For the first time in history, local residents had personal access for help with federal issues in Lehighton.
Marta Gabriel, Senator Patrick J. Toomey's Lehigh Valley regional manager, was at State Rep. Doyle Heffley's Lehighton office all day on Thursday to help local residents with issues such as Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Affairs and immigration.
"This is the first time a representative from Senator Toomey's came to Lehighton," said State Rep. Heffley. "This is a big thing for the local residents."
"I'm happy to be here," said Gabriel. "I will help residents with any issues relating to the federal government."
Gabriel said Sen. Toomey's has offices in the Lehigh Valley, but has started offering personal assistance to residents of Schuylkill, Berks, Monroe and Carbon counties on site. Thursday was her first visit to Lehighton.
"We're going start a schedule and we will be coming to Carbon County all the time," said Gabriel.
"Nothing like a Senator helping you to get answers," said Heffley. "I'm thankful that Marta is providing this extension to federal offices, whether its Medicare, Medicaid or veterans issues. She will be coming once a month - whatever day she chooses to be here. There will be a set date."
"We are happy to be here and bring the Senator's office to you," she said.
Gabriel was busy throughout the day.
Appointments were scheduled for 15 minute increments. She was able to discuss a variety of issues with local residents.
Robert Graver of Summit Hill was one of the many residents seeking help. He met with Gabriel to help him with a veterans affairs issue that has had him upset for several years and hasn't been resolved.
Graver said his issues with Veterans Affairs began in September 2008 when he requested an increase in his disability compensation. His request was denied in January 2009 and he appealed it the following month. Then didn't hear from the V.A. again for months.
"In October 2009, I was told that there would be a mobile video conference set up and that my number 400 on the list," said Graver.
Graver said he asked for help from Carbon County Veterans Affairs officer Henry Desrosiers.
"Even with Desrosiers help, I was told that I would not have my appeal heard until late 2012.
"My disability presently is set at 30 percent," said Graver. "I am actually 70 to 90 percent disabled because I have diabetes, hypertension, arthritis and poor hearing. I also was recently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because of my time spent in Vietnam."
Graver said that almost every joint in his body is affected by arthritis.
"I was in the Army for 22 years active duty," he said. "I literally spent my entire adult life in service to the community. I was subjected to Agent Orange in Vietnam and I have a Purple Heart because I was injured in combat."
"I was also in the Civil Air Patrol for four years and the National Guard for a year," he said. He also served on the Panther Valley School Board for four years.
He was appointed by the court to serve on the House of Representatives Board of Public Assistance in Carbon County.
"I lived in some really primitive conditions in Vietnam and I am still being diagnosed with new illnesses," he said.
The irony of Graver receiving 30 percent of veterans benefits is that his Army retirement compensation was cut by 30 percent when he began receiving the veterans benefits.
"I am paying my own disability compensation," he said, laughing at his own statement.
"You have to laugh or you will be crying," he joked.
Graver said that he is "totally frustrated."
"I'm not asking for 100 percent disability," he said. "I can't perform the simplest of tasks. I try to stay active as I can because I don't want to lose mobility. I'm afraid that if I don't use my knees that they will lock up on me."
Graver said that he is frustrated by the long wait.
"Why should I have to wait four years for a hearing?" he questioned. "I've never had any contact from the VA since October 2009."
Graver noted that he utilizes physicians at the V.A. in Allentown and Wilkes-Barre for his medical care so they have access to his all his updated medical information.
"In 1981, I retired," he said. "I was in law enforcement and I was the Army recruiter for Lehighton from 1973 to 1979 and then I went back to Germany where I was the chief drug enforcement officer for the 3rd Infantry Division. I coordinated an area about one third the size of Pennsylvania."
Graver said his complaint about the wait isn't just for himself, but for all military who served.
"I feel that this is a slap in the face after all the years that I served," he said.
Graver asked, "How many fellow veterans died waiting for their claims to be heard?"