A decorated Vietnam war hero’s hopes of returning to his Hattiesburg home and leading an independent life were crushed days before Christmas when his new prosthetic legs were suddenly repossessed.
Jerry Holliman‘s limbs since have been returned, but the Mississippi man says he still can’t use them — turning his temporary stay at a local veteran’s home into a stopover with no end in sight.
“‘I’ve been here over a year. I wanna go home,” Holliman told the Mississippi Clarion Ledger. “This place is not for me. It’s a dignified place for these guys to die, that’s what it is.”
Holliman, who twice served as an active duty military member, still owes on the artificial limbs and says the United States Veterans Association won’t cover the cost. The 69 year old was encouraged to file a Medicare claim, but the government wants to stick him with the co-pay.
It’s unclear how much Holliman would be responsible for paying, but a 2013 ABC News report put the cost of prosthetic legs at anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, not including replacement costs for typical wear and tear.
Last August, Holliman was fitted with artificial limbs from the Hattiesburg-based Hanger Clinic after losing both his legs to diabetes. The Iraq war vet and Gold Star recipient, who was exposed to the powerful herbicide Agent Orange, has beaten three forms of cancer in his lifetime, but said his diabetes eventually began affecting his limbs. Holliman had volunteered to serve as an 18 year old, later with a promotion as squad leader, in Vietnam.
Holliman’s condition only worsened and he would end up losing his legs entirely. He had his right leg amputated in November 2018, the Clarion reported, and the left one was removed in April.
The former Army soldier was placed at the Veterans Home in Collins for rehabilitation and to work on regaining his mobility. After a few sessions with Hanger staff, however, Holliman said he was informed that the VA wouldn’t be paying for his legs.
Frustrated, he opted to go a different route: Medicare. Holliman said he was never given a final cost, though, and the paperwork indicated he would be responsible for the co-pay — which he refused.
“This is their responsibility,” he said.
So on Dec. 23, a Hanger rep initially sent to adjust Holliman’s prosthetics wound up taking the limbs and leaving. His son, Jerald, was stunned by the news.
“He was always under the impression, ‘These were my legs,’ ” said Jerald. “What he’s done for his community and his country … for them to have taken these legs is an insult.”
Holliman was just as shocked, and quickly realized he become one of the millions of military vets who had somehow slipped through the cracks.
“I went into Vietnam in 1970 and stayed in the military until I was 60 years old. This is ridiculous … Insane really,” he told the Daily Mail in a separate interview. “You spend so long, doing something for your country, and you expect it to do something in return, but it doesn’t happen.”
According to his profile on PurpleHeartHomeUSA.org, Holliman served 40 years in the U.S. Army and participated in 37 convoy missions in Iraq from 2004-2005. He was honorably discharged in 2010, ending his military career with the rank of sergeant master.
It wasn’t long after Holliman went public with his story that his prosthetic limbs were returned. The Clarion Ledger reported that a Hanger employee showed up hours after their interview at the Veterans Home to bring the man back his legs.
‘You can have ’em,’” Holliman recalled the employee saying, “but they’re not going to do anything to them until the VA pays them.”
A spokesperson for Hanger declined to speak on Holliman’s case, citing federal privacy laws, but said the company “does not take back prosthetic devices after final delivery to a patient has been made.”
“Final delivery,” Holliman said, will only happen, however, once he signs the papers agreeing to have Medicare cover the cost and he covers the co-payment.
Spokeswoman Meghan Williams issued the following statement:
“We understand how critical the devices we build are for our patients’ rehabilitation. Its 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 afterwards. We are committed to empowering human potential, and want to see our patients regain their mobility and independence.”
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