SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Department of Veteran Affairs’ latest decision on a World War II veteran’s denied pension claim left the door open for success but also made it “more difficult,” according to the man’s daughter.
Navy Ensign Willis “Spike” Link served on a ship assigned to be a decoy for enemy fire during the Battle of Iwo Jima. His daughter, Sheryl Link said he did not mentioned it to her until his later years when they were near the iconic Arlington National Cemetery memorial for the battle.
“We’re standing in front of it and my father just very quietly kind of looked down at me and said, ‘I was there,’” Link recalled.
Link said after VA personnel and others suggested her father was eligible for a pension, she helped him apply for one in 2016.
According to Link, the monthly benefit was approved, but a year of back pay was denied by the VA in 2017 after she said the agency claimed the Links missed a deadline.
“He earned this by fighting in World War II,” Link said. “He stood up and said I will give my life to this country. He did not back down. He put his life on the line.”
His daughter has yet to back off from the VA denial.
After an 8 On Your Side story about the case, the VA said Link could still apply but indicated she “must demonstrate that she was responsible for paying the last illness and burial expenses.”
Link said no one explained why that is a requirement, and she added that it feels as though the VA is changing the rules.
“That’s what it feels like to me. It feels like they were making it even more difficult to process,” Link said. “It became so emotional for me. If feels like if I don’t die, [the VA thinks] I’ll at least just get up and walk away.”
Link said she is in the process of working with her brother to file a new claim.
That also comes with a deadline of Oct. 12, which will mark a year since her father passed away at the age of 97.
The loss of her father was compounded by a cancelled appeal about the pension back-pay denial. Link died only a few months before the hearing was expected to take place at the beginning of this year.
Link said she is confident her father’s claim will be approved if an appeal is granted.
“If they would look at their own records, their own date time stamp, when it was received,” Link said. “It was within the timeframe that I was allowed to submit it.”
The VA indicated a new appeal is possible but again it is tied to the payment of the “last illness and burial expenses.”
In an email, the VA said “if the appeal is reinstated, payment of accrued benefits would be contingent upon a favorable decision” by the VA at the time of Link’s death.
Link is not ready to give up.
“I want to honor my father and have the VA give him what he earned for the sacrifices he made,” Link said. “My father was very much alive then. I don’t back down. I’m not giving up. I’m still asking for the same thing.”