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Presque Isle man receives letter from president in response to concerns about veterans

Since retiring from the United States Air Force nearly 50 years ago, Howard Worthington of Presque Isle has regularly written letters to U.S. presidents, military officials and Maine legislators advocating for veterans. He has received hundreds of responses from every person to whom he’s written, including most recently President Donald Trump.

Worthington served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1971, during which time he was stationed at a variety of bases, including in his home state of Alabama, Illinois, Texas, California, Mississippi, Thailand, Presque Isle and Limestone. He saw firsthand the physical and emotional turmoil that veterans experience after being injured during combat duties.

“When I was stationed at Lackland [Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas], I was walking to the phone to call my mother on Christmas Day. I went down the wrong hallway and ended up in the unit where they were taking care of soldiers from Korea.” Worthington said. “There were people there who had lost arms and legs, people who were now blind.”

After settling in Presque Isle in the early 70s, Worthington met many Vietnam and Korean War veterans who struggled to receive benefits during those early days after getting out of the service. Some of them he said had been exposed to toxic chemicals such as Agent Orange. He said he has been grateful to see the U.S. government expand veterans benefits in recent decades and acknowledge the sacrifices that members of the military have made to the country.

But being a veteran has never been without challenges. Worthington said that in the last decade his hearing has continued to deteriorate, to the point that he now is completely deaf in his left ear and has lost all but about 35 percent of hearing in his right ear. Worthington and his oldest daughter Paula Brown, also of Presque Isle, have tried several times to receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, for a hearing aid, but to no avail. Today Worthington uses a hearing aid that he bought with his own money.

“The VA has said that they cannot pay for a hearing aid unless he can prove that the hearing loss was caused by the noises from the aircraft he was exposed to every day in the Air Force,” Brown said. “The Air Force never explicitly wrote on his retirement forms that he had that type of hearing loss.”

“I’ve tried twice, but I got so tired from the red tape and all the running around you have to do. The process takes forever,” Worthington said. “And we’re talking about services for people who put their lives on the line for their country.”

Worthington’s experiences have served as part of his inspiration for writing letters to state and government officials. Since moving to Presque Isle in 1972, he has received written responses to all his letters from nine U.S. presidents — from Richard Nixon to current President Donald Trump — U.S. senators from Maine, including Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Angus King, and top military officials.

Most recently Worthington received letters from President Trump and former President Barack Obama in response to his concerns about issues facing veterans. In a letter dated April 6, 2011, President Obama spoke about his administration signing legislation aimed at giving businesses incentives for hiring veterans, increasing healthcare coverage to veterans, and efforts to “cut the red tape and fight the claims backlog” that often plagues the benefits process.

In a letter dated April 19, 2019, President Trump writes about his administration signing a bill in 2017 meant to increase the removal of VA employees found guilty of wrongdoing and further legislation aimed at unifying community care programs for veterans.

“Those are things that should’ve happened a long time ago,” Worthington said, about the recent legislation.

Brown noted how proud she has always been of her father for serving his country and continuing to defend the rights of his fellow veterans.

“I’ve always been proud to be a ‘military brat’ and to know that he was willing to protect his country and keep others safe,” she said.

Worthington, who is now 89, plans to continue writing letters to advocate for veterans in hopes that the people he writes to will still want to listen.

“If I can make a difference during the years that I have left, then I’ll have no regrets,” Worthington said. “I feel that I’ve been blessed to be able to honor my country.”

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