The wife of a Vietnam veteran in Northport is speaking out about her battle to get benefits for her husband, in hopes of reaching other people who share her same dilemma.
Robbye Swann, 83, spends much of her time caring for her husband Jack, a 20-year Navy veteran who served in Korea during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam.
During his service in Vietnam, Swann says her husband spent long hours not on Vietnam soil, but on the waters off the coast of Vietnam.
"My husband kept being ill, and I mentioned that I thought maybe he was exposed to Agent Orange," Swann said. "But nobody really every diagnosed it, so I got to investigating."
Agent Orange is a herbicide the U.S. military used to kill vegetation in Vietnam. The Department of Veterans Affairs links a number of health problems to Agent Orange exposure.
But according to VA policy, veterans like Jack Swann, who served off the coast of Vietnam, must have actually stepped foot on Vietnam soil or served on its inland waterways between January 1962 and May 1975, to be presumed that their illnesses are related to Agent Orange exposure.
Robbye Swann believes there were at least two ways her husband was exposed, including exposure through the water. She also believes his illnesses are related to the exposure.
"He now has five Agent Orange illnesses. He has diabetes, not in his family, he has Parkinson's, he has severe neuropathy, he has ischemic heart problems, and now he has prostate cancer," Swann said.
Veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam may file an appeal to be considered for Agent Orange-related disability compensation. All of the Swanns' appeals have been denied.
Robbye Swann is afraid other veterans and their families are fighting the same battle and she hopes her story reaches someone else like her.
"The wives who are looking after these men, and the children who are trying to do it, and the ones who are watching our loved ones slowly die. It's very frustrating every way. And it's difficult," she said.
Currently, U.S. Representative Christopher Gibson (R-NY) is sponsoring a bill that would extend Agent Orange-related benefits to veterans who served off the coast of Vietnam.
Gibson is a 24-year Army veteran. The bill lists 225 co-sponsors, including Democrats and Republicans. U.S. Representative Mike Rogers of Alabama is listed as a co-sponsor.
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