VA 'wakes up,' sends vet $18,144
February 4, 2005

BY CHERYL L. REED Staff Reporter

A decorated veteran who suffered permanent injuries after he was stabbed, shot and frozen in World War II has received an unexpected check for $18,144 from the Chicago office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Arco Ciancanelli, 80, of Glenwood, didn't know the VA had initiated a "special review" of his case two days after his picture appeared on the front page of this newspaper.

That review found at least one "clear and unmistakable error" in Ciancanelli's disability claims.

"I've complained and complained to the VA for years and I never got anything until it appeared in the Sun-Times," Ciancanelli said. "That story woke them up."

Hurt in World War II

Ciancanelli's fight with the Chicago VA office was detailed in a Dec. 26 article that also disclosed the agency's Chicago office has ranked among the stingiest in the nation for more than 70 years.

Ciancanelli—whose war medals include the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, Silver Star and a Purple Heart—was upset that the VA had only rated him 50 percent disabled, which provided him about $700 a month. Ciancanelli was shot in the leg, stabbed in the wrist and suffered severe frostbite to both legs.

In 1993, VA doctors performed bypass surgery on Ciancanelli's legs. After that the VA awarded him 10 percent disability and he started receiving a $90 check each month. In 1997, the VA raised his disability rating to 50 percent. Today Ciancanelli is unable to walk more than a block at a time and buys shoes two sizes too large for his discolored and wooden-looking feet.

Veterans' representatives have said claims of World War II veterans such as Ciancanelli are among the most error-ridden.
"What they've done to me, they must have done to a lot of guys. It's the cheap way out," said Ciancanelli. "If it wasn't for you guys, I wouldn't have gotten anything."

The five-figure VA check pays Ciancanelli retroactively to 1997 for the bayonet wound and gives him back pay to 2003 for the effects of frostbite on his feet. He is now rated as 70 percent disabled and will be receiving $1,147 a month—about $444 more than he had been getting.

Ciancanelli depends on his VA disability check and his monthly $800 from Social Security. He said he plans to use the VA check to get out of debt.

Responding to our series

A VA administrator admitted Thursday the agency has issued "special reviews" for every veteran in the Sun-Times' "Wounded Warriors" series, which revealed Illinois veterans receive as much as $5,000 less a year than veterans from other states and Puerto Rico.

"There's been a lot of articles and there's been a lot of veterans mentioned in them," said Michael Stephens, who oversees the disability decisions at the Chicago VA. "When they are mentioned, certainly we take a look at them."

Because of a pending VA Inspector General's investigation, initiated after the newspaper's series, Stephens said he could not elaborate on the cases his office has specially reviewed.