Me, the Veteran's Administration, Cancer and You

By Steve Crabtree

I damaged my spine at Fort Bragg back in 1968 on my "cherry blast." I never really thought much about it as the pain subsided and I was able to resume a normal life, that is, if one considers a tour in Vietnam with a LRRP/Ranger Unit a normal life. Any way, I was discharged in 1970 and went on my own way.

Through out the next thirty years I continued to have back problems that I combated with pain pills, anti-inflammatories and alcohol. I had thought of going to the Veteran's Administration for help but decided against it due to the horror stories I heard from other Vets as to how they had been treated both as patients and as people.

I started having sporadic abdominal pains late in 1998 that became more intense and more painful as time wore on. In January of 2000, after having just about every medical exam known to man, I had a Colonoscapy performed which discovered a three quarter-inch long cancerous polyp in my large intestine. I went into surgery on the 27th and spent threee of the next five weeks in the hospital. The "three quarter-inch ling cancerous polyp" had grown through the wall of my colon and turned out to be the size of my doctor's fist. After I got out of the hospital, I was really mad as many of my fellow Vets either had died from cancer or many were being diagnosed with exactly the same disease as me.

I thought it more than just coincidence that we all served in Vietnam within a five year period, we all had been exposed to Agent Orange and that we all were coming down with various forms of cancer at about the same time. Knowing that I had a long, long recovery ahead and plenty of time on my hands, I decided to apply for Veteran's Administration (VA) Benefits.

My first contact with the VA was a simple phone call. I was told that the appropriate forms would be sent to me, to fill them out and start gathering supporting evidence. I started making phone calls to my friends and doctors to support my claims. I was told by one good friend to use the "shotgun effect" when filing a claim with the VA; that is claim everything you can possibly think of and hope for the best. I  filed for PTSD, Vivax Malaria, Agent Orange related Cancer, Hearing loss and Spondylolisthesis (bad back) with no supporting evidence what so ever.

I received a form letter thanking me for applying for VA benefits and informing me that claims like this usually take 12 - 18 months to complete. About a month later I received another letter explaining the process and instructing me to again collect all supporting evidence and to forward it to the VA. By that time I had collected enough letters of support that I felt comfortable with my claim. I sent them in.

Months went by, I heard nothing. Sometime around June I received instructions to report to the Phoenix VA Hospital for evaluation in August. I reported as ordered, had X-rays taken, hearing tests, a physical and an evaluation. About a month later I received another form letter informing that my case was under evaluation and that I should expect an answer in 6 - 8 months. I received another form letter in January telling me that I had the lowest priority and that if I had a Purple Heart that my priority would be raised.

Finally almost a year to the day that I originally filed, I received my evaluation. I was not awarded any compensation for Colon Cancer (I intend to fight this decision on behalf of Dennis Nye, Richie Burns and everybody else that has come down with this disease) or for loss of hearing in my right ear. How one can have hearing loss directly due to firefights in Vietnam in one ear and not the other is beyond me. I received no compensation for hearing loss in my left ear or for Vivax Malaria but it was acknowledged that they are both service connected. This means that if I should have problems with either in the future that the VA will take care of it. I was awarded compensation for PTSD, Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and my back.

As I look back on the last year and my dealing with the VA I find:

1) My fears were unjustified regarding how I was going to be treated.

2) My fears about how long it would take were unjustified. A year may
seem like a long time but it really went by quite quickly and seeing how
many claims the VA processes. The length of time was both acceptable and

3) The VA bent over backwards to accommodate me.

4) All personnel I came in contact with treated me with nothing but
dignity and respect.

5) A living person, not a voice machine, answered my questions.

Cancer Facts You Should Know:

"Under the authority granted by the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA has determined that presumption of service connection based on exposure to
herbicides used in Vietnam is not warranted for any conditions other than those for which VA has found a positive association between the condition
and such exposure. VA has determined that a positive association exists between exposure to herbicides and the subsequent development of the
following nine conditions: chloracne, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin's disease, porphyria cutanea tarda  (PCT), multiple
myeloma, acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy, prostrate cancer, and cancers of the lung, bronchus, larynx and trachea. PCT, chloracne and acute and sub acute peripheral neuropathy are required to become manifest to a compensable degree within one year from last exposure, while respiratory cancers are required to become manifest within 30 years after last exposure."

