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Discharged and dishonored: Shortchanging America's veterans

Knight Ridder

Jan 14, 2006

Online Therapy Treatment

Ask Gerry Corwin.

As the navigator aboard a B-24 bomber during World War II, Corwin survived more than 30 missions over Japanese-controlled waters. He came home to Minneapolis with two Air Medals - and disabling nightmares and flashbacks.


There were images of his buddies burning in planes crashed on runways and of a friend killed on a mission that Corwin persuaded him to take. By December 1984, those nightmares began to overtake the TV executive.

Corwin applied for disability benefits and was denied, in part because the VA couldn't find many of his military records, which had burned in a 1973 fire at a national archive in St. Louis. So Corwin went to the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs and enlisted the help of Kirk Jones, a service officer who'd become VA-accredited a year earlier through his state and the American Legion. Jones submitted a three-sentence letter on Corwin's behalf and didn't take any steps to prove Corwin's claim. He didn't, for example, push for a psychiatric examination from the VA. He didn't round up statements from Corwin's crew to corroborate that they'd been sent home in May 1945 for "combat fatigue."

"I should have suggested a VA examination," Jones, who no longer is a service officer, said recently. He acknowledged that he'd had minimal training when he first handled Corwin's claim. That 1984 claim went nowhere.

In 1995, Jones, who by then had gained extensive experience plus classroom training, restarted Corwin's claim. He did all the things he hadn't done a decade earlier, and more. This time, Jones helped Corwin win compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder and a heart problem. Jones filed several appeals, and each time the VA granted more benefits, eventually declaring Corwin totally disabled in 1998.

Even so, the veterans court ruled last summer that Corwin can't collect back pay from 1984-1995 because the proper documents weren't filed in 1986 to keep his original claim alive.

Corwin's loss is tens of thousands of dollars, he and his lawyer estimate. "It would mean a home. Let's start with that," said Corwin, 82, who with his wife, Katherine, has been living in a house her family owns in rural Mississippi.

"To have to come back and to fight 20 years to get what you're supposed to be given, and to fight your own government for it, is disappointing," he said.

Part One : Part Two : Part three : Park Four : Part Five :
Part Six : Part Seven : Part Eight : Part Nine : Part 10

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