TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Veterans like 73-year-old Dan Tolly, exposed to herbicides while serving in Thailand during the Vietnam War, face a knockdown drag out when they apply for VA benefits.
After a years-long struggle, Dan got quite the surprise this weekend in his mailbox. The Department of Veterans Affairs finally approved his claim that his heart disease and cancer were caused by exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange while he served at Ubon Air Force Base. Not only was he awarded disability benefits for life, he got a check from the VA retroactive to 2016.
“I’ve never seen a check like that,” Dan said. “I looked at the amount and it was more numbers than I expected.”
Like Dan, tens of thousands of Americans served in Thailand during the war. 8 On Your Side profiled Dan’s case in a series of reports in September 2019. We forwarded Dan’s records to the VA and asked that it review Dan’s case further.
For years, the military denied it sprayed Agent Orange in Thailand. Of late, the VA has awarded disability benefits for herbicide exposure to personnel who could prove they worked on base perimeters, where the military now concedes it used tactical herbicides.
Dan assembled missiles for F-4 Phantoms. The shop was about 100 feet from the perimeter.
“I walked through the perimeter gate everyday – back and forth, going to work,” Dan said.
“That stuff was mixed with petroleum, so anybody walking across that perimeter would pick it up on their shoes, carry it into the mess halls, the barracks,” explained John Wells, the director of litigation for Military Veterans Advocacy.
“You’d hop in the barracks with your boots on and walk around the barracks in your bare feet,” Dan remembered. “So you have no idea what you’re walking in.”
Years later, Dan developed soft-tissue sarcoma in his foot. He eventually lost his leg to the disease.
Agent Orange is linked to several illnesses, including heart disease, leukemia, cancers and Parkinson’s Disease.
Dan filed for disability and health care benefits in 2016, claiming his illnesses were tied to Agent Orange exposure. After repeated rejections, Dan hired an out-of-state law firm to handle his case. Lawyers, he says, resubmitted his documents.
After months of hearing nothing, he was surprised to find what he did in the mailbox.
According to Dan, two other friends who worked in the same missile shop at the same time that he did were also recently awarded benefits.
“When we were over there, we never heard of any of this Agent Orange or herbicides or anything like that,” Dan explained. “Then coming back later, we found out the rest of the story.”
Meanwhile, according to its website, the VA is currently reviewing its policy on Agent Orange exposure in Thailand, leaving Dan hopeful the door is now open for other veterans.
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