DAV fights for 100-year-old veteran to get long-overdue benefits for World War II injury
During World War II, Joseph Bennett served under Gen. George Patton in the famed 2nd Armored Division in campaigns across Africa and the European theater.
Decades later, Bennett’s daughter, Sue Byrd, was struggling to help her father pay medical bills due to his service-connected injuries.
She explained that when her father finally returned stateside after the war, he decided not to pursue benefits for the injuries he incurred in combat. The Army told transitioning soldiers this was their only opportunity to submit a claim and it would delay their out-processing for an indeterminate amount of time.
Understandably, after two and a half years overseas during the war, Bennett just wanted to go home. He had sustained hearing loss, which his daughter said was due to being in and around tanks and surrounded by bombings during the war. On one occasion in France, Bennett watched as enemy bombs struck three service members within yards of where he stood. His proximity to the blast caused his ears to bleed.
Bennett also sustained a combat injury impacting his back, knee and leg. At first, it was manageable. He sought care at the VA, and a brace helped him walk. Despite encouragement over the years to apply for VA benefits, Bennett still refused, heeding the Army instruction in 1945 that said he only had one chance to apply.
After Bennett retired to serve as a caregiver for his wife, he determined that he no longer required secondary insurance to supplement Medicare, instead relying on care at the local VA medical center.
His condition worsened in 2014. The 20 percent deductibles that Bennett had to pay for the non-VA emergency room care were adding up. Two years later, Byrd finally convinced her father to allow her to submit a claim on his behalf as his medical bills piled up and his savings drained.
Byrd worked with the DAV office in Manchester, N.H., and a claim was filed in 2016. In 2017, the VA accepted the hearing loss but denied the physical injury claim; the leg and knee injuries were separated into two claims. Two appeals were submitted and later granted in 2018, but one had an incorrect effective date. Meanwhile, Bennett’s health worsened.
“My dad was really sick earlier this year and back in the hospital again,” said Byrd. “Day to day, I didn’t know if he’d make it.”
Then DAV benefits specialist Jesse Welch jumped into action.
Welch stressed the veteran’s age and health condition to his counterparts at the Manchester VA Regional Office.
“We needed to get him paid,” explained Welch. “Joseph’s benefits would have disappeared if he passed away, despite his daughter helping him pay out of pocket to fund his care.”
The ability to help veterans like Bennett is what means the most to Welch. When the VA granted the earlier effective date just weeks before the World War II veteran’s 100th birthday in April, he was overcome with relief for both Byrd and her father.
“It was so important to me that we were able to get resolution for Joseph promptly due to his age and declining health,” said Welch.
“This means the money my father gets for disability and Social Security goes to his bank account instead of the medical bills he shouldn’t have had to pay,” said Byrd.
“Having an advocate like DAV to tell you not to quit is important,” she added. “I had someone to help me through the process and what I felt like was an injustice. He served, was injured and deserved to be taken care of.”
Welch understands firsthand that there is no expiration in honoring service. He served in the Marine Corps for a year and a half before a training injury forced his medical separation. Welch wasn’t even aware of the benefits he was eligible for until 25 years after his discharge from the military. A family friend connected him with DAV, and he finally received the benefits he earned through service—decades later. An introduction to the organization also provided him with the ability to continue serving.
“My service in the Marine Corps was cut short,” explained Welch. “I didn’t plan on leaving the military. Working at DAV is an opportunity for me to serve when I couldn’t before.”
“Every DAV benefits specialist has been on the other side of the table, going through the claims process themselves,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “They work tirelessly to ensure their fellow veterans receive the benefits they have earned through service. And when there is an absolute emergency—like cases with extenuating circumstances like Joseph’s—they can ensure the claim is processed expeditiously.”
“I am thankful for DAV and all they did to help me,” said Bennett.
“Too many veterans believe they have been out too long to get help,” said Welch. “It’s important they know that the recognition of their service has no expiration date.”
Need help with a claim? Contact a DAV national service office near you. Find yours at dav.org/veterans/find-your-local-office.