SAN DIEGO — A local Vietnam veteran says Department of Veterans Affairs officials in San Diego are denying him benefits that are rightfully his because of health problems caused by exposure to Agent Orange more than 40 years.
“In Vietnam, I was fighting the [Viet Cong] – this is a more vicious enemy,” said Ron Rabush as he pointed to the Veterans Affairs Offices in San Diego Tuesday.
Rabush was an S-5 psychological warfare officer in the Army in Vietnam. After leaving the service at age 27, he visited a VA doctor about chest pains.
“He said it was not service connected. In those days you believed what people told you, and you believed your government,” said Rabush, who went on to have a major heart attack at age 33 and multiple illnesses, including cancer.
Since he was told his illnesses weren’t related to his service, he went without veteran’s care assistance until a few years ago, when a court decision allowed Vietnam veterans with heart disease and certain other medical conditions to claim disability based on likely exposure to Agent Orange.
That same court decision, Nehmer v. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, also allowed for retroactive pay in cases where there was a pending claim, which Rabush has, according to his Disabled American Veterans representative Guy Anastasia.
“It dates back to 1974,” said Anastasia. Rabush showed Fox 5 a 10-7131 claim form dated in 1974 to confirm this.
The document was shelved, stamped as an invalid address., according to Anastasia.
But the document does not constitute a pending claim, according to VA officials, who denied Rabush’s request for a retroactive claim.
“We’ve extensively reviewed it and the law does not allow us to grant it,” said Gary D. Chesterton, Assistant Director at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs San Diego Regional Office.
A Fox 5 investigation found Mr. Rabush’s claim could be worth upwards of $400,000.
VA officials are being accused of coercion in their decision to deny. Anastasia said information regarding Rabush’s initial claims form were overlooked by VA officials.
“They deliberately left out evidence in the advisory request that would’ve benefited Mr. Rabush,” said Anastasia, who believes his client’s form should be admitted as a pending claim according to the Veterans Affairs past interpretation of the law in its M-21 instruction procedures.
VA officials did not allow our cameras inside their San Diego headquarters for an appeals hearing of Rabush’s case Tuesday, claiming his personal medical information would be discussed, even though the Vietnam Veteran himself granted permission.
VA officials told us the decision would once again be considered.
“Delay, deny until they die and believe me, I’ve felt all of that,” said Rabush, who is now 74 years old.
“I must say that Mr. Rabush painted the VA with a broad stroke. They are here for the veteran, but in this case, they still have a 5-percent error rate and this is part of the 5 percent where they err. It frustrates me that we’re going through this process that we’re going through today,” said Anastasia.