How a stranger’s generosity helped a desperate Vietnam veteran
By Liz Raines Photojournalist: Ken Kulovany
November 22, 2016
ANCHORAGE – We first introduced you to Robert Stevens in a Problem Solvers piece on Friday. For the last three years, he and his wife, Diane, have been trying to get benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Robert Stevens was exposed to the toxic herbicide known as Agent Orange while serving in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Now, their lives have taken a turn for the better because of one person who saw that story.
When we last met the Stevenses, they were drowning in debt.
“They just turned us into collections because I’ve gotten to a point where there’s so many medical bills for Bob,” Diane Stevens said. “I just can’t do it anymore.”
Robert Stevens believes he was exposed to Agent Orange while making his way through Vietnam after receiving orders to return home to Minnesota on April 1, 1969.
“I had a quadruple bypass,” Robert Stevens explained. “And my heart doctor said it was from Agent Orange.”
In order to get any money from the VA, the Stevens have to prove he stepped foot on Vietnamese soil. However, the VA can’t find his records, so Robert and Diane Stevens are now searching for anyone who might still recognize him from that time.
Diane Stevens posted a cry for help on a reunion page for her husband’s ship, the USS Lynde McCormick. The Stevenses haven’t received a response yet, but someone else in the community was listening to their story.
One KTVA viewer was so moved by the couple’s story that he wanted to give them a check for $3,800.
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A desperate endeavor: Vietnam veteran seeks community’s help getting benefits
By Liz Raines
Photojournalist: Rachel McPherron
November 19, 2016
ANCHORAGE – I first met Rob and Diane Stevens at a Department of Veterans Affairs listening session in September. Diane fought back tears as she told the Alaska VA’s new director, Timothy Ballard, of her and her husband’s now three-year battle to obtain some sort of compensation for Robert’s exposure to Agent Orange.
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but the heroism of those who served lives on today. The soldiers wear hats now instead of helmets. Robert does so proudly. At the tender age of 17, he joined the U.S. Navy.
“I got to know the guys, the medic,” Robert recalled. “And I was like, ‘I really want to do that.’ And everybody kept telling me, ‘no, you don’t want to do that.'”
Robert spent two years in Vietnam, days he remembers with nostalgia. But there’s one day he’ll never forget: April 1,1969 — his 21st birthday.
“I got handed four sheets of paper and they said ‘your dad’s been in a car accident,'” Robert remembered.
He was sent home to Minnesota to be with his family, but to get there he had to first pass through Vietnam from Vung Tau to Saigon. That’s where Robert’s life changed forever.
“Two helicopters flew over and they dropped this white powder,” Robert said.
That white powder, he believes, was Agent Orange — an herbicide the U.S. Government used to destroy jungles during the war so it could see the enemy. Now the VA recognizes that Agent Orange destroyed a lot more.
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