George Parker Jr. was just on vacation. The ofcounsel attorney with San Antonio’s Bracewell & Giuliani was listening to a lecture given by Teddy Draper Sr., a Navajo code talker during World War II, at the Anasazi Heritage Center in 2002 in Delores, Colo., near Parker’s vacation home. Draper told the story of how he and about 400 other Navajo who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps were called upon to create an unbreakable code based on the Navajo language. They were successful, and with the help of the code talkers, the Allies were able to make positive progress in the battle with the Japanese in the South Pacific.
No one would dispute the value that Draper and his fellow code talkers brought to the war effort. But that didn’t help him get the veteran’s benefits he deserved. Draper had suffered from permanent hearing loss after being caught in a mortar shell blast and post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of the Battle of Iwo Jima, but due in part to the chaos of the battle, there was no record of his injuries. No records, no benefits.
Parker knew he had to do something. “What drew me to Teddy Draper was just the agony that I could see he had been going through for basically 60 years banging his head against the wall and not getting anywhere,” he says. “He was one of our last American heroes from World War II and he needed help, and I thought, ‘Maybe here’s my chance to give something back.’”
Parker jumped right into the case, despite not having any background in Veterans Affairs matters. “Starting out, it was very difficult for me to reach the right person,” he says. “But once I got through to the person, they were very responsive and helpful. I had a very good experience.” Hundreds of pro bono hours later, the VA office in Phoenix announced that the agency had made a “clear and unmistakable error” and awarded Draper full benefits.
Parker also fought to get Draper a Purple Heart award from the Marine Corps for his injuries. He was successful, and Draper was originally sent the award unceremoniously through the mail. But through the efforts of Parker, Draper’s family, and the Navajo Nation Legislative Liaison, Draper received a letter from President Bush and a formal Purple Heart ceremony this past May at which Parker spoke.
Draper was so satisfied with Parker’s work that he referred him to a relative, Nelson Tsosie, who was also a veteran and had been denied benefits. Parker took Tsosie’s case on and was just as successful as he was with Draper.
“Teddy Draper’s son told me that before we got involved, he was despondent and ready to give up,” Parker says. “But now he’s reinvigorated, gets in his truck to go see his friends, has started planting corn and is out and about. And Nelson Tsosie was so thankful –– he’d never received one penny from the government.
“Seeing the changes in these veterans’ lives has been very rewarding.”