Vietnam Vet and Edgewood Test Subject Fighting For Disability Benefits
Updated: Monday, June 9 2014, 03:54 PM EDT
A Vietnam veteran who says he was a human guinea pig for an Army research program is fighting the VA for help paying his medical bills. Tim Josephs says the chemicals he was given during experiments have left him with health problems, such as Parkinson's-like tremors.
The VA awarded him disability pay, but Josephs says it doesn't cover his medical costs. He's appealing the decision.
Josephs was just 18 years old when he joined the US Army at the height of the Vietnam War.
"Most of my friends were drafted and I felt a duty to serve," Josephs said.
Shortly after enlisting, Josephs was chosen to participate in a two-month program at Edgewood Arsenal Military Base in Maryland.
The United States wanted defenses against a possible Soviet chemical attack and, according to CNN, for 20 years, about 7,000 military volunteers took part in the testing of some 250 chemical and biological agents.
"One test, I woke up and demonstrated Parkinson's symptoms," Josephs described. "I couldn't walk. My body shook violently and had pain throughout my body, and just a lot of numbness."
Ten years ago the veteran was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
"The symptoms that I felt then are just exactly what's come back to me in the last 10 years," Josephs said. Now he and other Edgewood vets are suing the Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran Affairs.
In response to a CNN report on Edgewood in 2012, the DOD said:
"The Department of Defense has made it a priority to identify all service members exposed to chemical and biological substances, and the VA has contacted and offered free medical evaluations to thousands of veterans."
But today, Josephs finds himself facing another struggle: his Parkinson's forced him to retire early. In 2010, he filed a medical claim with the VA.
"I have a hard time really dressing myself, and traveling and i have attacks daily of tremors and sometime breathing difficulty and eating," Josephs said.
Thirteen months later, he was awarded a 40% disability rating-- $602 dollars a month. But the sum is not enough to even pay for his medications, so he appealed, asking for more. This February, after three years of waiting and unanswered letters Josephs got unwelcome news, at the VA office in Pittsburgh.
"That I should call back in about four years, that by that time, I'd be much closer to my file being looked at," Josephs said. "I was speechless."
Josephs says it could be 2018 before the VA could make a decision on his case.
Several lawyers CNN spoke with, who handle disability claims, say they aren't surprised; many veterans, 275,000 as of this week, are waiting an average of four to five years for an answer on an appealed disability claim.
Josephs said this week he received a call from the VA saying it would increase his disability rating from 40% to 80%.