A cancer-stricken retired Air Force lieutenant colonel will receive Agent Orange-related disability benefits after the Department of Veterans Affairs reversed its initial decision to deny him the award.
According to the Washington Post, the decision to give benefits to Paul Bailey, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who is gravely ill with cancer, may be the first of its kind for veterans seeking compensation for postwar exposure to the toxic defoliant.
“The preponderance of the evidence suggests that you were exposed to herbicide onboard U.S. Air Force C-123K aircrafts,” said the VA decision, dated July 31, the paper reports. “Reasonable doubt in regards to the exposure to certain herbicide, to include Agent Orange, as the result of occupational hazards onboard C-123K aircrafts is resolved in your favor.”
Bailey, 67, who suffers from prostate cancer as well as cancer of the ribs and pelvis, told the Washington Post the disability award will allow his wife to stay in the couple’s New Hampshire home after he dies.
“The financial and emotional support this provides is just tremendous,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday with the Post. “It takes a huge burden off me.”
Wes Carter, a retired Air Force major and friend of Bailey’s, called the decision “greatly significant.” Carter, who heads the C-123 Veterans Association, pushes for crew members to receive the same disability compensation for Agent Orange exposure provided to military veterans who served in Vietnam during the war.
In recent years, several C-123 veterans have been awarded disability benefits after appealing denials to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, an administrative tribunal. But Bailey’s case marks “the first time an award has been made short of the BVA,” Carter said, according to the paper.
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking Republican on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was happy with the reversal.
“I hope this is a sign that VA will start to make decisions on these claims based on the weight of information submitted in each case, rather than blanket-denying every claim from C-123 veterans,” he told the paper.