Target 8: Pasco couple fears ‘we’d lose everything’ from V.A. cuts

PASCO COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Mike Zenz, of Holiday, was just 17-years-old when he enlisted in the Army in 1967. 

By 1968, he was in Vietnam. Mike, a member of the 101st Airborne, was fighting for his life in the midst of the Tet Offensive.

Mike scouted with the infantry. He was out in front, looking for the enemy. When he located them, he called in grids and coordinates so artillery and air strikes could knock them out.

“Walking through the jungle, and you know, there’s enemy around there, you really never know when you’re going to get it,” remembered Mike.

“I mean, he’s seen things that nobody should ever see,” wife Betty explained.

Mike witnessed combat and death close up.

Fifty years later, according to Barbara, Vietnam still haunts her husband.

“So, you suffer along with him,” she said. “I’ve cried many times. I get up in the middle of the night and he’s just crying and he’s whimpering and he’s beating his pillow and there’s nothing you can do.”

In 2014, Mike was diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder.

The V.A. determined he was 90 percent disabled.

Unable to hold a job, the V.A. granted Mike individual Unemployability benefits, paying him 100 percent disability.

“Right now, it’s my lifeline,” Mike explained.

At age 66, Mike also collects retirement from Social Security. Some call that double dipping.

“It’s not a double dip,” veterans disability attorney Ralph Bratch, of Clearwater, stated. “The one is money they’ve earned for being disabled from the military, the other is essentially their retirement package.”

The president’s proposed V.A. budget would strip Unemployability benefits from Mike and 225,000 veterans, 62 years of age or older, collecting Social Security retirement.

Money saved would help pay to send veterans to outside medical services.

At a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the proposal came under fire from several veterans service organizations.

“It became clear that this would be hurting some veterans and that this would be a takeaway from veterans that can’t afford to have those benefits taken away,” V.A. Secretary David Shulkin told senators.

Mr. Shulkin said he would not support a policy that hurts veterans.

Mike and Barbara Zenz hope that is true. Such a cut could cost them about $1,200 dollars a month. According to Barbara, they might be able to pay the mortgage with their Social Security checks, but there will be no money for electricity or food.

“We’d lose everything and I mean everything,” said Barbara.

If you have a problem that you think should be investigated, contact our Target 8 Helpline at 1-800-338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

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