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Outrage over VA demand growing in SCV

Feds want 87-year-old Iwo Jima vet to return nearly $4,000 in overpayments

Posted: May 3, 2008 9:22 p.m.
Updated: July 5, 2008 5:01 a.m.
 
"Support Our Troops" is more than just a bumper sticker for many Santa Clarita residents showing their support for an Iwo Jima veteran cut off from his veterans benefits.

More men and women, young and old - mostly elderly- and more servicemen including more U.S. Marines continue to contact The Signal asking how they can help a local 87-year-old vet after it was reported the Department of Veterans Affairs cut off his VA benefits.

"After reading your article about Carl Diekman, and what he's going through with the VA I couldn't believe that this was our government that is cutting off this brave man's benefits!," Dennis James wrote in an email to The Signal.  James owns Bill's Muffler & Custom Exhaust in Santa Clarita.

"Instead of cutting off Mr. Diekman's $84 a month they should be giving him 10 times that amount at least, for his service to this country.   I would like to help him if I could, is there someway to donate money to him to help get through this time until the VA comes to it's senses?

"This man deserves better than what he's getting from our government, I'm outraged!!."

As a young Marine, Diekman, jumped into the water on the coast of Iwo Jima shortly after five Marines and a U.S. Navy serviceman steadied the American flag on Mount Suribachi and fought in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.

Diekman surprised

Since then, four generations of his family have looked up to their "gentle giant" with love and respect, angry and disappointed that the government would cloud the waning years of his life with pettiness.

News this week of how Santa Clarita rallied around their Canyon Country hero, reached two of Diekman's daughters - Carla in Bakersfield and Margo in Colorado.

Margo Courtier, who ran a beauty salon in Canyon Country for years, wrote, "It is very sad to see this situation happen to him."

Carla Abbatoye wrote, "The loss in pension and a possible repayment has caused him great stress and to all of his family.  We all take on his problems and help as much as we can."

Like his sisters, Diekman's son, Trevor, is surprised at the outpouring of support demonstrated every day this week by Santa Clarita residents for his father.

When he read in The Signal that a retired Marine with little money wanted to send what little he had, Trevor said: "I was in tears."

Trevor Diekman explained that his father is a humble man who "was more concerned that his social security would be cut off and concerned that he didn't want it to happen to another vet.

"To see the way the community has responded, to have everybody come together like this -"

Trevor Diekman, who was in Oregon on Friday, said he plans on setting up a fund with the Bank of America on Tuesday when he returns, in the hope it would to handle money donated by so many caring people.

Arlene Sobel sent an email to The Signal asking where she could send him "a few dollars" adding: "Uncle Sam needs a reality check."

One retired U.S. Army reservist who fought a similar bureaucratic battle with federal agencies, suggested Diekman continue with his efforts to get the help of Congressman Howard 'Buck" McKeon.

"I was in Santa Clarita doing some work and read the story about Carl Diekman.  It was nice to see the number of people who had stepped up to help Mr. Diekman," John Brady wrote. "As a Retiree from the Army Reserve, I know how difficult it can be getting in touch with someone in Washington D.C. or any place else within the government to resolve a problem.  I would not have been able to get my situation straightened out with the help of my Congressman."

McKeon contacts VA

McKeon spokesman Bob Hauter told The Signal Friday: "We are working the case and we've contacted the VA."

Karen Heintz, of Saugus, wrote a letter to the editor saying: "It's truly a shame that the Department of Veterans Affairs has so little respect for this man is coming after him over $84.00 a month."

She closed her letter with: "Let's hope they do the right thing."

After a week of trying to reach someone at the VA office in St. Paul, Minn., which handles all veterans affairs "west of the Mississippi," The Signal found Casey McPartlan.

He answers the phones in St. Paul from vets wanting to know about their VA benefits.

McPartlan, who wasn't allowed to talk about Diekman's case because of privacy concerns, answered a few questions about vets being billed for overpayments made to them. "For marriages, we kind of use a big chart," McPartlan explained. "By adding a dependent, for instance, puts you in a new bracket."

Diekman stopped receiving his monthly $84 from the VA office, shortly after he filled out a form sent annually from the VA office to report a change in his marital status.

"We would have to know their net worth," McPartlan said about assessing the impact of spouse on a veteran's benefits.

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