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Veterans dept. says ex-marine owes nearly $4,000

• But Carl Diekman, who served on Iwo Jima, doesn't agree.

Posted: April 28, 2008 2:14 a.m.
Updated: June 29, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Carl Diekman, who served on Iwo Jima, received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs telling him he was being cut off from his monthly $84 veterans check and was, instead, told to pay the U.S. government nearly $4,000.

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Picture in your mind the iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph of the Second World War.

One of the proudest moments in American history - five brave U.S. Marines and one U.S. Navy serviceman working together to erect the Stars & Stripes atop a strategic island in the West Pacific Ocean.

Now subtract one of those six flag bearers from that mental snapshot.

Unthinkable.

Yet, for a Canyon Country family of a World War II veteran, that's exactly what the Department of Veterans Affairs did when it cut off veterans checks to a highly-decorated U.S. Marine who served in Iwo Jima that flag-raising day.

Retired Staff Sergeant Carl Diekman of the U.S. Marines 5th Division was one of 110,000 Marines on one of 880 vessels sent to Iwo Jima in the closing months of the Second World War.

Cutting him out of his monthly VA check this year was like cutting a Marine out of the famous Iwo Jima photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal more than a half century ago.

On Feb. 23, 1945, when his fellow Marines were raising the flag on Mount Suribachi, Diekman was on the Iwo Jima coast waiting to join them.

Today, at 87, his hearing isn't very good, yet his voice remains big and booming. His hands are big as well, muscular with pronounced blue veins. And, when he extends his trembling hand it's clear to whomever he greets - here is a man who has worked hard all his life.

"When the flag was raised, I was aboard a ship, ready to disembark," he said, with a proud unwavering voice, remembering his combat experience.

This month, Diekman received a letter from the VA office telling him he was being cut off from his monthly $84 veterans check and was, instead, told to pay the U.S. government nearly $4,000 or have his case turned over to a collection agency.

Diekman stopped in his reflection of the past, to talk about the present.

"I was dumfounded," he explained, on the porch of his mobile home inside Granada Villa on Soledad Canyon Road.

He received his last VA check four months ago.

Now, he and his family are doing whatever they can to get the government to support its troops - or, at least, support one retired white-haired trooper who fought a long time ago.

"They denied him his VA benefits, took them away actually," said his son, Trevor.

• • •

More than 6,800 servicemen in the Allied Forces died in action at Iwo Jima.

The flag-raising at Iwo Jima represents much to Americans, but not as much as it does to Carl Diekman.

He has a wooden wall plaque of the Iwo Jima flag-raising that he carved himself in his retirement.

Also, on his wall inside his modest mobile home is a plaque of medals that include: a Veteran WW2 medal; an Asian Pacific Campaign medal; a Good Conduct Marine Corps medal with the 5th Division; a National Defense medal; a Navy Occupation Service medal; a Naval Commendation; Staff Sergeant 5th Division U.S. Marine Corps.

His latest presentation from the U.S. government? An unsigned letter from the VA office asking him to pay up.

"They say we make too much money by their standards," Diekman said.

Diekman's military pals who gathered around the portable porch swing at his mobile home, shake their heads at the suggestion Diekman has too much money.

"You know, they do this to so many ex-servicemen," said retired Sergeant Chuck Sweeney, of Santa Clarita.

"They praise them while they're serving,  and then, for $84 a month, because of some bureaucratic snafu, they're going to take it away from a guy who's got nothing - after all the service he's given them.

• • •

To understand Diekman's "bureaucratic snafu," it's essential to understand the service he gave to his country. He enlisted in 1942, served in the Second World War and was out in 1946. He went back in and served in 1950 and was out in 1951. He was stationed at Parris Island boot camp in South Carolina, sent to the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Va., later to Camp Pendleton near San Diego, then dispatched overseas to Iwo Jima.

"My combat was in Iwo Jima, then I was back in the states," Diekman said. "I was discharged. But I was in active reserve and they called me back in 50, until
51."

After that, he married.

"Forty, 45 years ago, I had health problems and got disabled so I applied to the VA," Diekman said.

"At that time, they awarded me 84 dollars a month," he said.

The "snafu" began in earnest for Diekman when his wife died in 2003.

"My first wife, passed away after 60 years of marriage," Diekman said.

"I remarried. And, each year, the VA sends you out a letter to fill out if your financial status has changed or marriage which, like a good Samaritan, I filled it out and sent it in. A year and a half later I was notified that they had overpaid me $3,936." he said.

According to the latest document sent to Diekman from the Department of Veterans Affairs, if he does not pay the $3,936, the matter will be turned over to a collections agency which would then jeopardize his social security checks being sent to him.

Diekman's son, Trevor, has been on the phone to VA officials, Washington representatives and has appealed to Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon who has, according to Trevor, appealed to the VA office on his behalf.

• • •

When Carl Diekman was cut off of his VA checks, his son hired a lawyer and together they appealed in March to the government to review the case.

Diekman's appeal reads: "I served my country honorably in World War II with surviving Iwo Jima and served during the Korean War conflict. My children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have all been raised as honorable and respectful American citizens.

I feel that a review of my situation would hopefully grant a favorable decision in my appeal to disallow the overpayment."

The government's response to the Diekman family has been formal, rigid and faceless.

Copies of the letters obtained by The Signal on VA letterhead addressed to Carl Diekman bear no signature, rank, title or name - just an order to pay up.

The last letter from the VA office, dated April 18, 2008 signed only "Chief, Operations Division" but not signed and bearing no name, reads:

"This is to inform you that your request for waiver of your indebtedness has been referred to the Committee on Waivers and Compromises for review and a decision.

No further action is required on your part at this time. As soon as they have reached a decision, we will notify you."

For decorated U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Carl Diekman it's the word ‘indebtedness' that stands out from the rest of the letter.

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