Nationwide, millions of veterans live with disabilities from their service. Many have found that getting compensation from the VA can take longer than their tours of duty and be as stressful as combat.
In 2002, the VA changed the way it interpreted the Agent Orange Act, excluding blue water veterans.
"You never had a harder fight overseas than when you come back and deal with the VA," Rossie said. "I consider them adversaries. Every claim, I put it in expecting a fight."
The appeals process, which the Cooleys are engaged in now, takes an average of four years. While waiting, some veterans die.
"It’s called, ‘Deny, deny, till we all die,’" Belanger said. "This is part of the price tag of war. They’ve kicked these veterans to the curb one too many times. I’ve had guys tell me, ‘I’m dying, but I’m doing it for the next crew.’"
"You just gotta smile and walk away," Rossie said. "It’s aggravating, that’s a good word for it. It is enough to have guys say, ‘The hell with this. It’s not worth the fight.’"