ONSLOW COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) - A local woman is facing a difficult battle - she is losing the man she loves. He's a man who served our country for more than 20 years in the Marines and now he's battling Alzheimer's disease.
After fighting to get benefits for her husband's care from the VA, things changed for the better after sharing her story with WITN.
"I asked him, 'Is my name Jeanette' and he said 'No' and I said, 'Well, am I your wife?' and he said 'Yes'," Jeanette Martinez says.
She says she and William were a happy family, raising two daughters, one adopted and one biological with Down syndrome. They've been married for 43 years.
She says in 2006, William, who served more than 20 years in the Marines, was starting to forget.
"We got the diagnosis in the 2008 that he had early onset dementia," Jeanette says. "It was devastating to both of us. It was the first time I saw my husband cry."
William was just 55 years old when diagnosed and was put on memory medications, medications that Jeanette says bought them time.
"As it progressed, the bad days were getting longer, but you could see the frustration, it's like he knew he didn't know and it frustrated him terribly," she explains.
A progression that brought Jeanette and William to the Alzheimer's Related Care Community, also known as the ARC, at the end of 2016.
Jeanette says in her search, she found few resources for Alzheimer's in Onslow County.
She says things are great at the ARC, but she says the care is expensive and she's reached out to Veterans Affairs for benefits.
According to William's ratings decision from 2016, the VA administration says "On June 23, 2011 you were given a mental health examination. The examiner noted although the claimant has been awarded a Combat Action Ribbon, he cannot recall any incidents or events that occurred during his time in the Marine Corps, which he views as particularly traumatic, stressful or emotionally difficult."
That was the VA's response to Jeanette for a claim of a post-traumatic stress disorder.
William served in multiple conflicts, including the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
Jeanette says William had already been diagnosed with dementia at that time of the interview, so she says of course William wouldn't remember.
"There are times he doesn't remember I'm his wife," she says.
WITN interviewed Jeanette on February 9th. On February 12th, we contacted th VA about the story, requesting an on-record interview about William's case. On February 14th, WITN heard back from the Winston Salem Regional Office.
They were willing to speak with WITN's CB Cotton, but only after she, and Jeanette, William's power of attorney, signed several privacy forms.
They were in the process of completing those forms, when on February 17th, things changed
"I got a call from a number I didn't recognize and when I picked it up, it was a gentleman from Winston Salem's VA office and he was calling me to inform me that I got... that William got 100 percent permanent disability," Jeanette says.
WITN spoke to the director of the Winston Salem Regional Office to ask him what changed when Jeanette resubmitted a new medical report in January.
"We had to have one of our examiners review that medical report, review the other evidence that they may have had, and really render an opinion that the veteran had PTSD," says Mark Bilosz, the director. "They were not able to disassociate the symptoms between the PTSD and the Alzheimer's, but basically once they diagnosed PTSD, we rated that and were able to grant 100 percent disability based on all the veteran's symptoms."
"There are no words, I just couldn't believe it," Jeanette says. "This is going to help tremendously with the finances of the nursing home."
While Jeanette's six year battle has come to an end, she says there is still more work to be done.
"It's a wonderful stepping stone for me and my family, but there is so much more we need to do for every veteran in Onslow County," she says.
She's still working with the VA to determine how the 100 percent disability will be allocated to help her husband.
In the fall, several walks to end Alzheimer's will be held in Eastern Carolina, including Jacksonville. WITN is proud to support these walks and we'll bring you details in the coming months.