- Special Sections
- Public Notices
Bruce Gray received a Vietnam Service Medal from the U.S. Department of Defense. He has his DD-214. He served his country proudly.
But this year Gray learned he doesn’t qualify for veteran’s benefits.
“I thought I would go ahead and sign up for it for the time when I decide to retire,” Gray said.
Gray, like many Vietnam veterans, thought his service automatically qualified him for benefits.
“If you were in Vietnam you were supposed to be guaranteed,” he said. “We came back to the U.S. and if you wore your uniform in the airport you had tomatoes and sandwiches thrown at you. We were spit on. But whenever the government starts spitting on you…”
That is how Gray feels after being denied benefits. He received his rejection letter the Saturday before Veterans Day.
“I was told the law changed in 2009 and the income cut-off is $42,000. It was passed because there were so many veterans coming back,” he said.
Gray is upset he didn’t qualify and didn’t know, but he is more upset for other veterans.
“This isn’t about me,” he said. “Imagine a family making $48,000 with three kids where a veteran has just come home and can’t qualify because they make $6,000 too much.”
Gray knows he can reapply after he retires and makes less money.”
He is angered by the changes in the system—changes he says he and other veterans weren’t made aware of. He only found out because he was denied.
Gray enlisted in the Navy Reserves right out of high school in 1969. His lottery number was in the 70s and he knew his options were to go to college or to enlist. Gray served in the USNR from 1969-1975.
As a member of the USNR he was required to pull two full years of active duty and four years of reserve time. He was deployed in 1972 to Vietnam. He served on a boat off the coast of Vietnam.
“I thought I automatically qualified for benefits because of my service in Vietnam,” Gray said, “but now they are saying you have to prove you set one foot on the ground in Vietnam to automatically qualify.”
Under VA Health Care Enrollment qualifications there are eight priority groups. Priority group number six states it encompasses “veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between Jan. 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.”
“I have to prove I set foot on land. I was in Vietnamese waters off Haiphong Harbor. All laws from a country apply 12 miles off the coast, but they say I wasn’t in the country,” Gray said with exasperation. “It was our job to keep gun runners from bringing ammunition into the country. We had to run without lights or else they would fire at us. I was told I would qualify if I could prove that I set one foot for one moment of one day on land in Vietnam. It has to do with exposure to Agent Orange.”
Gray feels let down by the government who made promises to him and other veterans in return for their dedicated service to the United States.
“We were told the benefits would be there. In 2009 someone changed that and I’m assuming it was Congress but of course the American government doesn’t want people to know that.”
Gray knows he is fortunate. He anticipates he will be eligible two years after he retires. But in the meantime he will have to pay $800 a month for health insurance of his own, until his income level drops below the required rate.
“I am infuriated. Think about these people that are coming back now,” Gray said.
His message to the government is “If you can’t take care of your people, don’t go. If you can’t afford to take care of your men and women, then keep them home.”
“I thought I was automatically section 6 because of my Vietnam service, but there is a new section 8 and that is where they say I qualify.
“I just wanted to get enrolled for the day when I was going to need it. I wasn’t planning to walk into the clinic. I’m going to be fine. It was just a slap in the face.”
Gray is concerned for veterans struggling to get by and being denied benefits. He is angered that taxpayers are paying health insurance for the people in Washington who he says make more than $42,000 a year. He feels they are trying to save a dollar by keeping veterans from receiving benefits they earned.
“Either keep us home or take care of us,” he said. “Don’t keep me from getting what I’ve earned.”
Gray was among those in the county who were excited when a veteran’s outpatient clinic was opened in Brunswick County.
The Shallotte native is happy to see services available in his home county, but he wishes he and other veterans weren’t being left in the cold.
“I am sure there are other veterans out there who don’t know they don’t qualify anymore because of new legislation. I want them to know,” Gray said.
“Once the veteran applies, HEC places them into a certain category,” said Robin DeMark, public affairs officer, Fayetteville VA Medical Center. “Depending on which category they are placed in by HEC, determines if they are eligible for healthcare. If they fall into a 8G or 8E they do not qualify for healthcare and only will be seen as a humanitarian emergency.”
According to a “Breakdown of differences between category 6 and category 8” form found inside the 2012 Veteran’s Benefit Book, as well as the 2012 Health Benefits book, the VA is aware there are veterans who think they qualify and don’t.
It states under a subheading “Common problems the VA is experiencing in enrollment of Vietnam service veterans” that “many Navy and Air Force personnel were deployed in support of the Vietnam War and received a Vietnam Service Medal, so naturally they assume they fall into priority group 6. The problem arises when the Veteran’s DD 214 does not reflect Vietnam ‘In Country’ service dates, or the award of the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, or the Vietnam Campaign Medal. This medal is given to those who were in country or to those who served outside the geographical limits of the Republic of Vietnam and gave direct support in battle to the Republic of Vietnam and Armed Forces for six months…It is the veteran’s responsibility to submit proof of exposure to Agent Orange.”
Veterans in Brunswick County may call 253-2233 or the VA Medical Center in Fayetteville at (800) 771-6106 with questions about qualifying.
The VA’s website, http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/resources/epublications.asp offers the latest links to the VA Health Care Benefits Overview Booklets.
Vietnam veterans who need help determining qualifying service may also call (800) 827-1000, go to their nearest VA benefits office, call Agent Orange & Ships at (800) 749-8387 (press 3) or visit online at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp.
Rachel Johnson is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.