I almost lost my Texas cool this past week when reading a Fox News report about an 89-year-old wounded World War II veteran who had to wait 68 years from the time he was on the battlefield until he received benefits. And you thought long waits and mishandling of veterans care was only a recent problem?
Milton Rackham of Belding, Mich., who is a Purple Heart recipient, lived for decades without benefits because his records were lost in a fire; at least that’s how the Veterans Administration explained its inability to give him the post-war care he deserved and fought for.
Rackham grew up in Rigby, Idaho, where he learned and lived by herding cattle. At just 17, he enlisted in the Navy. He was fighting in the South Pacific when Japanese kamikazes dive-bombed on American troops and he was severely injured. His wounds almost led to his having an arm and leg amputated, and he still has shrapnel in him. He spent two years recovering in Navy hospitals in Hawaii and the Philippines before returning to civilian life.
Two immediate war repercussions surged in his life: his inability to work as he did before the war because of his damaged limbs and the onslaught of post-traumatic stress disorder.
He explained it this way to his local newspaper, The Daily News: “For years after I got home I couldn’t even think about war. When I got home I was a flat-out basket case. I was never going to get married. I was just going to go to work and hibernate. I was going to do whatever I had to do to just forget. All I wanted was to forget.”
If it weren’t for Rackham’s solid Christian faith, he might have lost hope. But God helped him place one foot after the other and brought him a soul mate to help him, as well. Nevertheless, the fallout from the war continued to wreak havoc on his mind and body.
Rackham explained to Fox News: “I’d go to bed and wake my wife up with my screaming and thrashing around in bed. The nightmares … have been ongoing for 66 years and continue to this day.”
He and his wife, Carol, raised six wonderful kids back in Michigan. But unable to do the rugged work he had done before the war, he opened up an upholstery business out of his garage. Through thick and thin — and many years were lean and slim, financially speaking — he was just glad to be alive and working in any fashion to help his family get by.
Despite the VA’s fire excuse, Rackham strangely began receiving $822 a month just a couple of months ago. The payments are labeled “VA Benefits,” and he also received $7,000, or roughly nine months’ back pay.
And Rackham has a good hunch why: In 2011, his good buddy Myrl Thompson started fighting for him by writing and explaining to Department of Veterans Affairs officials how Rackham served and was wounded in the war, had a hard time keeping employment after, and suffered through the years as a result of what he endured during the war. (Thompson was so moved by his friend’s life and service that he paid tribute to him by publishing his story in a 2012 book, “PT Boat 81 — Still on Patrol 66 Years After WWII.”)
Despite Rackham’s previous efforts going back to 1974, the VA repeatedly rejected his appeals for help — at least five times — because of a “lack of information.” Then, all of a sudden, one day he received a letter that said his benefits had been approved “at the level of 50 percent.”
Rackham explained to Fox News: “What drove me crazy was that they had the same information in 2008 and they denied me. That’s what blows me out of the water. Ever since 1974, when I first asked for benefits, they’ve had the same information.”
As far as how it felt to be rejected by the VA nearly his whole life after faithfully serving his country, Rackham’s only commentary was: “It made me feel like I was worthless.” He added, “Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction.”
I can already hear the political response by VA officials and other government minions: Rackham is “clearly an exception to the rule.” Yeah, sure, and I guess there are myriad other “exceptions to the rule,” too, such as the dozens of courageous veterans who are now dead because some were cooking the books and dodging civic duty at veterans hospitals across America.
They are not exceptions to the rule. They are proof of the U.S. government’s ongoing corruption and neglect, abandonment and abuse of its citizens and war heroes.
John F. Kennedy certainly had it right here: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”
Even better is Rackham’s message to the VA: “One out of every six homeless people in America is a veteran. For heaven’s sake, acknowledge them. They should never be forgotten.”
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