TAMPA — Monday started with a call from Veterans Affairs for a World War II veteran who had turned to panhandling to pay his bills.
Anthony Jacondino said the VA wants to see if he might qualify for a disability pension. His appointment: 10 a.m. Friday.
For the first time in months, he feels hopeful.
Jacondino, 84, was the subject of a story in Saturday's St. Petersburg Times, after he caught the attention of motorists at Dale Mabry Highway and Columbus Drive.
He served in the Philippines before leaving the Army in 1947 and then worked most of his life as an apartment maintenance man. His first wife died years ago, and in April, his second wife suffered a stroke.
They had been living on his $980 Social Security check and her income cleaning rooms at a local nursing home. With her unable to work at 62, they fell about $400 behind on their bills each month.
So Jacondino bought an orange vest and penned a message on cardboard: World War II vet in need of help.
Jacondino told a reporter he felt ashamed to beg, but didn't see another option. He hoped that his hearing difficulties might qualify him for some sort of pension. They had appeared soon after the war. He had talked to VA representatives but got nowhere, he said.
After reading about Jacondino, about 50 people contacted the Times, most of them outraged, many asking how to help. (No fund has been set up, but the Times relayed their offers and contact information to Jacondino.)
Sandy Hutton of Belleair said the board of the Tampa Bay Veterans Alliance discussed Jacondino's situation at its Saturday meeting. The nonprofit has since reached out to Jacondino to see if it can help him navigate the VA benefit system.
"It is a heartbreaking thing to read of this gentleman who has served and sacrificed so much for his country," Hutton wrote.
One Tampa reader said that as a fellow veteran, he's particularly concerned. Michael Delamer, 33, said he served seven years in the Coast Guard, leaving in 2009.
"I may have to reach out to the VA one day for help," he said. "What's going to happen to me?"
Many readers asked for an update on the VA's decision. Veteran's officials, contacted last week by the Times, had said they would take another look at Jacondino's case.
Jacondino said his appointment is for a physical examination at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center. It's an important step in determining whether he might be eligible for a disability pension.
"I'll be there," he said.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or [email protected]