Sam Genco, at age 19, narrowly survived one of the United States’ worst military aircraft carrier fires. Today, 50 years later, it’s that ship’s drinking water he says could be killing him.
Genco was diagnosed last year at a North Carolina veterans’ clinic with ischemic heart disease – a common condition the federal government says is linked to Agent Orange exposure. He suffers from severely blocked arteries, cutting off the normal flow of oxygen and blood to the heart.
“It’s fatigue. Your muscles just don’t want to work. Like an engine full of sludge,” Genco said. “The engine keeps working harder but going slower.”
But the 69-year-old can’t get disability benefits tied to exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange.
If the federal government approved his claim, Genco could receive full disability benefits, which would increase his monthly veteran’s benefit check from about $1,400 to more than $3,000. Full disability benefits also have tax advantages and would improve his wife’s health care coverage. Despite no acknowledgment from the government that he was exposed to Agent Orange, Genco does get free medical treatment, like other veterans, at veterans’ clinics.