PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) –The appeals process for veterans seeking disability benefits is just plain broken. Around 450,000 veterans are caught up in this quagmire, in which they wait for years for their cases to be heard.
But, the wait for one Pinellas County veteran got a lot shorter after he contacted 8 On Your Side. Tom Jenkins spent 20 years of his life defending America. Some of that time was spent at Ubon Royal Air Force base in Thailand, in support of the war effort in Vietnam.
The military sprayed Agent Orange on vegetation around the perimeter of that base. Photos obtained by 8 On Your Side show U.S. Air Force barracks with screens for walls close by. Jenkins remembers standing guard on that perimeter.
“In fact they’d talk about, ‘You’re standing in Agent Orange.’ ‘Don’t worry about it’ it’s not toxic.’ ‘It won’t hurt you,'” he said.
Studies link Agent Orange to several cancers, heart disease and other medical conditions that led to the deaths of thousands of American servicemen.
Jenkins’ dealings with the Department of Veterans Affairs did not get off to a good start. Fifty pages of proof he provided disappeared. “I don’t trust these people,” he said.
In April 8 On Your Side reported the VA rejected a claim that Jenkins’ heart disease and painful neuropathy are tied to Agent Orange exposure.
Jenkins, who is 72 years old, asked for an appeal hearing in Washington, D.C. “It could take anywhere from 5 to 10 years,” he said he was told.
In July Jenkins received word 12,395 appeals stood in front of his.
In August 8 On Your Side reached out to Congressman David Jolly, R-Pinellas County, as well as the VA.
Jenkins just received a letter from the VA. He got his wish. He will take his fight to Washington now that his case was moved to the top of the waiting list.
“The exposure Channel 8 On Your Side and Steve Andrews really helped me a lot,” Jenkins said.
The current VA appeals process is complex, confusing and crippled. Too many veterans are forced to wait too long, generally around 5 years, to get answers.
If you have a problem you think needs to be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808.
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