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Victory is hollow for veteran's son

WASHINGTON—World War II veteran Donald Hart of Texas won his case with the Department of Veterans Affairs on the day he died.

In the eyes of the VA, it's as though his case never existed.

"That's just the way the law operates," a veterans law judge told Hart's son Edward during an often-tearful hearing on his father's case. The Harts both lived outside Fort Worth.

Hart was initially injured in a parachute jump. By 1997, the lingering effects of the injury had cost him the use of his legs. He needed costly around-the-clock medical care.

Hart received some disability benefits from the VA. But his family's lawyer said that from 1997 to 1999, the VA paid Hart nearly $3,000 less than it should have each month. (Hart's payments were much higher than the typical payment because of his severe disabilities.)

On May 15, 2000, the VA acknowledged the error, saying it should have begun paying him the higher amount in 1997. The amount due Hart, his lawyer estimated, was $63,000.

But on that same day, at 4:45 in the afternoon, Hart died. Since he had no widow or dependent children to collect the payment, the VA refused to send him a back-benefits check.

Edward Hart, who's fighting the VA for the back pay, testified that medical care cost more than $50,000 during his father's last years. He's argued to the veterans court that the agency shouldn't be rewarded for its delays and errors.

"I'd rather see lawyers get all the money than let the government keep it," he said.

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