Jerry Holliman had served in the military for 40 years, with his first active duty in Vietnam at the age of 18. He was then sent to Iraq as a master sergeant at the age of 53.
While in Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange, a chemical that has been known to cause a number of diseases, including cancer and diabetes.
Holliman recovered from three forms of cancer, but the 69-year-old was unable to fight off diabetes. Diabetes began affecting his legs, and VA provided him with a motorized wheelchair. They also added a ramp to help him access his kitchen, but the rest of the house remained wheelchair inaccessible.
In November 2018, Holliman’s right leg was amputated in an emergency surgery after gangrene set in. He then lost his left leg in April.
He moved to the Veterans Home in Collins, and hoped to move out once he got his mobility back. In August, he received his prosthetic legs from Hanger, a company that had offices in Hattiesburg.
He read the documents that came with the prosthetics carefully, noting how to clean and use the legs. He then started rehab at the nursing home.
Unfortunately, he was informed that VA would not pay for his prosthetics. Medicare required Holliman to co-pay, an option that he was not going to take.
"Medicare did not send me to Vietnam," he said. "I was sent there by my country... with the understanding that if something bad happened to me, that it would be covered by the VA."
He tried to reach out to VA, to no avail.
Two days before Christmas, Holliman received an unexpected guest. An employee from Hanger took the prosthetic legs and left with them.
Jerald, Holliman’s son, was shocked when he heard about the incident. “He was always under the impression, 'These were my legs,'” Jerald stated. "...What he's done for his community, his country ... for them to have taken these legs is an insult."
On January 2, the same man from Hanger came back and handed Holliman the legs. The joy was short-lived, as Holliman found that no adjustments had been made to the legs. He couldn’t walk without one leg folding in.
Holliman recalls the man telling him; “You can have ‘em, but they're not going to do anything to them until the VA pays them.”
When reached for comments, Susan Varcie, a spokeswoman at the VA Medical Center in Jackson, stated that she couldn’t comment on the case because of privacy laws.
Meghan Williams, spokeswoman for Hanger, also stated that privacy laws barred her from making comments about individual clients.
However, she did state that "Hanger Clinic does not take back prosthetic devices after final delivery to a patient has been made,” and that "final delivery" is only completed when "a patient has signed a verification of receipt that allows a claim for payment to be submitted to the applicable insurance payer."