Update: The VA says it has reached out to Bill Carpenter since our story and is reviewing his case.
If you couldn’t tell from the flagpole and flag outside Bill Carpenter’s home in Cornwall, Lebanon County, you immediately get the hint the minute you step inside.
Bill is the patriotic type.
“Every shirt I own has a flag on it,” Carpenter said with a chuckle while wearing a golf shirt with a flag on the left breast.
But he’s not joking.
His home is red, white and blue all over. Pictures, paintings, trinkets and throw blankets are all adorned with American flags and all over the place.
There are thousands of flag items, he says with pride and then he pulls out a photo of a young boy in a body cast.
“That’s me,” Carpenter said, of the first-grade boy covered in plaster and holding a flag.
Polio could have kept Carpenter from being drafted. But he never mentioned it, and off to Vietnam he went.
“We were ambushed and we were ordered to pull back,” Carpenter said of the Viet Cong attack in January 1966. “I refused to pull back because we had two or three guys still out there.”
Carpenter got three fallen soldiers off the battlefield.
But the enemy got Bill.
“I got shot seven times,” he said.
Carpenter earned a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, and several scars.
He lifts the sleeve covering his left arm and shows a tangled web of scar tissue.
“The bullet blew everything away. I had a surgery on the median nerve,” he said, adding that his pointer finger and thumb are numb.
But the Department of Veterans Affairs determined Bill’s arm troubles are not “service connected.” It has denied him 100-percent disability which would pay about $3,500 a month. Instead, he gets just under $1,900 per month.
“Unless he went on vacation and that’s what they thought he was doing at the height of the Tet Offensive, it doesn’t make sense,” state Rep. Frank Ryan (R-Lebanon) said.
Ryan is a retired U.S. Marine colonel who sits on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Ryan says when President Trump took office, the VA had a backlog of 280,000 unresolved cases like Carpenter’s. That number is down to 80,000, an improvement.
“There’s still 80,000 Americans who served their country honorably that are not getting the service and care they need,” Ryan said.
Carpenter has appealed his disability denial and showed us the numerous forms he’s gotten from regional VA offices in Cleveland, Albuquerque, Janesville, Wisconsin, and Philadelphia. Paperwork he’s gotten, answers he hasn’t.
“I go to the mail every day thinking this will be the day,” Carpenter said with a chuckle, “but it’s not.”
Over several days, we sent emails and called the VA’s media affairs office. On Wednesday night, just hours before the story aired, they responded with a consent form it wanted signed by Carpenter to grant permission to look into his case. We immediately forwarded it to the Carpenters who said they had already filled out a similar form for Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who has also inquired about Bill’s case.
President Trump did create a hotline for veterans to call with VA complaints. It is 855 948-2311. It’s staffed 24/7.