SHABBY TREATMENT OF SIX-YEAR VETERAN MAKES CASE FOR THE DISMISSAL OF VETERANS AFFAIRS AGENT … FRIERI DOES NOT RESPOND TO VETERAN’S CHARGES OF ABUSIVE TREATMENT … DOES SILENCE = ADMISSION?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, OCT. 25, 2012) — This summer, THE PLANET published information questioning the competency of the city of Pittsfield’s veterans’ affairs agent, Rosanne Frieri (see PLANET, June 12 and June 14, archives). The columns drew a lot of attention, since Frieri is politically connected. When someone politically connected sneezes, lots of other people catch cold.
Over the years, Frieri has burrowed her way into city government with an ease that one might expect for a trifecta minority (female, lesbian, veteran) in an excessively liberal state. She’s so good at the game that she’s convinced two successive mayors, Jimmy Ruberto and Dan Bianchi, that she’s OK, an asset rather than a liability.
Is she, however, merely a demographic asset, or does she do the job for Berkshire County veterans? THE PLANET expects, though we are not sure, that being able to check politically correct demographic boxes comes in handy when reporting to the state and federal governments for various purposes, including funding.
Those who criticized our criticism of Frieri did so largely along the lines of: “You’re taking pot shots based on anonymous critics. Give us an example.” Well, we weren’t taking pot shot. Rather, we were reporting on where the evidence took us. This included testimony of veterans who applied to Frieri’s office for help.
Specifics: The Case of Ed Shepardson
To those who wanted specifics, we have such a case, which can be used as a specific illustration to demonstrate the general assertion. We contacted Frieri’s office asking for her comments to this story, but she did not respond.
THE PLANET has uncovered a case of what looks like profound disservice to a six-year veteran who served his country and, many years later, asked if he might qualify for benefits. We investigated, uncovered the relevant documents, and submit them to you with the victim’s consent. He has allowed us to post his real name. We leave it to readers to judge if the Pittsfield Veteran’s Affairs officer provided good service.
Keep in mind that Frieri’s job as veteran’s affairs agent, for which she receives$47,700 plus benefits, is to serve veterans. She must be willing and able to fight like a banshee to help needy vets negotiate the mazes of state and federal bureaucracies. She must not take no for an answer, unless there’s a damn good reason for doing so. She must pursue cases with dogged determination.
Ask yourself: She Frieri do this in the case of Ed Shepardson?
To begin with, veterans’ services and benefits in the city of Pittsfield constitute a selective program based on four principal conditions:
1. Military service, active duty of at least 180 days or 90 days if the service comes in war time.
2. Honorable discharge or separation under honorable conditions.
3. Legal residence in the city of Pittsfield.
4. Financial need.
Back and Forth, Back and Forth
Pittsfield resident Ed Shepardson joined the U.S. Army Reserve ion 1970. He served six months, taking combat infantry training at Ft. Polk, La. followed by a reserve commitment of five and a half years. That commitment consisted of service one weekend a month and two weeks each summer.
On May 24, 2012, he wrote the following message to Frieri:
“I served in the US Army Reserve from 1970 until 1973 and then in the Vermont National Guard until 1976. Basic at Fort Campbell, AIT at Fort Polk. Honorably discharged. I’m now 62. Are there any benefits available to me or how can I find out?”
‘if you have an honorable discharge you should be able to enroll in the VA health care system.”
On June 1, Shepardson phone Frieri to obtain more information. He left a voicemail requesting a return phone call. Shepardson says that call was never returned. On June 14 at 10:30 a.m., he sent an e-mail to Frieri, once again describing his military service:
“I participated in the online chat you had a few weeks ago and I need help in determining the benefits available to me. Please advise. I also need advice on how to get a copy of my discharge papers. Thanks.” Shepardson then repeated the summation of his military service he initially sent on June 1.
That same day, at 1:04 p.m., Frieri wrote back:
Hello Ed, Nice to hear from you … We should be able to provide you with your discharge. Do you live in Pittsfield?”
Shepardson says that despite Frieri’s claim of providing discharge papers, she was unable to do so. He says he obtained them by writing to the National Personnel Records Center: “I received two, and only two, documents. The first, D-214, was my release from active duty. [The second was my] transfer to the United States Army Reserve. … The second document, NGB Form 22, clearly describes my final discharge at HONORABLE and the length of total services as 6 YEARS- 0 MONTHS-0 DAYS.”
Shepardson made an appointment to see Frieri. That meeting took place at 9 a.m., July 17. Shepardson says he presented Frieri with the two forms. He says she told him to return on July 23 and bring with him a birth certificate, an income statement, as well as mortgage and tax information.
