Katherine Ragazzino (in tank top); Gloria Allred (left)
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Katherine Ragazzino's injuries in Iraq threw her into a nightmarish journey of denied benefits, homelessness and having to beg for help — including the now notorious visit with former mayor Bob Filner.
But in the past month, she found the help she needed in the offices of congressman Scott Peters. "We saw her on TV with Gloria Allred and we said, we know how to do this. We've had great success getting people the disability rating corrected for other veterans," said Peters’s chief of staff, Mary Ann Pintar.
According to Pintar, Peters has two staff members — USMC veteran and Wounded Warrior Tim Caudill and U.S. Navy vet Sarah March — fighting for vets full time.
Katherine Ragazzino, 37, was an active duty Marine for 12 years, deployed in Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. A Humvee crash in 2007 left her with spine and nerve injuries, a traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder —injuries that affected her memory and her ability to react to situations. That was particularly harmful when it came to dealing with the Veterans Administration, where paperwork is layered on earlier paperwork and an error early on can tilt the whole stack.
"She was misclassified by the first disability rater and the files got very complicated," Pintar said.
Ragazzino's struggles began in two areas: getting the medical help she needed and getting the financial help. The Veterans Administration would not declare her injuries bad enough to leave her unemployable, so she couldn't get financial help. And the treatment available to her was limited. Her memory problems and unwillingness to accept a diagnosis of PTSD compounded her challenges in dealing with the VA.
By December 2010, Ragazzino was living in her car in Liberty Station — without housing or financial assistance from the VA. She wasn't keeping appointments and she was losing hope. Then Michelle Tyler, a licensed vocational nurse and the wife of Ragazzino's former superior officer, heard about Ragazzino's plight and went to find her and bring her home.
Tyler set up a meeting with Bob Filner in 2011, when he was a congressman.
"The VA gave me my unemployability rating because of Filner," Ragazzino said, “and that meant I started to get financial support. Then we had to start getting the medical ratings reviewed."
By then, the VA couldn't find all her medical records, Ragazzino said. What they could find was based on errors in the original rating. So she and Tyler went back to Filner, now the mayor, for more help. Instead, the mayor allegedly pressured Tyler to date him.
"I was dying inside because I have to choose between taking care of myself and this creep," Ragazzino said. But within 24 hours of the press conference with Gloria Allred, Scott Peters’s office contacted her; within a week, the congressman's staff held a four-hour meeting with Ragazzino and the VA. At the end of it, Ragazzino's medical status was corrected and she is now getting the medical help she needs.