Veteran's widow's claim for survivors benefits granted after bat - WNEM TV 5

Veteran's widow's claim for survivors benefits granted after battle with VA

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

A Mid-Michigan woman said a deadly cancer took her husband.

She said he was exposed while fighting in Vietnam, but the government didn't seem to agree. His loved ones were left flat without the help they thought they would receive. That was until now.

JoAnn Leuenberger, Freeland resident, lost her husband in April 2012 after a battle with bile duct cancer. She said the cancer was caused by liver flukes, a parasite often contracted by eating uncooked fish. She said her husband, Roy Leuenberger, did that while serving in Vietnam.

"There's little parasites and they get into the food or the water ingested by the veteran and they manifest themselves 30 to 40 years later. The guys don't know they have this," she said.

In her husband's case, they found out too late. It wasn't until fall of 2011 that subtle symptoms showed their face. The then 67-year-old noticed his urine was dark and his skin was turning yellow.

"He went to the doctor and they did lab work and then we go a call, 'go to the hospital,'" JoAnn Leuenberger said.

Her husband passed away five months later. His wife is fighting for survivors benefits, but was having trouble getting her claim - that her husband died as a result of his service in Vietnam - approved by Veteran Affairs.

Unlike the effects of agent orange, bacterial filled fish resulting in bile duct cancer is not a presumptive disease recognized by the VA. However, the VA is restoring those benefits.

JoAnn Leuenberger received a call from the VA on Nov. 15.

"A lady by the name of Tammy told me that she had approved my claim," she said.

With her claim approved and a year long battle, she can now receive survivors benefits and continue to support her family.

"She stunned me. I had no idea it was going to be approved that fast and I know it was your help from TV5 that did it," JoAnn Leuenberger said.

Dr. Jeff Bethony is an expert on liver flukes at George Washington University. He said the parasite is particularly difficult to diagnose, but said it is plausible that soldiers could have come in contact with the deadly parasites while overseas.

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