Voices from Phoenix: Veterans move to fill health care gaps while they wait on disability benefits

Jeff Severns Guntzel
Senior reporter
Public Insight Network

Ever since we first reported on the backlog of disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs, we’ve been hearing stories from combat veterans who are waiting on disability checks while they struggle with the transition from life at war to life at home.

In Phoenix, where the backlog is severe — more than 23,000 veterans disability claims are pending there — we talked to homeless veterans, mixed martial arts fighters and a newspaper columnist who’s spending his retirement as an advocate for veterans and their families. Their service records criss-cross decades, wars and generations, but they share a common experience in filing for disability benefits claims at the VA — and in the ways they’re working with and around the overtaxed system.

Coast Guard veteran Art Sloane was 70 years old when he started his Veterans Voice column in The Arizona Republic. That was seven years ago. Today, advocating for veterans is his life. He’s active in a local effort to help homeless veterans called Arizona Stand Down, and he’s still writing the weekly column.

>> More on Art Sloane, in a report we filed for KJZZ, Phoenix’s local public radio station

Kyle Dubay, a former Army combat medic who served three tours in Iraq, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his second deployment. Back home, he’s found a release in mixed martial arts.

He trains regularly at the Spartan Fighting Academy in Mesa, Ariz. That’s where he met Amanda Sonday. The two became inseparable. Amanda and Kyle talked of building and maintaing a relationship while navigating PTSD.

>> Kyle Dubay and Amanda Sonday tell their story

Another former Army combat medic, Eric Batory, 27, traces the roots of his PTSD to the first of his two tours in Iraq. But it was his last deployment — in Afghanistan — that really sent him spinning.

Batory describes his struggle to find stability back at home, and how he’s being helped by an organization called Arizona Military Family Relief Fund.

>> More on Eric Batory and the fund that’s helping him as he waits for benefits

The story continues

Does any of this sound familiar? Please help us continue to tell this story by sharing your experience — or that of someone you love — with us.