Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Will Vietnam Vet Sgt. Garry Lee Price be honored or victim

I've seen too many die without being honored for their service and for what they were sent into. Sgt. Price didn't get to decide if Agent Orange went with him or not, was sprayed where he would walk or fall into water he would drink. He didn't get to decide that so many years after he was willing to risk his life for the sake of this nation, doing what this nation asked him to do, would end up being yet another request from the same nation that he simply die because of it. After all, it's that what this all boils down to?

What did Sgt. Price ask of us in return for risking his life? That if he should die, his family would be taken care of. That if he should be wounded, his wounds would be taken care of and if he couldn't work, he and his family would be taken care of by compensation set at a level according to his wounds or illnesses caused by serving this country. He lived up to his end of the deal but we didn't come close to doing what we needed to do for him in return.

On March 11th 2008, I lost my friend Capt. Agnes Irish Bresnahan in Washington DC. She went to have yet another hearing on the VA claim that had never been honored fully. Years of suffering physically because of Agent Orange and emotionally because of PTSD, she held onto hope that one day the VA would honor her service and prove it by honoring her claim. She kept telling other veterans to seek justice and that this nation would finally honor their service as well. She kept believing this nation she served and all the years of helping other veterans would be justified in the end. But it wasn't. She died in Washington DC after a bleeding ulcer caused by a change in her medication from a drug that worked into a cheap generic drug, ended up taking her life when her heart failed. Yet another Vietnam veteran passing away without justice and without her service being honored.

We do an awful lot of talking of how grateful we are to the men and women serving this nation don't we? Seems that it's just all so easy to say the words and then get back to watching crap on TV, reading a good steamy novel or going to a game. Making sure we enjoy our free time since, after all, our life is just so tough with the economy and losing our jobs. Still we never, ever want to face the aftermath of what we asked of the men and women we sent into combat. Who wants to hear more heartbreaking stories? Who wants to know that veterans live in poverty because their claims have not been approved even though they are legitimate? What do they want from us? Isn't it enough we have a parade once a year? Show up for a Memorial Day event or stick a flag pole in the ground at a long lost relatives grave we never paid attention to in life anyway?

So few in this country actually care about them and when you think we all pay to have them in the military with our tax dollars the least we could do was to have some interest in what our money is paying for or in the case of our veterans, not paying for. Ever wonder what would be going thru your head if you were forced to go on suffering for having served your country? Ever wonder how you would feel knowing you ended up where you are because you said this nation was worth fighting for and did it but ended up having to fight the government because you did it all?

Well here's the story of Sgt. Price. When you read it wonder what you would be thinking if you were him.


Los Angeles, CA - June 17, 2009 - Garry Lee Price is dying of cancer in a hospice in Sacramento while the Veterans Administration stalls on his service-related disability claim. His doctors give him two weeks to live. When he dies, the claim dies. And that’s the point.

The Veterans Administration, the health services side of the organization, has already determined that the cancer was caused by Garry’s exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. Garry was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a soft tissue sarcoma, in April 2008 by VA physicians. He has a tumor the size of a softball growing out of the side of his neck. According to the Veterans Administration’s policy on Agent Orange related disability, this soft tissue sarcoma is one of eight medical conditions where Vietnam Veterans “do not have to show that their illness is related to their military service to get disability compensation. VA presumes that their condition is service-connected.” This should, by all rights, make Garry eligible for full disability benefits immediately.

But Garry’s terminal status, and presumed service-connected disability, instead of spurring the administration to expedite his claim, has given them an extra reason to stall. And they have. For years, “deny, deny, until they die,” has been an common refrain among the Veteran community to describe what they see as the Veterans Administration’s unspoken policy of dragging their feet on claims processing until the Veteran applying dies. Then, the claim doesn’t have to be paid. Garry and his wife Bonnie are the latest victims of this policy.

The Veterans Administration’s website states that Agent Orange related claims take an average of 204 days, or about 7 months to process. It also states that their goal is to speed the processing of these claims to 74 days. Garry first visited the VA with completed disability claim forms in June 2008, after two heart attacks and his cancer had kept him from earning income for almost a year. He was told that day by a VA claims representative that, since he was terminal, he should not bother applying, because the processing time would take longer than he had to live. Discouraged, Garry left with the forms still in his hand.

Garry sought help from the National Veterans Foundation who helped him file his claim, and in October 2008, mailed in the paperwork to the VA. In December 2008 he received a form letter stating that his claim had been received. He is still waiting, one year after he first walked his claim into the VA offices.

When Garry dies, the claim dies. Then, Bonnie Price has to start the process all over again. She’s not sure she can emotionally handle that. In the meantime, Garry and his wife have had to sell most of their belongings on craigslist to live.

Garry Lee Price volunteered for the U.S. Army in November 1966 and served 2 years 7 months and 4 days in the military, most of that time in Vietnam. He worked transporting sensitive documents through areas with heavy Agent Orange spraying.

He received an honorable discharge with the rank of Sergeant on June 17, 1969. During his service, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal.

The frustrating irony is that the medical side of the Veterans Administration has already determined Garry’s terminal cancer is service-connected, and that the benefits side is still not convinced enough to approve Garry’s claim. This is something that the National Veterans Foundation has seen many times before in their work assisting Veterans in crisis. “It’s like the left hand doesn’t know, or really care, what the right hand is doing,” says National Veterans Foundation President and Founder Shad Meshad. “The issue here is that, if the VA paid all the claims that are rightfully due, they’d go broke. So, they stall on cases like Garry’s until the Veteran dies, counting on the fact that the family will be too overwhelmed to pursue it after he or she is gone.”

Garry Lee Price served his country. He served overseas during war and, there, he was exposed to dangerous chemicals by his own people, chemicals that will prematurely take his life, possibly in the next few days. But the Veterans Administration, following a policy of “deny, deny, until they die,” doesn’t seem to care enough to expedite his claim.

How many more Garry Price type tragedies have to happen before the VA serves the needs of those heroes who have guaranteed our freedom with their blood?

# # #

Shad Meshad, President and Founder
National Veterans Foundation
PHONE: 888-777-4443
FAX: 310-642-0258

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