BREAUX BRIDGE — Sidney Hardy is a 93-year-old World War II veteran who is having to deal with the bureaucracy at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and it’s not the first time he’s had to deal with them.
This time the VA, whose responsibilities include providing health care and benefits to U.S. military veterans, is not paying a medical bill for which Hardy believes they’re responsible.
“I’m the kind of guy (who believes that) if the government says they’re going to pay for it, they should pay for it,” said Hardy, who is “Sid” to friends and family.
There’s no question Hardy qualifies for the 100 percent medical coverage the VA is suppose to provide: A soldier in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, Hardy fought through Normandy and in the Battle of the Bulge in northern France. He spent the last 102 days of the war in a German prison camp where a Nazi SS officer smashed his front teeth with the butt of a rifle.
Almost 70 years later, in December 2014, Hardy was feeling poorly. He had a friend drive him from his Breaux Bridge home to the Lafayette VA clinic where a nurse observed he was flushed, dehydrated, sweating and coughing up mucus.
“I think I have that flu they been talking about on TV,” he told VA personnel, according to medical records provided by Hardy.
The doctor at the clinic on Jefferson Street referred him to the Alexandria VA Medical Center in Pineville, over 80 miles away in central Louisiana. Unable to get a ride to Pineville, Hardy was told by clinic personnel that he could check into any emergency room in Lafayette, and that the VA’s “continuity of care” would follow him, according to Hardy’s records.
At Lafayette General Medical Center, where he chose to go, Hardy gave the admitting nurse his insurance card for Medicare and not his VA card. Hardy said he thought his VA insurance would pay the portion not paid by Medicare. He was wrong: A Dec. 5-8, 2014, stay in the hospital was billed at almost $8,000, and Medicare paid roughly 85 percent of the bill.
VA Public Affairs Officer Tammie Arnold, who works at the VA Medical Center in Pineville, said last week that Hardy erred by offering his Medicare card and not the VA card.
“There’s only one government payer,” Arnold said Tuesday, explaining that the VA either is the primary insurer that pays 100 percent of a bill, or it pays zero.
Arnold said she would have to check into Hardy’s case, and somebody at the VA would contact him soon. By Friday afternoon, Hardy said, no one at the VA had contacted him about the bill.
For almost all of 2015, Hardy knew there was an unpaid balance. He said he received mailed bills from Lafayette General that claimed he owed $1,216 for the portion of the hospital bill that Medicare didn’t pay.
Hardy said he ignored the bills, figuring the notoriously slow-moving VA would eventually pay the balance. Again, he was wrong.
In November, a Baton Rouge attorney representing Lafayette General sent him a demand letter. This time Hardy didn’t ignore the bill: Like he’s done a few times in the past six years, Hardy called his friend Mike Day, a Vietnam War veteran who is active in Disabled American Veterans, a nonprofit organization.
The first time Hardy reached out to Day and DAV was at a 2009 outreach program for disabled veterans where Hardy told the organization that he never received the military benefits he was entitled to for his service in World War II. Hardy told DAV the reason was a 1973 fire at the St. Louis military personnel center had destroyed his records.
Without the records, the VA had no proof that Hardy had served in the U.S. Army, or had been part of Patton’s Third Army, or that he was held in a German POW camp.
Day said the first indication they could find of Hardy’s military service was in a book about Cajun soldiers, which had a photo of Hardy at the German prison camp. But Hardy’s bad luck struck again: the photo was of him, but his face was unrecognizable because it was heavily bandaged after the Nazi officer busted his teeth.
“It was just a fiasco,” Day said last week.
It took years of looking for records before the VA acknowledged in 2012 that Hardy was a war veteran and awarded him the benefits he’d missed out on for 67 years. It was a bittersweet victory: In June 2010, Hardy’s wife of 39 years, Agnes, passed away.
Last week, pointing to a photo of him and Agnes that hangs on the wall of their modest home, Hardy said, “Two months after she took this picture here she left me.”
Day said Hardy’s bill, the lost records, and the decades when he didn’t receive military benefits have been frustrating and absurd, “a comedy of errors, really.”
Daryl Cetnar, public information officer for Lafayette General, said a hospital liaison is working with Hardy to pare down or eliminate the balance owed to the hospital.
Hardy said he’s working with Lafayette General, and he appreciates the hospital’s efforts.
But he has not heard a word about the bill from VA officials at the medical center in Pineville, though he did receive a call from a VA official this week about knee braces that Hardy requested months ago.
“They asked me if I still needed the braces,” Hardy said. “Of course I still need them. … It’s like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.”