DeWITT, Va. (WRIC) — The widow of a local Vietnam War veteran has been fighting for her husband’s benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for roughly a decade. Now, she reveals she is starting to get answers.

Air Force veteran Joseph Wilkins passed away in 2018, but his medical problems predated his death by more than a decade. His widow, Carolyn Fields-Wilkins, an Army veteran herself, has since been fighting for the recognition of his claims.

8News interviewed her on April 5, shortly after she received a FedEx shipment of documents that had been sent overnight to her address in her husband’s name. The documents stated that Joseph needed to come in to a VA Medical Center for a C&P Exam, which, according to the VA, is something the department may require after a claim is filed to help rate their disability.

“How does this make any of that better, when you send me something for my deceased husband, that I know is deceased because I’m missing him?” Carolyn told 8News at the time. “I know he’s deceased. He gave me purpose. I took care of him like he was my baby because that’s what I wanted to do. But how does this help?”

Then, about a day after 8News’ Taking Action piece aired, Carolyn said she received a call from the VA that her claim was being processed.

“The package would be mailed out to me, and it takes seven to 10 business days, or days that I should get it,” she said on Wednesday. “Well, I haven’t gotten it.”

The call left Carolyn even more confused, as she had received a notice in November of 2021 stating, “There are no additional VA benefits available for the Veteran or yourself.” But less than a month later, she received another notice, also from the VA, which stated:

We are conducting a special review of the above Veteran’s claims folder in accordance with Nehmer v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You may be entitled to additional compensation if you previously submitted a claim for Veteran’s or Survivor’s benefits for a covered condition and were denied for that condition.”

Department of Veterans Affairs

8News first reached out to the VA for clarification on Joseph’s case last week. After following up again on Monday, the department responded on Wednesday.

We are sorry to hear about the passing of Mr. Wilkins and we wish to express our sincere condolences. 

VA confirms Carolyn Fields-Wilkins is an Army veteran and was married to Joseph Wilkins, an Air Force Veteran, who passed away on Sept. 27, 2018. VA records indicate that the veteran previously filed a claim for a disability that is presumptively connected to exposure to herbicide; the claim was subsequently denied in August 2011 due to the condition not being diagnosed.

In June 2021, VA conducted a special review of Mr. Wilkin’s claims file as mandated by federal court order in Nehmer v. Department of Veterans Affairs. Review of the file showed no diagnosis of any of the three new presumptive conditions. VA was unable to grant additional service connection benefits based on this review. Appeal rights were provided as part of the April 6, 2022, notification letter regarding the decision which outline potential next steps.

During this process, an automated notice was sent addressed to Mr. Wilkins on March 30, 2022, advising of a records review, including review of compensation and pension exams and that reporting for an exam was not needed. While the intent was to inform, we understand and regret that this and any other correspondence was upsetting to Mrs. Field-Wilkins.

Mrs. Field-Wilkins received the Veteran’s final benefit payment as well as burial benefits.”

Department of Veterans Affairs

Carolyn continues to question what will happen to her husband’s claim, setting aside those of her own. She said that regardless of the outcome, she will continue to fight for veterans.

“All I think about is what’s not fair to veterans — wounded, maimed, some were killed,” she said. “What if their loved ones can’t get what they need? Do you know the stress that that puts on a body, a person who has lost a loved one?”

More recent documentation Carolyn received from the VA stated that review of a burial claim was completed on April 6, 2022. The claim included benefits associated with bladder cancer, among other things. However, Carolyn said that she was never made aware that Joseph had bladder cancer, despite several months of him being in and out of treatment at VA Medical Centers.

“Veterans need this attention,” she said. “There’s a lot going on in the world. But should that call to go to another war [come], who you going to send? When they come back, how will they be treated?”

Carolyn said that she hopes to turn her property into a place for veterans moving forward, in an effort to give back to service members.

“I want to make this place a place that veterans, in my husband’s name and his honor, they can use this spot for picnics, for family reunions, for weddings,” she said. “I think that there should be a way with community involvement to have sessions that enlighten veterans. These are the people that fight the wars and defend the democracy in the country. Shouldn’t they have an opportunity to fight and know what their benefits are supposed to be?”