SEBRING, Fla. (WFLA) – Tara Craver of Sebring was on the verge of losing it all.
She lost her husband, she lost her home – and the VA told her any benefits it might provide were at least 5 years away.
Tara has, on a number of occasions, stood outside the VA at Bay Pines holding a sign that reads, “Camp Lejeune Widow.”
On Tuesday, she carried a big arrangement of flowers with a “Thank You” banner for WFLA-TV.
“I was not going to let this news station and you get away without knowing my gratitude because I am deeply appreciative of everything you’ve done,” explained Tara.
What happened is – the VA did the right thing. It finally approved a disability claim filed by her late husband Karle.
“8 On My Side was in my living room, 8 On My Side was a phone call away,” said Tara.
The benefits that were approved are retroactive to 2014. Prior to that, Tara had no income. Her debt mounted.
How does it feel to not have to worry about self-preservation for the first time in nearly four years?
“I want to get up and do the two-step…if I knew how to do it,” said Tara.
Karle Craver is one of the estimated 750,000 stationed at Camp Lejeune exposed to cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water.
“They killed my husband,” stated Tara.
The VA rejected Karle’s claim that his throat cancer was tied to Camp Lejeune exposure.
“They didn’t contaminate themselves,” Tara told us during a 2016 protest she staged outside of Bay Pines. “The government did it and they kept it hidden.”
The VA scheduled Tara’s appeal for the year 2022.
News Channel 8 covered her solitary protests outside of Bay Pines on several occasions. As she visited VA offices in different regions of the country, she forwarded web page links of our reports to television stations in the areas she planned to visit. That opened the door to more coverage.
Our cameras caught her staging another protest in front of Bay Pines in April 2017.
While she was speaking with me on camera, her phone rang. It was the VA.
“They conveniently have an opening in two weeks on May 10, instead of 5 years. And that’s because of you. Thank you,” she said.
Now that she’s won her appeal, Tara’s resolve to spread awareness grows.
“It’s giving them the information that wasn’t given to us,” she explained.
Tara is using some of the money she received from the VA to disseminate posters to VFWs, American Legions, Disabled American Veterans, Elks lodges and wherever else veterans gather. On the posters are phone numbers and websites where Camp Lejeune veterans can seek information and help.
But on this day, with flowers in hand, Tara took a break. And for a moment allowed herself, and us, to feel good.