TAMPA (FOX 13) - While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says it has improved since its national scandal of 2014, veterans across the Tampa Bay area say they're still waiting for benefits they deserve. And those who die waiting for benefits pass their struggle to their loved ones.
Charles Edward Williams died in June 2015. His widow, Morris Lee Williams, struggled to make ends meet after his death.
"My air conditioner broke so I went all summer  without the air to keep from having such a large bill," she said. "[The thermometer] said 110 degrees. It's hard to sleep at night when you're sweating, and you have a fan on and it's still not doing any good for you."
She still says she spends much of her time in the dark to save on the light bill and any way else she can. And she's still reeling in grief from the loss of her husband Charles.
"Sometimes I wouldn't buy food," Morris continued. "Everything in me is gone because the love of my life is gone"
They married when she was 14. The Army sent him to Vietnam, where two years of blasts dulled his hearing and a bomb ripped off part of his hand. Morris suspects his exposure to Agent Orange may have also caused the cancer in his nose that eventually took his life.
She said he finally got approved for all the benefits he said he needed for his war injuries shortly before his death. She said he begged her to keep fighting for back pay for the all the years since his war service that he did not receive all of those benefits.
"He said, ‘Baby, I don't know what we're going to do, but keep fighting to see if you can get something for the trouble you're going through.’ And that's what I've been trying to do."
She also wonders if her husband may still be here if they told him about the risk of Agent Orange sooner. She wonders if screening could have revealed the cancer sooner. But she mostly wonders if she'll ever get the benefits he begged for as he said goodbye.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't break down and cry, because I'm so lonely and I miss him so much," she said.
Related link: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/24/congress-wants-answers-as-disabled-vets-caregivers-say-va-stripping-benefits.html
As widows like Mrs. Williams fight for benefits, thousands of caregivers also say their benefits have been revoked under the Family Caregiver Program.
Congressman Gus Bilirakis strongly criticized that decision.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's unacceptable," Bilirakis told Fox News. "We should always err on the side of the veteran. They are true American heroes."