Chronic pain meets red tape

David E. Best, 58, served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970. He is retired from the U.S. Postal Service and lives in Fayetteville. He filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs in April 1997 that has yet to be resolved.

"I developed a problem in the military: I had pain in my legs, and most of the time it was around my knees. Sometimes my knee felt like it was going to collapse. X-rays came in negative. This went on 20 months. When I got out, the pain moved. I had no idea what was going on. It moved from my thigh and at different times, different levels of pain -- thigh, groin, thigh, other knee.

"I went to the VA over a period of 20-something years. They never found out what was going on. After 20 years, I decided to go to Duke. They found out it was arthritis of the hip. I put in a claim in 1997, and that's where it's at now. They've denied it, denied it, denied it. ...

"If you were to see my case, you would say a high school kid could figure it out in no time. They go on and on, and every time you write something, they've got to write back. It's a joke, it's a real joke. The word 'improvement' to a veteran doesn't mean much. That's just show for the public. Nobody's stupid. I've been fighting all this time, and it should have been over 10 years ago. My file folder has more than 325 pages in it. It's been to the board three or four times, and nobody's made a final decision. They don't want to make that decision. It just goes back and forth, and they'll ... make the decision and go by the last person's word. They don't read the entire record.

"I live around a lot of other soldiers, and there are a lot of soldiers who quit fighting, and that's what they want you to do. ... They deny people medical help because of their bureaucracy. They denied claims to people who actually deserved the benefits."