George Ambel: Helping Disabled Veterans
By Jason Marchi/Zip06.com • 04/20/2022 08:30 AM EST
George Ambel, 83, may live in North Haven, but his desire to help US Army veterans extends across the coastline, including East Haven. Today, George likes to remember only the good things related to his career in the US Air Force and his time serving his country during the Vietnam War.
With boundless positive energy, George helps his fellow military veterans get all the federal aid they deserve, but is often unaware that they are entitled to receive it.
“I don’t go to the VA or anything like that looking for people,” George says of the nine veterans he’s helped obtain compensation for their service-related disabilities.
Instead, he walks through them because of their hats.
“When I see people walking around BJ’s [and other places] who wear Air Force or other military hats, I talk to them,” George says.
The discussion eventually leads to questions about their military benefits, which leads to the discovery that many veterans do not receive all of the disability compensation that is due to them by law.
In his playful spirit when getting to know new people, George will also ask questions about the vehicles they drive.
“I have about 17 questions about different cars,” says George. “For example, I’ll go up to a person and say, ‘You drive a BMW, do you know what that means?’ It stands for Bavarian Motor Works [in English]and they won’t know it, but they drive it.
The same lack of knowledge, says George, is what causes many veterans to accept only 20 or 30 percent disability awards and not explore whether they are entitled to more, which many are. many cases.
George provides this assistance both out of a sense of brotherhood to his fellow vets and after learning to navigate the United States Department of Veterans Affairs benefits system himself after suffering a heart attack in 1982, when he was still in active service.
At the time, when George did his own research on the types of compensation he could receive for his service-related injuries, he was successful in pushing for a comprehensive compensation program that not only offered comprehensive coverage health care, but also special allowances in addition to social security. .
A veteran’s compensation program is based on a set of criteria published by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in a program called Individual Unemployability (IU), George says. The program allows the VA to pay compensation to eligible veterans at the 100% rate, even when the VA has not assessed a veteran’s service-related disabilities at the 100% level.
And of those special benefits, George notes, “The VA check each month and the military retirement check are tax-exempt because they fall into a category of combat-related retirement pay.”
“God bless America,” George says, regarding how the U.S. government treated him during his years of need after his quarter-century of service to his country overseas as well as the other veterans George has helped.
One of those veterans, Vincent Massaro of East Haven, has become a best friend. George was 13 years younger than Vincent and he lost his friend in 2014 at the age of 88.
“Vinny passed away at West Haven VA Hospital,” George laments. “I keep in touch with this son, Steven Massaro, who is also a good friend.”
A man George is currently helping has only received a 40% disability award.
“He has Parkinson’s disease, and he didn’t know there was what’s called a ‘presumptive list’ of 16 associated conditions. [with exposure to] things like Agent Orange and other herbicides he can research, so we try to help this guy,” George says.
“Nobody thinks people in the US Navy can get compensation for illnesses on the presumptive list, but the rule is called ‘Blue Water’. If you were 12 miles or less off the coast of Vietnam or Thailand [during the Vietnam War], they say you have a good chance of getting one of 16 diseases,” says George. “So one of my homies that I first met at BJ’s, I told him what to do [about compensation for his illness] and he got 40 percent [coverage] and then he bumped it up to 100 percent.
Befitting George’s jubilant personality, his choice to join the Air Force in 1961 was born out of the color of a uniform.
“A buddy was in the Air Force and came home one day and he was wearing a really nice blue uniform, and I said, ‘Gee, that’s nice,'” George recalled with a laugh. “It happened when I was fired from Rockbestos Company [a former wire products manufacturer] at 22 after starting there at 18. So I joined the Air Force and stayed there for 25 years.
Of George’s many assignments in the Air Force, the longest was his 12 years as a staff sergeant in the administrative supplies department as a financial controller during his years at Hellenikon Air Force Base in Athens, Greece.
“I’ve had the greatest missions in the world,” George says, “I can’t get over what I’ve been through.”
When he’s not helping his fellow military veterans get all the rewards their due for service-related disabilities, George leaves his Summerdale condo to receive treatment for his own lingering ailments.
Despite his current battle with his fifth cancer, Cleveland, Ohio native George Ambel isn’t one to wallow in misfortune.
“I’m doing pretty well so far,” he said. “I just got my second steroid pill so I’m going to see if the pills work instead of the [corticoid steroid] injections that I receive.
In 2018, George lost his first wife, Maria, whom he met and married while stationed in Athens. There they raised two sons together, both of whom, now 44 and 48, still live in Greece.
“I have eight grandchildren,” says George proudly, “and I talk to them every day.
Even among his friends, George spreads happiness by telling riddles, joking and offering an easy laugh.
“I don’t want to get into the negative part of life right now, I don’t need it,” he admits.
And he enjoys the love of his second wife, Lanfang Zhang, from Shanghai, China.
“I met her through her sister, who is a very dear friend,” he says.
Looking back on his entire life, George says he is very happy with all the blessings his military career and his family have given him. Now, looking back, he can also appreciate everything his parents taught him.
“When I was growing up, I didn’t think my mum and dad knew too much,” he says with an easy laugh, thinking about today’s world. “Now I realize how much they knew.”
For more information about the US Department of Veterans Affairs Individual Unemployment Compensation Program, go to www.va.gov/disability/eligibility/special-claims/unemployability.