Veteran Affair's Change to Agent Orange Claims May Aid Veterans
by Chris Roberts, El Paso Times


Veterans Affairs has started taking claims for hypertension related to Agent Orange exposure, but it will determine at a later date whether the claims will be honored as being military "service-related," according to service organizations that received notices from VA.


A letter from the Texas Veterans Commission to its county service officers indicates that the claims are expected to be approved. The claims won't be actively "worked" until the VA makes its decision.


Requests for comment made to area VA agencies were referred to Washington, D.C. However, after two days, the public affairs office in Washington still had no comment.


If the claims are approved, it could mean as much as $300 a month for Bob Snow, a retired soldier who worked as a forward observer directing artillery fire in the Vietnamese jungles. Snow -- who worked with special forces soldiers and Montagnards, a French name for the indigenous people of Vietnam's central highlands -- operated in areas sprayed with Agent Orange, a defoliant that knocked down vegetation used as cover by the enemy...


Snow retired in 1982 and was diagnosed with hypertension by the VA in 1983. However, the condition was not considered service-related. Therefore, his disability compensation was limited. If hypertension is connected to Agent Orange, it could mean as much as an extra $300 a month for Snow, which he said would relieve some of the pressure of the rising cost of living.


Jeri Elena Mark worked as a radar mechanic for Hawk missile systems at a base in Vietnam, where she watched planes drop Agent Orange on vegetation surrounding the camp, which was being shelled. She had experienced high blood pressure, a symptom of hypertension, during her Army career, usually associated with flashbacks from her Vietnam service.

She retired in 1985, but her exposure is not considered combat-related, so she would get no increase in disability payments. However, her family would receive benefits after her death if the cause is related to hypertension.  Chris Roberts may be reached at 915-546-6136.

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