Kings Park veteran, surviving wife win benefits battle

Kings Park veteran, surviving wife win benefits battle

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Congressman Steve Israel presents Irene Barkin with a check for $67,199 in owed benefits that her husband William Rondi earned but never received. Photo from Joe Knickrehm

Irene Barkin of Kings Park knew her late husband deserved thousands of dollars in benefits after serving in the Korean War, but all she ever heard was “No.”

That changed on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) presented Barkin and her family with a check on Friday for $67,199 in owed benefits that her husband William Rondi earned but never received. Corporal Rondi served in the Korean War and sustained injuries in combat that later contributed to his death at age 34 in 1965.

After years of being denied benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Barkin reached out to Israel for help.

“It’s unconscionable that Irene and her family had to wait almost 50 years to receive the benefits that they deserved,” Israel said. “It is never too late to right a wrong, and I am honored to present this check to them today in recognition of William’s brave service. I thank Irene for allowing me the privilege to help resolve her case and hope that the healing process can now begin.”

Corporal Rondi, a United States Marine, suffered shrapnel wounds to the chest from an enemy mortar attack on November 11, 1952, while serving in combat. Unfortunately, medical officers were unable to remove a number of metal fragments lodged dangerously close to his heart and he was forced to live with them for the rest of his life.

“After years of being denied benefits from the VA, Congressman Israel took action and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” Barkin said. “William sacrificed so much for his country, and I am thrilled that my family is with me here today to celebrate his life and receive these benefits he fought so hard to earn.”

On Nov. 22, 1965 Rondi complained he was not feeling well and suddenly collapsed, shortly after returning home from work. He was rushed to Huntington Hospital and pronounced dead at the age of 34 from a “thickening of the artery walls of the heart,” which the VA would later rule to be a result of the injuries he sustained in combat.

However, it would take many years and failed appeals for Barkin’s case to finally be resolved.

Barkin first reached out to Israel’s office for help after her first denial of benefits by the VA in 2011. He was able to cut through red tape and help her obtain a second medical opinion from Dr. Kevin Olson, an internist, who found that it was probable that Rondi’s combat injuries did in fact contribute to his death, the congressman said.

This new evidence was sent to the Board of Veterans Appeals and Barkin was granted a new hearing that would ultimately lead to her previous denials being overturned.

In addition to the $67,199.52 in retroactive benefits, Barkin will also receive a monthly award of $1,254 for the rest of her life.

To date, Israel has secured more than $8.1 million in overdue benefits for New York veterans, he said.

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