James Howerton served in Vietnam from February 1969 to February 1970. Mr. Howerton served in the Infantry attached to the 1st CAV in Quang Tri near the DMZ. At the time, like many others, he had no idea that his time in Vietnam would have the impact on the rest of his life like it has.
After working with another Veteran Organization’s Service Office and being let down through the claims process, Mr. Howerton reached out to his veterans’ group. He told his group that he was frustrated because he could never get a hold of anyone, documents he would send in were not getting submitted to the VA and when he had an appeal hearing – no one from their office showed up on his behalf.
One veteran from his group advised him that he needed to go to the American Legion Service Office, “They are the real deal.” Mr. Howerton was told by several veterans what a great job the American Legion did for them. Losing hope in the system, Mr. Howerton and five other veterans took a leap of faith and switched from their current service organization to the American Legion.
Shortly after Mr. Howerton started working with the American Legion Service Office, he became a member. “You all genuinely care about us and that means a lot. We (veterans) don’t know what to do and that is why we need you guys. You do what you say you are going to do and don’t give up until we get what we need.”
Three years after his last claim was filed, Mr. Howerton began experiencing pain and had to go to the Emergency Room. “My back hurt and I felt like was my spine being ripped out.” After a couple visits and tests, Mr. Howerton was back in the Emergency Room. Him and his wife had not even been taken to the back when the nurse came out and said, “Mr. Howerton, you have Stage 4 Kidney cancer.” In a matter of a minute he went from back pain to Stage 4 cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
After two days in the hospital, Mr. Howerton told his wife that he had to call the American Legion. Worried about his wife being taken care of and not knowing what to do, he knew he could count on the American Legion. Upon calling, he was notified that the Service Office was not open to public at this time due to Covid19. After explaining the situation to the Service Officer she advised him of what he would need to file his new claim and that she would see what could be done about meeting with him after he had the necessary documentation.
The next week, Mr. Howerton called stating that he had the proper documentation. Giving the severity of the news from his appointment that day, the service officer informed him that although no one could come into the office, she would be willing to meet with him in the hallway. Mr. Howerton stated that was fine and that he would be in that afternoon.
When Mr. Howerton and his wife got to the office the Service Officer with the assistance of another Service Officer had everything ready to be completed for a new claim, including the documents his wife would need in the event of his passing. After talking with the couple, the Service Officers were advised that the Board of Veterans Appeals had made a decision in May, but no payments had begun. The Service Officers were also made aware that the couple did not know of the property tax exemption now that Mr. Howerton was 100% service connected.
The Service Officers stated to the Howerton’s that they were going to see what they could do about these issues and try their best to get them addressed as quickly as possible given the nature of his health. The Service Officers also explained to Mrs. Howerton what she would need to do in the event of Mr. Howerton’s passing and explained the benefits available to her as a spouse at that time. The Service Officers assured Mr. Howerton that they would take care of his wife the same way they take care of him as her well being is his biggest concern with all of this.
On July 1, 2020 the Service Officer filed a statement that the veteran had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and requested that an Award Letter be issued. On July 7, 2020, 54 days after the decision had been made by the Board of Veteran Appeals, the Service Officer called Mr. Howerton and informed him that not only had his Award been calculated but him and his wife would be receiving a back payment of just over seventy-eight thousand dollars ($78,000.00) and that a letter had been issued for the property tax exemption.
Although the Howerton’s have received this award, Mrs. Howerton has had to return to work. With this, Mr. Howerton is unable to transport himself to and from his treatments due to the side effects of the Chemo and Radiation. Through the relationship Mr. Howerton has built with the Service Office and the service officer that has assisted him through this, the Service Office was able to put him in contact with a fellow veteran to assist in transporting him to and from his appointments.
Mr. Howerton is so grateful for the American Legion Service Office that he will be renewing his membership as a Lifetime Member of the American Legion at Post 0661. “I can’t thank you all enough for everything you have done for me and my family. Without you, I don’t know where I would be. As long as, I am around, I will tell every veteran I know that they need to go the American Legion because they go above and beyond.”