A picture from his time in Vietnam. Ralph Bozella is president of the United Veterans Committee of Colorado, a nonprofit organization of more than 45 organizations helping Colorado’s estimated 460,000 veterans.
When Ralph Bozella came home from Vietnam in 1972, he was happy he’d survived and was ready to get on with life.
Because he had escaped any serious wounds in combat, he never gave a thought to disabilities.
Four decades later, his time in Vietnam is haunting his health.
But thanks to a little-known law, he is receiving thousands of dollars a month in disability pay and free health care for a common heart problem that he may have contracted when exposed to Agent Orange and other chemicals used to kill vegetation and expose the enemy.
Nearly 2.6 million Americans served in Vietnam, and anyone who set foot there during the war is eligible for compensation if they suffer from one of 16 ailments. Some are fairly common, like Type II diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and prostate cancer.
Medical conditions covered by the 1991 Agent Orange Act include:
- Prostate Cancer
- Respiratory cancers
- Multiple Myeloma
- Type II diabetes
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Soft tissue sarcoma (cancer)
- Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Chronic Llymphocytic leukemia
- B-cell leukemias
- Parkinson’s disease
- Ischemic heart disease
- AL Amyloidosis
- Spina Bifida and certain other birth defects in vets’ children.
The Agent Orange law, passed in 1991, states that a military person who was in Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975 and has been diagnosed with one of the named conditions qualifies for disability benefits. These payments can range up to $2,673 a month for 100 percent disability.
Sailors on inland waterways, termed “brown waters,” qualify as well. Congress now has two bills pending authorizing the same benefits for “blue water” sailors, whose ships came within 12 miles of shore, because the defoliants may have drifted that far. The bill also would extend benefits to some veterans who served in Panama and the South Korean DMZ during that time.
Children of Vietnam veterans with certain birth defects also are covered.
The VA has no record of how many veterans have requested or received Agent Orange compensation, because it tracks claims only by disability. Since September 2010, just under 31,000 Vietnam vets have filed for Agent Orange compensation, according to Randal Noller of the VA.
A veteran may file a claim by presenting proof of service (form DD-214), proof of having been in Vietnam such as orders, medals etc., and an acceptable diagnosis of the medical condition, according to the VA office in Lakewood. It said most claims are processed within six months.
Of course, it’s not that simple, said Ann Weakley, a retired VA administrator and claims processor.