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Action 9 helps veteran get benefits after life-altering injury

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Orlando, October 8, 2018 | comments
WFTV Ch. 9 A Navy veteran contacted Action 9 claiming the Department of Veterans Affairs had refused to pay his disability claim after he suffered a life-altering injury as a teenager.

After winning an appeal nearly 40 years later, the government still didn't pay his $90,000 settlement.

Consumer investigator Todd Ulrich went to work on his case and his congresswoman was also there to help.

August 20th, 1974, was the last day Navy veteran John Lewis could breathe without damaged lungs.

He was on board the USS Sumter. While he was using a torch, the ventilation failed, and zinc fumes burned his lungs.

“That one incident affected my whole life. Yeah, you never know. You never know,” Lewis said. He was diagnosed with permanent loss of full lung function and he was honorably discharged.

But Lewis, who was 18 at the time, was denied disability benefits despite his injury, which was at times crippling.

“I end up passing out or almost passing out after five to 10 minutes of exertion,” Lewis said.

As a teenager, Lewis didn't appeal the decision. But 37 years later, he was unable to work, and friends who were veterans convinced him to try to an appeal. That took another seven years. He sent a petition to the court of appeals for his veteran claims.

The court granted Lewis the benefits because it found that the government had made a clear and unmistakable error.

“I was denied because of a document that didn't even exist,” Lewis said.

He got a monthly retroactive benefit. And the VA also owed him an additional $90,000 in disability pay. But weeks, then months, passed and he did not receive a check.

“When it didn't happen, it crushed me financially,” Lewis said.

He contacted Action 9, asking for help. Ulrich reached out to U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy. Her office had contacted the VA about his case last year.

“He was caught up in the red tape that exists with federal agencies,” Murphy said.

She said her office has handled 1,200 cases to help constituents recover earned benefits.

“We work alongside them to make sure they receive what they have earned,” Murphy said.

Lewis got his check for $90,000 last month. “I feel like I’m getting my life back,” he said.

This year, the Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act became law.  It's supposed to ease a huge backlog of benefit claim appeals that drag on for years. And yet, paying resolved claims can still take months, or even years.
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