ST. LOUIS - Certificates don’t say it. Folded flags won’t portray it. Old pictures can’t reclaim it.
“He loved people. He loved the military. He loved his veterans.” said Connie Gamble.
Connie’s late husband, Army Sergeant Bob Gamble, believed the country he loved so much would love him back by taking care of his family when he died. His widow Connie says she’s not feeling the love from Veterans Affairs.
“I’m mad at them because my husband served his country for this, though the VA would take care of me financially which they won’t,” said Connie Gamble.
Bob Gamble died of cancer in 2018. Connie believes her husband’s illness was connected to the burn pit exposure she says he experienced while serving in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The U.S. military used open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan to torch everything from batteries to body parts.
“He said there was black smoke. You could smell it. They had to wear their heavy gear. He said it was always down his throat,” said Gamble.
Connie says her claim for survivor benefits was denied because the VA found Bob’s death was not connected to his service.
“These can be very challenging claims at times,” said Brett Buchanan, VA-accredited veterans’ appeals expert at Allsup.
He says unlike Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange, burn pit claims, especially for soldiers who’ve died, present different demands.
“You’re looking at what they were exactly exposed to and what was the frequency. And those are question marks. Those are very difficult to show,” said Buchanan.
Connie is appealing the VA’s denial. A long process involving a historically backlogged system. That’s why Contact 2 got involved. Our contact with the VA and the effort of Missouri Congressman Jason Smith is helping move things along. In a statement, Representative Smith said, “he will continue advocating for Mrs. Gamble and her family.”
“You serve your country, and this is how you get treated?” said Gamble.
The VA tells FOX 2 it’s contacted Connie, but reiterated that it cannot provide Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits if a Veteran’s death isn’t connected to a service-related injury or illness -- or if they weren’t rated 100-percent service-connected for specific periods of time.
We’ve connected Connie with Brett Buchanan to assist with her appeal. We’ll let you know about any updates to this story.