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Army vet claims prosthetic legs taken away because VA won’t pay bill; company won’t fix it until they’re paid

The Department of Veterans Affairs Building. (JeffOnWire/Flickr)
January 10, 2020

Jerry Holliman was sitting in a veterans home in Collins, Miss. in the days before Christmas when a man arrived to take his prosthetic legs that replaced the ones he lost from his military service

Holliman, 69, learned his limbs had been repossessed by their manufacturer, Hanger, amid a dispute between the Department of Veterans Affairs and Medicare over who should pay for the limbs, according to the Clarion-Ledger.

In August, Holliman had received the prosthetics, made by the national prosthetic company Hanger. Hanger reportedly helped Holliman through several training lessons before he was told the VA would not cover the cost of the prosthetic, according to Holliman.

Matthew Gowan, a spokesperson for the VA, told American Military News that the VA was not involved in the equipment purchase. Though Gowan could not provide specifics to Holliman’s case for privacy reasons, Gowan said the claims the VA would not cover the cost of the prosthetic are inaccurate.

“VA’s Prosthetic & Sensory Aids Service, which also has more than 600 local contracts with accredited orthotic and prosthetic providers, stands ready to deliver comprehensive support to optimize health and independence of our Veterans,” Gowan said. “If eligible veterans do not wish to take advantage of these services, VA is unable to intervene and correct issues arising with personal purchases.”

Holliman also said Hanger would not provide him with an estimate of the cost for his prosthetic. Disappointed with the information he was getting, the apparent lack of action by the VA and a belief he would have to cover a copay in order to pay for prosthetics through Medicare, Holliman said he refused to pay.

“Medicare did not send me to Vietnam,” Holliman said. “I was sent there by my country… with the understanding that if something bad happened to me, that it would be covered by the VA.”

Holliman volunteered to serve in Vietnam with the U.S. Army when he was 18 years old. He served again in combat in Iraq as a 53-year-old master sergeant. Holliman received Bronze Stars for his service in both wars. Between time served on active duty and with the National Guard, Holliman said he served 40 years in the military.

In the years following his service, Holliman’s health has deteriorated – a factor he attributes to his exposure to the “Agent Orange” herbicide chemical the U.S. used in Vietnam. The chemical has been connected to diseases, such as cancer and diabetes.

Holliman said he has suffered three separate forms of cancer as well as diabetes that has affected his legs. For a time he was able to get by with a motorized wheelchair provided by the VA, but he eventually had to have both his legs amputated after gangrene set in.

He had his right leg amputated in November 2018 and then his right leg in April 2019.

It was while he was staying at the state-run veterans home that Holliman said he tried to raise his concerns about the payments for his prosthetics. Due to his limited mobility and difficulty scheduling VA appoints, Holliman said he asked the staff at the Collins veterans home to contact the VA directly. Holliman said the VA ultimately turned down that request.

When a man came to repossess Holliman’s prosthetic limbs on Dec. 23, he tried to convince the man that the VA should have paid.

“This is their responsibility,” Holliman said.

“He was always under the impression, ‘These were my legs,'” Holliman’s son Jerald said. “…What he’s done for his community, his country … for them to have taken these legs is an insult.”

Hanger reportedly returned the limbs on Jan. 2 but the company told Holliman they would not set the limbs to their proper adjustment until the payment is handled. Holliman said he still can’t use the limbs as one will fold in on him if he tries to walk.

The company did not deny Holliman’s account of the dispute when the Clarion-Ledger reached out for comment, but said they could not discuss the details of the case unless Holliman waived his medical privacy rights.

Hanger spokeswoman Meghan Williams said, “Hanger Clinic does not take back prosthetic devices after final delivery to a patient has been made.”

Williams then clarified that “final delivery” is only recognized after a patient “has signed a verification of receipt that allows a claim for payment to be submitted to the applicable insurance payer.”

“We understand how critical the devices we build are for our patients’ rehabilitation,” Williams said in a statement. “It is our policy, in accordance with regulatory guidelines, to follow up with every patient we see and make necessary device adjustments through delivery and for at least 90 days afterward. We are committed to empowering human potential, and want to see our patients regain their mobility and independence.”

This article has been updated to include feedback from the VA regarding Holliman’s case. The headline has also been updated for accuracy.