Based on its name, it’s reasonable to assume the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was created to look out for the welfare of those who served this nation in the military.
Unfortunately, the welfare of veterans doesn’t seem to be top priority for the federal agency.
Too often the opposite is true. At times, VA policies seem intent on making life more difficult for veterans.
Rarely, if ever, is this done maliciously. Most disputes over benefits between the agency and veterans stems from misinterpretation, miscommunication and frustration with the glacial pace of a bureaucracy that’s about as nimble as an aircraft carrier. Government policy can seem to be more important than people.
A recent reversal of VA policy regarding disability benefits is a positive sign compassion for veterans — people — is gaining ground. The VA approved disability compensation was to a former Air Force pilot’s exposure to Agent Orange after the Vietnam War ended.
Agent Orange is a herbicide and defoliant mixed with jet fuel sprayed from the air during the Vietnam War to eliminate cover for enemies in forests and jungles. The chemicals, however, took a toll on U.S. troops as well as enemies. Exposure causes several illnesses, including cancer.
The official policy was that only those who served in Vietnam at the time Agent Orange was used were entitled to disability compensation if they became ill.
Compensation was not granted to veterans who served after the Vietnam War.
Yet, Agent Orange exposure occurred after the war by exposure to contaminated equipment, including the airplanes used to dump some of the 20 million gallons on vegetation in Vietnam.
Paul Bailey, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is gravely ill with cancer, received notice Monday he would receive “a total grant of benefits” for cancer associated with his 1970s-era service in the United States aboard an aircraft that had been used to spray the toxic defoliant during the war, according to The Washington Post.
The 67-year-old veteran suffers from prostate cancer and metastatic cancer of the pelvis and ribs.
In an interview with a Post reporter, Bailey said the disability compensation will allow his wife to stay in their New Hampshire home after he dies.
“The financial and emotional support this provides is just tremendous,” he said. “It takes a huge burden off me.”
It is the right thing for the VA — the nation — to do. Those who risked their lives and health in service to the United States are owed compensation and care.
Monday’s decision is seen as significant because it could (and should) result the granting of benefits for those who served, as Bailey did, in and around airplanes, helicopters, equipment and areas contaminated by Agent Orange.
VA officials made the correct and humane decision and established a good precedent.