War vet battles government for support

SOCASTEE, SC (WMBF) – Inside a modest house in Socastee, SC, a veteran and his wife are in the battle of their lives.

They're trying to save their home, and their marriage.

Matthew Stoddard served overseas in Kyrgyszstan after 9/11 in support of America's war in Afghanistan. But, whatever happened over there may have followed Matthew home.

"He started changing," said his wife, April. "He would be angry. He would be hateful."

This veteran of the post-9/11 fight has post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The relationship he had with the kids started to be non-existent," April recalls. "He had alienated all of us. And I was afraid. I was seriously afraid."

She was scared their marriage would end, too. However, through the Veterans Administration, Matthew got medication and treatment.

April says he's doing better, but he's far from being healed.

"I'll just be sitting here and all of a sudden my shoulder will just start hurting," Matthew Stoddard recalls telling a doctor. "Or, I'll just move it…and I'm on my knees about ready to cry because of the pain."

The Stoddards say they have faced endless bureaucracy, sometimes out-and-out disrespect, and incompetence from the government as they've tried to get help.

April has kept track of it all with a pile of paperwork from the VA hospital in Charleston.

"And I found a lot of inconsistencies," she said.

Like the medical form that says her husband smokes half a pack of cigarettes every day. "He's never smoked a day in his life," April disputes.

"I had to get blood tests taken three times before they actually recorded my numbers," said Matthew," because they were losing blood samples and stuff."

The military hero has had two surgeries on his shoulder, the latest last fall at the VA hospital in Charleston.

But even though he had scheduled it about two months in advance, he learned the hospital staff had failed to reserve an operating room, so the surgery had to be pushed back nearly a month.

Matthew couldn't work. His job installing communications equipment required him to be able to lift 50 pounds. So he was depending on money from the VA to pay the bills.

The clerical mistakes and needless delays destroyed their credit, the Stoddards say. They're now on the verge of foreclosure.

"Come April, we don't have the money to make the next payment," said April. "We don't know where that money's going to come from."

Matthew has lost the job he had with a Grand Strand telecom company after working for them for five years. His boss said he couldn't wait any longer for Matthew to get better.

So the family of five, Matthew, April, and their three children, is living off what April makes as a part-time home health worker and $123 a month from the VA.

There have been kind advocates at the VA who've tried to help.

But Matthew and April say what's most disheartening are others at the VA who, in one case, literally slammed the door in their faces when they needed help.

"He goes, 'Well my office is closed. I'm not talking to anyone else today. You need to just go home'," recalled Matthew.

"Well, what do you mean your office is closed?" someone asked the advocate.

"My hours are right there on the door," Matthew recalls him saying, "as he rips a piece of paper that had been covering it and then slammed the door in our faces."

The Stoddards say they later got a written apology.

But that's the least of their worries; they want to know how they're going to be able to keep their house.

"It's a big question mark," said April. "We've just got to take one day at a time and do what we can."

The VA hospital in Charleston tells WMBF News they can't talk about the Stoddards' claims. However, VA officials in Columbia say they will talk to us now that the Stoddards have given their permission. WMBF News will be following-up with them.

The couple believes they are entitled to more benefits from the VA, due to Matthew's PTSD diagnosis.

They haven't seen any of that money yet, even though they say they filed the paperwork last August.

After WMBF News began asking questions about Matthew Stoddard's case, the local veterans advocate in Horry County called Matthew to offer his help.

The advocate has not, however, returned any calls from WMBF News.

Copyright 2011 WMBF News. All rights reserved.