TAMPA (FOX 13) - For years, politicians and watchdogs have slammed our government for failing our veterans. VA Secretary David Shulkin took the helm this year and has promised to do better. But he's dealing with some challenges you may not expect.
The story of James Carbone explains why some veterans have not been receiving the benefits and care they earned. In short, they have been suffering in silence.
Our military trains fighters to be tough. But that training can also make some of them tough patients later in life when they get sick.
"You do not show pain. You do not show emotions. And you do not talk about it, and to do so is conduct unbecoming a Marine," said retired Marine James Carbone.
He fought in Vietnam and has battled with depression and post-traumatic stress ever since.
"I do not sleep at all. I get an hour here, two hours here, maybe a 30- to 45-minute nap in afternoon. That's my sleep… since I came home [from Vietnam]."
He also trained in Camp LeJeune, where industrial solvents known to cause cancer tainted the drinking water.
"Who knew? We took showers. We drank. Wherever water was needed we just used the water."
In 2011, he learned he had cancer. And he has not been getting the level of health care and benefits he says he needs, because he didn't ask.
Veterans and politicians often blame the Department of Veterans Affairs for leaving vets like James Carbone behind. But while the VA has admitted to making mistakes in the past, it also faces the challenge of serving vets who slip through the cracks because they do not seek assistance.
"Absolutely I did not receive a dime because I did not seek. And that's because of my Marine Corps values," said Carbone.
He did not seek help for pain because he did not want to show pain. "And the doctor who turned around to me said your silence is your worst enemy. I said well, this is who I am."
He hopes other vets will come forward as he has, and that our government will do more to identify and encourage them.
"After 40 years of being told to keep your mouth shut, you finally understand that to get help you have to open up your mouth," he said.
Bobby Rollins runs a veteran outreach organization called I Waited VA. He said James Carbone is not an isolated case. In his experience, he said most veterans he meets don't apply for benefits because they do not want to be perceived as weak. And many who do become frustrated with the process and give up.
Rollins said the problem calls for more outreach and counseling He also suggested additional training for men and women in the military.
"You go through basic training to prepare for military life," he said. "You should go through some type of process that will prepare you to become a civilian again."
President Trump's proposed budget boosts funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs by more than three percent. The U.S. House also approved a plan to streamline the appeals process for veterans' benefits.