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, Michigan, 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.