Shepardson did as directed, and on July 23, he says Frieri told him “that I would receive a monthly stipend to supplement my Social Security. That stipend would increase after three months. [She told me] I would also be eligible for VA medical and was given enrollment forms.” Shepardson says he returned the completed forms to Frieri on July 24, 2012.
Fly Enters the Ointment, and It Wasn’t David Hedison
On Aug. 8, Shepardson says, Frieri called him to tell him his case had been rejected. He asked why. Frieri said she did know, but she said she would resubmit the papers. On Aug. 13, Shepardson received a letter from the VA in Leeds, Mass, requesting his discharge papers. On Aug. 21, he sent the following e-mail message to Frieri, at 8:29 a.m.:
“Haven’t heard from you in a couple of weeks. Where do we stand? Last I heard from you was that I was refused because I did not serve in wartime, and I did.”
Later that same day, Frieri responded tersely, with four words: “Please bring in proof.”
Once again, Shepardson says he hand-delivered his two forms (D-214 and NGB 22) to Frieri. “Both forms show clearly that my service occurred from 1970 to 1976. The Vietnam War began in 1959 and ended in 1975,” Shepardson said, adding that he followed up the hand delivery with this e-mail, sent to Frieri Aug. 22, at 7:11 a.m.:
“Were the papers I dropped off yesterday proof enough or do I need to send for more documentation?”
Frieri replied: “I haven’t looked at them today, will forward them to my authorizer ASAP.”
Shepardson kept his powder dry, like a good soldier. He heard nothing for the next five days, so he sent another e-mail to Frieri (Aug. 27):
“Have you been able to ascertain if the documents that I dropped off to you last week are sufficient proof that I served during a war? Getting a little anxious.”
Frier replied: “Just waiting for a confirmation from Boston.”
If that was the case, why didn’t Frieri keep in touch with Shepardson? Why not routine updates, just as a common courtesy, as professionals do?
On Sept. 7, after another 11 days of silence, Frieri sent Shepardson this e-mail: “Can you resend the DD214s that show the active duty please? Thanks.”
Shepardson says he called immediately. He says Frieri told him he was not eligible for benefits because his active-duty service “was for training only.” Shepardson says, “She was rude and combative, and claimed that I had misled her about the nature of [my] service. I countered that every piece of information that I had given her clearly stated my exact military service. She then asked me to send her proof that I had served six years in total. I immediately e-mailed her the NGB Form 22 again, which states that I served six years, zero months, and zero days.”
Frieri took another three days before responding by e-mail on Sept. 13:
“Ed, this is the response from my authorizer: ‘No, this is a NGB-22, Discharge from National guard. This states how much reserve and National Guard time he had.'”
Shepardson responded: “I’m confused. You asked me for something that showed my total service. Live 27 does that (6 years). Line 25 shows my length of service in the USAR. Sorry to be such a dope, but what am I missing or what else do I need to provide?”
Frieri did not respond.
Let’s repeat that: Frieri did not respond.
On Sept. 20, 2012, an exasperated Ed Shepardson sent this e-mail to Frieri:
“I need a definite answer, one way of the other, if I am entitled to any benefits. If I’m not, i’ll need to scramble. PLEASE let me know. Thank you.”
Shepardson received this two-word reply:
On Sept. 21, Shepardson answered: “I’m curious as to the reason.”
Frieri never replied, Shepardson says. With that, apparently, the veteran’s agent slammed the door shut on a man in need of assistance.
THE PLANET checked Shepardson’s records. Indeed, his discharge papers, line 27, has an entry for “TOTAL SERVICE FOR PAY PURPOSES — YEARS 6, MONTHS 0, DAYS 0.”
THE PLANET is not an expert in veteran’s benefits or how they are computed. On the surface of it, though, it would appear that a man who served his country for six years should be entitled to some help. From this exchange, it does not appear as if Frieri went pedal-to-the-metal for Ed Shepardson.
Even, for the sake of argument and assuming he does qualify, our question becomes this: Should anyone, let alone a veteran, have to put up with such rude, disrespectful service? Should an officer of the city who treats her constituents this way be retained in her position? It’s one thing to talk about customer service and transparency, but unless the corner office begins to act in cases like this, all we have is a load of hot air.
THE PLANET RINGS WITH LAUGHTER. OF OTHER LAUGHTER VAIN, DULLNESS, GOOD QUEEN, REPEATS THE JEST AGAIN.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.