Lake Bluff World War II veteran finally gets government benefits
World War II veteran Stanley Friedman of Lake Bluff served in the Army's landing in North Africa in 1942. He attends an ice cream social at the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 23, 2012 6:38AM
The icing on his birthday cake will be a little sweeter this year for decorated World War II veteran Stanley Friedman of Lake Bluff now that his decade-long appeal for post-traumatic stress disorder benefits has been resolved.
“For years they were telling me my records were lost, that I had no records,” said Friedman, who turns 92 on Wednesday, June 20.
That was before the Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic (VLSC) at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago connected Friedman with pro bono attorneys at DLA Piper who unraveled the mystery and appealed the case on his behalf.
Now Stanley and his wife of 59 years Minna Rae, 82, can rest a little easier, with benefits paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs back to 2000, when he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his experiences in North Africa and Italy. He served from 1941-45.
“When I came home (from the war), everything was so helter-skelter. It was almost impossible to find anything” like records, said Friedman, who sought government benefits for an injured back as early as 1946.
The Friedmans first recognized Stanley’s PTSD in the late 1990s when a grandson working on a school project asked him about his war experiences. Like many WWII vets, Stanley talked little about his past service until the floodgates opened with his grandson’s questions.
Stanley has been part of a PTSD support group at the Veterans Administration Hospital in North Chicago, now the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center, for more than a decade. The Friedmans moved from Skokie, where they lived more than 40 years, to Lake Bluff to be closer to the hospital.
“It’s my life there,” Stanley said of the hospital. He said the group that includes veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Pearl Harbor and WWII “made a human being out of me.”
For his wife Minna Rae, the work the attorneys have done on her husband’s behalf has made all the difference.
“The most important thing is it validates what he went through,” she said.
The monthly benefits check -- which finally started arriving in April -- will help, too.
“It’s a cushion so that we don’t have to worry and we can take care of anything that arises for us financially and medically,” Minna Rae said.
The Friedmans have nothing but admiration for the attorneys who helped them along the way.
‘Caught my eye’
James Garrett, formerly of DL Piper in San Diego, first took on Stanley’s case a just days before the 4th of July in 2009. He remembers the first e-mail he got from the VLSC looking for attorneys to assist veterans seeking benefits. The last name on the list was Stanley’s — the only WWII vet.
“It caught my eye. How could a World War II veteran still be in need of assistance?” Garrett recalled thinking. “I have been their counsel of record since that time.”
Garrett and Veronica Jackson, an associate in DLA Piper’s San Diego office, logged 250 hours interviewing Stanley and poring through microfilm and other documents to find corroborating evidence that showed Stanley experienced the traumatic events he said he did that triggered PTSD. Stanley had always been told that his records were lost in a 1973 fire that destroyed countless U.S. Army records in St. Louis.
His attorneys, however, realized the Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force. With the bits and pieces of details Friedman could recall from 60 years earlier, his attorneys found numerous references to Stanley in unit diaries among Air Force records.
“That was really significant,” Garrett said.
The attorneys filed the first papers with the Board of Veterans Appeals on Friedman’s behalf in December 2009. Eventually, the original ruling was overturned. Attorney Oksana Koltko, associate in DLA Piper’s Chicago office, fought for a higher level of benefits, which were granted.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Koltko said of Stanley Friedman’s case. “It’s opened my eyes that there are more and more veterans in need of our help.”