While Americans spent 28 MAY at parades and ceremonies honoring service members killed in the line of duty, one Queens veteran believes government bureaucrats can’t wait for him to die. Frank Bari, a 62-year-old lawyer, has been waging an eight-year legal battle with the Veterans Administration over his claims that he was left permanently disabled by the Agent Orange that was sprayed on him while he served with the Coast Guard in Vietnam. “I did one year, two months and three days” in the war zone, he said. His job was boarding small local fishing boats called sampans in search of Viet Cong weapon stashes. He and his crewmates were stationed in an area where fierce firefights regularly took place and US planes dropped the powerful defoliant to expose the enemy’s jungle hiding places. Bari says he has suffered from a rare form of cancer, Type II diabetes, chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. He said the Veterans Administration has admitted all of these maladies have been linked to Agent Orange.
Bari won a significant legal victory several months ago in the US Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, but it has been sent back to a lower court. Meanwhile, as Bari’s health continues to deteriorate, he’s left wondering whether the government of the country he fought for would rather see him dead. “There are many other former Vietnam War veterans like me and sometimes, I think they [US government bureaucrats] are waiting for us all to just die,” said Bari, a former Newark public defender who now practices criminal law. In 1999, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and given just four months to live, he recalled. Many of the doctors he consulted, Baris says, were “fitting me for a casket,” until he found one who saved his life through a newly approved drug therapy program. He took another hit after 9/11 when he was activated as a Coast Guard reservist and assigned to Ground Zero — a tour that he says led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder that is part of a separate medical claim with the government. Randy Noller, a spokesman for the VA, declined to discuss Bari’s case, citing privacy issues. Noller was unable to provide data on how many other Vietnam War era veterans have pending medical disability claims, but officials say the number climbed in the past several years, as additional maladies have been included. [Source: New York Times Philip Messing article 28 May 2012 ++]