Press Release

Gillibrand Secures Benefits for Albany Veteran Exposed to Agent Orange

Sep 28, 2015

North Greenbush, NY – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today announced North Greenbush veteran Keith Martel will receive his disability benefits after nearly three years of delays. The U.S. Navy veteran requested assistance from Senator Gillibrand when the VA failed to approve his claims. Martel, who retired as a Command Sergeant Major, was exposed to Agent Orange and diagnosed with cancer. He will now receive retroactive disability benefits and compensation.

Gillibrand’s office worked with Command Sergeant Major Martel to verify his benefits application – which the VA said it could not approve because it lacked proof he was in Vietnam where Agent Orange exposure occurred. Gillibrand’s office worked with National Personnel Records Center, the National Archives and the Veteran Affairs’ New York Regional Office, to obtain the needed records to substantiate the claim. Mr. Martel was exposed to Agent Orange while he was stationed at the USS Ajax ashore at Vung Tau Harbor. In May 2015, Martel’s appeal was approved and was granted 100 percent service-connected disability, effective from October 2013. As of July, he is receiving retroactive payments as well.

“We must fulfill our duty to our veterans and their families who have made incredible sacrifices protecting our freedom by providing them with the support and care they need,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I am pleased that Keith Martel finally received the disability benefits he was owed and I will continue the push to ensure the men and women who bravely served our country get the care they deserve and the benefits they earned.”

“After providing the VA with all the requested information regarding my Vietnam service, including a narrative with specific dates and details of my assignments, they opted to deny my claim rather than review the evidence presented,” said Keith Martel. “Severely frustrated, I appealed to Senator Gillibrand’s office for help and within 24 hours received phone calls from her NYC offices, and professional assistance was on the way. It took several months of calls and information gathering but I would not have had my claim settled without the help the Senator’s office provided me. The additional compensation I am receiving is helping to make a more comfortable life for myself and my family.”

Martel enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18 during the Vietnam War, and retired after 39 years of service as a Command Sergeant Major – the highest rank an enlisted service member can achieve. He was also mobilized by the Albany Division of Military and Naval Affairs on the morning of 9-11 responding to the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. 

Earlier this year, Senator Gillibrand introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure thousands of Navy veterans known as “Blue Water” vets from the Vietnam War exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange will be eligible to receive disability and health care benefits they have earned for diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, would make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans’ claims for service-connected conditions and alleviate a portion of the VA’s backlog by extending presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to these veterans.