May 24, 2013 Updated: May 24, 2013 at 9:14 pm
The day after The Gazette published the story of wounded Afghanistan war veteran Kash Alvaro, he finally caught a break.
Alvaro, who suffers from seizures and failing vision from a traumatic brain injury from combat, had been waiting for six months to hear if Veterans Affairs would give him health care and expected to wait many more months.
A massive backlog at the VA means it can take three years for wounded veterans in Colorado to get a hearing, according to local veterans lawyers.
But Monday, the day after The Gazette's "Other Than Honorable" investigative series began, Alvaro got word from the VA that his hearing is weeks away.
"I was shocked. It's good. Thank god," said Alvaro, who is now staying in Arvada at another veteran's house. "On Friday there was no date in sight. On Monday they called. Maybe I can finally see a doctor."
A spokesman for the VA hospital in Denver said the scheduling of the hearing and publication of The Gazette's series is coincidental.
Mitch Short of the Sawaya Law firm in Denver, which has one of the state's largest case loads of clients seeking VA benefits, disagreed.
"I'm sure the story had something to do with it. The VA is getting so much criticism lately," he said, adding the three-year wait continues to get longer. "It kills guys. They can't wait this long. It's atrocious to think guys willing to give their life for the country come back injured and can't get benefits. When you see these people and realize how desperate they are, it makes you sick. I wish The Gazette could write a story about every single one of our clients."
Alvaro has a hearing to determine his eligibility for care on June 18, he said. If the VA determines he is eligible for benefits, he can get care for his combat-related medical issues immediately. He may also qualify for disability payments and other benefits, though that process can take several more months, Short said.
"I'm excited," Alvaro said. "I know its still a month away, but finally I'll be able to get help, I hope, maybe get healthy again, that's all I want."
Alvaro estimates he's visited the local emergency room more than 80 times in the past year for medical care. He was discharged from the Army in January 2012 with an other-than-honorable discharge that bars him from receiving benefits. He racked up punishments for being late to formation, missing appointments, getting in an argument and going AWOL - behaviors that can by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury.
Another of the soldiers The Gazette focused on is still awaiting psychiatric care. Sgt. Paul Sasse, who was released from the El Paso County jail in April, was put in the wounded soldier unit at Fort Carson with the understanding that he would receive inpatient psychiatric care. Sasse, who has a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, was arrested in July for beating his wife and assaulting the responding law enforcement officers. He has not yet received that care. The Army sent him to the VA hospital in Denver last week and after three days the hospital sent him back, saying he was too angry, his mother, Sarah Ingram, said.
"He's getting group therapy at Fort Carson and they have him doing yoga and going kayaking," she said. "I guess doing yoga is better than sitting in jail, but I'm worried he is not getting enough help. He is increasingly frustrated and paranoid. His memory is worsening and he keeps repeating himself. He is a ticking timebomb. My son could hurt himself and someone else and I'm not sure Fort Carson can offer a level of treatment to keep that from happening."
She said Friday she continues to push the Army to send him to inpatient treatment.
Contact Dave Philipps