schumer said the Dart family made multiple calls to the VA and was not provided any answers from the second contractor for weeks. As a result, the family has continued to wait while the process became mired in red tape. Schumer said that to make matters worse, the contractor doing the exterior work could not communicate with the second contractor doing the interior work, who would be in charge of the electrical wiring, plumbing, hardwood floors, and other related work. As a result, the project and construction of the wheelchair accessible home addition completely halted on June 9th.
Last week, following Schumer’s urging, the VA said it would finally designate that second contractor needed to restart construction. Schumer said that while this is good news for Dale Dart and his family, it took far too long and the process was far too difficult for the family. As a result, he called for an immediate investigation to ensure this will never happen to another veteran. Schumer said that there are many other veterans like Dart who made enormous sacrifices in the name of protecting their country, and they should not have to fight to utilize programs meant to help and protect our veterans. Schumer said in many of these cases, bureaucratic hurdles prevents veterans from making the necessary additions and improvements to their homes in a timely manner, and the delay can cause a loss in basic quality of life. Some may not have supportive family members, like Dart does, to help them navigate the process, and therefore may not get the help they need and deserve.
Given the lengthy process the Dart family had to endure, Schumer is demanding the VA not only provide the family answers as to why they had to wait so long but also launch an internal investigation to ensure this scenario does not happen again. Schumer said an investigation of the VA’s practices by the VA Inspector General is vital to uncovering what exactly went wrong for Dale Dart and his family. Schumer would like the VA Inspector General to look into the process of approving and constructing home improvements and additions for veterans. Schumer said the Inspector General should look at the causes of such lengthy wait times and recommend a change in VA policy, if necessary. Schumer is also asking that the Inspector General to look into what guidance, if any, is provided to veterans upon approval for such programs.
Schumer said the VA should have been in communication with the Dart family while they sought contractors to complete the initial work and the interior work. However, this did not happen and the Dart family was in the dark until June 9th when construction of the wheelchair accessible home addition was completely halted. Schumer intervened and wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald to demand the VA make a decision on which company would complete the interior work immediately so the project could resume. Last Friday, the VA informed the family that they had made a decision on the second contractor and the project would resume as a result. While Schumer said he was pleased the project is back on schedule, he called for the investigation to ensure that this problem does not repeat itself. Schumer hopes the investigation will allow the VA to overhaul their review process and ensure that veterans are getting their home additions approved in an expedited manner. Schumer also said that if any legislative fix should present itself, he will work with the VA to author a bill.
In addition, during his visit to Buffalo, Senator Schumer finally met and shook hands with Major Patrick Miller, an Allegany native and Western New York service member. Their meeting comes after Schumer learned of Major Miller’s heroism and submitted into the Congressional Record a passage to honor and recognize him for his bravery during the tragic Fort Hood shooting in April 2014. Major Miller was born and raised in Allegany and began his service with the United States Army in 2003. He was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas in 2013 and acted heroically after he was shot in the abdomen and severely injured during the shooting that took place on its campus in April 2014. Despite this injury, he led seven others on the base to safety and alerted base security so that they could move others to safety. The Senator thanked Major Miller for his exemplary service and bravery.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the VA Inspector General appears below:
Dear Deputy Inspector Griffin,
I write today on behalf of my constituent, Dale Dart, a disabled Gulf War veteran who resides in Hamburg, NY. Dale has multiple sclerosis, linked to the use of depleted uranium in weapons used by the U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq during his service. He is confined to a wheelchair and currently spends most of his days in his parents' basement, as it is the only space in his home that is wheelchair accessible. Two years ago, the Veteran's Administration approved a series of wheelchair accessible additions to Dart's home through the VA's Specially Adaptive Housing (SAH) and Independent Living (IL) programs. Since Dart's approval for the programs, however, the process of selecting contractors for the work on the home has stalled the progress. As a result, the work approved on this home is still incomplete. I urge your office to launch an investigation into the VA's processes for selecting contractors under the SAH and IL programs, for providing veterans with guidance once they are approved for SAH and IL, and into the VA's practices in communicating the progress of a project to the veteran once he or she is selected.
