93-year-old veteran fights for medical benefits


BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — He fought to protect us in World War II, but a Bakersfield veteran can not get medical benefits he needs. At 93 years old, Bill Quinlan needs more health care, but he’s being denied benefits because of an accident that happened almost 40 years ago.

By Carol Ferguson, Eyewitness News

Bill Quinlan

“I feel like I’m not a human anymore, because the computer says I’m not alive,” Quinlan told Eyewitness News. “They had a huge fire in St. Louis, and all these records are gone.”

Gone are the records that prove Quinlan’s military service.

He was in the Navy, a ship’s cook in the Pacific during the war. He was drafted in 1943 and honorably discharged in 1945. The problem is, there’s no official proof of his service. At least, not the specific, official documents the Veterans Administration requires.

Quinlan has some medical coverage, but his health problems are getting more serious.

“I was passing out, and I fell the first time in the bathroom, went into the shower door and broke it,” the veteran said. “The next time that I fell, I busted my ribs.”

Quinlan said he’s been fighting to get help from the VA, but nothing has worked. He’s also gone to the Kern County Veterans’ Services Office.

County office spokesman Mike Penney said they’ve tried to help him.

“I can tell you that he doesn’t have the proper documentation to support his service in the military,” Penney told Eyewitness News Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean he’s lying, doesn’t mean he’s not an honorably discharged veteran, but the way the Veterans Administration works, it ends up we wouldn’t be able to verify his honorable discharge.”

Penney said the county office requested Quinlan’s records, they searched through federal computers they have access to, and also asked for a search through the veterans’ clinic. In every case, no records turned up.

Penney is convinced Quinlan’s papers got destroyed in the St. Louis fire in 1973. That blaze caused problems for a lot of vets.

“Quite a few,” Penney said. “And of course, the older veterans mostly.”

The Kern County Veterans Office has a card filled out by Quinlan many years ago, but it’s handwritten and not considered an official document that’s required. Quinlan also has several certificates, including one that says “honorable discharge.” But again, those are not the papers required to provide proof for his benefits.

Veterans get official records of their discharge, but in cases like Quinlans’, the vets have lost these documents.

“When the documents are destroyed or lost, I don’t have an answer,” Penney said. “It’s really a federal issue.”

Eyewitness News contacted Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s office on Wednesday, and a spokesman said they would contact the Quinlan family immediately.

Penney said the military has back-up systems now for documents, but it’s been very frustrating at the county vets’ office, trying to help service members whose papers were destroyed in the fire.

“As long as he’s an honorably discharged veteran, he deserves to get all the benefits due him,” Penney said. “But our hands are tied unless we can provide that documentation.”

Quinlan said he was never out of work, and he just wants what is due for his military service.

“I’d go back if I could and serve them again, because it is my country and it is my duty,” Quinlan said. “All I want to do is get down there to the veterans’ hospital for them to take care of me. I don’t understand. As a veteran I have it coming, but I can’t get it.”

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