8 INVESTIGATES: Pinellas vet appealing denial of VA benefits is 12,396th in line


PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Tom Jenkins remembers standing on ground freshly sprayed with Agent Orange at the Ubon Royal Air Force base in Thailand during the Vietnam War.

“You could smell it, it was a terrible smell,” remembered Tom, a 20 year Air Force veteran.

Now Tom is standing in a line at the V.A. suffering from ailments he believes were caused by Agent Orange.  It could be years before he gets the help he seeks because he is number 12,396 in line.  Nationwide there are estimates that this backlog on the appeals end is nearing one half million cases.  A document forwarded to 8 On Your Side states the St. Petersburg Regional Office is currently working on claims from 2012-2013.

Tom suffers from heart disease, prostate cancer, and painful neuropathy in his feet. A letter from a V.A. doctor confirms these are conditions “which are associated with Agent Orange exposure.”

The military sprayed the perimeter of Ubon A.F.B. with Agent Orange.  Photos obtained by 8 On Your Side show air force barracks were open with only screens for walls and sat close to the perimeter.

The V.A. denied Tom’s claim for service-connected disability benefits. He filed a notice of disagreement.

According to veterans advocate and Stetson University College of Law professor Stacey Rae Simcox cases like Tom;s seem easy.  The V.A. made them complex. Professor Simcox pointed to a case file she is working on that stands more than a foot tall.

“It shouldn’t take this much paperwork for one veteran to be able to get Agent Orange benefits, which is this case as well,” she said.  That case has dragged on for 7 years.

Last year the V.A. worked feverishly to reduce a service disability claims backlog of one million cases.  According to professor Simcox, the V.A. made so many hurried decisions on disability claims like Tom Jenkins’ it’s now created a backlog on the appeals end.

She points out in an effort to reduce a massive backlog of disability claims, the V.A. is making hurried decisions. That is resulting in veterans, like Tom Jenkins, filing appeals, which has in turn created a massive backlog on the appeals end.

“Do we really want to take care of our veterans as a society or are we going to hold them to this standard where not even the V.A. employees can understand how to apply these laws because it’s really complicated?” she asked.

She estimates it will be five to seven years before a case like Tom’s will actually get before a lawyer at the V.A.  It is her contention the V.A. could streamline its system by using common sense instead of complex criteria.

“If you have a veteran who served in Vietnam or Thailand and they come up with the whole list of Agent Orange conditions, why not just assume it’s from Agent Orange,” stated professor Simcox.

Professor Simcox estimates it will be 5 to 7 years before a case like Tom’s will actually get before a lawyer at the V.A.

Tom Jenkins wants a hearing before the V.A. Board of Appeals in Washington D.C. Professor Simcox estimates it will be 5 to 7 years before a case like Tom’s will actually get before a lawyer at the V.A. Tom believes a meeting with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, which he claims he’s so far been denied, would help him speed up the process.

“They’re dragging their feet here at the V.A. in St. Pete and they hope I die, I’m 72 years old,” Tom  said.


Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

get the app

News App

Weather App

Don't Miss

More Don't Miss