Alysee Shelton, Forum News Service, Published November 11 2013
St. Louis County vets officer helps veteran collect more than $300,000 in owed benefitsDULUTH - Brian Rulifson was just doing his job as a St. Louis County Veterans Service officer, working with veterans and checking paperwork, when he noticed something wrong in one Vietnam War vet’s documents.
Rulifson did a little digging and discovered that the veteran, a cancer patient, had wrongly been denied more than $300,000 in benefits that he should have received years ago.
“By looking at this paperwork I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t think this mistake would have such a good, drastic outcome,” Rulifson said.
The veteran, who does not wish to be identified, lives in northern St. Louis County and agreed to let details of his story be shared. He has what’s called a presumptive cancer — presumed to be linked to his service in Vietnam.
The veteran applied for certain benefits in 2004 but was denied. In September, he met with Rulifson, who questioned that denial. Rulifson brought the matter to the attention of Sherry Rodriguez, director of the St. Louis County’s Veterans Service offices. Rodriguez agreed that it appeared the veteran had been wrongly denied the benefits, and she contacted the federal Veterans Administration.
After a review, the VA decided that the 2004 denial of benefits was a “clear and unmistakable error” — and in late October they issued a check to the veteran for $306,962 in back pay.
“He filed a claim in 2004. The VA denied him, but they were in the wrong. The VA had to pay the man back all way to 2004, which is why the back pay is so large,” Rodriguez said.
“We do receive mistakes made by the VA every now and then,” Rulifson said. “However, this has been the biggest mistake we’ve encountered.”
Rulifson has been a St. Louis County Veterans Service officer for less than a year, but his peers already are quite impressed with his work.
“It is great that he caught that big mistake,” Rodriguez said. “Brian is a very dedicated and compassionate person. We need more people like him. The outcome of this story is awesome.”
On Tuesday, St. Louis County commissioners will recognize Rulifson for his diligence during their County Board meeting at 9:30 a.m. at the Fredenberg Town Hall, 5104 Fish Lake Road.
“To be able to help these veterans is great,” Rulifson said. “I’m a veteran myself; I spent 20 years in the Navy. I’m excited to be recognized, but the biggest recognition for me is when the veteran told me ‘thank you.’ ”