With her husband Lonnie’s flag box in her arms, Sheila Kilpatrick joined a small group protesting the VA appointing Bay Pines Director Suzanne Klinker as a Regional Deputy Director for an area that extends from south Georgia to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“She doesn’t deserve it, she needs to be fired,” said Kilpatrick.
For several years, Bay Pines treated veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick.
“Lonnie was given terrible treatment here,” explained Kilpatrick.
His severe back pain, VA doctors claimed was caused by osteoarthritis.
“We begged and begged to see oncologists and better doctors,” stated Kilpatrick.
Rushed to a civilian hospital in agony, doctors in February discovered Lonnie Kilpatrick had stage 4 kidney cancer.
“I went from having osteoarthritis to having metastasized bone cancer all over my body,” Lonnie Kilpatrick said in a February interview. “How the hell do you do that, you know?”
Lonnie Kilpatrick’s health issues began in the 70s on Guam, where he was stationed during the Vietnam war and exposed to the toxic weed killer Agent Orange.
The VA initially denied him Agent Orange benefits.
As 8 On Your Side worked with Congressman Gus Bilirakis to secure those benefits, we also chronicled Lonnie’s steady decline.
His daughter Kassie recorded some of her father’s last words about his struggle with the VA and his impending death.
“Make something out of it,” he whispered. “Make it count.”
“This place killed Lonnie Kilpatrick as far as I’m concerned,” Marine veteran and protester Brian Moyer said, pointing at Bay Pines.
Several slip ups occurred under Suzanne Klinker’s leadership.
Former Bay Pines employee Keith Hansford, who joined the demonstration, believes one situation stands out.
“I would have to say Lonnie Kilpatrick because the man lost his life for absolutely no reason than incompetence,” Hansford said. “And she needs to go. She needs to be fired.”
Bay Pines Public Affairs Officer Jason Dangel insists Klinker’s move is a lateral transfer, not a promotion.
“Every other organization in the world you’re held accountable, unless you work at the VA,” Hansford stated.
“I lost my husband. My kids lost their daddy. My grandkids lost their granddaddy and Lonnie did not deserve to die that way. He didn’t,” Sheila Kilpatrick said.
If you have something that you think should be investigated, call our 8 On Your Side Helpline at 1-800-338-0808. Contact Steve Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.