A Vietnam veteran from Saratoga County who has been fighting the government for 28 years to get war-related disability benefits has finally succeeded.
Roger Lefco, 68, of Malta, said Thursday that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder that stems from his Army service leading convoys while in Vietnam in 1965.
“I was a movement specialist,” Lefco said. He said the convoys included trucks filled with gasoline and explosives going through jungle terrain laced with land mines.
He started having problems on the job while working for the telephone company in 1983. Because of the PTSD, he hasn’t worked since 2001.
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., helped to expedite Lefco’s paperwork and advocate his 2007 appeal to the Veterans Administration, said Angie Hu, the senator’s press secretary.
Hu said Thursday that the Saratoga County resident received $42,000 in retroactive benefits and an additional $2,600 in VA benefits each month going forward.
Lefco, who was a specialist 4th class in the Army, had a long career with New York Telephone Co. and later Verizon. He quit work because of PTSD.
“I’m doing OK,” Lefco said Thursday. He is divorced and the father of three grown children and three grandchildren.
Lefco said he hopes his long but successful battle with the VA will encourage other veterans of Vietnam and more recent wars to continue to pursue the benefits to which they are entitled.
“Mr. Lefco served his country with honor and courage; these benefits are long overdue,” said Gillibrand in a written statement.
“Like so many of our veterans, Mr. Lefco’s PTSD left him out of work. We must fulfill our duty to the brave men and women who sacrifice so much to protect our country by providing them with the benefits and care they need,” she said.
Lefco thanked Gillibrand “for fighting on my behalf.” His advice to other veterans: “They should never give up and keep on fighting for what they deserve.”
Lefco, a graduate of Mechanicville High School, was in the Army from 1963 to 1966. While in Vietnam, he picked up fuel, bombs and explosives in Da Nang for delivery to his own base at Phu Bai.
Lefco filed his first claim for VA benefits in 1983. At that time, however, veterans needed to document specific incidents that may have triggered the disorder, Gillibrand said in a statement.
“Lefco’s daily combat experiences, hearing problems and exposure to [firing] mortars did not meet service-related PTSD federal requirements,” she said. “As a result, Mr. Lefco’s claim for VA unemployment and disability benefits was not granted.”
In 2007, Lefco filed a second request for disability and unemployment benefits.
In 2010, then-Rep. Scott Murphy’s office helped Lefco navigate the new federal rule change, prompting the VA to confirm that the veteran’s PTSD was, in fact, service-related. The VA awarded him disability benefits linked to his PTSD. But the second half of his 2007 appeal for VA unemployment benefits was still pending.
Lefco reached out to Gillibrand’s office for help in resolving his appeal that would compensate him for work that he was unable to pursue because of his PTSD and grant him increased access to VA medical resources.
Gillibrand’s office worked with the VA and his former employer, Verizon Wireless, to expedite documentation needed to show he was unemployable due to PTSD.
This month, the VA granted the appeal, awarding him the retroactive benefits and the monthly stipend.
Lefco also has full access to medical care from the VA.