Tennessee veteran has spent decades fighting for disability benefits

Our veterans deserve everything they are promised in exchange for their service. One of the promises the military makes is that people who become disabled as a result of their time as a soldier or Marine are entitled to disability benefits.

Unfortunately, sometimes it can be a struggle for disabled veterans to show the Veterans Administration that it must pay benefits. In one particularly frustrating case, a Tennessee man has been fighting the VA for decades after losing his vision in 1979.

The man, now 77, served in the Army in the late 1950s until the early ’60s. He was stationed in Germany, but fell ill and Army doctors could not figure out the reason for his bronchitis, and later vision problems.

By 1979, he was legally blind in both eyes, a condition the Social Security Administration acknowledged in 1981.

The man and his wife believe his blindness occurred due to exposure to bird droppings in old barracks he cleaned up in the Army. A fungus called histoplasmosis in the droppings probably caused his blindness.

Despite being declared disabled by the SSA, the VA turned down the man for disability benefits. He tried again in 1985, but the Board of Veterans Appeals rejected him again. The family struggled financially for years, having to take out multiple mortgages on their home to get by.

Finally, in 2009, armed with new information, the man convinced the VA to reopen his case. Though the agency denied him a third time, by 2012 it had finally changed its mind — but only granted him benefits retroactive to 2009. The veteran and his wife are trying to get the benefits expanded back to 1985.