LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - An estimated half-million veterans who served during the Vietnam War may now be eligible for additional benefits. An act signed into law earlier this summer by President Trump will mean these veterans can be compensated for exposure to Agent Orange.
The act extends benefits to veterans who served on a ship off the shore of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975. But officials are concerned that those that were affected by Agent Orange, or their loved ones, will not know that they will be able to be compensated.
It was sheer coincidence that John Haines learned about the change.
"The VA actually sent me an email newsletter," said Haines, who served aboard the USS Kitty Hawk off the coast of Vietnam.
Years later, he was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma and beat it.
"The doctor said, he said, 'After reviewing your file there's no doubt in my mind that you were exposed to something that made you so sick,'" Haines said.
When President Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 into law, it meant that veterans, like Haines, who were previously denied for an Agent Orange-related condition can file a new claim. There are 14 conditions that qualify someone under this law.
"They can potentially receive compensation which could include monetary compensation, eligibility into VA health care and a whole host of other benefits," said Adam Flood, a La Crosse County veterans service officer.
Part of the problem is that veterans might not be aware of the change.
"Since President Trump signed it, I've probably only had five people inquire," Flood said.
That's out of the hundreds that might be impacted just in La Crosse County. Flood also wants widows to know they might be able to submit a claim.
"We don't want the spouses, or the widows, to actually forgo benefits that could be life-changing in a lot of circumstances," Flood said.
For Haines, it's not just about the potential for financial compensation, it's about being recognized.
"Finally they're acknowledging me and what I did over there. They're acknowledging my brothers and sisters that served over there and saying, 'America is sorry for what happened to you and we're going to make it right,'" Haines said.
Anyone who thinks they, or their loved one, might now be eligible under the act should contact their veterans service officer to schedule an appointment. You should bring any discharge papers or other paperwork that might prove that you qualify.
Veterans can file a claim at any time. Their cases will be decided after the law goes into effect on January 1st.
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