Editor’s note: Chuck Norris’ weekly political column debuts each Monday in WND and is then syndicated by Creators News Service for publication elsewhere. His column in WND often runs hundreds of words longer than the subsequent release to other media.
I almost lost my Texas cool last week when reading a Fox News report about an 89-year-old wounded World War II veteran who had to wait 68 years since his time on the battlefield to receive benefits. And you thought long waits and mishandling of veteran care was only a recent problem?
Milton Rackham of Belding, Michigan, who is also a Purple Heart recipient, lived decades without benefits because the Department of Veterans Affairs said to him that his records were lost in a fire – at least that’s how the VA 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 – wounds that almost led to an arm and leg amputation and still bear shrapnel in them. He was two years recovering in Navy hospitals in Hawaii and Manila before returning to civilian life.
Two immediate war repercussions surged in his life: his inability to work as he did before the war due to 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 He 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 FoxNews.com: “I’d go to bed and wake my wife up with my screaming and thrashing around in bed. The nightmares … they 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, 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.
Tragically, for decades, the VA explained it could not offer Rackham any assistance or benefits because his records were lost in a Missouri fire. But strangely, just a couple months ago, after living 89 years on the planet, Rackham began receiving $822 a month labeled “VA Benefits” and $7,000 or roughly nine months back-pay.
And Rackham had a good hunch why: In 2011, his good buddy, Myrl Thompson, started fighting for him by writing and explaining to VA 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 2012: “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 or six times – due to the “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 again explained to FoxNews.com: “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.” Then 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’s myriad of other “exceptions to the rule,” too, like the dozens of other courageous veterans who are now dead because some were cooking the books and dodging civic duty at the veterans hospitals across America.
They are not exceptions to the rule. They are proof of the ongoing governmental corruption, 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.”