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Mr. Massey worries that such a ruling would mean someone else would be appointed to manage his personal finances. “Who doesn’t misplace items?” he asked.

Mr. Strickland has advised the Masseys to seek legal counsel, which they have done. “All I am asking for is fair compensation for the injuries my body and mind received during my 20 years of service in the defense of our country,” Mr. Massey said.

Drew Early, a veterans lawyer based in Decatur, Ga., who is working with the Masseys, said it is not unusual to be threatened with a finding of incompetency.

“Any time they see anything that looks like it could be dementia or Alzheimer’s, that rings a bell in their head, and they will automatically default to a finding of incompetency, which in and of itself can be harming,” he said.

“The problem is that this is a federal agency making a determination that has many ramifications beyond the scope of the VA. They can extend it to say you can’t own a gun. ‘We are a federal agency and we are declaring you incompetent,’ and that has baggage throughout [an individual’s] life and engagement with the government.”

Such findings are difficult for a veteran to appeal.

“An enemy combatant in Guantanamo Bay has more rights than does a veteran,” Mr. Early said. “And who has the time? These poor veterans don’t have time to sit and wait and confront the nation’s second-largest bureaucracy. They are in need of help, but this bureaucratic fortress stands in their way.”

Mr. Massey hopes eventually to be rated as 100 percent disabled, but regrets having to work so hard to get the rating to which he feels entitled.

Mrs. Hasler, the “atomic widow,” is similarly upset that she had to get help from the men at to receive compensation from the military that her husband served before dying prematurely from that service.

She said it “unnerved” her having to share the details of her husband’s untimely death with other people, but “the one thing he made me promise was that I would not give up on the claim” that could provide her with payments on which to live.

“I’m a relatively private person, and the average person doesn’t know where to go, and there is certainly no handbook from the VA to guide you,” she said. “I don’t think they give a rip.”