Monessen veteran dedicated to helping others
You won't find a better friend to a veteran than Joe Randall Jr., of Monessen.
A disabled veteran who served in the U.S. Army for 13 years and was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant, Randall, 53, is commander of the Anthony Madison American Legion Post and is service officer for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1190. He also is a member of Disabled American Veterans Mon Valley Chapter 131 in Monessen, and serves as a trustee for the Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, in Monessen.
After his discharge from the military in March 1993, Randall, like other veterans, tried to find out what his rights were under federal law. To Randall's frustration, he said, he discovered the system was so buried by bureaucracy and hidden regulations that the average veteran had little hope of getting what he and his family deserved from the government.
That was when he decided to become an unpaid volunteer to help individuals and families get what they were entitled to under the law.
"It's really unbelievable," said Randall. "You feel like laughing but you want to cry."
One of the people who came to him for help was a former prisoner of war who lives in Monessen. "He survived the Bataan death march and spent 3 1/2 years in a Japanese POW camp," Randall explained. "Despite his war service and his loyalty to this country, the government owes him hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation that it has never paid him.
"I have been working with him for a long time," Randall continued. "He will eventually get what is due him, but it's so sad that his own government puts up roadblocks to what is justly due him. It's a typical government oversight, and he isn't alone in his fight. There are people all over western Pennsylvania, veterans and their families, who have no idea what the government owes them."
Randall added, "The laws that protect veterans are law exclusive and contractual in nature. It's hard for the average person to identify laws establishing federal authority, executive orders that authorize mandates which justify federal spending on veterans, and even county governments which are required to have a county assistance officer to help veterans and their families."
"That's why I make it my business to learn what the law is and to cut through all the bureaucratic red tape," he said. "It's important for people to have the proper forms to fill out and I make sure I have them available. One example of the problems is that Pennsylvania has programs available to help qualifying individuals pay for Medicare's Part B premium. They are designed to help the elderly, disabled and veterans — only on most forms they leave the word veteran out."
Chris McHugh, 32, was part of the U.S. military force that fought in Operation Desert Storm conflict. He suffered injuries to his lower back and hip and came down with symptoms of what has been called Persian Gulf Syndrome.
After his honorable discharge as an E-4, McHugh returned to his home in Monessen and filed for disability payments. He was given a 50 percent disability rating and the government began sending him a check for around $1,000 per month.
To Randall, that wasn't enough.
McHugh said, "Joe Randall helped my wife and me to cut through the red tape and my disability was increased to 100 percent and $2,500 per month. He did a great job helping us out."
Another of Randall's clients is Kathy Meinhold of Belle Vernon. One evening after church services, she overheard friends discussing a meeting they planned to attend at the Health Center in Monessen regarding veterans' benefits.
"My former husband is a veteran and has been experiencing many health problems, including a stroke," she said. "He is presently in a nursing home. I always felt there must be more help but, unfortunately, everything isn't spelled out clearly on the information that is available."
Since she holds her ex-husband's power of attorney, she attended the meeting and met Randall.
"He was very enlightening and presented the information that I had been seeking," she added. "Thanks to his help, I was able to persuade the Veterans Administration to re-open my former husband's claim and get total coverage for all of his needs."
One document Randall relies on is War Department Pamphlet No. 21-4 issued by Gen. George C. Marshall, chief of staff, on March 10, 1944. "Information for Soldiers Going Back to Civilian Life" covers such topics as employment, vocational training, health care, benefits, education and legal and financial aid for veterans. One part of the document, still in effect, gives details on how old claims can be re-opened — often a must for veterans and their families.
A native of Monessen, Randall is the son of Joseph and Rose Randall. He has two brothers and three sisters. He enlisted in the Army in 1980 and took his basic training at Fort Knox, Ky. He served four years in Germany, and was a logistics liaison between the Army and State Department when the boat problem involving 14,301 displaced Haitians occurred in the early 1980s.
In 1986, the Army called on his services to help establish the 550th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Dix, N.J., as part of the effort to gear up for the Persian Gulf War.
After his Army discharge, Randall, armed with a bachelor's degree in business administration from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., returned to Monessen and set up the Home of Social Serenity. This was a privately owned and operated home that aided veterans on numerous issues, including crisis and drug intervention and transition from military to civilian life.
"You'd think that county governments, school superintendents and local elected officials would want to assist veterans in every way possible," said Randall. "Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. In many ways, these public elected officials become the veteran's worst nightmare, ignoring requests for help and sloughing off the requests to some other agency."
Randall said his ongoing goal is to make veterans and their families, along with elected public officials, become aware of the law as it applies to veterans and their dependants.
"I just want to make this country fulfill its obligations to open everyone, especially veterans, to the American dream," he added. "When I see that happen, I consider myself paid."
Randall can be reached at 724-684-4069 or by writing him at PO Box 70, Monessen, PA 15062-1240.