tv NBC Nightly News NBC March 21, 2013 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
but when he applied to the veterans administration for disability benefits, his claim was lost in red tape for 963 days, launching a bureaucratic battle he waged for two and a half years. >> there were times i would say to my wife i would have been better off if i had been killed in iraq. >> reporter: he is not alone. today nearly 900,000 veterans are waiting for disability claims to be processed. the average wait, 273 days. but in major cities like new york, it skyrockets to nearly two years. >> it's a total mess. it's a bureaucratic nightmare. it is the epitome of red tape. >> reporter: paul heads a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving veterans. he claims the veterans administration was woefully ill prepared for the flood of veterans coming out of the wars in iraq and afghanistan. >> i think it's a failure of leadership and i think really it's a failure of planning.
>> reporter: and amazingly the va still relies primarily on paper documents. at its center in winston-salem, north carolina, the tremendous weight of tens of thousands of claims threaten to collapse an entire floor of the building. the files were recently moved as the va is just now beginning to digitize new claims. but as the backlog mounted, so did veterans suicides. the va launched a hotline in part to help those veterans so bogged down in the system they lost all hope. >> i'll stay on the phone with you. >> reporter: any veteran caught in the va's red tape who is a threat to himself or others is pushed to the front of the line. >> he's homicidal, he wants to shoot the police. >> reporter: the va pledges to eliminate the long wait by the end of 2015. >> this promise has been decades in the making, and that's why we're taking it head-on to solve this problem for good. >> reporter: reikoff insists veterans shouldn't have to wait any longer. >> we want to see an end to the va backlog.
no more excuses. no more rhetoric. we want to see results. >> reporter: as for the va's pledge to eliminate those long waits for benefits by the end of 2015, the veterans we've talked to said, you know, they've heard those kinds of promises before and, frankly, they're not convinced the va can deliver, brian. >> an important story to start off with tonight, jim miklaszewski with it at the pentagon. jim, thanks. late word of breaking news this evening there could be a big development in the shooting death of colorado state director of prisons who was killed tuesday night when he opened the front door of his home in monument, colorado, when a gunman opened fire. nbc's kristen dahlgren remains in monument for us tonight. kristen, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. we have fast-moving developments here today. a man that led texas police on a high-speed chase and shoot-out is now being investigated as a possible suspect in the murder of tom clements here in colorado. as you said, the colorado head of the department of corrections was shot here at his front door on tuesday night. at the time a car was spotted idling in the area.
today a car matching that description with colorado plates was involved in a routine traffic stop in texas about ten hours from here. authorities say that's when the driver shot at a deputy. then he led authorities on a high-speed chase before crashing into a big rig. they say he then got out of the car, continued shooting at authorities. he was hit. he's at a texas hospital and is considered brain dead. he hasn't yet been identified. he's described as a white male in his 30s, ballistics tests are being done now on those weapons. colorado authorities are also on their way to texas tonight, ian, to try to see if they can definitively link the two cases. >> kristen dahlgren with more on that story for us tonight in monument, colorado. kristen, thanks. now we turn to president obama's visit to israel today. the focus turned to the long stalled peace process. though realistically no one thought anything would get solved on this trip. first, he spoke to the palestinians in the west bank and then he took his message directly to the israeli people. our chief white house correspondent chuck todd
traveling with the president, with us once again tonight from jerusalem. chuck, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. well, he was playing the role of diplomat in chief. president obama today trying to persuade both israelis and palestinians to make some concessions to try to move the peace process forward. but as has been the case for years, everyone is struggling to get past the negotiating the terms of the negotiation stage. touching down in the west bank on his second day in the middle east, the president met with palestinian leader mahmoud abbas amid heavy security and palestinian protest. mr. obama told the palestinian president he needs to drop demands that israelis first stop building settlements in the west bank as a precondition to peace talks. >> if the expectation is that we can only have direct negotiations when everything is settled ahead of time, then there's no point for
negotiations. >> reporter: still, abbas indicated it was a sticking point. >> translator: we believe the settlements are illegal and that settlement activity is illegal. >> reporter: but in a stark reminder that abbas does not speak for all palestinians, this day began with reports of hamas militants in gaza firing two rockets into southern israel. no one was seriously hurt. back in jerusalem, the president delivered what the administration billed as the centerpiece address of this visit. a tough love message to israelis that they risk isolation if a peace deal isn't reached. >> no wall is high enough, and no iron dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm. >> reporter: and he said only direct negotiations with the palestinians will lead to a lasting peace. >> just as israelis built a state in their homeland, palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land. >> reporter: the president's day also included a look at the scroll, even eating matzah.
