Friday, November 13, 2009
Local Veteran Wins Fight For Medical Benefits
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Cheatham County veteran James Cripps is celebrating Veterans Day after winning an appeal that could pave the way for other veterans to get medical care.
He served his country, but felt betrayed when he sought care for exposure to Agent Orange.
"It says granted, granted, granted and it can never be appealed," exclaimed Cripps as he read the order from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He can not believe his 5-year fight with the VA is finally over.
"That order gives hope to other veterans. They will know there is a possibility," said Cripps.
He fought for himself and he fought for other veterans to prove he was poisoned by Agent Orange in the United States.
Agent Orange is a toxic herbicide used by the military to thin out the jungles of Vietnam. Soldiers sprayed millions of gallons unaware how poisonous it was.
"When I was spraying it, I was told it was a weed killer," said Cripps.
He never set foot in Vietnam, but Cripps sprayed what he now knows was Agent Orange while working as a game warden at Fort Gordon Georgia in 1967.
He said when he left military he had already been exposed. He and his wife point to his body as proof.
Doctors diagnosed Cripps with a skin rash associated with Agent Orange called Chloracne. Despite the diagnosis, the VA denied his disability claim 3 times.
"The VA denying him was the same as telling him he was lying about it," said wife Sandra Cripps.
"I felt that all my friends even down to my son and daughter doubted that dad was telling the truth," said James Cripps.
His medical bills mounted, the VA started garnishing his social security checks. When NewsChannel 5 interviewed him last year, he had hit rock bottom.
"We have discussed as late as even yesterday the thought of suicide," said Cripps last year.
"I was at the low point of my life, and I had considered that maybe I was worth more dead than alive,” said Cripps this year.
Cripps kept fighting. The VA presumes all veterans who set foot in Vietnam were exposed to Agent Orange, but it has rarely given medical benefits for Agent Orange poisoning to soldiers stationed in the U.S.
Cripps found Declassified documents that showed the military sprayed Agent Orange at Fort Gordon at the time he served there.
"This stuff was used here in the United States?" asked Investigative reporter Ben Hall
"Oh yes. I can prove 21 bases,” responded Cripps.
The documents showed the military used Agent Orange in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and other locations in the U.S. Cripps believed the documents will open the door for other vets.
"I was not alone," said Cripps. "There are many others."
His wife Sandra agreed.
"He's knocked a hole in their damn, and it's going to let the flood gates open. Veterans will finally get what they deserve,” said Sandra.
Cripps expects all his medical bills going back years will be paid for. He plans to help other veterans navigate the VA to get the benefits they deserve.
Just this month, the VA added more illnesses to those associated with Agent Orange exposure. They include Parkinson's disease and certain Leukemias.
Any veteran who stepped foot in Vietnam during the war and has one of the conditions is eligible for benefits.