FORT WORTH, Texas—It never occurred to World War II veteran Louis Comparin to file a disability claim for the numbness in his fingers, which regularly causes things to slip from his hands.
Then he met Cleo Dollarhide, a service officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Dollarhide recognized Comparin's symptoms as damage from frostbite—a legacy of the freezing temperatures he endured during the Battle of the Bulge and the Army's march across Europe during the winter of 1944-45. He encouraged Comparin, 79, to file a claim and helped him schedule an exam at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I see cases like this all of the time," Dollarhide said. "A lot of them do not know about compensation. It's never been explained to them. ... They have these symptoms and they figure they just have to live with it."
In May 2004, a VA doctor confirmed that the numbness in Comparin's hands and feet was from the cold during the war. The VA granted his claim in October.
Comparin spent much of the war trudging through snow and slush with little for warmth except his GI field jacket. "You're cold, but then you're scared. You didn't know if the Germans were in front or in back of you," Comparin said during an interview at his home in Fort Worth, Texas.
While he was a private first class in the Army's 35th Infantry Division, Comparin was shot twice and awarded two Purple Hearts. Since 1948, the VA had rated him 20 percent disabled from gunshot wounds. When it granted Comparin's cold injury claim, the VA boosted his disability rating to 50 percent—increasing his monthly payment from $205 to $663.
"I just went over there and did my job because they asked me to do it," said Comparin. "I don't feel like anybody owes me anything."
But the government does owe veterans, Dollarhide said. And without a good advocate, he said, they may never get what they deserve. He's now helping Comparin seek compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It's hard to go against the VA on your own—it's like going to court without a lawyer," Dollarhide said.