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Teamwork wins Vietnam Veteran's claim.

When Air Force Sgt. Vincent Marrone returned from Vietnam, he found a nation gripped by the politics of war and disinterested in the warriors who fought it. As his health worsened due to ischemic heart disease and his claims for service-connected disability compensation were denied, he felt that no one cared about his sacrifices.

As an aircraft weapons specialist based at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, Marrone loaded bombs and rockets on fighter and attack aircraft flying missions against the enemy. It was hot, grueling and dangerous work. The possibility of injury or disability was an accepted risk.

In 1995, unable to work, he received a non-service-connected pension for ischemic heart disease from the VA when his disability claim was denied. "The VA didn't honor the disability even though my medical records and doctors disagreed with the VA," Marrone said.

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"I found the VA process was discouraging and wondered if the VA really cared about me," said Marrone, a member of Chapter 22 in Belleville, N J. "It's a long process and can take years."

In 2007, he met Newark, N.J., National Service Office Supervisor Nicholas Bernardi and forged a partnership with DAV that successfully obtained individual unemployability, retroactive from 2006.

"My experience was the DAV was great," Marrone said. "I found that the disabled National Service Officers of the DAV have a connection and it motivates them to do more for other disabled veterans. They have sympathy and empathy, and it motivates me to want to do the same."

"Our National Service Officers are all disabled veterans, and they are part of the system of veterans helping veterans that lies at the heart of the DAV," said National Service Director Garry J. Augustine. "They are usually the DAV's first contact with veterans seeking help, and they have embraced our mission of building better lives for disabled veterans, their families and survivors."

In 2010, Marrone received a letter from the VA informing him of the new presumption of service-connection for ischemic heart disease for Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. "At first, he was very hesitant about continuing his claim because he was very uneasy with the VA process," said Bernardi.

In addition, Bernardi found that Marrone was among a group of Vietnam veterans eligible under a U.S. District Court order requiring the VA to review previously denied ischemic heart disease claims and, in some cases, to pay benefits retroactive to the date of the denied claim. Called a Nehmer claim, it gave Marrone a chance to obtain the recognition for his now service-connected ischemic heart disease.

As time wore on though, Marrone became more and more reluctant to continue. Bernardi urged patience. "I advised Marrone that no disability is too small for recognition and of my willingness to assist him. It was the least I could do for his Vietnam service to our country," said Bernardi.

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The Nehmer claims were being processed at the VA regional office in Maine, so Bernardi worked in tandem with Togus, Maine, National Service Office Supervisor Brandon McKinney to obtain the earliest possible effective date for Marrone's claim, which had been originally filed in 1995 in New Jersey.

Last March, McKinney learned the VA was trying to determine the earliest possible effective date for Marrone's claim, but it wasn't clear if that meant the claim had been approved or denied. In June Bernardi was notified the claim had been granted, effective Jan. 20, 1995.

"These guys did a bang-up job on my claim" said Marrone. "1 can't thank the DAV and Nick Bernardi enough for going the extra mile.

"This has been a life-changing event for me," said Marrone. "The award of my earned benefits changed my life. And just working with the DAV renewed my faith in my country.

"The VA claims process is discouraging at best. You wonder if the VA really cares about you. Now I realize that they do, "he said.

"Working with the DAV, and following their excellent advice, was just a great thing that happened," Marrone said.

"He was very appreciative that he listened to DAV's advice," said Bernardi. "He was ecstatic with the decision of his case. It was a team effort by the DAV and Marrone.

"It also was rewarding as an NSO to assist this veteran, and it was an honor to give back to the Vietnam veterans of our country."

"Our outstanding professional services arc only part of the process in developing a claim," said Augustine. "There is the partnership and sense of trust that develop. We are the veteran's advocate in every sense. More than that, we are the veteran's best source of advice in dealing with what can be a very trying and difficult system.

"We always recommend that veterans obtain a knowledgeable advocate when filing a disability claim," Augustine said. "And there's none better than the DAV."
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Title Annotation:Vincent Marrone
Author:Wilborn, Thom
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:812
Previous Article:'Wars and scars' opens wound.
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