VA Benefits Paid After Tampa Veteran’s Delays, Refusals and Death Bring Gator Scholarship to Life

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WINTER HAVEN, Fla. (WFLA) — Norman “Ed” Jackson’s quest for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits he earned while serving in the military was a clear case of delay, denial until when they died, according to his daughter.

“Without a doubt in my mind,” Melissia Pletcher said. “I think my dad would agree.”

Jackson died at 87 after receiving two monthly benefit checks, but long after the funeral Pletcher came to 8 On Your Side hoping to expose hitch after hitch in the process.

The straw that broke the camel’s back in his father’s nightmare of bureaucracy was the letter granting him the benefits accrued after his death.

“It’s dated August 17 and he died August 7,” Pletcher recalled.

Right after an investigation by 8 On Your Side uncovered the issue, Pletcher received a phone call from the VA advising her that she would be receiving her accrued benefits.

Given that her VA-certified attorney told her that the agency rarely, if ever, pays surviving children, the outcome was unexpected.

“In shock. I was shocked,” Pletcher said. “I said, ‘Dad, we did it.’ I came out [to the cemetery] and said, ‘Dad, we made it.’ “

Now, Pletcher has put the $14,000 to work creating a new scholarship at Florida’s beloved University of Jackson.

The Big Ed, Little Joe Jackson Endowed Undergraduate Scholarship, named after Jackson and his wife, will be awarded to students studying movement disorders.

“My dad had two strokes,” Pletcher said. “My grandfather had Parkinson’s disease.”

The first recipient is Serena Pounders, a junior from the University of Florida who is studying to become a physician assistant.

“I think it was perfect for me. I also feel very lucky to deepen our understanding of these disorders,” Pounders said. “It’s interesting that [the VA] withheld the money, and he couldn’t see it while he was alive, but I’m glad you got involved and at least gave it to Melissia.

Pletcher is happy that some of the money went to Pounders and that the scholarship is keeping her parents’ legacy alive.

“Their names live on,” Pletcher said. “He loved the Gators.”

Benefits were a good start for the endowment, but Pletcher said she would contribute her own money to the fund and also accept donations to keep the scholarships going.

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