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Old Soldiers Still Fighting for Veteran's Disability

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Albany, NYWhile the US Department of Veterans Affairs is adding new diseases and conditions to the list of those which quality for compensation, securing veterans' disability benefits can be painfully slow—and for some, impossible.

On Monday the Albany-based Times-Union revealed the maddening situation of those who came into contact with Agent Orange while serving during the Vietnam War.

Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide used by the US military to defoliate the dense forest and allow US soldiers to better see the enemy. It was later found that military personnel who ingested dioxins and the various toxic chemicals associated with the herbicide have become susceptible to illness. The VA long ago ruled that military personnel who served on Vietnamese soil and became ill from the aftereffects of Agent Orange should be compensated.

However, those who did not actually serve on Vietnamese soil—including those who served in the air or on the sea—are ineligible for compensation unless they can prove their illness is directly service-oriented. That, it turns out, is not easy. Even when doctors verify the connection, benefits can be painfully slow in coming.

The Times-Union told the story of Robert Hug, who served in the Gulf of Tonkin and South China Sea aboard the USS Hancock from 1967 to 1970. Hug, a non-smoker, eventually developed cancer of the larynx and required surgery. Doctors blamed his illness on Agent Orange. However the VA denied his claims for cancer-related benefits four times in nine years before finally allowing him benefits last fall.

Critics say he shouldn't have had to wait, given the likelihood that exposure to Agent Orange was not limited to those actually serving on the ground. John Paul Rossie, executive director of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans, a group that is currently lobbying the government for change, told the Times-Union that Agent Orange drifted onto the decks of ships and left behind an oily residue. Navy seamen also came into contact with the herbicide while circling river mouths to escort smaller craft and while working on the open ocean, Hug said.

What's more, the USS Hancock and other warships obtained their drinking water from the sea via a desalinization process. Desalinization removed the salt but likely concentrated the herbicide in the water, according to studies.

It was reported that in October 2009 that the VA approved veterans' disability benefits for three additional diseases: Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and B-cell leukemias. However, only veterans who served on the ground qualify. In 2002 the VA ceased compensation for offshore navy and Air Force personnel who could not prove they had contact with the material.

What appears to have turned the tide for Hug was the procurement of deck logs from the USS Hancock, which revealed he spent eight hours on Vietnamese soil while waiting to be flown to an aircraft carrier.

Hug is part of the effort lobbying for congressional passage of the Agent Orange Equity Act, which would treat all Agent Orange claims equally.


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Posted by

I started having tremors in 1988 and was identified with Parkinson's Disease at Vanderbilt Medical Center by Dr. John Fang in 1992. I was just told Aspestos is a cause for this disease. I was aboard the USS Hancock in 1969 for 5 month and told Aspestos has caused numerous cases of PD. Can VA disability benefits be available?
Please contact me. My PD and Heart Disease caused me to retire in 2012.


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