For the past two years, Dale Dart has been working to get a wheelchair-accessible addition on his home. After two years of planning, Kaz Construction, the approved contractor for the project, broke ground last month in May 2015. Around the same time, the VA notified the family that the project requires an additional contractor for the interior work on the home. Just days ago, after persistent calls from the Dart family and from my office, the VA designated a second contractor for interior of the home under the Independent Living program. However, the VA's delay in naming the second contractor caused the project to come to a complete halt as Kaz Construction could not communicate with the interior contractor regarding a plumbing issue. As a result of the confusion and lack of communication within the VA, the Dart family has continued to wait for critical upgrades to the home. It is troubling and problematic that the family was not made aware of the requirement of a second contractor until two years after the project was approved.
This lack of intra-agency communication and lack of communication with the family receiving the grant is troubling. Veterans who serve our country should not wait years on end for VA-assisted home upgrades that will improve their quality of life. I ask that you swiftly launch an investigation into the VA's practices in communicating the progress of an SAH project to veterans once selected for the grant, the VA's practices in providing families with guidance so that they understand the SAH and IL process, and the VA's process for selecting contractors under the SAH, IL, and other VA grant programs.
If you require more information, please contact my office.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
A copy of Senator Schumer’s initial letter to the VA appears below:
Dear Secretary McDonald,
I write today on behalf of my constituent, Dale Dart, a disabled Gulf War veteran who resides in Hamburg, NY. Dale has multiple sclerosis, linked to the use of depleted uranium in weapons used by U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq. He is confined to a wheelchair, and currently spends most of his days in his parents’ basement as it is the only space in the house that is wheelchair accessible. Through Specially Adaptive Housing program, the VA has pledged to complete this work outside and inside the Dart home. This is appropriate and appreciated. However, due to seemingly endless bureaucratic red tape, lack of effective intra-agency coordination and a lack of urgency, the necessary work to make Mr. Dart’s home wheelchair accessible has dragged on for two years. This is far too long, and I strongly urge the VA to promptly select a contractor to complete the remaining work, set forth a clear timeline, and convey this plan to the Dart family as soon as possible.
For the past two years, Dale and his family have been working to get a wheelchair-accessible addition on his family home, which would include an accessible bedroom and a bathroom. The Department of Veterans Affairs approved this addition two years ago, but the Dart family continues to face red tape and challenges, and this veteran continues to suffer.
After two years of planning, Kaz Construction, the approved contractor for the project, broke ground last month. Around the same time, however, the VA notified the family that the project actually requires an additional contractor for the interior work on the home, because the project involves two different government programs. The VA has not yet designated a second contractor for the interior work on the project, which includes hardwood floors, electrical wiring, plumbing, and other related work. The Dart family has made multiple calls to the VA, without any concrete answers about the second contractor. What’s worse is that because the contractor doing the building work cannot communicate with the contractor who will be doing the interior work, the project came to a complete halt due to a plumbing issue.
This lack of communication, foresight, and planning on the part of the VA is troubling and more needs to be done, and fast, to complete this much-deserved, yet too-long delayed project. It seems that one element of the VA is not communicating with another element of the VA, and neither is doing an acceptable job of communicating with this veteran and his family. The Dart family should have been made well aware of any requirements when the project was first approved two years ago.
I ask that your office immediately communicate with the Dart family and the second contractor, and clearly communicate any other outstanding requirements for this project. I hope to see a quick resolution so that the project can move forward without further delay. Dale Dart served his country, and he has waited long enough for this work to his home, which will vastly improve his quality of life.
If you require more information, please reach out to my office.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
CC: Donna Mallia
Director, Buffalo VA Regional Benefit Office