Nicole March has plenty of support in her battle to obtain Veterans Affairs benefits she thinks are due her father, who served in World War II and Korea.
There are more than 40,000 people, the vast majority strangers, in her corner.
When March, a store detective at Target, got what she thought was a rude response from the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in her efforts to get help for her father, she turned to an online organization called Change.org that allows people with grievances to fill out petitions seeking help.
The organization perhaps is best known as a venue used by the parents of Trayvon Martin, the black teen whose shooting death in February 2012 in Sanford sparked a global controversy over race and the state’s “stand your ground law.”
March, 29, is trying to get the VA to pay for full-time nursing care for her father, James March, who is 90, can barely see, has trouble taking care of himself and may be in the early stages of dementia.
About 10 days ago, she said, she had a particularly vexing phone conversation with someone from Haley.
“The guy on the phone was so rude and abrupt that when I hung up, I saw my mother cry,” said March, who lives in Riverview. “I filled out the petition in a fit of anger. I didn’t think it would do anything. But the response has been amazing.”
Thursday evening, the petition had more than 40,000 signers.
Eventually he was sent to school for nursing and became a medic, serving on the front lines in France and Belgium.
One day in 1944, while on a medical train headed for the front, there was some kind of explosion. James March dove into a foxhole, where he tore the ligaments in his feet and ankles. When he woke up on the same medical train, there was a Purple Heart medal pinned to his pillow, said his wife, now 72.
“But now that he’s 90 years old, dad is really sick and he urgently needs help from an assisted living facility. Our whole family is worried about him: he’s barely eating, he’s nearly lost his eyesight, and he’s suffering from dementia. In just a few months, he lost 70 pounds.
“Dad needs constant care, but Mom isn’t able to be a full-time caregiver because she’s struggling with cancer recovery and diabetes — and my family doesn’t have enough money to pay out of pocket for him to get a home aide.”
James March is now living in a specialized nursing facility in Lakeland, which the family said it cannot afford.
So they are seeking benefits from the VA and think the Purple Heart should be taken into consideration.
The family said it submitted an application to Haley in February. Haley said it received one on March 4 and that it was denied that same day because the family’s income exceeded guidelines, said Karen Collins, hospital spokeswoman. Collins said the family also received information about an appeal process that includes filing for a hardship waiver for any changes in income status.
Nicole March said the family did not receive notification of the denial until March 26. They have yet to file the appeal.
The hospital was not aware of the Purple Heart until after seeing the Change.org petition, Collins said. James March’s discharge papers do not include any mention of a Purple Heart.
The family, which has the medal, thinks it is not uncommon for Purple Heart recipients in WWII to not have that noted in discharge papers.
Speaking in general terms, John Bircher, national spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said the medal usually is cited in those papers.
Generally the Purple Heart would make a veteran eligible for health care, Collins said. But for a veteran to receive benefits for either a VA community living center or contract nursing help, the veteran has to prove that health issues are 70 percent service related, Collins said.
The family has not started the claims process, March said.
The VA is working with the family to determine eligibility and Purple Heart status, Collins said.
It was launched as a social enterprise in 2007 by Stanford University classmates Ben Rattray and Mark Dimas, both still company executives, said spokeswoman Megan Lubin.
“Every day people use our tools to transform their communities — locally, nationally and globally,” states the organization.
March said the organization has been instrumental in drumming up support for her case.
She has spent about 15 hours during the past week answering questions from supporters and researching her father’s claim. She said Change.org did “90 percent of the work” to get the overwhelming response from people across the country.
Many of those who signed the petition are vets, March said.
“I don’t understand why the VA is not treating him?” wrote a man identifying himself as Don Van Horne, of Monroe, La. “I’m a veteran … receiving care from the VA without any problem. I pray Mr. March gets the care he deserves.”