WRAL Investigates

WWII vet struggles to get life-saving stockings from VA

Posted July 25, 2011 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated July 25, 2011 7:35 p.m. EDT

WRAL Investigates

— A simple pair of stockings has helped keep a local World War II veteran alive, but the government agency that provides them said he doesn’t qualify for the leg coverings any longer.

At age 84, DC Lawson is in pretty good health despite his injuries from grenade attacks in WWII.

“Both legs were injured, but the left leg got the worst of it,” he said.

Riddled with blood clots, Lawson began wearing the compression socks in 1966 after his doctors said he needed to have them on every waking hour of the day. He gets new pairs every six months after the old ones stretch out.

“When they are good, you can’t get a hold of them to pull them. They are that tight,” Lawson said.

Veterans Affairs has provided the Jobst body stockings, which cost $400 per pair, since 1966. Then, in June, Lawson said the VA would not allow him or his daughter to re-order the stockings.

“This is life-threatening. If I don’t wear the hose, blood clots are going to my heart and my lungs, and I’m going to die,” he said.

When Lawson called to place his last order, he says he was told he needed a prescription. His daughter, Pam Wilson, tried making some follow-up calls but said she was rarely able to get anybody on the phone. After a month of calling the VA, the office in Salisbury where his records are kept provided no answers.

“I haven’t been called back about anything,” Lawson said.

“It’s just like we’re in a maze of bureaucracy,” Wilson added. “That’s all he’s ever asked for and all he’s ever received, just the stockings.”

Lawson and his daughter said they were told at one point that he didn’t qualify for the socks at all, so they called Sen. Richard Burr’s office and WRAL News.

When WRAL News spoke with VA officials, they said they set up an appointment for Lawson for October, but acknowledged that he needed the socks sooner than that. They still couldn’t say why he had been told without warning that he needed a prescription or that he never qualified for the socks in the first place.

Dr. Joe Sutter, chief of management support at the Salisbury VA, later admitted to making some errors in the case and said Lawson does qualify for the stockings and that he does not need a prescription. Sutter said Lawson slipped through the cracks for many years and simply needed to be measured on a regular basis to make sure the stockings fit.

After WRAL’s phone call, Lawson got an immediate appointment last Friday. However, he was not measured during the appointment, which the VA said was necessary. The nurse practitioner took his blood pressure and had him answer questions about his medical history.

Still, the order was made and Lawson said he hopes the uncertainty is over.

“Surely, my country’s not going to let me down now,” he said. “I feel a little bit better, and I feel that they’re going to provide the hose.”

Lawson was 15 when he entered the Marines. He says he saved two men who lost their legs in the foxhole attack in Okinawa, Japan, that left him injured.

“I agreed to give me life when I was a young fella,” he said. “I don’t have long to live, but I want to live a good life."

Lawson said he hopes no other veteran has to deal with the same issues he has. Burr's office also followed up with the VA and told Lawson to expect his order of stockings to come in this week.

VA officials said Monday that they can't talk about Lawson's appointment last Friday until he signs paperwork releasing his file. They said they would mail that to him on Monday.