Frustrated and fed-up, Vietnam veteran Don Rabush calls his fight to get Veterans Affairs benefits for an ailment caused by Agent Orange one of the worth battles he’s ever faced.
The Army second lieutenant has been working to get nearly 40 years of retroactive benefits after suffering a heart attack in 1974.
Though a doctor at the time told him the attack was not war-related, the decision was reversed in 2010 when doctors discovered Rabush suffered a heart condition from contact with Agent Orange. He encountered the chemical during his five and a half years of service.
“In Vietnam, I was fighting the Viet Cong. This is a more vicious enemy. These are people who hide behind bureaucracy not to serve veterans," Rabush told NBC 7 Tuesday.
When Rabush filed for benefits in 2010, the VA granted them. Officials are not disputing Rabush’s ailments or their cause, but when the benefits should start.
Rabush said he should get them retroactively to 1974, but the VA says they should start in 2010 when he filed his new claim.
At issue, says VA Pension Management Center Manager Gary Chesterton, is a form Rabush submitted in 1974, which the VA says was a procedural form, not a claim form.
Disabled American Veterans representative Guy Anastasia told NBC 7 Rabush’s checks say otherwise.
“I did research. I went to the legal staff here and in D.C. to verify it can be used for adjudication purposes. It can be,” Anastasia said.
VA officials say it could be months before a decision is made in Rabush’s case.
The veteran said the fight isn’t about the more than $250,000 he stands to get if he wins. Instead, Rabush said it’s more about making sure he and other veterans who risked life and limb get the benefits they need to lead a healthy life.
“It’s common knowledge that VA claims their motto is — for those that are veterans — is ‘Delay, deny until they die.’ And believe me, I’ve felt all of that,” said Rabush.
Chesterton said 87 percent of the people who work in the office are veterans, and they grant benefits as the law allows.
The Disabled American Veterans office is working with congressional leaders to craft legislation to prevent similar issues in the future.