Editorial Column: Crusade for War Veterans Continues

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

August 9, 2008 – For years, Lawrence T. Hess had helped William S. Burton Sr. research cases of military personnel who may have been exposed to asbestos while serving.

But in mid-2000, Hess, a World War II Navy veteran who also served as a Secret Service agent, was diagnosed with asbestos-related pleural disease. Burton encouraged him to file a military compensation claim.

“When he was dying in the hospital, I told him, ‘George, sign this so you can file for disability,’ ” Burton told me. “I told him it would help his wife out.”

Hess of Snellville died in Nov. 2006. He was 79. Today, his wife Suesan Hess receives “dependency and indemnity compensation” for his years of service, Dec. 1944 to July 1946.

When I met Burton three years ago, he’d just self-published the second edition of a book, “Asbestos ” The Silent Killer of Navy Veterans.” The book explains the disease, its causes, the difficulty in correctly diagnosing it, and steps veterans should take to prove their compensation claims for war-related illnesses.

It took Burton several years to prove his own claim ” that asbestos exposure while in the Navy had caused him to contract a lung disease. So he wrote the book to help veterans navigate the maze.

“I printed this book to get the help out to the people,” the Lilburn resident said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did, you have to work through the system.”

Burton admits he’s toned down his combativeness and criticism of the Veterans Administration. He had to, if he wanted to succeed in his crusade to help as many veterans as possible get disability compensation. He also has learned to collaborate, notably with the Georgia Department of Veterans Service.

“Bill Burton is a true veterans advocate,” wrote George Langford, the state director of claims, in an e-mail. “His book is informative and useful to veterans service officers. The Claims Division has won asbestos-related cases before the Department of Veterans Affairs using the information learned from Mr. Burton and his book.”

Asbestos-related diseases, Langford told me, are difficult to prove. Veterans needs to have a “military occupational speciality” that’s been approved for claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs. They also must show specific symptoms and a diagnosis to file a successful claim.

Here’s what troubles Burton, 83; Many veterans don’ even know about the dangers of asbestos exposure, much less what’s required of them to seek compensation. That’s one reason he decided to self-publish his tome again. About 600 boxed copies sit in the garage of his home in Lilburn.

“The VA just can’t pass out money to people who don’t qualify for it,” he said. “With the help of Langford, we’ve gotten over $7 million in claims. I’m looking to help the veterans and their wives.”

Wives like Suesan Hess, whom I met one recent morning at Burton’s home. She is Taiwanese and speaks several languages, but admits English isn’t her best.

“He knows everything,” said Hess, patting Burton on the shoulder. “He’s my hero. I can’t say enough.”

For information about “Asbestos – The Silent Killer of Navy Veterans,” visit asbestos-silentkiller.com or call William S. Burton Sr. at 770-381-5395.

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