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Toxic exposure making soldiers fight for benefits and health

Soldiers and veterans from Georgia and across the country who have fought in the Iraq wars are coming back with symptoms reminiscent of those experienced by troops in the first Gulf War and Vietnam. In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can cause nightmares, flashbacks and disorientation, some veterans return from active duty with unknown or new illnesses, like those exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War.

Like those older veterans, young soldiers have to fight for their benefits with both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration. One veteran service officer with the state Division of Veterans Affairs is confident that, like the Vietnam veterans, soldiers with complex symptoms will eventually get benefits for their symptoms. However, it may take years that some do not have.

One soldier, a major in the Air Force Reserves, returned home after service in Iraq and experienced headaches that increased in intensity until they caused him to vomit. A doctor asked about his exposure and he told them about the pits in Iraq where they burned trash, medical supplies and body parts. A brain tumor was found, but he died within five days.

Doctors are having difficulty diagnosing these diseases because they have never encountered them before. Just like Agent Orange was once thought to be a harmless pesticide, soldiers returning home from service are learning that they will have to fight to have their own illnesses recognized.

As the stories of these veterans shows, many people across the country suffer from illnesses or disabilities that prevent them from working. For these people, applying for Social Security disability benefits may be a viable option that could help them continue to provide for themselves and any family they may have.

Source: The Post-Star, "Veteran battles disorder, and for his benefits," Jamie Munks, Nov. 12, 2011

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