The Veterans Administration is under fire for its long waiting lists, but it's unlikely any of America's service members can match the claim by Milton Rackham: It took 68 years before he was given the benefits he earned in battle.
The 89-year-old Rackham, of Belding, Mich., lived for decades without any benefits because the VA told him his records were lost in a fire in Missouri, the World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient told FoxNews.com.
"They always said, 'we can't help you,'" recalled Rackham, a former engine mechanic with the U.S. Navy who suffered injuries during the war and later struggled to find work.
"It made me feel like I was worthless," he said.
In 2011, Rackham's friend, Myrl Thompson, began writing about Rackham's war stories, and arranged meetings between the veteran and VA officials over the benefits he allegedly never received. Roughly two months ago, Rackham claims he started receiving $822 a month from the VA as well as $7,000 in back-pay.
Perhaps more alarming is the allegation by Rackham that the VA had no new information on his record to prompt the payments some 68 years after he left the Navy.
"What drove me crazy was that they had the same information in 2008 and they denied me," he told FoxNews.com. "That’s what blows me out of the water. Ever since 1974, when I first asked for benefits, they've had the same information."
"Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction," Rackham said.
Rackham, who grew up herding cattle in Rigby, Idaho, said he enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old -- against the wishes of his mother. He fought aboard the PT Boat 81 in the Aleutian Islands for his first year. He later transferred to the South Pacific, where he was severely injured while defending a U.S. ammunition supply ship during a Japanese kamikaze attack. The explosion caused Rackham serious shrapnel wounds that nearly led to the amputation of an arm and leg.
After spending two years in Navy hospitals in Hawaii and Manila, Rackham returned to civilian life in Rigby.
During his mid-twenties, Rackham, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, set out for work only to be rejected by employers due to his weakened arms and hands.
"He couldn't handle the manual labor of being a mechanic," said Rackham's friend Thompson, 75, of Big Rapids, Mich.
Rackham, a devout churchgoer, later married and moved to Michigan, where he managed to run an upholstery business from his garage. For years, the father of six struggled financially. It was not until 1974 when he first applied to the VA for benefit consideration. He was denied five or six times over the course of 40 years, according to Rackham, due to "lack of complete information."
Thompson said he helped Rackham submit to the VA in 2013 detailed documentation of Rackham's service in the Navy. Following that submission, Thompson said Rackham received a letter, stating that his VA benefits had been approved "at the level of 50 percent." Since early this year, Rackham receives monthly checks of $822 that are labeled "VA benefit," which the 89-year-old is able to use to cover his medication and other costs.
Rackham's wife, Carol, might be eligible for spousal benefits, but has received no money to date, according to the family.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had no immediate comment when contacted Thursday, saying they needed time to review Rackham's file.
While Rackham was elated to receive the money so many years later, his shrapnel wounds remain.
"I still set off the metal detector at the airport," he told FoxNews.com.
Most devastating to Rackham is the emotional scar caused by war and left untreated by a system he claims failed him.
"I’d go to bed and wake my wife up with my screaming and thrashing around in bed," he said. "The nightmares ... they have been ongoing for 66 years and continue to this day."
Still, he says, "I was so proud to serve this country. I'm still able to get into my uniform."
Rackham also indicated that he was advised by friends to appeal the $822 and the $7,000, which amounts to 10 months in back pay, but he opted not to, saying, "I won't live long enough to go through the VA process one more time."
He said his message to the VA is simple: "One out of every six homeless people in America is a veteran. For heaven's sake, acknowledge them. They should never be forgotten."
Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.