SPRINGFIELD — Darrell “Smitty” Smith fights to save his boxing gym while the military takes several of his disability checks.
Darrell Smith, Owner of “Smitty’s Midwest Boxing Gym” in Springfield is being forced to pay back the military for money that was given to him over 25 years ago.
Smith, a disabled veteran, runs the boxing gym in north Springfield, but faces a possibility of losing it.
When Smith left the army, he got nearly $15,000 from what is called “Special Separation Pay”.
After numerous back and ankle surgeries from his time in service, Smith is now fully disabled. Being deemed 100 percent unemployable by the military, that separation pay has turned into a loan. All of Smith’s disability checks are being taken until it’s paid back.
“It’s nothing I’m trying to get out of, but $14,000 and taking your whole check at one time of your income coming in, that would hurt anybody,” Smith says.
Smith was caught with his gloves down when he received a letter saying that he owed the military nearly $15,000 dollars they gave him nearly 25 years ago.
“I was unaware that according to a law written by congress, that if you ever become a 100% disabled veteran, that money they gave you turns into a loan.”
“Smitty” has already been forced to start paying on it.
“They’re taking my next five paychecks and leaving my family with absolutely nothing because of the way the law is written in congress,” Smith says,
He explains this had come up before, and was assured that if he owed anything, they would take it off the top of his back pay.
“About a week and a half into February, me and my wife get a letter that says effective March 1st they are taking my entire paycheck,” Smith explains.
Smitty spent about 16 years fighting the good fight for his country, but now, he is up against a different kind of fight.
“I mean if it comes down to it, I can’t lose my house. I’m just trying to save my gym,” he says.
He is not trying to save the gym just for himself, but for the kids he trains. He has trained multiple gold-glove fighters, and currently has a few in training eyeing Olympic competition in 2020.
He takes pride in keeping kids off the streets, and in the gym. But above that, he makes sure they are stand-up citizens.
“Tutors come on Thursdays and help them maintain a B average that we demand in order to box here. It’s a trade off. I’ll teach you how to box, in exchange for you making good grades and graduating high school. At any given time, I may have 20-25 kids in the gym. Some days I may have five. I don’t care as long as I got some kids in this gym,” he says.
Now Smith will put up the dukes and fight to keep his gym, hoping for the best.
“It will make us struggle pretty hard,” Smith says. “I still love my country though.”
We reached out to the local Veterans Affairs office for an explanation, and did not get a return phone call. Smith says he is not the only veteran this has happened to.
He says he was told this is not his fault, but it is simply the way the law was written.
The next time Smith will receive a disability check will be July 1st.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay back the military, in turn helping Smitty keep his gym open for kids and adults alike to continue to train.