served by a robot. >> that's good matzah right there. >> reporter: a whirlwind visit that seemed to take a toll as he looked visibly tired at tonight's state dipper. dinner. nbc's tel aviv bureau chief martin fletcher said the president made a good impression but so far that's all. >> are they closer to a peace process? they're not further from a peace process, but i think this was more of a confidence building visit, wasn't it? >> reporter: and the president hasn't missed a chance to bond with israelis. >> you are not alone. >> reporter: the president will have more time with abbas tomorrow morning. he's going to tour bethlehem with him before he ends up going to amman, jordan, where one of the closest arab allies to the united states, king abdullah, will be there to host the president for a one-on-one meeting. brian? >> chuck todd a late night in jerusalem after a whirlwind day with the president. chuck, thanks. one of the major items on the agenda for president obama and prime minister netanyahu is the war in syria now in its third
year. it was a deadly day there. a bombing in the heart of damascus. our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell also with us from jerusalem tonight with more on these late developments. andrea, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. on syria there is no daylight between the u.s. and israel on the threat next door. today that suicide bomber blew up a damascus mosque killing 42 people including a prominent sheikh who supports the assad regime. opposition leaders denied all responsibility. this is just another sign of vulnerability in a regime that has thousands of chemical weapons. today president obama warned assad and his forces that the world is watching. the president said they will be held accountable if they use chemical weapons or let them fall into the hands of terrorists. but in secret testimony this week, congressional committees were told some of these deadly weapons are, in effect, locked and loaded. and that the regime plans to use them. israeli intelligence agrees, i'm
told, and believe the trigger could well be if aleppo, syria's largest city, falls to the rebels. if that were to happen, the president and netanyahu have military plans in place to stop the weapons from getting into the hands of terrorists. and of course, brian, the other big concern for the u.s. and israel is iran. just today iran's supreme leader threatened to level israeli cities if israel sights the nuclear program. lots to worry about. >> andrea mitchell, part of our team covering the middle east this week. andrea, thanks. the national weather service has told the folks along the red river in fargo, north dakota, to prepare for perhaps one of the top five floods in the city's history. they're worried about the rapid thaw beneath spring rains. flood stage on the red river is 18 feet. they're worried upwards of 36 feet of water. and on the opposite side of the spectrum, there is no relief in sight this spring for much of the country suffering through a devastating and lasting drought.
weather channel meteorologist chris warren is with us tonight for a look at all of it. chris, good evening. >> reporter: good evening to you, too, brian. in some areas not only is it bad right now but expected to get worse. as far as the drought is concerned, let's take a look at noaa's forecast released today showing the growing drought areas expected to remain dry. this is the spring forecast, april, may, and june. much of the west staying dry. with that expecting to see ongoing and possibly intensifying drought throughout parts of the southwest and many western states. some improvement is likely but that is a look at the areas in green there to the north where it has been near record cold, so there's late season snow on the ground and with a wet spring could mean areas in purple here, north dakota and minnesota, seeing major flooding this spring. now we're looking at potentially seeing one of the top five floods in their history along the red river, in fargo and moorhead. so the national weather service says get ready for that.
we could see scenes once again like we have seen over the past few years, the flooding. since 2009 they have seen three major floods and it was in a row. did get a break last year. since then they have built in fargo 20 levees and, brian, they have more than a million sandbags they expect to have ready to go for this season. >> an eerie period there as they prepare for the worst. thank you, chris, for reporting for us tonight from weather channel headquarters. there is health news tonight. it has to do with more research on our diets, specifically what salt is doing to us. the same harvard researchers who told us just yesterday about the high number of deaths linked to drinking too many sugary drinks said today one in ten deaths in this country can now be linked to overconsumption of salt. eating a high-salt diet can, of course, lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, strokes, much of the processed food in
our supermarkets is loaded with it. still ahead as we continue along the way tonight, more than a billion dollars of life insurance, a sea of cash, waiting to be claimed. a lot of american families don't know it's out there for the taking. and later, a dream come true for an extraordinary young man serving up the best breakfast in town.
