As his wife Sheila held Lonnie Kilpatrick’s hand, his daughter Kassie recorded some of his last words.
The Navy veteran said there is a reason for everything – his struggle with the VA, his impending death.
“Make something out of it, make it count,” Lonnie said in a weak voice.
We met Lonnie in February, shortly after he learned Stage 4 kidney cancer had spread through his body.
“That hit me like a ton of bricks,” he told us from his bed in Holiday in February.
For good reason. For four years, doctors at the VA at Bay Pines said his back pain was arthritis and disc related.
“Just couldn’t get nobody to take it serious that, hey I’ve lost 50 pounds,” explained Lonnie at the time.
The VA treated Lonnie for kidney cancer in 2013, pronounced him cancer-free, then missed its recurrence.
“You know you’re going to lose him and that could have been prevented if the VA had followed up,” said daughter Keri Ackerson.
“I’m mad because this should never have happened, this should never happen to anybody,” his wife Sheila stated.
The Kilpatricks wanted nothing to do with VA doctors. In February the government agency balked at paying for Lonnie’s outside medical treatment.
When I contacted the VA to ask why, it assured me Mr. Kilpatrick’s care was taken care of.
What hadn’t been taken care of – Lonnie’s Agent Orange claim.
He believed his heart disease was tied to the toxic herbicide while stationed on Guam. The military’s consistent stance over the years is it did not use Agent Orange on Guam. The VA denied his claim.
Once I got Congressman Gus Bilirakis involved, the Department of Defense declassified Lonnie’s records and discovered evidence of Agent Orange exposure.
The VA reversed its denial and awarded Lonnie benefits, retroactive to 2010.
“I thank you and God bless all of you all,” said Sheila.
Three weeks later from his hospital deathbed in Tarpons Spring, in a weakened voice, Lonnie asked his family to open their hearts to other veterans.
“Take some time and think about it and help them,” he said. “Amen. I can’t talk no more.”
Afterward, Lonnie didn’t re-open his eyes and didn’t speak another word.
As he drifted off into eternity Saturday night, Kassie recorded one last moment with the man she knows as “Daddy,” kissing him gently on his forehead.