Pella Chronicle

August 22, 2013

A vet helping vets

By Amy Holmquist The Chronicle
The Pella Chronicle

---- — It was the perfect opportunity for Kyle Dykstra, an Army veteran. The Pella native was pleased to come on board Congressman Bruce Braley’s staff to serve in the Veterans Outreach position and help his fellow veterans in the long and sometimes painful process of submitting claims to the Veterans Affairs Administration.

Congressman Braley knows the Veterans Affairs Administration office is flooded with claims and efforts are exhausted, which causes a serious issue for veterans in his district. So his office reached out to Dykstra and asked him to come on board to help tackle the issue.

“My mission moving forward was to help Iowa veterans work their way through the claims process, and be their advocate,” that Dykstra explained as his job duties.

He understands veterans, and understands the process, making him a great resource to veterans in Iowa’s First Congressional District. Not only is he the resource for any veteran, he knows where they are coming from and why it’s important they get help.

“It’s really just being the go-to guy for veterans in Congressman Braley’s office. Being a veteran myself, I can speak the same language,” Dykstra commented.

Being tied to Pella through a long family history and distance relation to the Schulte’s who founded Pella, Dykstra decided to complete his college studies at Central College where his parents also attended and has always had a yearning to join the armed forces.

“I was 17 when 9/11 happened and I’ve always been fascinated with the military. I really wanted to serve,” he said.

So right after he walked across the stage on graduation day, he took off for boot camp for the Army. He served five years and toured in Afghanistan. After his time in the Army, he found himself back to Iowa working for the State Department office, but was oftentimes away from home.

“Between the ages 22 – 28, I spent 37, 38 months overseas,” Dykstra said.

He was ready to finally stay at home, and the opportunity come open to work in Congressman Braley’s office. A veteran himself, the position working for Veteran’s Outreach was a perfect fit.

Since he’s started in this position in April, Dykstra has been helping veterans work through their claims, does case work, and tries to get the word out to the Veterans Affairs Administration and to veterans that Congressman Braley and his staff are there to help.

“One of my top priorities as a member of Congress has been to be an advocate for veterans, and to make sure they are getting all of the benefits they have earned through the service to our country,” Braley commented.

What Congressmen Braley’s office has found is that the average amount of days a veteran waits for their first claim to be completed is 316-327 days. During the wait, health care costs are not covered. As a result, 20,000 veterans have died while waiting for their disability claim to be processed.

“The struggles that veterans are facing to get the benefits they deserve are embarrassing. That’s why I’m working so hard to cut through the red tape nightmare at the VA,” Braley said. “The level of response we’ve seen from this effort exemplifies how many Iowans are affected. I continue to urge Iowa veterans struggling to navigate the VA claims backlog to reach out to my office. We’re happy to help.”

Earlier this year, Dykstra traveled throughout eastern Iowa and met with Iowa veterans who needed assistance with their disability claims that were backlogged in the system. Dykstra was pleased with the aid he was able to give, especially in Dubuque and Waterloo where he helped over 30 veterans.

Interestingly, Dykstra also aids in giving veterans from earlier wars, like World War II, the medals they should have received. In that era of the 1900s, several times veterans never received their due medals because of medal rations. Dykstra gets to be a part of finally handing them the medal they have earned and deserved, and it’s one of the aspects of his job that he enjoys the most.

“The backlog for claims is getting better, but it’s not progressing at the rate everyone wants it to,” he commented.

Dykstra continues to work toward helping his fellow veterans in his position in Braley’s office in Cedar Rapids. His goal is moving forward.

“Continuing to get out there and meet with vets as issues pop up,” he said.