The right help at the right time.


Lester Nowlin was hiking the treacherous Hawaii landscape as part of his military training. Jagged rocks underfoot, rain and sleet overhead. Suddenly his tired feet lost their footing. He fell and his knee split completely open.

Nowlin was rushed to the Troop Medical Clinic and given 48 stitches in his knee. The pain was almost unbearable, but he ignored it.

“When you’re in the military, you can’t complain,” said Nowlin, who served four years in infantry. “If you can’t do your job, then you’ll be stuck cleaning bathrooms. Being sick or hurt is a weakness.”

After the military, Nowlin returned to his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., and went to college to study health and physical education, then to a technical school to study to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). He spent many years working in the ER and eventually settled into his current career as a Health Administrator at a VA clinic.

But he could never shake that knee injury. It began to take over his life.

By age 55, the knee injury had caused severe back problems that would require surgery. Then came the crunching sound from his right hip. He couldn’t stand up straight and would need a full hip replacement.

With all the time off work for multiple surgeries, Nowlin was about to lose it all—his house, his truck, his wife. He was nearly $79,000 in debt. To make matters worse, he suffered three deaths in the family, and his wife had to quit her job to care for him.

Nowlin was already rated at 30% service connected for the knee injury alone, but that wasn’t enough. He needed the cost to his back and hip to be recognized. He was denied twice.

“I couldn’t see a specialist at the VA,” said Nowlin. “They kept sending me to physician assistants that didn’t update my records correctly. I needed it to be clear to the review board that my bad back and hip were caused by the knee injury. They needed to dot their i’s and cross their t’s.”

Then VFW Pre-Discharge Claims Representative Charles Ryder took the case. 

“Charles got straight to the point. He knew what I needed to get and what I needed to do,” said Nowlin. “He treated my case like it was his own. I felt he was working with me, while the VA just worked against me.”

With Charles’ help, Nowlin received a new VA rating of 60% and a substantial retro-payment.

“I cried when I heard the news,” said Nowlin. “I don’t think I’ve ever hugged anyone like that.”

Ryder was glad he could help.

“It makes me so proud to be able to make a difference in someone’s life when they’re going through such trying times,” said Ryder. “If we veterans don’t take care of each other, who will?”

Nowlin, the son of a single mother and one of eight children, grew up in the projects. He enlisted at 17 to make a better life for himself.

“I was 18 when they picked me up from the basketball court,” said Nowlin. “I went straight from Mama to the foxhole. But I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m happy I served my country. I’d do it all over again if I could.”



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