LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – When Walter Williams was 17, he lied about his age, joined the U.S. Navy, and then fought at Iwo Jima. After the war, Williams entered into the Reserves and was called back to active duty during the Korean War. He made it through two bloody conflicts unscathed. In July, a mistake by the Veterans Administration killed him.
“On July 25 they sent out a letter saying my father was deceased,” daughter Rita Mixon said.
Ninety-year-old Williams is hardly dead. He suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Mixon cares for him full-time. When the VA killed him off in July, it also deep-sixed Williams’ VA and Social Security pensions. It also demanded $1,700 it deposited into Williams’ account be returned to the VA.
“I’m not sure where I’m going to find the money for the electric bill,” Mixon said. With no money coming in since July, Mixon contacted her congressman, Dennis Ross. His office contacted the VA.
Mixon repeatedly called the VA, speaking with someone different nearly every time. “I feel like getting off the phone at times and just banging my head against the wall. I am so frustrated over the fact that nobody seems to get the fact that we’ve got to have the money to pay the bills,” she said.
At the end of her rope, Mixon contacted 8 On Your Side. We reached out to the director of the Stetson University College of Law Veterans Advocacy Clinic, Stacey-Rae Simcox.
“I’ve been working in this area of law for 10 years and I haven’t seen this before,” Simcox said. “The VA is a big bureaucracy and sometimes information does get misplaced or get entered in inappropriately.”
Simcox also sits on a new board, the first in the nation established by the VA, called MyV.A. Established in August, the board is comprised of VA directors, veterans, their families and advocates. The hope is it will help make dealing with the VA easier and provide veterans the help they need, faster. Also sitting on the board with Simcox is Kerrie Witty, the St. Petersburg VA regional office director.
“I would not normally reach out to them in this type of capacity, but this is what the MyV.A. board was created for, is to help veterans who are in the community find the right person at the VA,” Simcox pointed out. “So I emailed director Witty, who is very responsive, and let her know what the situation was and within an hour or an hour and a half, I think the office had it resolved.”
Simcox said Mixon did the right thing by contacting her congressman, as well as the VA. “There are so many people who have to handle the communications before it gets to a person who can actually make a decision, you know push the right button, that that’s the problem. That’s where the time is eaten up,” she added.
The VA told Mixon it will make Williams financially whole by the end of the week. “I had to find someone to hear me, because they weren’t hearing me. That’s when I reached out to 8 On Your Side to assist me, and it really made a big difference, so I am very grateful that we got this taken care of,” Mixon said.