TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) - An enormous weight has been lifted off the shoulders of a Pasco County veteran and his family.
Following a series of Target 8 reports, the Department of Veterans Affairs reversed its previous denial and approved Agent Orange benefits for Navy veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick.
"Words can't even say how much we appreciate what you have done," said Lonnie's daughter Keri Ackerson.
After eight years of delays and denial, the VA reversed course.
It approved Lonnie's claim that exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange left him 100 percent disabled.
The benefits are retroactive to 2010, when he first filed his claim.
"It's finally time they did something right," said Lonnie's wife Sheila.
For years the VA got it wrong. Its doctors diagnosed Lonnie's back pain as arthritis related.
Rushed to a civilian hospital in agony, he and his family were stunned to learn pain was really stage 4 kidney cancer.
"Medically, they misdiagnosed him. Everything they could've done wrong, the VA has done wrong," added Sheila.
Stationed on Guam in 1971 during the Vietnam War, Lonnie claims his work near airfields exposed him to the herbicide Agent Orange.
"I got extremely sick," Lonnie told Target 8. "I had a 106, 107, 108 degree fever."
Doctors diagnosed Lonnie in 2010 with ischemic heart disease, a condition linked to Agent Orange exposure.
He received a heart transplant.
For eight years the VA delayed, then this month denied Lonnie's claim that his heart condition is Agent Orange related.
"They've abandoned me. They've abandoned everybody else," he told Target 8's Steve Andrews from his hospital bed in Tarpon Springs.
Steve shared the story of Lonnie's misdiagnosis and fight for benefits with Congressman Gus Bililrakis (R)-Florida and the Disabled American Veterans, (DAV.)
The DAV assisted the Kilpatricks in gathering the necessary paperwork to file Lonnie's claim for Agent Orange benefits.
After the VA's rejection, Congressman Bilirakis requested that the Department of Defense liaison to the VA declassify Lonnie's records.
And there it was.
"It was definitely clear that he worked in a particular area where Agent Orange was definitely sprayed," explained Congressman Bilirakis.
He then requested the VA reverse its denial.
The benefits allow Sheila to stay where she belongs, at Lonnie's bedside.
"I thank you and God bless all of you all," said Sheila.
"Without you, 8 On Your Side, we would still be in the same place we were eight years ago," added Keri.