Six years and counting; siblings await word on father's veterans' benefit

World War II veteran Michael James Zacklan was 90 years old and suffering from dementia when his children helped him apply in 2009 for a benefit that would enable him to afford health care at home and avoid going into a nursing home.

Zacklan, a recipient of the Purple Heart, resided with one of his four children for 20 years in Warren, Roseville, Fair Haven, Center Line and Clinton Township. The siblings shared the responsibility for tending to his daily needs.

Bottom line, we wanted to keep him at home. He wanted to be at home, said David Zacklan of Roseville, the youngest of three sons.

He and his siblings hoped the U.S. Veterans Administration would approve financial assistance under the Veteran Directed Home and Community-Based Services program, which was created in 2008 to give veterans a choice of remaining at home or enter a nursing home. The program enables veterans to have greater input in determining the services they need, including the actual selection of caregivers, necessary home modifications and buying appliances.

The program reimburses caregiver costs to veterans receiving a military pension or other compensation, based on the individuals need for help with daily activities.

Michael Zacklan, who earned a Purple Heart, was well enough to remain at home because of the loving care provided by his four children and health care professionals. His eldest son, Mike, and his wife even moved in for a year. David Zacklans employer allowed him to work two, 16-hour shifts on weekends to enable him to be home for his diabetic father more often on weekdays.

When the care was needed around the clock and became a bit more than they could handle, they paid an agency that sent nurses, a podiatrist and a physical therapist to provide care from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The continuing growing cost, sometimes $1,000 a week, gobbled his pension checks and took a toll on the retired bricklayers savings.

Meantime, the Zacklan children continued to wait for an answer from the VA on the in-home care assistance application, checking every month.

Their frustration grew.

MAN OF FEW WORDS

Even as a young boy, David Zacklan knew his father had difficulty coping with his experiences of World War II. In August 1941 at age 22, Illinois native Michael Zacklan was drafted and served in the Army for 3 years, 4 months and 15 days, according to military documents. He was a tank crewman, and served in combat in Tunisia and Italy.

David Zacklan said his father communicated the horrors of war via letters from overseas to one of his brothers. One story told of two friends in his tank that were killed. He would later say his helmet saved his life.

After honorable discharge from the Army in January 1945, Michael got married, raised a family and worked approximately 30 years at Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. as a brick mason. Like many veterans, he revealed few details of war to his children. He needed medication to calm post-war stress.

I never heard a bad word about my dad, David said. He said very little, but when he said something, it meant something.

Upon graduating from high school in 1974, David considered joining the armed forces. His fathers response: You might want to reconsider.

Two days before he planned to enlist, David cancelled that plan when his mother suffered her second stroke. She died that year.

In separate interviews, David and his brother, Mike, said their father was patriotic and proud of his military service, even if he revealed few details to his children.

He said, We (the nation) cant be weak. If we let our guard down, the enemy will come in, the younger brother said.

In retirement and widowed, one of the houses he and David moved into had an empty flagpole in the front yard.

My dad said, Get a flag there. And I did, his son said. David often watched as his father sat in a chair in the front room of the house, quietly looking at the pole and Old Glory. He displayed a small flag on his dresser and regularly attended meetings as a member of the Disabled American Veterans.

He had no interest in getting married again and told his children nobody could replace their mother. His dog became his loyal companion. He watched CNN for hours, fixated by U.S. military involvement in the Middle East.

Also in his early 70s, Michael Zacklan purchased an Army uniform, put stickers of stars on the bumper of his Chevy Caprice and drove around the area, telling unknown motorists and pedestrians: You need to turn yourself in.

He was still fighting the war till the day he died, David said.

NO ANSWERS

In 2010, Michael Zacklan was placed into a Macomb County nursing home. He developed a urinary tract infection, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, his children found an available bed at a Livonia nursing home they liked, knowing his money would eventually run out while trying to pay the $7,200 monthly fee.

The Zacklan children said they never used any of their fathers money, including his military service-related disability pension from the government or his savings, for their own use. Their plan was that when his money ran out, the nursing home care would be funded by Medicaid.

David Zacklan continued to ask whether the application to the VA had been approved. Each time, the answer was always the same: Its in the process.

I said, Are they waiting for our dad to die before they approve this benefit? He said, Youre not the first person to make that statement.

Michael Zacklan died March 14, 2011 nine months after entering the Livonia facility and just a week before son, Mike, was to meet with a Medicaid representative for his fathers application for assistance from that program. He was 92.

However, the family never got word whether his application for the Veteran Directed Home and Community-Based Services program had been approved.

Then came the phone call.

A Veterans Administration claims representative contacted Mike, and notified him that if Medicaid took effect, his fathers pension would be slashed in half.

The timing was like a punch to the gut.

He told the woman at the other end of the call that his dad died a week earlier.

She didnt act like she knew he had died, said Mike Zacklan, of Traverse City. We call this the greatest country on Earth, and this is how we treat the veterans?

We were furious, said David, 59, of Roseville. He later contacted an attorney who told him he couldnt take up a case because he was moving to Arizona but urged him to press forward despite his fathers death.

David convinced an area VA official to re-open the case, which meant re-filing of numerous documents. The family also applied for a VA benefit that provides reimbursement of funeral costs.

Zacklan wrote a letter to U.S. Rep. Candice Miller last year, complimenting her on a guest column she wrote in The Macomb Daily on the need to preserve and properly administer benefits for the nations war veterans. The letter was referred to Congressman Sander Levin, a Royal Oak Democrat whose district includes Roseville.

Levins staff has gone to bat for the Zacklan family since June 2014, trying to cut through red tape. Progress has been slow.

It is completely unacceptable for a case to drag on for so long, with so many missteps along the way, said Josh Drobnyk, a Levin staffer. Our office is very frustrated by the departments handling of this case and we are working to bring resolution for the Zacklan family as soon as possible.

David Zacklan, 59, insists hes not angry, but disappointment and frustration shows in his words.

Four years after his fathers death, he remains determined, hoping to set an example on behalf of thousands of other veterans and their families.

Ill fight this till my very last breath, he said.

http://www.macombdaily.com/veterans/20150418/six-years-and-counting-siblings-await-word-on-fathers-veterans-benefit


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