The recent exposure of the Walter Reed Hospital scandal has thrown the plight of American military veterans into sharp focus.
Reports of veterans with untreated ailments lying in roach-infested hospital rooms ignited furor in the press and action in Congress.
However, investigation showed that this was not just a problem over the past couple years with military personnel wounded in the Iraq War. Veterans, dating back to World War II, have been under-served on their benefits, both medical and financial, for many years.
That is where Michael Riedel comes in with his book, which has the simple title 'Veterans Unclaimed Benefits.'
A Lake Oswego resident and a decorated veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Riedel says, 'My goal is to make veterans' lives better.'
The book is a 'how-to' for veterans to attain benefits for which they are eligible; benefits they often could sorely use.
'A lot of veterans are quietly suffering,' Riedel said, 'dealing with ramifications from their military service.'
Instead of suffering, Riedel said, 'One of the best things veterans can do is drop assumptions, keep an open mind and ask for assistance.'
Riedel wrote the book because 'I saw a huge problem' about veterans not knowing what they are entitled to.
'The VA doesn't advertise, and veterans are misinformed by the military, which does not work for the VA,' Riedel said. 'The VA lacks training, resources and an advertising budget. It's a crapshoot if veterans get good information.'
That number is very high. Riedel stresses that his figures are estimates, but he believes that 75 percent of veterans could be getting increased benefits, and a large number of them are not getting anything at all.
'In the U.S. alone, one-third of the population is either a veteran or related to a veteran,' Riedel said. 'Up to 90 percent of them don't apply for benefits.'
Once upon a time, Riedel himself was one of those veterans. He had just completed his service in the U.S. Air Force when he injured a knee while playing basketball. He had no health insurance and thought he was simply out of luck.
However, his stepfather, an ex-Navy frogman, suggested that he go to a VA hospital.
'He told me it wasn't just for old war vets,' Riedel said. 'They fixed my knee and didn't charge me a penny.'
That knee injury led not only to a career but a cause.
'I told them I was looking for a job, and I took a job as a file clerk, which is at the bottom rung,' Riedel said. 'I quickly worked my way up to a counseling position on benefits. I spent most of my time assisting veterans with anything available, mainly disability, pension, burial, and GI Bill stuff.'
Stints with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs and as a congressional liaison on veterans' problems enhanced Riedel's status as an expert on veterans' benefits. At that point he decided to strike out on his own, both as an author and as an insurance broker.
His counseling with veterans is done on a strictly pro bono basis since federal law prevents anyone from accepting money for such work. That makes it difficult for a man who has to work for a living. Yet Riedel still helps veterans whenever he can, simply because 'I want to treat people the way I'd like to be treated.'
As an insurance man who specializes in helping senior citizens, Riedel's counseling is extra valuable.
'I'm one of the few guys walking around who can explain the VA, Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. I can coordinate all of those programs to maximize health care options for individuals.'
But right now, Riedel's book is about as succinct and fast a way as possible to find out about obtaining veterans' benefits. 'Veterans Unclaimed Benefits' is currently available for purchase through the Barnes and Noble Web site.
'Sales have increased. People are definitely interested,' Riedel said. 'The bottom line is there are a lot of veterans out there, and they're saying, 'I didn't know I was entitled to this.'
'My goal is to cut through the red tape and bureaucracy and give veterans a tool to be empowered with.'
For more information about 'Veterans Unclaimed Benefits,' call Michael Riedel at 503-890-5111.