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Vietnam Vet Credits Congressman for Getting Him Needed Help

Troops lay down covering fire with an M-60 machine gun during the Vietnam War. (DoD photo)
Troops lay down covering fire with an M-60 machine gun during the Vietnam War. (DoD photo)

For a year and a half, retired Marine Bill Carico needled the Department of Veterans Affairs for the disability back pay it owed him.

He called and wrote his congressmen and reached out to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

"I was a squeaky wheel, to say the least," said Carico, a Stafford County resident.

Mostly, though, the Vietnam War vet was met with silence and excuses.

So when he learned about a veterans town hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, in February, he decided to show up. In attendance: Keith Wilson, director of the VA's Roanoke office, with which he'd been battling.

The Free Lance-Star covered Carico's predicament in a story about the town hall.

When it was time for those in attendance to speak, Carico stood.

He recounted how the VA declared him dead in 1999, a mistake that put a stop to his retirement pay and benefits and nearly bankrupted him. And he told them about his latest fight for 18 months' worth of disability back pay.

Wittman and Wilson promised to make it right.

Carico is now happy to report that they did.

"I know the VA gets beat up. I'm not saying they don't deserve it," he said. "But in this instance, they did good."

Carico grew up in Huntington, W.Va. By high school, he was a standout athlete, playing football in the fall and baseball in the spring.

He transferred schools each season to play for the best teams. By his senior year, the school district told Carico all that switching had cost him his eligibility to play sports.

It was 1965, during a hasty build-up of US military forces in Vietnam.

"I quit school and went to see a Marine recruiter," Carico said.

The 17-year-old planned to play collegiate-level baseball and football for the military, unaware that the war in Southeast Asia would put an end to the teams by 1968.

"Baseball took the form of hand grenades for me," Carico said.

But he had no regrets.

During 23 years in the Marines, he served two tours in Vietnam and accumulated eight military occupational specialties.

"I wish I could have stayed longer," Carico said. "Father Time and getting beat up all those years started having an effect on me. I could not physically lead young Marines as I should be expected to do."

In August 2014, service-related medical issues -- including exposure to Agent Orange -- led the VA to declare Carico 100 percent disabled. He began receiving disability payments the following month. What he didn't get was the back pay he was owed dating to his initial claim in early 2012.

So began an 18-month fight that ultimately landed Carico at Wittman's Feb. 8 town hall meeting.

Because Carico was receiving Marine Corps retirement--and was more well-off than other veterans in the pipeline for similar payment--he'd have to wait indefinitely, he said he was told.

"I may be dead before they decide to give it to me," Carico said.

Wilson, the VA regional director, said at the meeting he was unaware of such a policy and promised to personally address the case.

Afterward, the congressman's district director reached out to the Roanoke VA to learn more, said Wittman spokeswoman Farahn Morgan.

Within a week of the meeting, Carico said, the issue was resolved. Soon after, so was a second problem he privately relayed to Wittman and VA representatives.

For years, Carico carried a private insurance policy that covered a FlexTouch pen for diabetes treatment. The pen delivers insulin less painfully than a needle.

When the private insurance became too expensive, Carico dropped it. The VA would issue the insulin only in syringe form, and he wanted no part of it.

After the town hall, "I got a few calls. Within 10 days--bingo. I got my FlexTouch pen insulin express mail from the VA."

Carico said if not for Wittman arranging for the town hall, "nothing would have been resolved. I'm convinced of it."

In a statement, the congressman called cases like Carico's sadly common.

"Our veterans have earned and deserve their benefits, and I believe we ought to be doing everything we can to streamline the benefit claims process," Wittman said. "I want to make sure that the brave men and women who've honorably served their country have access to real solutions, and I'm working to make that a reality."

In the meantime, Carico has more praise for the VA he once lambasted.

He recently started patronizing the new Hunter Holmes McGuire Veterans Affairs clinic, which opened in Spotsylvania County earlier this month to meet the area's growing demand for services.

"It's hard to compare how kind, considerate and courteous they are to any other medical facility I've ever been to," Carico said. "It's just a fantastic group."

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