When Leroy MacKlem lost his veterans disability compensation for an injured hip, gas cost 27 cents per gallon and Harry Truman was President. The year was 1950.
He just learned, however, that he will now get all of it back.
This is a case that reveals both bureaucratic incompetence on the part of the government, and unparalleled perseverance on the part of an 88-year old veteran. Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it would end years of litigation and repay Mr. MacKlem – a World War II veteran– for sixty years’ worth of disputed disability compensation, amounting to nearly $400,000.
The case is a sobering reminder of how disputes over disability benefits – particularly for veterans – can sometimes drag on for decades.
Of the 850,000 disability claims currently pending before the department, more than 35,000 (or 4%) are from World War II veterans.
Mike Viterna, the disability attorney representing Mr. MacKlem – as well as president of the National Organization of Veterans Advocates – said that “MacKlem is now the poster boy for all these cases.” He cited the retroactive award as one of the largest he had ever seen.
In 1943, Mr. MacKlem – then 19 – enlisted in the Army and took part in the invasion of Sicily. In the course of his service he developed hip pain so severe that the Army had to evacuate him.
Army doctors attributed his problems to a car accident that dislocated his hip two years earlier, before MacKlem enlisted. The veteran reported no pain during his initial Army physicals, but stated that he developed problems during basic training, and that these worsened in North Africa.
In 1944, MacKlem was given a medical discharge and assigned a 20 percent disability rating for service-related arthritis in the hip, entitling him to disability compensation. But then in 1950, the Veterans Administration terminated his compensation, stating that his pain was part of the “natural progress” of his pre-service injury. Monthly payments of $105 were cancelled at that time.
For reasons that MacKlem’s lawyer could not explain, the veteran decided to appeal in 2006, arguing that the department made a “clear and unmistakable error” in its 1950 decision. A regional office in Detroit initially rejected his argument, but 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.” Even though the department might have had good reason to rescind his compensation in 1950, it would now have to repay him all of it.
In light of his age, MacKlem has asked the department to make a bit more haste with the check.
“I’ve always had the feeling that the government was hoping that I would die so they wouldn’t have to pay,” said MacKlem, a widower without children. Disability payments to veterans with no immediate survivors are returned to the department.
Asked if the Department of Veterans Affairs had dragged out the case to avoid paying Mr. MacKlem, a spokesman replied that the notion was “simply not true.”
For legal advice and assistance with your L&I claim, contact a Seattle Workers’ Compensation Attorney at Emery Reddy. If the Department of Labor & Industries has required you to complete an Independent Medical Exam, we urge you to consult with an attorney prior to attending the IME. Finally, if your claim has been rejected, it is in your best interest to work with an experienced L&I attorney to appeal denied L&I claims.