March 31, 2008 – Almost 20 years after his death, the Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized that an area Army veteran had a valid claim to service-related disability benefits.
“I wish he could’ve been alive to have it,” said Virginia Grimes, the widow of veteran Andrew Grimes. She will receive a service-connected death benefit compensation in light of this recognition.
Her husband, a Gibson County native, fought in Vietnam and Cambodia and had began filing paperwork with the Veterans Administration in 1987 to get benefits after he became ill. He died at age 40 on Dec. 5, 1988, after The American Legion Magazine had featured him in a story about Vietnam veterans’ filing for disability.
Grimes said her husband always believed his declining health and a rare lymphoma cancer were results of his exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange during combat in the jungles of Cambodia in 1970.
“He was in infantry. They all walked in on the ground right after it was sprayed,” she said.
On his death bed, he asked his wife to continue fighting for the recognition. “He said, ‘Do not give up on this.'”
“I feel like I have fulfilled what he wanted. I feel more at peace now. This is something he wanted me to have,” said Grimes, who lives in Jackson.
She filed several times on behalf of her husband over the past two decades. With each new filing, new evidence was required.
“The years was just passing by. … I had been denied so many times,” she said. Response letters to her filings in the past said “what you have sent is not sufficient enough.”
Finally, last year Grimes looked at all the paperwork she had and found something she had not sent in before. It was her husband’s autopsy report along with an article off the Internet about the type of cancer he had.
“If I had not agreed to the autopsy, I never would’ve gotten it,” she said. That was apparently the new evidence that turned everything around.
In early March, she received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Nashville stating that it had granted her claim related to the service-connected death of her husband. The letter was
dated Feb. 28 and signed by Jerry Mitchell, manager of the Veterans Service center.
“I was shocked when I got the letter. … When I opened it and read (it), I cried.”
Grimes hopes her experience will give hope to others.
“Anybody that is filing that is sincere, just don’t give up,” she said.
She had enlisted the help of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to file for service-connected widow’s compensation. Also, “the Veterans Affairs office in Jackson was so nice to me.”
Last April, her husband was among 77 veterans honored posthumously during the ninth annual “In Memory Day” for their non-combat injuries and emotional suffering caused directly by the Vietnam War.
That recognition, sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, was for veterans who were not eligible to have their names listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.