the very last thing most folks want to do these days is throw money away, but a recent study shows as much as a billion dollars in lost or forgotten life insurance benefits is just out there waiting to be paid out to people who may not realize they have it coming. nbc's john yang has more on why and how you can tell if you're among them. >> reporter: andy and chris fox got a letter about a year ago that shocked them. >> it was five years after my father had passed. we had no knowledge of any insurance policies whatsoever.
>> reporter: the letter was from an insurance company. they would learn that chris' father had three separate life insurance policies worth nearly $50,000 and never told his family. to recover their money, the foxes embarked on what would become a journey. there were weeks of phone calls with insurance companies and state insurance officials. >> i worked for uncle sam, the united states navy, as a civilian for 38 years. i know what it is to deal with a bureaucracy. >> reporter: in the end they collected $48,000. it took them eight months. the foxes' experience is not unique. according to a recent study there's a one in 600 chance you're owed money from a life insurance policy and don't even know it. that's better odds than winning $100 on a powerball ticket. when a multistate task force launched an investigation six major life insurance companies agreed to use a social security database to track down beneficiaries and have begun paying out hundreds of millions of dollars.
among them, aig reached an $11 million settlement with multiple states and has paid out more than $100 million to beneficiaries who had not previously filed a claim. nationwide which reached $7.2 million settlement paid about $144 million to beneficiaries. and metlife paid $40 million in settlement moneys and told nbc news it is on track with remitting policy proceeds to beneficiaries. but critics say the insurance industry should do even more. >> if they wanted to find you to collect a bill, the bill collection industry is very efficient and they can find people and track you down. so the life insurance industry can do that as well. >> reporter: in a statement the american council of life insurers says life insurance companies are committed to keeping their promises to consumers and are working to ensure all beneficiaries get the benefits they are due. to find out if you're owed benefits experts recommend visiting missingmoney.com, a website run by the national association of unclaimed property administrators.
>> there's half and half -- >> reporter: for andy and chris fox, their missing money was a welcome but hard won windfall that they'll be passing on to their own family. john yang, nbc news, chicago. there are ways to find out if you're among those owed money. we have them including links to those websites john mentioned. it's all on nbcnightlynews.com tonight. we're back in a moment with what could be a change in boarding procedures coming to the airport. there's this island -- and it's got super-cute kangaroos.
barrow island has got rare kangaroos. ♪ chevron has been developing energy here for decades. we need to protect their environment. we have a strict quarantine system to protect the integrity of the environment. forty years on, it's still a class-a nature reserve. it's our job to look after them. ...it's my job to look after it. ♪ ♪ you may have tried to forget the disco era, especially if you ever owned white bell-bottoms. good luck now, it's being preserved forever. the national recording registry is adding the track of "saturday night fever." it's the library congress so they must be serious about it. we should have given that thing a spin. also enshrined pink floyd, simon
and garfunkel and chubby checker. a veteran travel blogger was in line for an american airlines flight when he noticed a new boarding procedure, first class first along with those needing assistance. and then those people without carry-on bags, just personal items. last to board were the folks in coach with roll-on bags. he asked the airline and they confirmed they are trying it in a couple of sample markets. it could be the way boarding is done in the future. while the whole shoreline is still awfully beat up and the post-sandy recovery has been slow and steady, here is one more sign of progress. the famous cyclone on coney island will reopen this weekend. most of the rides there were swamped. they needed new motors and wiring. all they need now is happy passengers. and look at this pair from san bernardino, california, where these two dogs were found wandering and as far as the shelter can tell the little one acts as a seeing eye dog and constant companion for the older
blind husky. ever since their story was publicized in california they've been swamped with adoption offers and the shelter will decide on the best family. these two are inseparable, however, and can only be adopted as a pair for good reason. we're back with the feelgood story of the night right after this.
