KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — For years it’s been an uphill battle for Terry Laudermilk and his wife as they appealed several times to the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs for a higher disability rating. Ever since he was injured while on duty in 1970, the former Air Force Airman Third Class has suffered, his health deteriorated and he hasn’t been able to work.

Lee and Terry Laudermilk can now laugh and enjoy their shelter dog, Cassie. They’re happy after unexpectedly receiving a summary of Terry’s new VA benefits.

“This letter says he has a 100% service-connected disability. A 100%. What better answer can you have?” said Lee.

“Thank God I got that 100%, that makes life easier. I make now $3500 a month,” said Terry.

WATE’s Don Dare first met the couple in early January, as they looked at old correspondence from then-US Congressman Jimmy Duncan, who was assisting Terry with his VA claim. An Air Force veteran, Terry was serving overseas in Spain when he was hurt. He’s been fighting for increased benefits for the last 14 years. Terry said he was injured while on duty in 1970.

He slipped on a catwalk at Zaragoza Air Base and crushed a disk in his lower back. He underwent surgery after he had fulfilled his military duty. VA records from 1971 refer to his time at the VA center in Johnson City.

“That’s the whole time I spent in the hospital, Terry said. “Two months from the surgery that went wrong, they messed it up and I had to have it done again.”

At 75 years old, Terry has been unable to work for years. $900 a month in Social Security doesn’t go far. Lee told us she works to make ends meet, but it’s not a lot. Doctors diagnosed Terry with PTSD from his time in the service for which he got 30% disability. Now, it’s been raised to 100%.

As much as he wants to work, he’s still unemployable. Back in January, Lee was upset.

“When I see him going through what he’s been going through, to see him fight for this, it just really boils me,” Lee told Dare in January.

Months later, there are no tears for Lee or Terry, just joy.

“I just wasn’t going to give up. I told my wife, I’ll fight it until I die,” said Terry.

“A lot of hard fighting, a lot of pushing through hurdles, jumping through hoops, thousands and thousands of phone calls,” said Lee. “This will help with medical, going to those. Paying rent is easier. If we want to go find a home, we could possibly do that.”

With the letter from the VA, life is a little lighter now for the couple. Terry thanks U.S. Congressmen Tim Burchett for his help and former Congressman Jimmy Duncan for what he did.

Why did Terry’s appeal take years to be resolved? It was the result of a huge backlog. The VA attempted to begin speeding things up about five years ago, then the pandemic hit. We checked the latest numbers from the VA, there are about 150,000 backlog cases on the VA’s books as of the end of September of this year.