(KTVI) - A military veteran suspected to have been exposed to Agent Orange feared the VA would deny him benefits, waiting for him to die. Now a huge change since our story after an unexpected government response.
One week after our FOX Files investigation about vets denied benefits for exposure to Agent Orange, Bill Casto received a 27 page letter with a surprising acknowledgement.
Casto read from the letter, “It says ‘VA memorandum, herbicide exposure conceded dated February 5 2016.’ After all these years since 2009, when I originally filed my claim they`re admitting now that I was exposed to herbicide.”
He got the letter February 5th, one week after our report when Casto told us, “Deny, deny, deny until you die is what we say.”
67-years old and hooked to oxygen, he suspected the VA may be waiting him out.
Casto said, “There`s thousands of us in the same boat, thousands of us.”
He says friends are surprised and assume the government acknowledges Agent Orange hurt Vietnam soldiers.
Casto said, “But because we served in Thailand and never had our boots on the ground in Vietnam we are treated differently. For instance, if you could prove that you stepped one foot on the ground in Vietnam, you are able to get the benefits of being exposed.”
After our report, veterans across the United States contacted FOX 2 as they struggled to prove Agent Orange exposure, even widows like Netia Krieter of Highland, Illinois.
Krieter talked about hearing Casto, “When he said, ‘they deny till you die,’ that`s what they did to my husband. My husband died in September 2014 and he made me promise that I would keep up the fight.”
John Krieter III also fought the Vietnam War from Thailand.
Doctors diagnosed Krieter with four diseases that appear on the VA’s own website as 'associated with Agent Orange.'
Krieter said her late husband “had aggressive prostate cancer. He had it twice and that is what took his life.”
Denied benefits until he died, Netia was told his claim died with him. She refiled, for what`s called `injured spouse benefits, ` to fulfill her husband`s dying wish.
She said, “It`s somebody taking the responsibility that yes I got this over there. Yes somebody needs to say you served your country, you were exposed to this and yes you matter.”
A declassified report called Project CHECO, has been a key for many vets. It documents 'herbicides were employed' in 'base defense in Thailand.'
Veteran Kurt Priessman fought hard to open the report. He talked to us by phone from Texas.
Priessman told me, “So it does kind of give you the idea that they didn`t want it declassified and
I just happened to hit the mark with my request.”
He added, “The fact that it still after this many years, still a matter of discussion and debate is just amazing to me. It makes me wonder about whether the Federal Government is actually helping or hurting the veterans that it sent over into Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.”
Last week, Casto was still waiting to hear what benefits he might get, but said he's relieved after all these years. He said, “First of all I had to laugh, someone in St. Louis must be watching Channel 2 news haha and then I was very grateful for what FOX 2 News and you in particular have done for me so hopefully we can help other veterans in the same boat.”
Casto emailed us this morning, after our follow up interview, with even better news. He titled the e-mail "we won!" and went on to explain that the VA awarded him a 70% overall disability rating. He said after seven years of dealing with the VA on this, he believes he's now won the battle.