Just days after the VA awarded Navy veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick disability benefits for his exposure to toxic herbicides, Lonnie passed away.
Over the course of a decade, the VA refused to approve his benefits, claiming that because he was stationed on Guam and not in Vietnam, he was not exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange.
Wednesday, Representatives Gus Bilirakis (R) Florida and Michael San Nicolas (D) Guam introduced into Congress the Lonnie Kilpatrick Central Pacific Herbicide Relief Act.
If passed, the legislation would grant presumptive herbicide exposure status to U.S. service members who served on Guam, American Samoa,the Northern Mariana Islands and Johnston Atoll.
“It’s going to give us that first step toward giving care to our veteran community and hopefully that will be the first step in acknowledging that all the people of Guam who suffer the diseases at an extraordinary high rate that are affiliated with these dioxins that they will finally be able to get some help as well,” Representative San Nicolas said.
“They’ve waited too long,” said Congressman Bilirakis.
“People need health care as soon as possible and they need their benefits as soon as possible.”
Last May, as Lonnie lay clinging to life in a Tarpon Springs hospital, his family stayed near.
Daughter Kassie recorded some of Lonnie’s last words about his imminent death and 10 year struggle for disability benefits with the VA.
“Make something out of it, make it count,” Lonnie murmured.
“Make it count” is now the rallying cry for veterans like Lonnie who served on Guam and were exposed to toxic herbicides.
Kassie and her mother, Sheila Kilpatrick, traveled to Washington, D.C. to “make it count.”
“They went, they served their country and for the VA to forget them or deny them, it’s so wrong,” Sheila explained.
“We tried for years to get benefits and the VA, they deferred, they denied until you die.”
Lonnie argued exposure to Agent Orange ravaged his heart and left him susceptible to cancer, which the VA misdiagnosed.
“That is unacceptable,” Congressman Bilirakis said.
8 On Your Side reached out to Congressman Bilirakis on Lonnie’s behalf.
He found that decades after Lonnie’s service, his records were still classified.
According to Bilirakis, a Department of Defense liaison was able to open the file and determine Lonnie was indeed exposed to Agent Orange on Guam.
But it took a congressman to get involved.
“This shouldn’t have to happen,” Bilirakis added.
“Inequity, whether it’s for people living in territories or veterans whose ailments are caused by hazardous chemicals that are not being properly recognized, none of that injustice should exist in America,” Representative San Nicolas explained.
Lonnie Kilpatrick won his claim, but lost his battle with cancer days later.
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