CAPE CORAL, Fla. - Millions of dollars in military benefits are unclaimed by the men and women who need them.
A pair of veterans living in Cape Coral is trying to change that by getting the word out. They told WINK News they were spending thousands of dollars, like so many other veterans, on healthcare, which they could have been saving.
Bill Lang and George Donnelly both served in Vietnam, but they didn't meet until a few years ago at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Cape Coral. It was there where they found they had something else in common: They had no idea they were eligible for healthcare benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I said, 'I'm not eligible because I'm not retired military and I'm not disabled military,'" Donnelly recalled of when he started volunteering with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and began talking with fellow veterans.
Lang and Donnelly were in Vietnam in the late 1960's, during Operation Ranch Hand, when the U.S. Military sprayed toxic herbicides known as "Agent Orange" over the Vietnamese countryside.
Lang was on the ground and was never able to link his health problems to the chemicals. Donnelly was in a Naval ship. For those reasons, both men thought they were not eligible for any benefits at all.
Turns out, that was not the case. The Department of Veterans Affairs only requires a year of active military service and an honorable discharge for some health benefits. Most veterans are eligible.
Lang was astonished by the money he saved once he started receiving his benefits. "Just one drug alone was $400 every three months. Getting them through the VA, they're $29."
"I think the health care we get (at the VA hospital) is exceptional," Donnelly said. "I believe it's better than what I got in the private sector for 40-something years."
Through their volunteer service, Lang and Donnelly said they meet a lot of other veterans who do not know about the benefits they could be receiving. Donnelly has even helped fellow veterans sign up.
"It's been a boon to me, being in the VA," Donnelly said. "So I thought about paying it forward a little bit."