Did you see Michael Quatrini on WTAE last night? MQ was interviewed regarding the difficult process of obtaining Veterans Disability Compensation benefits for Agent Orange exposure.
Thank you to WTAE investigative reporter Bofta Yimam for shedding light onto the struggle that veterans' and their widows' face with the Veterans Administration.
VIDEO: Watch Bofta Yimam's report
Widow fighting VA to prove husband handled Agent Orange
PITTSBURGH -A local widow says she's been fighting the VA for years, working hard to prove her late husband handled the chemical herbicide Agent Orange.
A victorious outcome could give her compensation.
She's sharing her story hoping it could help others out there.
Deeni Tarre of Dravosburg says she knows her late husband handled Agent Orange. But the VA tells her unless she can prove it, she has no chance at getting compensation she believes she deserves.
"I love him, I miss him, I didn't want this to happen to him, I wanted to have a long life with him," said Tarre.
Tarre says her husband Christopher died at 64, after developing squamous cell cancer. During their 25-year marriage, he rarely talked about his service in the Air Force, stationed in Korea in the early 1960's.
"He was a loader, he loaded the stuff on the plane, this agent orange bound for Vietnam, now at a few points he did tell me he was in Vietnam but only on short missions," Tarre said.
Reporter: "He would load Agent Orange?"
Tarre: "Yeah, in 55-gallon drums."
But after collecting 10 years of medical records, digging through military paperwork and pressing the VA to grant her claim for compensation.
"Yeah, I was denied," said Tarre.
She's fighting for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, a benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans for a death resulting from a service-related injury or disease. But proving the first steps, that her husband actually traveled into Vietnam - or was exposed to Agent Orange as a loader, has been tricky.
"If they know that somebody working in Korea in his exact location during that period of time was the one loading all of the planes that eventually went and sprayed Agent Orange in Vietnam, we're back in the game," said Michael Quatrini, a private attorney.
Reporter: "What do you make of all of this?"
Tarre: "I think they are hiding something."
Tarre filed her first claim in 2011, and was denied. She blames the VA for failing to keep adequate records.
"When I spoke to the gentleman at the VA he says, 'ohmigod.' I said, 'what's wrong?' He said, 'your husband's files were destroyed,'" said Tarre.
But the VA told Action News Investigates it's not aware that Tarre's files were destroyed. The agency does say it's double-checking Tarre's personnel file, including 1,000 pages of medical records.
"Her claim for DIC was denied because we haven't been able to make service connection to Agent Orange exposure," said Pat Arnold, Pittsburgh VA regional benefits asstistant director.
If her husband was alive, attorney Quatrini says they could ask key questions. That's why he urges veterans or their loved ones to get on the ball now.
"To find the exact person that they would have been on that mission with, the only person that could answer that question is the deceased veteran, the only person that could tell us exactly what the barrels look like that he was putting on to the plane, what kind of plane was it, did he have any pictures of that stuff," said Quatrini.
He suggests veterans make copies of documents, send it in certified mail to the VA and take detailed notes.
Simple advice, but critical in building a case like Tarre's.
"Really solidifying that he was exposed to Agent Orange, where and when," Quatrini said.
Tarre filed her latest appeal last year and is still waiting for a hearing. The VA says it's drastically reduced its backlog but admits:
"We could definitely use more personnel here ... we are strapped, we are working at capacity, we have a wonderful group of employees who've been working years of mandatory overtime to reduce backlog," said Arnold.
"If they can make you wait until you get disgusted and drop the whole thing, I think that's what's up their sleeve. I think they need to be exposed because there's many widows like me who have had their spouses fall to this and they died, and eventually they died," said Tarre.
Quatrini says veterans who suspect any Agent Orange contact need to request an examination by the VA, file a claim and write a statement.
Arnold also recommends that veterans work with service organizations, collect pictures of the veteran during service, and if possible, connect with their former unit members to get written statements.
As for Tarre, she says winning her claim could bring in about $1,100 each month.