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Long fight reinstates Vietnam veteran's benefits

By WKTV News

(WKTV) - Joseph Valencourt Jr. served as a combat medic in Vietnam in the early 1970s.

"It's really hard to talk about," Valencourt said.

He returned stateside in 1972 with a host of parting gifts from the Southeast Asia nation, including Agent Orange exposure and Hodgkins lymphoma. In the midst of fighting these battles for his life, his unemployability benefits were reduced, his son says, because he failed to fill out a Veterans Administration form that went to the wrong address.

"At the time when they took away his benefits, he was a hospice patient," son Matthew Valencourt said. "So it doesn't really seem fair to me that they would expect someone in that condition to be able to work, and yet they take away his unemployability benefits just for not filling out a form."

Valencourt says first, his benefits shrank. Then there were problems with his medications. He says there was no warning.

"It came out of the clear blue," Valencourt said. "No notice. No nothing. It just happened."

Valencourt's son went on a mission to find out how to fix the problem, but upon learning that his father's newly submitted information now went to the bottom of a backlog pile, he had little hope.

"He won't be alive to see his benefits," Matthew Valencourt said. "There's just no way. He was given his last rites three times. On three different occasions, was given his last rites and he's still alive.

"He's trying to hold on long enough to where that money will come in and this will be made right. Happy Veterans Day."

But then, just last week, Matthew Valencourt shared his dad's story with this man: Robert McLean, public affairs officer with the VA hospital in Syracuse.

"When I became aware that he had other compensation benefit issues, we wanted to help with that as well," McLean said.

McLean called a contact at the VA in Buffalo. It was the right person. Valencourt's benefits were restored to full strength and he'll be getting a retroactive lump sum check for the difference over the past few months.

The takeaway message for family members who advocate for someone like Valencourt? Never give up.

In spite of a slew of health problems that remain, news of his benefits being reinstated made Vietnam veteran Joseph Valencourt smile.

"Oh, I was elated. Elated. Just tickled. Tickled pink," he said. "I just couldn't believe that everything went boom, just cleared right up.

"I'll tell you, it was a real blessing. It really was. It couldn't have come at a better time."

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