TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — When Stephen Nemeth first arrived in Vietnam, he recalls the military was feeding Marines World War II rations and using ammunition from the Korean Conflict.
The old supplies were a minor nuisance compared to what he survived on the battlefields later in the war. One clash in Khe Sanh stood out for all the wrong reasons.
“We got attacked by a [Vietcong] company,” Nemeth said. “And there wasn’t many of us who got off the hill alive.”
His wife, Ann, recalls many “troubling” incidents after her husband returned from the war that she said showed how he was impacted mentally.
But his physical battle scars came calling about 4 years ago when his legs were suddenly too weak to carry him.
“I had to call paramedics that week six times and he would fall and we didn’t know why,” she said in tears. “I’m sorry. I get so emotional.”
Nemeth, 78, is now on oxygen and sleeps in a bed in the couple’s living room because his wheelchair won’t fit through their bedroom door.
The main cause of his health issues are connected to the toxic defoliant agent orange.
“Some of the worst battles we were in, prior to us going in, they would spray the area with agent orange,” Nemeth said. “It smelled like [expletive]. We had no idea what it was.”
The Nemeths said the various percentages assigned by Veterans Affairs to each one of his medical problems, including PTSD, congestive heart issues, and COPD, add up to more than 100 percent.
Nemeth’s wife does not need long to answer if she agrees with the military math that cuts her husband’s disability back to 90 percent.
“No. Of course not,” she said. “They keep denying the condition he’s in now.”
The Nemeths said a 100 percent disability designation would qualify him for what is known as aid and attendance.
“That would cover a nurse for us,” Ann Nemeth said. “We need the help. If he falls out of his wheelchair, if something worse than that happens, I don’t know what I would do.”
The VA is currently processing paperwork that will allow the agency to discuss the details of Nemeth’s case with 8 on Your Side.
Nemeth is also fighting to restore a rank he claims was unfairly stripped. Despite a letter from the Department of the Navy two years ago that stated the “record of [Nemeth] to be corrected,” he is still waiting for the official word as he fears time is running out.
“It just means a lot,” he said. “It’s vindication for a lot of stuff that happened.”
His wife said one reason they want the rank restored is so that his headstone will read “Corporal instead of Private when he passes.”
“I would also like the medals that Stephen earned to be awarded to him. He needs to be recognized. He needs that rank restored,” Ann Nemeth said. “I’m frustrated and I’m angry. The country has turned its back on the Vietnam veteran.”