/Don’t nobody listen’ Why a disabled Mississippi veteran is fighting to buy a new home — with his own money

Don’t nobody listen’ Why a disabled Mississippi veteran is fighting to buy a new home — with his own money

Burkett has $30,000 in savings and receives a $3171 monthly disability payment from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This is likely enough to buy a new house. Burkett cannot spend his own money. After the VA declared Burkett incapable of managing his estate, a local court has managed his finances for the past 30 years. The 13th Chancery District Judge David Shoemake, who was almost removed in 2016 following accusations that he mismanaged another case, has not approved the purchase of a home. “I receive over $3,000 per month… I feel like I don’t get anything.” Burkett stated that they won’t allow me to have more than my own money. Burkett, who graduated from Seminary High School in 1985 was stationed in Germany as a cook in the U.S. Army. Burkett, then 19, was able to ride home from a bar with some soldiers from their barracks less than a year later. The Pontiac Firebird Trans Am driver lost control of his car after hitting a curve at more than 100 mph. He then crashed into a tree. Burkett’s friend was killed in the accident. He was later left in a coma. Burkett stated that he broke nearly every bone in his body. For three years, he was admitted to Jackson Hospital. Burkett’s family decided to remove him from life support at one point. Burkett awoke from a coma by himself, but was paralysed and had also suffered brain damage. He purchased his two-bedroom trailer with financial assistance from the U.S. one year after leaving the hospital. Veteran Benefits Administration, which gave him a 100 percent disability rating. He said, “I thought that I would be treated better than I am now.” Burkett is bald today, with a thin black mustache and slightly yellow-tinted glasses. Burkett walks with a shaky gait and talks like he has a full mouth. Although he has trouble pronouncing words correctly, he understands and can answer questions well. The home he had lived in was a comfortable one until the years that wore down the roof, windows, and plumbing. Burkett patched the holes in the walls with white, black and blue tape. Through the windows, rainwater seeps in to the house. A corroded pipe burst last spring, further aggravating the water damage. Mold is on the rise. Burkett spent $1300 to repair nine homes by Jerry Mooney, Collins Housing Services, in 2018. Burkett stated, “How can you live with a place that leaks all the times?” Matthew Alliston, Burkett’s conservator, manages his finances. Alliston requested permission from Judge Shoemake to use Burkett’s funds for the purchase of a new house. Before Shoemake was elected judge in 2010, Alliston was Burkett’s conservator. Shoemake asked for justification from the veterans affairs department to purchase the trailer. The department sent Shoemake a July letter confirming that the trailer had to be replaced. Shoemake has not yet set a hearing. Burkett stated, “I would prefer to be dead than go through this crap.” “Don’t let anyone listen to you. People think you are stupid and other things. It’s a bad feeling.” The Mississippi Supreme Court found Shoemake to have mismanaged the finances and incapacitated a woman by signing improper orders, costing her $23,000 that she couldn’t recover. Although Shoemake was not recommended by the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance to be removed from office, the court suspended Shoemake for 30 days and ordered him to pay $2,500 in fines, $6,000 court costs, and a public reprimand. Constance Ceasar, Burkett’s sister, said that he keeps presenting the same case to him and that there are delays. “Then, you’re piddling Anthony’s money out. Anthony doesn’t know half of this stuff. It’s extremely concerning for our family.” Ceasar filed an Oct. 17 complaint against Shoemake at the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance. She alleges that Burkett’s family requested a new home over 10 years ago. This is the time when the house began to deteriorate and has faced only logjams. Mississippi Today did not receive a response from Shoemake’s office. Burkett is tidy, and his large living space is free of clutter. Burkett spends his time on TV, watching old shows like “Andy Griffith Show” and his favorite college football team, Ohio State Buckeyes. He does this from his tattered black swivel chair. Burkett doesn’t own a car, so he rarely leaves his house to go to the supermarket or the doctor’s office unless his sister or neighbor is able to drive him. Burkett gets $250 per week as a personal allowance from his $3,000 monthly income. This money is used to purchase food and other necessities. Alliston pays monthly bills like electricity ($90), water (30), exterminator service (30) and child support (625). Burkett also receives $200 per month from Alliston’s family and neighbors to help him travel around the area, including the 140-mile trip to Jackson to see his doctor. According to an annual accounting filed with court, Alliston received nearly $3,250 in fees for 2018. Judge Shoemake signed a June 2019 order stating that Alliston was entitled to a $2,291 fee during that period. In a telephone interview, Alliston stated that he believes he has charged Burkett for half of the time spent on his case. Alliston stated that “just like this call that deals it will never make the bill at the end the year,” referring to an interview with Mississippi Today. He declined to discuss the handling of Burkett’s matter or its progress. A spokesperson for the department said that any Veteran or family member who has concerns should be contacted directly. This was the same approach as what happened with Burkett in this case. Mooney, a home repairman who has been maintaining Burkett’s trailer for many decades, stated that Alliston had discussed buying Burkett a home in the past three years but that the money wasn’t growing quickly enough. Mooney stated, “I don’t know why it takes so long to do anything.” A bank bond is required to become a conservator. This will protect the ward from any misappropriation of funds. Ceasar tried to seize control of her brother’s estate in 2011, but was denied a bond. Alliston assumed the role. The Guard and Protect (GAP Act) was passed by the Legislature in 2019. It is a result of cases of fraud and abuse in conservatorships throughout the state. Jan. 1 is the effective date of this law. Ceasar stated, “It’s impossible to know how many cases there are like Anthony’s.”