HAMPTON -- James Graves is a disabled Army veteran who finds himself in a battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs that's lasted almost six years.
As a member of the VA's vocational rehabilitation and employment program, Graves obtained a job as a teacher at Warwick High School in Newport News. The program's goal is to help veterans with service-related disabilities 'prepare for, find and keep suitable jobs.' This means the program will pay for the education and training needed to get the jobs.
Currently in Roanoke region, which includes Hampton Roads, there are 2,500 active participants. In Graves' case, vocational rehabilitation, or voc rehab, paid for the classes at Strayer University that he needed in order to get a provisional teaching license. Graves contends, the program left him hanging by not paying for the additional classes he needed to get his teaching certification and that was the only way he could keep his job. He points out that his rehab plan states the program goal is to 'maintain employment in education as a teacher.'
'Be the professional people I thought you were and do what you were supposed to have done and reimburse me for these classes, ' said a frustrated Graves while sitting in his home in Wythe in Hampton.
After receiving a letter from the state threatening termination from his teaching job, Graves hastily signed up for the five additional classes he needed in order to get a certification. He says it cost him more than $6,000.
'What I had to do between May and July was take these five classes and to take the two tests that's required by the state and that was required by the plan, that they were supposed to pay for,' explained Graves.
Now, six years later, he waits for a hearing with Veterans Board of Appeals in Washington, D.C. after his claim was denied in a local hearing.
'Why should I have to wait another year and half for the appeals board get to my case?'
VA public information officer, Kevin Thompson says Graves was considered rehabbed in January 2006, several months after he started his teaching job.
'If the veteran receives employment in their agreed upon goal and maintains that employment for at least 60 days, the veteran's case would be rehabilitated and what they say is successfully closed,' adds Thompson.
But Graves says there is nothing successful about a license that's only temporary, and he believes someone in the VA agrees with him. In an e-mail he obtained dated December of 2009, VA supervisor at the time, D'Laija Francis-Abdullah writes to a vocational rehabilitation officer, 'I believe that we should clean up the case by re-opening just to reimburse the veteran for the courses/test that he had to take in order to get that license.'
Graves says the e-mails never came up during his hearing. He's appealing but is angry that he has to wait for what he believes is rightfully his.