finally tonight a sweet story to end on, though it concerns a tough line of work. the restaurant business can be a brutal way to make a living. and the story you're about to see concerns one young man's effort to break into that world against some higher than usual odds. his pursuit of a dream is proving an inspiration to his customers. our report tonight from nbc's janet shamlian in albuquerque. >> reporter: it's a hometown favorite with a diner like feel. and a mouth watering menu. this is my favorite restaurant to go to for breakfast. >> reporter: amid rave reviews the secret is out. in albuquerque the restaurant of the moment is tim's place. it's what's not on the menu that might just be the biggest draw here. the restaurant's namesake and its owner, tim. >> oh, yeah. >> reporter: tim harris may be the first restauranteur in the nation with down's syndrome. >> thank you for coming into my place today. >> reporter: it's been the
27-year-old's dream since he was 14. >> my dad helped me create the restaurant. my mom did all these pictures. >> reporter: you have a lot of support. >> i do. a ton of it. >> reporter: his dad financed it and a manager runs it. >> our expectation for tim was always exactly the same as it was for his brothers. we decided early on that it was going to be a mistake to treat him any differently. >> reporter: tim attended a mainstream high school where he was voted homecoming king. he is also a special olympian. how many medals do you think have? >> way more than the other olympian, michael phelps. >> reporter: tim's parents helped him open the restaurant as a way of ensuring their son's independence. but it's tim who makes this place special. describe your job to me here, what you're in charge of. >> the hugs. >> reporter: the hugs. >> i do serve food and drinks, but the hugs. that's the best part. >> who doesn't like hugs? >> breakfast is unbelievable. of course you can't beat the hugs.
>> reporter: this is a part of it you'll never see on the check. after all, how do you price a hug? when you get a hug, what do you get out of a hug? >> it makes that person feel good and they'll come back again. >> i see him touch someone's life genuinely every single day. that is meaningful. it's pretty great. >> if you dream it, you can do it. that's my motto. >> reporter: did you dream this restaurant? >> i dreamed it and i got it. >> reporter: this restaurant will serve as an inspiration for lots of families. >> reporter: as for those hugs at tim's place no one is charging, but they are keeping count. more than 32,000 hugs so far. >> i love you so much. i'm glad you're here. >> reporter: i'm glad i'm here, too. janet shamlian, nbc news, albuquerque. that's our broadcast on a thursday night. thank you for being here with us. i'm brian williams. we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night.
good evening, thank you for joining us. i'm jessica aguirre, new at 6:00. a south bay community in mourning after the tragic death of a student, he made a fatal mistake that cost him his life when he took a short cut on caltrans train tracks. george, lots of people say he was just a rising star. >> reporter: yes, you know, this is a very sad event for the family and friends. and classmates at lincoln high where he went to school. the vigil is about to begin here in san jose. he was a 16-year-old guitar player, a songwriter, a junior
at lincoln high school. what you are about to watch is the youtube tribute video, where his family and friends and classmates are still struggling with his death. he died tuesday afternoon after the train hit him on the trackings. police are investigating why he was on the tracks. they are ruling his death an accident, he was on the rise, the fork folks who organized this vigil, the social advocate award. he has been playing the guitar since he was in 7th grade, and recently he could be seen at open mike nights and caves around downtown san jose. again, back here live, the vigil under way as they honor his life. nbc bay area news. george, thank you, now to an nbc bay area follow-up. we learned that a morgan hill
pre-school teacher trying to drug toddlers in her care is now facing charges. 59-year-old deborah gratz is facing multiple charges, police say the co-worker at the kiddy academy spotted gratz dropping sleep medicine into sippy cups earlier this month. fortunately, nobody drank from the cups, gratz worked at the academy since 2007, supervising as many as ten children under the ages of one and two. and now, police on the search for a teacher wanted for child molestation charges. they filed charges against 52-year-old joel kaufman of orinda. the charges include lewd acts on a child under 14. from palo alto and east bay, kaufman has run successful groups for years. >> they have kids w