Veteran Michael Thorin's Debt and Disability Ordeal and How to Show Support

No items found.
Kevin A. Thompson
April 5, 2024

Photo: Sergeant Michael Thorin, US Army/Alabama National Guard during one of his deployments in Iraq

Jerry Ashton, the founder of End Veteran, aims to prevent future stories like Michael's:

Michael Thorin wants other veterans to know of his journey through debt and disability.

After his last deployment to Iraq in 2005-2006, he returned home to Alabama and his chosen career as a tactical paramedic with the police and fire departments.

Michael had always prided himself on his physical fitness. In his last pre-deployment army physical fitness test, he ran a 12-minute two mile, and did 89 pushups.

After that returning from Iraq, he could barely complete the two-mile run in 25 minutes.

However, he returned to his career as tactical paramedic. He started suffering from a chronic cough and dizziness. Civilian doctors diagnosed him with “exercise-induced asthma.”

“The doctors couldn’t believe I was 35, healthy-looking and having trouble breathing. They wouldn’t refer a 35 year-old for a lung biopsy.”

For the next seven years, his breathing capacity diminished. As a paramedic, he took his own blood pressure at 240 over108.

On April 1, 2014, Michael passed out while on a job-related test as a firefighter. No longer able to hide his deteriorating condition, his supervisors sent him to the hospital. That was the last day of his chosen career.


Forced Early Retirement and Financial Plunge

The fall into debt came quickly. Michael was able to officially retire, but with $2,000less per month than full retirement. His wife, Vicki, quit her nursing job to take care of him. Their $150,000 annual income dropped to $26,000.

Still not yet certified disabled by the department of Veterans Affairs (VA), his medical bills piled up. The family lost their cars and eventually the family home about seven months later.

“Both the Social Security and VA disability both came eventually, but both were denied the first time.” Michael and his wife hired two different attorneys and won both cases on appeal. However, each lawyer took 20% of the back pay, but it was still worth hiring them.

Michael’s disability benefits did not start until March 2016. That two-year delay and financial hardship wrecked his credit rating. He still owes $11,000 on the foreclosed house, which he no longer lives in.

He says the damage to his credit rating has had the most serious of all the financial consequences of his condition.

Because of improper diagnoses from 2006 to 2014, he also received improper treatment. “I couldn’t tell my employer because I couldn’t get any doctor to understand” his actual condition.

Michael said that during the seven-year delay in actual treatment, his condition worsened. If he had been treated sooner, he might have been able to shift to a less physical career in nursing or administration.

“If I’d gotten treatment earlier, I might have had a different outcome.”

 The PACT Act Would Have Reduced Michael’s Ordeal

The PACT Act makes it much easier for veterans to qualify for benefits. Simply put, veterans now have “presumptive conditions.” That means any medical condition is presumed to be the result of military service.

In other words, a veteran does not need to prove which military activity caused his or her health problem. The VA will provide benefits even before the vet is certified as disabled. That process took ten years for Michael, now its presumed and entitled upon first examination.

The VA website clearly lists burn pits as a primary cause for veterans’ ailments. These massive burning fields in Iraq were used to dispose of fecal material from outdoor toilets, medical waste (including amputated limbs), kitchen garbage, batteries and plastics. Michael blames the burn pits in Iraq for his multiple medical problems.

The VA put the PACT act into effect on March 5, 2024, too late to benefit Michael, but he wants other vets and their families to know about the VA benefits they now have.

What Michael Wants You to Know

He still feels blessed about many things. He is homebound, and his medical providers make house calls. The VA may pay to install a chair lift so that he can access the basement if needed in his tornado-prone stretch of Alabama north of Birmingham. His two daughters, who lost their comfortable teen life in 2014 and took jobs to buy groceries, now have blessed Michael and Vicki with five grandchildren.

The VA Hospitals now use Michael’s treatment history as a case study for refining treatment protocols for others, and he is happy others “will not have to go through what I went through.”  

The PACT Act only went into effect on March 4, 2024, so many veterans are suffering with debt from before that date. To help them, click below:

End Veteran and RIP Medical Debt, both causes worthy of your support.