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Veteran suffering from Agent Orange faces VA benefits backlog

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

They risked their lives and health for our freedoms, but thousands of Tennessee veterans are caught in a massive backlog for benefits, a Channel 4 I-Team investigation has found.

Former soldiers are waiting more than a year, sometimes two, to find out whether the government will pay for their injuries and illnesses related to service for their country.

Now, one veteran fears he may die waiting for the government to respond.

Kenneth Moore's past is threatening his future, while he suffers from the effects of Agent Orange.

"It's been over 40 years," Moore said.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Moore said the worst pain didn't come from war.

"The government still says, prove it, prove it," Moore said.

Moore is among the Tennessee veterans stuck in a government waiting game.

A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found an estimated 5,000 vets in the state have what the government considers "backlogged" cases.

That means they have been waiting more than 125 days for disability claims, but those veterans are the fortunate ones.

Moore has been waiting more than two years, and has been denied twice for benefits.

Moore was a 19-year-old stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War, and was sent several times to Vietnam for radio work. He remembers seeing and feeling the strange herbicide being sprayed on the trees.

"When it was on your clothes and stuff, it was like a powder," he said.

And when he returned to the states, the memories of Vietnam remained.

"I have to take medication, because of the nightmares. Even today, I still take medications for the nightmares," Moore said.

After he started having heart and lung problems, Moore filled out a disability form with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

His discharge papers clearly state "Vietnam Campaign Medal," and he was placed on the Agent Orange registry after an Agent Orange specialist with the VA diagnosed him with heart disease.

Another doctor diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

So, imagine his surprise, when the VA denied Moore his claim not once, but twice over a two year period, saying there was no proof of PTSD, no proof he was exposed to Agent Orange. And, because he was originally stationed in Thailand, they said there was no proof he was even ever in Vietnam.

"It's just like, 'You're a liar,' you know," Moore said.

His wife, Judy, said the motto for veterans fighting the VA for benefits is simple.

"Deny, deny, deny to they die," she said.

But Judy Moore knows something about fighting, too. For two years, she scoured the Internet, researching Vietnam vet support groups until she finally dug up her husband's pay stubs from an obscure government agency.

That's when she saw an abbreviation on one paycheck, and figured out what it meant. The notation meant her husband was enlisted for temporary duty to the Republic of Vietnam.

"That was the key. That was the jackpot," she said.

Judy Moore sent in the paystub on Jan. 24 to the VA but still heard nothing in return.

The Channel 4 I-Team started asking the VA questions on June 13, and the very next day, the VA sent the Channel 4 I-Team a letter, stating that Moore's paystub proved he was in Vietnam, and was exposed to Agent Orange.

When Edna McDonald, director of Nashville's Veteran's Affairs Office, spoke before a legislative committee in March, she admitted her office had too many backlogged cases.

"We know we have some work to do there. We are still quite a bit better than the nation, but the nation is nowhere near where it needs to be," McDonald said.

A VA spokesman from Washing said McDonald was not available to answer our questions on camera, but over the phone, McDonald did confirm cases like Moore's take longer, because the government has to have proof that veterans served in a particular country and proof of injuries.

As to why it took Moore's wife to find the proof, McDonald said the VA is still operating with paper files, not electronic records, so veterans' information isn't just a click away.

It means already aging veterans have to wait for technology to catch up, and Kenneth Moore fears he and other vets are running out of time.

"It's not just me. It's thousands and thousands of veterans out there that they'd done like this. And they've finally given up, or they've died from this mess," he said.

Kenneth Moore still isn't getting his benefits. He received a letter this month, stating the VA wanted him to have another exam to determine if he has PTSD.

Moore did recently begin receiving a small amount of the benefits he'd been seeking, but only for ear damage doctors determined he suffered in the war.

The Channel 4 I-Team will continue to focus on issues and troubles affecting soldiers and veterans with our "Keeping the Promise" series.

We will bring you our reports over the next few weeks on Channel 4 News at 6:00.

Copyright 2013 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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