A Wisconsin congressman is working to provide fair compensation for a Madison woman after the U.S. Air Force denied her reimbursement claims after an F-16 crashed on her property nearly three years ago.
Sherri Flack Vovos provided an estimate from a professional landscaper said that the hundreds of pine trees destroyed in the ensuing fire caused by the plane crash are worth $129,000.
"When you damage something, you're supposed to pay for it," Flack Vovos said. "They assured me that everything was fine, that my claim was fine. They'd be sending me money. I never expected to have to fight with them over this."
Flack Vovos mailed her damage claim on June 6, 2013, one day before the two-year anniversary of the crash where a mechanical problem forced the pilot to safely eject and the plane to explode next to her rural Adams County 10-acre property.
Firefighters dug furrows throughout her property in an effort to battle the flames that killed numerous 70-foot pine trees. She believed she had done what was necessary to fulfill the federal government's recommended two-year statute of limitations for damage claims.
An initial rejection of her claim from the Air Force stated, "The Air Force did not receive your claim until June 11, 2013, four days after expiration of the two year statutory limitations period. Although your claim was postmarked on June 6, 2013, the law is clear a claim is not presented to the appropriate federal agency until the agency actually receives it."
The Air Force's reimbursement form (Standard Form 95) states in bold print that the failure to submit a claim within the two-year period "may render (a) claim invalid." However, what really irritated Flack Vovos is the final rejection of her claim where an Air Force colonel wrote that she had "provided no evidence the value of (her) property has decreased."
The land, which was to serve as her retirement property, currently is laden with blackened bark and leafless branches. Hundreds of trees that have yet to fall will likely do so in the near future.
"You never lose your forest until a plane crashes on it," she said. "These trees are all destroyed. Every tree you can see is destroyed, worthless. They'll be dead in four years, and fall over and just make a mess. This will just be a flat piece of land with no trees."
Flack Vovos thought she had hit a dead end when her final Air Force appeal was denied, but she contacted News 3's Call For Action after seeing the volunteers recover money for consumers struggling to resolve their disputes with businesses and governmental agencies. Now Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, is looking into Flack Vovos's situation and wants answers from the Air Force that are more convincing than that she turned in paperwork a few days late.
"I understand navigating the federal bureaucracy can be challenging and I’m glad Sherri reached out to my office," Pocan said in a statement emailed to News 3. "We are working with the Department of the Air Force to ensure common sense prevails and Ms. Flack receives fair compensation for the damage to her property.”
Flack Vovos realizes her property won't recapture its earlier beauty in time for her retirement, but said she still wants to be compensated for damage she did not cause herself.
"I'm a patriotic girl; I've always loved the military. My family's been in the military. I have the utmost respect for the military," she said. "I don't understand why they would act like this. It's very frustrating and painful and hurtful. I'm not asking for a lot of money. I'm just asking them to replace my trees."