The year Leroy MacKlem lost his veterans disability compensation for a bad hip, gasoline cost 27 cents a gallon, a Yankee shortstop named Rizzuto was the American League’s most valuable player and President Harry S. Truman ordered production of the hydrogen bomb. It was 1950.
He is about to get it back. All of it.
In a case as much about government bungling as one man’s perseverance, the Department of Veterans Affairs said last week that it would end years of litigation and repay Mr. MacKlem, 88, for six decades’ worth of disputed disability compensation, about $400,000…
To which Mr. MacKlem, a World War II veteran from Portland, Mich., replied, “I’ll believe it when I get the settlement…”
In 1944, he received a medical discharge and was assigned a 20 percent disability rating for service-connected arthritis in his hip, entitling him to disability compensation. Mr. MacKlem later went to work in a plastics factory in Detroit.
But in 1950, the Veterans Administration, as it was then known, severed his compensation, saying that his pain resulted from the “natural progress” of his pre-service injury. His monthly payments of $105 ended.
And there the case sat for 56 years.
In 2006, Mr. MacKlem — for reasons his lawyer could not explain — decided to appeal, saying the department made a “clear and unmistakable error” in its 1950 decision. A regional office in Detroit rejected his argument, and he submitted a notice of disagreement.
Then a curious thing happened. Mr. MacKlem received a letter in June 2007 saying that a review officer had concluded that the 1950 ruling was indeed wrong and that he should be granted retroactive benefits. Mr. MacKlem was not supposed to get that letter…A few weeks later, the department sent him another letter saying that the June notice was only a draft and that his benefits would not be restored. He appealed. And while his appeal was pending, a federal court ruled in 2009 that the department’s “extraordinary award procedure” for reviewing compensation awards larger than $250,000 or for retroactive payments dating back more than eight years was illegal.
In 2010, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled that the department had to reinstate Mr. MacKlem’s award because it had been reversed under that now illegal “extraordinary award procedure…” This month, a federal appeals court upheld that decision…
“I’ve always had the feeling that the government was hoping that I would die so they wouldn’t have to pay,” said Mr. MacKlem, a widower with no children. Disability payments to veterans with no immediate survivors are returned to the department, Mr. Viterna said.
Having watched my closest friend more than once forced into battling the VA to keep benefits for injuries that kept him in hospital for 16 months after the war – I don’t doubt in the least that some petty-minded bureaucrat felt it his duty to screw some poor grunt who risked his life in one of the few worthwhile wars this nation has fought in centuries.