I do not claim to be an expert on the VA or how they rate disabilities. I have learned that if you were awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and have
experienced nightmares, cold sweats, flashbacks or any other symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder you are entitled to a minimum of a 10%
disability rating (approximately $100 per month). If you suffer from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) you are entitled to a 10% disability rating.

Your mom & dad can't file for you; neither can your wife; only you can file the paperwork and receive whatever you deserve for your service to our
country. Yes, it is going to take some work on your part. Yes, you are going to have to have a physical and an evaluation at a local VA Hospital. Yes, it is going to take about a year, but remember your benefits are retroactive to the date that you first file your claim. So what are you waiting for?



Me, the Veteran's Administration, Cancer and You, Page 2

When I received the "decision" on my disability claim with the Veteran's Administration I was happy to have received the 40% rating they gave me.
What I didn't know was that I should have told them what I expected, rather than just to accept what they would give (or in this case "gave") me. They are very specific about claims of Agent Orange related cancer. My claim that my colon cancer was Agent Orange related was denied. I have filed for an "upgrading" (never use the word "appeal") stating:

"I would very much appreciate the Veteran's Administration to taker another look at the relationship between colon cancer and exposure to Agent Orange on behalf of:

1. MAJ Anthony Avgoulis, G Company Ranger, 75th Infantry, deceased 1998, lung cancer as a direct relapse of colon cancer;
2. Myself, G Company Ranger, 75th Infantry, diagnosed with colon cancer January, 2000;
3. Gary Linderer, L Company Ranger, 75th Infantry, diagnosed with pre cancerous polyps in the colon;
4. Dennis Nye, G Company Ranger, 75th Infantry, diagnosed with colon cancer March, 2000;
5. Richie Burns, 1st Cav, 101st Airborne Division, 162 Advisory Group, diagnosed with colon cancer 1997;
6. LTC Paul Green, MACV, Bong Son (near LZ English), diagnosed with colon cancer March, 1999;
7. How many others?

These are only the Vietnam Veterans that I personally know of that been inflicted with colon cancer. Certainly there are others. I believe that there is a direct relationship between colon cancer and exposure to Agent Orange. The enclosed e-mails that I have received only support my position. I ask no dollar award for my colon cancer, just a 0% rating which means that you acknowledge that it is service related."

It may see odd that I am not asking for any percentage (which would equate to a dollar amount). If I can get the VA to acknowledge the relationship it will open the door for all the colon cancer victims. I would like to thank all of you who have e-mailed me information and, especially thank Shannon Guignon who sent the following:

"I understand your frustration at getting the VA to recognize the connection
between Agent Orange exposure and colon cancer.  In getting the VA to change
its policy on colon cancer I can be of little help; however, I can inform
you about how the VA goes about placing certain diseases on its presumptive
In 1991 the US congress enacted the Agent Orange Act.  Under this Act
the VA was required to contract with the National Academy of Sciences, a
non-governmental organization.  Under this contract NAS does studies on
Agent Orange exposure and its effects.  As NAS finds a strong enough link
between exposure and a certain disease it issues a report.  The VA then uses
these reports to issue regulations giving presumptive service connection
between Agent Orange exposure and that particular disease.  Under the Agent
Orange Act the VA is not required to adopt the NAS findings; however, the VA
must have a valid reason to not adopt the NAS findings.  And since 1991 the
VA has adopted every NAS finding.  As of this time the NAS is studying
various diseases and cancers and their link to Agent Orange so it is
possible that colon cancer may in the future be found by the NAS to be
caused by Agent Orange exposure.
One way to attempt to get VA benefits for diseases not on the VA's
presumptive list is to attempt to get a doctor to state that it is more
likely than not (greater than fifty-fifty) that your colon cancer is caused
by Agent Orange exposure.  While this has worked in some instances it does
not always work as the VA is quite convinced, even if wrongfully, that only
its list of presumptive diseases are caused by Agent Orange."