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Social security disability benefits for illness and Agent Orange

Thousands of military personnel were exposed to the chemical herbicide known as Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War. Agent Orange contained a highly toxic dioxin compound, and it is now known to cause many serious diseases and chronic health conditions.

For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs awarded social security disability benefits for illness to veterans in Columbus and across the US. Huge numbers of ex-soldiers rely on these payments as their only means of income, as they are unable to work due to ill health caused by Agent Orange exposure. But one man has had his benefits revoked after legislative changes, leaving him in severe financial difficulty.

The 67-year-old man served in the Navy during Vietnam, and was stationed aboard a blue water vessel. The sailors aboard these ships patrolled the coast but did not go ashore where the herbicide was being sprayed. He is suffering from peripheral neuropathy and diabetes, conditions that have been linked with exposure to the herbicide. Under the legislation put in place to care for veterans who were harmed by Agent Orange exposure, the man was awarded disability benefits in the 1990s.

In 2002, coverage for Agent Orange victims changed. It now excludes Navy veterans who served aboard blue water ships. The assumption was that since they were in blue water vessels, they were not near the areas exposed to Agent Orange. However, numerous studies have shown that many ships were contaminated by the desalination process used to make their drinking water safe, and that the process actually concentrated the toxin in dangerous amounts.

As the man’s health worsened, he applied for an increase in his disability benefits. But not only was his application denied, his previous entitlement to social security disability benefits for illness was revoked. Without the payments, the man will have to sell his home in order to pay for his care.

This should not have happened. The Act that awarded him disability payments in the first place contains a clause that states that once a veteran is awarded compensation, it cannot later be taken away even if legislation changes. The man and others in a similar situation in Ohio would do well to seek legal advice to petition their withdrawal of their benefits.

Source: Poststar.com, “VA ceases benefits for veteran suffering ailments linked to Agent Orange,” Will Doolittle, 04 Jun, 2011

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