Winter 2006 Edition NJDMAVA Veterans

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The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to the editor at:

Trenton, NJ 08625-0340

Chosin Vet Files Claim

Ocean County Donation
For 56 years, Korean War Veteran Russell Reed, 74, has suffered the effects of frostbite damage to his hands and feet from the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He has spent a lifetime trying to keep his fingers limber by making leather belts, bags and wallets for family and friends.

The temperature dropped to 40 degrees below zero in the rugged mountains of Korea in November 1950. Marine Sgt. Russell Reed, 18, manned his Browning .30-caliber light machine gun with fingers black from frostbite. His weapon froze up as 70,000 Chinese flooded across the Yalu River and surrounded the United Nations force of 30,000. Luckily, some of the Chinese carried whale oil to keep their guns working in the sub-zero temperatures. He soon had some of that.

“We walked 72 hours coming out of Chosin,” Reed remembers. “We stumbled, really. And you’re sweating and your feet are freezing right to your boots while you are walking.” After the battle, it took three Marines to remove Reed’s boots, and when the boots came off, the bottoms of his feet came off with them.

Reed and the rest of Charlie Company, 7th Marines, are some of “the Frozen Chosin,” or “the Chosin Few” as survivors of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir are sometimes called. Their cold and bloody slog out of the reservoir began 56 years ago on November 26, 1950. For 56 years, Reed has suffered from the damage frostbite did to his hands and feet, yet he never filed for a nickel of the monthly disability-compensation payments the Department of Veterans Affairs would like to pay him.

“I often run into older veterans who, for whatever reason, never filed a claim and think that it’s too late,” says Joseph Bucco Jr. is a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) and a former Army lieutenant colonel.

That’s what happened when Bucco ran into Reed in late October. “I asked him if he had gotten frostbite and he said yes. I asked if he ever filed a claim and he said no. He said he didn’t want to.” Bucco suggested that Reed stop by the Newton VSO office ran by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Reed did stop at the Newton VSO, but he only inquired about a VA grave marker for his recently deceased son, a former Marine who died in September of a heart condition. The worker there encouraged Reed to file a disability claim for himself, but Reed left without doing so.

New Jersey has the highest percentage of World War II and Korean War veterans in the nation. Almost 30 percent of all veterans living in the state served during these war periods. But this generation’s reluctance to accept handouts contributes to New Jersey having the lowest VA disability claim rates in the nation.

“If you were wounded or injured in service during World War II, Korea or Vietnam, and you never filed a claim for benefits, you may have missed out on thousands of dollars of monthly benefits already,” says John McCourt, director of the VA Regional Office in Newark and a Vietnam combat veteran. “The bad news is that we can’t pay you any benefits for those past years. The good news is you can still file and begin receiving your benefits as soon as we decide your claim.”

McCourt urges veterans who did file years ago and who now receive monthly disability payments to consider filing for an increase in payments. There are 50,000 vets already on the rolls in New Jersey receiving from $112 to $6,845 each month.

“We are encouraging all veterans, but particularly those combat-injured, to review their current disability-compensation rates and apply for an increase if their conditions have worsened.”

Seeing their elders pass up these VA benefits should teach injured veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to file claims as early as they can. Approved claims for service-connected disabilities also provide access to the VA health-care system; a benefit America’s newest veterans should not pass up.

Like many veterans of his generation, Reed was at first reluctant to talk about his war experience. His silence and half-century refusal to file a disability claim seem to have the same roots. And about the disability payments, “To be honest with you, I didn’t know whether I deserved it or not.”

Congress thinks he deserves it. The VA thinks he deserves it. And the folks at the New Jersey State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs think so, too.
So Reed filed his claim on Nov. 13. After 56 years. Reluctantly.