‘Long-shot’ benefit check arrives after Winter Haven veteran died following years of VA delays

8 On Your Side

WINTER HAVEN, Fla (WFLA) – When a Department of Veterans Affairs staffer told Melissia Pletcher a benefit check was in the mail, she had her doubts.

The Winter Haven resident had helped her father Norman Jackson through a nearly three-year paperwork hassle that finally garnered a monthly benefit to help with assisted living, but the 87-year-old died shortly after receiving the second check.

After he was laid to rest in August 2020, a letter from the VA indicated Jackson was eligible to receive about $14,000 in accrued benefits.

“It’s dated August 17,” Pletcher said. “And he died on August 7.”

She gave up on applying for her dad’s accrued benefits after her lawyer told her it was “a long shot.”

“He said he had talked to several other lawyers and [they said] there’s no way the child will get accrued benefits,” Pletcher said.

But only days after 8 On Your Side revealed the long process that Pletcher said included the VA asking for the same documents “over and over” and other delays, a manager from the VA Pension Center in St. Paul, Minnesota called and told her the accrued benefit check was on the way.

“Shocked,” Pletcher said when asked how surprised she was. “Shocked. You saw all the paperwork I had and I just wanted to cry many days because I was [in] over my head.”

One of the first to hear the good news was her dad.

“Dad we did it,” Pletcher recalled saying. “I came out and I said, ‘dad we did it.'”

A VA spokesman said he could not comment on Jackson’s case due to privacy laws.

Pletcher said there is “no way” the VA would have granted the benefit without the story that exposed the process that she considered a case of delay, deny until they die.

“Thank you, Channel 8,” Pletcher said.

She said while her father could’ve used the accrued benefit while he was alive, she never planned on keeping it for herself.

“I don’t want it,” Pletcher said.

Instead, she is using the money to start an endowment in her mom and dad’s name at his beloved University of Florida.

“I think we will help people with motion disorders,” Pletcher said. “My family has dealt with strokes and Parkinson’s.”

She still wishes her father lived long enough to really benefit from the VA’s help, but she is happy the endowment will keep his name alive.

“His names lives on,” Pletcher said. “He loved the Gators.”

According to the VA, 56.5 percent of benefits have been granted since fiscal year 2019. The flip side of that is 44.5 percent, about 2 million claims, were denied.

There is currently a backlog of about 260,000 cases, a VA spokesman said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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