One North Carolina woman is proving that sometimes no one can look out for you the way a sister can.
Ciat Shabazz’s brother Harry Smith served in the Marines from 1972 to 1975, and when he came home, he expected for the Veterans Affairs (VA) medical service to help him take care of his health. In 2005, he began to suffer stomach pain and a number of other alarming symptoms. Despite repeated visits to the W.G. Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina, doctors didn’t take his concerns seriously and sent him home with painkillers or antibiotics instead of ordering an x-ray or colonoscopy.
Finally in 2006, Shabazz took her brother to Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where doctors diagnosed him with a stomach tumor. His health had diminished during the year he didn’t receive treatment, and two years later, he died.
Shabazz turned her grief into a mission by forming the nonprofit Harry’s Veteran Community Outreach Services, through which she helps vets with their battles with the VA in addition to a variety of other services. On the nonprofit’s website is a link to click: “How can Harry help me?”
Shabazz’s office is always buzzing with phone calls and visitors, and her file cabinets overflow with the paperwork that she’s helping veterans complete. Recently, two Vietnam vets whose claims had been denied by the V.A. came to see her for help in filing appeals. “It looks to me that their records clearly indicate that their injuries are service-related,” Shabazz told Scott Sexton of the Winston-Salem Journal. “The appeals process can take up to two years. It looks as if the VA is dealing with its backlog by just denying the claims and moving them into appeals.” Her hunch may be right: In March 2013, the VA reported a backlog of 611,000 cases, according to Sexton.
Shabazz will help these veterans and all the others who come to her as a way of honoring the memory of her brother. “My brother died because the VA failed to diagnose and treat him in a timely manner,” she said. “As a result of that, I’m in pain. I feel the men and women who served this country deserve to be treated fairly and be compensated for injuries sustained during the time they served our country.”
With Ciat Shabazz on their side, many more veterans are likely to get a fair shake.