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Ill in Cuba, Veteran Seeks Years of VA Benefits

WASHINGTON D.C. (CN) - A decorated Vietnam veteran trapped behind the tatters of the Cuban trade embargo has sued the United States for 35 years of unpaid veteran's benefits.

Otto Macias, born in Cuba, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1964. He spent three years in Vietnam and was honorably discharged.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1976 and in 1980 he received permission to visit his family in Cuba.

During that visit, he suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized. Since 1981, he has been living with relatives in Cuba, unable to care for himself. His VA benefits were terminated in August 1981.

His lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims seeks the veteran's benefits he has been denied for 35 years.

His attorney told Courthouse News that the Cuban embargo, whatever its intentions, should not interfere with a disabled Army veteran receiving disability benefits.

"[Macias's] story, in many ways, is the story of the Americas," Macias' attorney Jason Flores-Williams said. He called Macias, "one of the millions caught in the grinder of the New World."

According to the Veterans Benefits Manual, the Veterans Administration follows Treasury Department policies on paying benefits to people living in Cuba. Since the Treasury has updated its policies due to improved U.S.-Cuba relations, Macias says there is no justification for withholding his benefits.

He seeks payment of the benefits and a review of VA policies concerning the Cuban embargo.

The Veterans Administration did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Flores-Williams' office is in Denver.

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