Local Vietnam veteran fighting for expanded Agent Orange disability claims

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A local veteran is fighting to get disability benefits for vets exposed to Agent Orange.

Right now the VA only automatically awards disability claims for veterans exposed to the herbicide while serving in Vietnam.

Vietnam veteran Jay Cole has been fighting the VA for nearly three years now to approve a disability claim he says is related to Agent Orange.

“That’s just jungle in the back and then between that jungle growth there and me, everything is dead,” said Cole.

Three years ago, Cole started wondering if the herbicide that wiped out the Thai jungle near his base also made him sick. He showed FOX59 pictures of how close the “hootch” where he slept was to the area where it’s obvious Agent Orange was sprayed.

Research quickly showed him that his Diabetes Mellitus Type II is one of 14 illnesses the VA admits are caused by Agent Orange in Vietnam. But the VA denied his 2015 disability claim, saying there is “no evidence of exposure to herbicides during military service.”

“I think to date they’ve approved 14 percent of the claims,” said Cole.

The other 86 percent of veterans, Cole says, are connecting on Facebook. Like Cole, they’re all trying to figure out why VA offices are approving a few claims and denying many others who served right next to them.

Lawmakers told Cole right now the law allows each office to decide if Thailand claims make the cut.

“That’s when we decided well then we’re going to get the law changed,” said Cole.

He and a few other vets are fighting now for other vets and families like theirs.

“What’s sad is, in our Facebook pages, that people that are members of them, we have a number of widows,” said Cole. “Their husbands died before they could get their benefits."

There’s now a five-page bill, co-sponsored by Indiana senator Joe Donnelly, attempting to make things right.

If it passes, veterans with illnesses we know are caused by Agent Orange will get disability benefits whether they served in Vietnam or Thailand. Now, they need a House version of the bill and enough members of Congress to vote for them to get what they’re owed.

“As badly as some of us have been treated at different times, we would still go serve again,” said Cole. “I just want to get this corrected.”

It took veterans who served in Vietnam 25 years to get a law that acknowledged their Agent Orange exposure. But Cole says most of them are older now and don’t have that kind of time.

As soon as the bill is introduced, he’s asking everyone who supports their cause to write and email their senators and representatives to encourage them to vote for this bill as soon as possible, before it’s too late.