The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently under fire for leaving veterans waiting to receive hospital treatment. It has been reported that as many as 40 veterans in Phoenix, Arizona, languishing on months-long waiting lists, died before they could see a doctor.
Fortunately, Milton Rackham of Belding, Michigan is still alive. But he was on a 68-year waiting list to do nothing more than receive the VA benefits that he was due. The 89-year-old World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient was told repeatedly by the VA for years that he could not receive his benefits because they had incomplete paperwork for him. The VA claimed that many of his war records were lost in a fire.
"They always said, 'we can't help you,'" Rackham recently told Fox News. “It made me feel like I was worthless.”
Now, through the help of a friend, Rackhman is receiving at least some of his benefits. Two months ago he started receiving an $822 monthly check and the VA sent him $7,000 in back pay.
"What drove me crazy was that they had the same information in 2008 and they denied me," Rackham said. "That’s what blows me out of the water. Ever since 1974, when I first asked for benefits, they've had the same information.”
His friend, Myrl Thompson, said he helped Rackham fill out and submit a new application for benefits in 2013. Shortly after that Rackham received a letter stating that his benefits had been approved "at the level of 50 percent." The veteran uses the money to help pay for prescriptions and other costs.
Thompson and Rackham teamed up years ago when Thompson approached the Navy veteran about telling his wartime story.
Rackham served in the Pacific during the war, manning a machine on a PT boat for the Navy. He was wounded by shrapnel while defending a U.S. ammunition supply against a kamikaze attack. The wounds left his hands too weak to get a job as a mechanic after the war and he continues to suffer nightmares from his experiences.
Thompson never went to war. As college graduate during World War II he spent those years as an engineer designing and building machine guns for the war effort.
“I felt kind of guilty about that,” Thompson told his local paper, Belding’s The Daily News. “I was a college student working in a plant that built machine guns. Meanwhile, guys like Milt are right there putting their lives on the line. I felt guilty about it for years. Milt told me to get off that kick and just tell the stories.”
Eventually Thompson compiled the stories into a book. Doing so helped relieve some of that guilt.
Some have suggested that Rackham appeal his 50 percent benefit and the paltry 10 months in back pay he has received but he does not think he will.
"I won't live long enough to go through the VA process one more time,” he said.
He does have one message he wishes to pass on 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."