- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I am a widow of a Vietnam veteran. He was 60 percent disabled at the time of his death. He died in the VA hospital in Temple, Texas. His death was not service connected (so I am told) but I believe it was. He was diagnosed with mycosis fungoides many years ago (in the ‘80s). This is an immune system non-Hodgkin’s disease. He served from 1962 to 1974 and served two terms in Vietnam. He was in military intelligence. He also was diagnosed with hepatitis C. His immune system got weaker as he got older. I am trying to connect his service to his disease so I can receive benefits. He died from eating a bad oyster that should never have been served to the public (he was 61 years old). His system could not fight the bacteria and he died in October 2006. I believe that his immune system was weak due to the hepatitis C and the non-Hodgkin’s disease. Can I connect this? Thank you for your time. I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

Vanessa V

Via the Internet

Dear Vanessa

As it stands now, the VA has established a causal relationship between the Agent Orange or herbicides used in Vietnam and the subsequent diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in veterans who were exposed to these chemicals. To qualify under these regulations, the veteran must have (1) served in the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, and (2) been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after the exposure.

Mycosis fungoides is a common type of cutaneous T-cell lymphomas, a group of cancers that grow in the skin. It is classified in several medical references as a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

To file a claim for service-connected death benefits, a widow should complete a VA Form 21-534, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child, and return it to the local VA regional office. You can request a copy of this form and the address of the nearest VA regional office online at www.va.gov or by calling the toll free number, 1-800-827-1000.

In addition to the VA Form 21-534, you will need to provide a copy of your husband’s death certificate showing the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or other service connected disability caused or materially hastened his death.

Shaft notes

• The Sarge joins the national commander of the American Legion in his criticism of the left-wing American Civil Liberties Union for their legal action in support on behalf of the Westboro Baptist Church. The Kansas-based church’s founder, Fred Phelps, and his followers proclaim that the United States is being punished for its lax attitude toward gays by the deaths of American soldiers. This has led to the church group protesting at the funerals of and memorial services for slain warriors. They carry such placards as, “Thank God For Dead Soldiers.”

“It is clearly their constitutional right to challenge any law that infringes on First Amendment rights, but what about the First Amendment rights of our fallen heroes, their families and friends?” asked David K. Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion. “I want everyone to know that the American Legion will continue to fight for the rights of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice as well as their survivors and friends as they pay their final respects.”

It is now being reported that a Maplewood, Mo., statute restricting such demonstrations as staged by Mr. Phelps and followers during and after private funerals is being challenged by the ACLU on the basis of being overly broad and a violation of the First Amendment.

“Regardless of the ultimate legal ruling, it will not absolve Phelps and his group for uttering what I consider to be the very definition of hate speech,” Mr. Rehbein said shortly after returning from a visit to Iraq. “It is our hope that the president, Congress, the Supreme Court and state legislatures - working together - will find a way to limit such despicable behavior and that someday human decency will prevail and this type of misconduct will be banished forever.

“Once the ACLU finishes attempting to defend the rights of Phelps, I hope it will join with the American Legion and the vast majority of Americans who believe the privacy rights of fallen heroes, their families and friends should be protected and preserved as they are allowed to mourn and grieve without wanton harassment,” Mr. Rehbein concluded.

• The Defense Department recently announced its policy for transferring educational benefits to the spouses and children of service members under the “Post 9/11 GI Bill,” which takes effect Aug. 1.

“This is as it should be in a volunteer force where families also serve,” said Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Military Personnel Policy Bill Carr. “Transferability of GI Bill benefits is the most requested initiative we receive from our service members, and we believe it will assist us in retaining highly qualified military personnel.”

Service members with at least 10 years of service, who by Department of Defense or service policy are prevented from committing to four additional years, may transfer their benefits provided they commit for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.

The services will provide further implementation guidance. Eligible service members may make transfer designations by visiting this Web site: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/TEB. The full transferability policy is available here.

The Department of Veterans Affairs administers the “Post 9/11 GI Bill” and determines eligibility for education benefits. Further information on eligibility, benefit levels, and application procedures can be found at their Web site, https://www.gibill.va.gov.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or e-mail [email protected]

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