This week in a four-part series, Southeast Missourian reporter M.D. Kittle explored the story of Lucky Sands, her devastating physical decline and a display of bureaucratic obstacles facing soldiers and families trying to receive benefits from their government.
Sands, formerly of Sri Lanka, came to Cape Girardeau to attend Southeast Missouri State University when she was 21 years old. She would later enlist in the U.S. Army Reserve and serve 15 months in Iraq and later on a humanitarian mission to El Salvador.
Upon returning home in 2005, Sands' medical problems would begin. After returning from the humanitarian mission to El Salvador in 2006, her health continued to worsen. And from there her condition would only become more dire, eventually leading her to being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Lucky died a year ago last week after a long illness that affected her lungs. She was diagnosed with Lupus, but several people close to her speculate that chemicals she was exposed to during her service contributed to her death.
Lucky and her family were not alone in criticizing the VA's medical care. One of Sands' friends, Chris Amacker, says he too had medical problems due to his service in the Armed Forces. Amacker said he spent more than two years fighting for disability compensation through the VA. During this time period he was unable to work and was sometimes dependent on a food bank for meals.
The problems with the VA continue today. Earlier this month, John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Louis canceled all surgeries after staff found some unsanitized operating room equipment. In June, officials notified 1,812 veterans that they had potentially been exposed to disease due to the sterilization problems. Missouri's U.S. senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt have joined Illinois U.S. senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin in demanding information from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Shinseki has since called the issue "an isolated incident."
Our veterans truly deserve better care and a more efficient disability claims process than that which they have been receiving.
Our prayers go out to Lucky's family for the loss they have suffered. Lucky Sands' story was shared by her still-grieving mother in hopes that its exposure might somehow help other soldiers in the future. We certainly hope that's true.