National legislation could beef up Cape Girardeau Veterans Affairs facility (6/9/14)In the wake of allegations of long wait times and secret waiting lists at Veterans Affairs hospitals, national legislation has been proposed that could help service members in the Cape Girardeau area. If passed, the bill would authorize the VA to lease 26 new walk-in health facilities in 18 states and spend $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. One of those proposed facilities could be in Cape Girardeau...
Bill would create registry for veterans exposed to burn pits overseas (11/7/11)If legislation filed last week by a U.S. House representative from Missouri passes, the Department of Veterans Affairs could create a registry of veterans who may have been exposed to burn pits during wars of the past decade. A name likely on that list will be that of Lucky Sands, a Cape Girardeau soldier who died at the age of 45 in 2009...
Area veteran battling VA over covering Agent Orange-related health problems (3/2/11)Charles Phillip Jestus worked, ate and slept in the stench and horror of war, somewhere between Khe Sanh and hell. The Vietnam vet spent 13 months in 1968 and 1969 supplying helicopters and troops at a landing strip in the valley village of Ca Lu. He would see things -- death, dying, suffering, fear, degradations and debasements -- unimaginable to all but those who have lived in the carnage of war...
VA approves death benefit for daughter of Cape Girardeau soldier (2/22/11)More than a year later, the paperwork is beginning to arrive. Late last week, Cynthia Herath, mother of deceased soldier and longtime Cape Girardeau resident Lucky Sands, received a letter from the VA informing her that after "careful and compassionate consideration a decision has been reached on your claim."...
Other Southeast Missouri veterans fighting health care battles (2/17/11)When the blistering begins, Chris Amacker says, it feels like his whole body is on fire. The first time, he panicked. "I remember throwing my wife out of bed -- I thought the bed was on fire," said Amacker, 35. Amacker served a dozen years in the Army Reserve and Missouri National Guard in Cape Girardeau and elsewhere, including a tour of duty as a gun truck commander in Iraq in 2004. ...
A soldier named Lucky, part 4: Family left with questions and a maze of paperwork (2/16/11)These memories break her. Cynthia gets up from the love seat and grabs a box of tissues from the kitchen. Those last days are back in focus. Lucky grinned. It was weak but contained the traces of that brilliant smile. Moments before, Lucky had said her last goodbye to Ceylon, hugging her daughter for the last time...
A soldier named Lucky, part 3: Lucky deals with post-traumatic stress and declining health (2/15/11)2005-2008 She wasn't the same Lucky. The war ate at her mind. Like so many soldiers she served with. "You don't come back the same person, that's for sure," said Larry Smith, Lucky's former mess sergeant. "I'm not the same person. You change."...
Health care benefits for U.S. veterans (2/15/11)The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 extends the period of eligibility for health care for veterans who served in a theater of combat operations after Nov. 11, 1998. Under the "Combat Veteran" authority, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides cost-free health care services for qualifying veterans whose military service resulted in injury or other medical conditions...
A soldier named Lucky, part 2: Soldier went from smoke of war to frustrating battle for treatment (2/14/11)November 2009 Lucky came home to Cape Girardeau alone, bearing the weight of that massive oxygen tank. It was 1:30 a.m., Nov. 14. Cynthia and Lal waited up for her, expecting to find a medical traveling companion with her. The only one there to help was the BART Transportation driver, who carried Lucky's bags to the front door. ...
A soldier named Lucky, Part 1: Woman comes to America with big dreams, but they end in a VA hospital bed (2/13/11)The snow wouldn't stop. Washington, D.C., was in the throes of a crippling blizzard that would dump nearly three feet of heavy, wet mess on much of the region, shutting down the city and the nation's political business. The national press billed it "snowpocalypse."...
Significant dates in Lucky Sands' life (2/13/11)*Timeline compiled from family and soldier recollections of events. The Department of Defense has not sent requested information on Sgt. Lucky Sands' military record. Aug. 2, 1964 Born in Colombo, the industrial hub of Sri Lanka. 1971-1985 ...
Aug. 2, 1964
Born in the port city of Columbo, the industrial hub of the Democratic socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.
Attends Ladies College, a private Christian school for girls, and Visakha Vidyalaya, a private secondary school, in Columbo.
Moves to Cape Girardeau to attend Southeast Missouri State University. Graduates in 1990 with a degree in business administration, and a couple years later with a degree in economics. Takes a position in the university's library.
Marries fellow student Mark Johnson. The couple later divorces.
Becomes a U.S. citizen.
March 4, 1997
Daughter, Ceylon, is born.
Enlists in Missouri Army National Guard in Cape Girardeau
Joins the U.S. Army Reserve 348th Engineer Company in Cape Girardeau.
Marries Steve Sands.
Unit is deployed for service in War in Iraq.
January 2004-February 2005
Serves at Logistics Base Seitz near the Abu Graib neighborhood in Iraq. Gunner on Humvee for transport and security missions. Injured during combat.
Returns home, suffering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Eventually diagnosed with PTSD. Steve and Lucky divorce later that year. August 2005 begins treatment at Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Cape Girardeau for abdominal pain, itchy eyes, rash, and symptoms related to PTSD, VA officials say.
Serves with Reserve unit on a humanitarian mission to El Salvador. She becomes seriously ill. Returns home for treatment. Health begins to deteriorate.
Seeks medical treatment at John J. Pershing Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Poplar Bluff, Mo. Hair falling out, there are lesions on her skin and she loses weight. Diagnosis is unclear, friends and family say. Seeks full VA disability compensation without success. Lives on food stamps and daughter's college education fund, friends and family say.
Treated as inpatient at St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center -- John Cochran Division. In January, VA doctor says, physicians are "reasonably certain" Lucky has lupus. Treatment delayed, VA says, for fear soldier has infection.
Begins treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Wears wigs to cover hair loss. Continues losing weight and is easily winded. There are skin lesions on face and hands. VA says Lucky receives 100 percent disability compensation in August; family members dispute that, say she did not receive the payments until mid-2009.
Continues treatment at Walter Reed, stays at Mologne House, an outpatient residence on the Walter Reed complex. Requires oxygen, given morphine for pain. In August, her condition is critical. Fellow soldier says she appears as if she is "rotting from the inside out."
Comes home to Cape Girardeau saying medical staff at Walter Reed is doing nothing for her. Spends last Christmas with family, friends.
Driven back to Walter Reed by father, and friend Paul Mingus. Condition worsening.
Feb. 12, 2010
Taken to VA medical center in Washington, D.C., doctors say there's nothing that can be done. The city is digging out from record snowfall.
Feb. 16, 2010
Lucky Lakmini Sands dies at the Washington, D.C. Veterans Affairs Medical Center, at the age of 45. Death certificate notes lupus as cause of death. Buried at Missouri State Veterans Cemetery in Bloomfield.