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Widow wants professionals to ‘Ask the Question’

Barbara Rodgick Meehan is a widow whose Army veteran husband, Bill, passed away from his illness, which was attributed to exposure to Agent Orange-defoliated areas in Southeast Asia. Now she is driving a solo political campaign to have the Nevada Legislature pass a statute urging members of the medical and social service professions to “Ask the Question — Have you ever served in the military?” — when treating individuals. If they answer in the affirmative, they can then be asked to contact Veterans Affairs or a veterans’ service officer and, if appropriate, file claims for medical benefits.

There are currently 18 diseases associated with the umbrella term “Agent Orange,” and thousands of veterans have been exposed. Many of them are suffering from those individual illnesses and are unaware of the help that they can receive from the VA. Meehan wants to change that.

While there are many organizations that support veterans’ causes and work tirelessly to help individual veterans, there are also many individuals who work on their own to provide needed assistance for veterans on a local and national level.

Those people are not always celebrated, honored or called out as heroes, nor do they care to be. They just want to be able to help veterans and make a difference in the lives of those who gave of their time for the nation. Meehan is one of those people.

Meehan and her husband, Bill, had civilian health coverage, and when Bill became sick, they did not initially go to the VA for medical care. “No one, no civilian doctor, nurse, physical therapist, social worker, counselor or pharmacist ever asked about his military service,” she said of when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

By chance one day she typed the words “VA multiple myeloma” into her computer and she discovered that her husband might be eligible for government benefits due to his illness, which was presumptively contracted through his military work.

“We had no idea there was a service connection to his illness,” she noted.

The disease is a type of blood cancer of plasma cells that are normally found inside the bone marrow. The multiple myeloma causes those cells to become cancerous and produce abnormal antibodies. It’s the second most common blood cancer in the U.S.

Once the couple realized there was a military connection, Bill Meehan reluctantly filed a claim with the VA. Barbara Meehan wanted a VA medical back-up just in case.

“But Bill felt there were other veterans who deserved benefits more than he did,” she explained.

Some 49 years had elapsed since he had left the Army, but to the extreme surprise of both, two months after filing his claim, the VA rated Bill Meehan 100 percent medically disabled and deposited thousands of dollars in his bank account. In addition, Bill received a monthly pension. She had a Satori moment.

“We were dumbstruck,” she says. “The money was nice, but it really touched my heart with the feeling that someone had our back.”

Now Meehan is determined to have qualified professionals “Ask the Question.” Veterans young and elderly are encouraged to seek medical examinations with the VA or meet with service officers to be on the safe side.

For more information, she can be contacted at barbara98065@gmail.com.

Chuck N. Baker is an award-winning journalist and a Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran. He can be heard at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday on KKVV-AM hosting “That’s America to Me” and occasionally on KUNV-FM hosting “America’s Veterans, Today and Tomorrow.”

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