BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Phil King says he was injured in Iraq while serving in the United States Armed Forces. King, who served more than 20 years in the Air Force, applied for veterans' benefits after being diagnosis with ruptured discs in his neck and back, and nerve damage in his arms and legs.
In January 2006, the VA awarded King benefits based on an 80 percent service-connected disability rating. After receiving additional information from his doctors, King supplied the VA new information. King believed his disability rating should be increased to 100 percent.
In July 2007, the VA terminated all his VA benefits, including those not associated with disability benefits. The reason? The VA believed King was not permitted to receive benefits from outside sources at the same time.
In March 2008, eight months after it terminated King's benefits leaving him with essentially no income, the VA finally acknowledged their error and apologized. They awarded King a 100 percent disability rating and reinstated his benefits.
King said he withstood ordeals during his military career that spanned over two decades. He thought the military prepared him to face any obstacle that came his way. That is, until he had to deal with the Veterans Administration.
"I think, basically, the mental part was something that I wasn't used to dealing with," King said. "I lost my money that the VA took for eight months."
"I had a drinking problem to begin with; it got worse. I was a drunk." He added, "I was trying to do things to get over what the VA had done to me. I never experienced anything like that in my life, 22 years in the military."
Attorney Stephen Dummer represented King in his veterans' benefits civil action case against the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, a case that was filed in 2011. King's case went before the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
Dummer stated, "Phil King had one of the more interesting cases that I had the privilege to be a part of. In Phil's instance, there was a clear violation of a law - the Defense Base Act. Phil provided proof to the VA through a private carrier and the Department of Labor that the Defense Base Act applied and his money was not to be taken. The VA simply refused to accept that information or ignored every attempt by Phil to fix it."
King said he was seeking damages for loss of property and personal injuries allegedly caused by the negligence and/or malice of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and others in the VA.
In August 2013, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of King's claims, which prevented his case from ever starting because of a law which prevents a veteran from suing the VA in regular court. To make matters worse, a veteran cannot sue in the Court of Veterans Affairs because it cannot hear claims for damages.
According to Dummer, millions of veterans are facing similar problems across the country because of the culture created by the VA.
"I'm a Marine for one purpose: I know better than anyone how you shut up, sit down and listen," stated Dummer.
He said that's why many veterans don't try to fight the system.
"They are the ones who have put their life on the line trying to defend this country, but unfortunately, according to the laws as written, don't seem to protect them."
"Almost 49 percent of certain claims are still in error. That means that people who have legitimate, valid claims are being denied their benefit for no other reason than people simply didn't do it right," said Dummer.
Phil King admitted the ordeal affected him mentally. He said a neuro-nurse practitioner put him on depression medicine.
"I was just having a tough time in dealing with life. The depression medicine, I don't take anymore. The anxiety, I take once in a while if I need to, but a lot of it has to do with what happened to me in that court system. I think the worse part of it was, that I actually contemplated suicide."
King's attorney believes one of the reasons they lost was, if they had won, it would have opened up a legal path for other veterans to sue the federal government.
The VA in Tennessee sent me this response to the issues outlined in my special reports:
"As a Federal agency that is required to enforce the Privacy Act, we are obligated to protect the privacy of Veterans' personal information. Therefore, the VA cannot release personal information about a Veteran in our records system without that person's permission."
Additional resources for veterans:
Mississippi Association of the County Veterans Service:
(228) 435-8271 (Biloxi)
(228) 865-4027 (Gulfport)