Roy P. Benavidez, the Medal of Honor winner who had been ordered removed from the Social Security disability rolls on grounds that he could perform some types of work despite his injuries, said yesterday that he has now been told that his benefits will continue.
Benavidez, interviewed by telephone in El Campo, Tex., said he has not received notice in writing but has been told authoritatively that the administrative law judge (ALJ) who heard his appeal has decided in his favor.
"This shows that we didn't only fight for the freedom of our country in Vietnam but we can stand here in our own damned land and fight, too," said Benavidez, who has said he still has shrapnel in his head and heart from his war wounds.
"This proves the system works," said Jim Brown, press officer for the Social Security Administration. "The ALJ asked for additional medical evidence, and the additional evidence with the evidence on file convinced him Mr. Benavidez should be continued on the rolls. There was no contact between headquarters and the ALJ, who made the decision by himself."
Benavidez received the medal in an emotional 1981 White House ceremony during which he was hugged and warmly congratulated by President Reagan.
He was decorated for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" at Loc Ninh, Vietnam, May 2, 1968, when, despite severe wounds and a clubbing by an enemy soldier, he led a rescue of U.S. soldiers trapped and under fire in downed helicopters.
However, the Social Security Administration, as part of a review process begun in the Carter administration and stepped up under Reagan, ordered him off the disability rolls two months ago. Shortly afterward, with approval of the White House, Secretary of Health and Human Services Margaret M. Heckler ordered changes in some of the review procedures.
"I'm grateful for this decision," said Benavidez, a former migrant worker and high school dropout. "I wish that all the other veterans who are claimants will be reviewed as thoroughly. These are tough laws."