Disabled vet gets charged higher hotel ratePosted: Updated:
Dan Swafford helps Arizona veterans every day. He is the director of veteran benefits for an armed forces support group based in Surprise.
He takes pride in his work helping veterans navigate the frustrating and cumbersome VA system, and he talks about his work to help educate every chance he gets.
What Swafford does not talk about is his own status as a war hero.
"This isn't about me," he said.
Swafford was drafted in 1969 and spent two years in Vietnam. He is a highly decorated soldier. He is the recipient of three Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and a host of other medals and honors.
"I was shot down in a helicopter with my right heel shot and inch of my bone cut off and four discs blown in my back," Swafford said. "I came home through three hospitals."
Another incident resulted in his bunker being blown up. His injuries have required more than 30 surgeries and have classified him as a 100-percent disabled veteran.
Swafford retired as an E-5 sergeant.
During a recent attempt to book a hotel for a trip to Hawaii, Swafford was outraged at the treatment he received.
In the past, Swafford has stayed at the Hale Koa Hotel on Waikiki Beach for a very reasonable rate. The Hale Koa is a military hotel. It is government owned and military operated. It offers affordable prices for military members and their families. The rates are based on rank.
"She was booking the ocean-view at $125. Two minutes go by, and she said to me, ‘Oh, I found you in the system. You're a 100-percent disabled veteran. That will be $154,'" Swafford said.
According to the hotel's website, a retired E-5 would fall into the category one price range. Because Swafford is also 100-percent disabled he falls into a higher price category, as well. In the fine print, the website states, "If the occupant is eligible for multiple rates the highest rate will be used."
“I said, 'This does not make sense,'" he recalled. "I said, 'I'm a 100-percent disabled veteran, so I pay more than Joe regular that maybe hasn't been in combat and he checks in there he pays less?' I said, 'It just doesn't make sense.'"
Officials at the Hale Koa have been looking into the claim since we brought it to their attention. After a couple of days, the fine print regarding the "highest rate" on the website was gone, and the hotel issued a statement.
"The Hale Koa Hotel's motto is 'Serving Those Who Serve,' and we take great pride in offering a Waikiki beachfront resort experience at the lowest possible rate for our Nation's active duty and retired military.
"We do appreciate this disparity in our policy being brought to our attention.
"It is the Armed Forces Recreation Center's policy to classify all 100% Disabled Veterans in Room Rate Category II of our pricing matrix.
"However, in unique situations such as this patron's retired E-5 status, along with recent expansion of Room Rate Category I to include the rank of E-6; offering our 100% Disabled Veterans the lowest rate for which they are eligible will now be the practice. If a 100% Disabled Veteran presents a retired E1-E6 identification card, they will be offered the lower Category I room rate.
"Eligibility requirements and applicable rates can be complex, and we appreciate this opportunity to review and address this concern. We remain fully committed to providing our service member guests, both past and present, vacation memories that will last a lifetime at the House of the Warrior."
While the policy change helps Swafford and those between the ranks of E-1 and E-6 who are also 100-percent disabled veterans, Swafford believes all 100-percent disabled veterans should be given the honor and respect of booking rooms at the lowest category rate the hotel offers.
"I was pretty upset," Swafford said. "I'm going to follow this all the way to the White House if I have to for disabled veterans."
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