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Local nonprofit steps in to fill the gap as veterans living overseas struggle to get medical assistance

United States Disabled Veterans Abroad is working to improve the VA's Foreign Medical Program while fundraising to fill the gap of medical costs.

AUSTIN, Texas — Austin-based nonprofit United States Disabled Veterans Abroad is fighting to improve the VA's Foreign Medical Program and raise funds to reduce veteran medical costs overseas. 

Retired Naval Captain Richard Molina Jr. has aged a bit since taking his military photo, but the 79-year-old's American pride hasn't wavered, even all the way from home in Costa Rica. 

"Happy Fourth of July," yelled Molina.

Joining the military was Molina's dream as a boy. He served six years in the Navy, two of them fighting in the Vietnam War. During that time, Molina said he was exposed to agent orange, a toxic chemical used to kill crops during warfare. 

"I already have five cancers and I don't know why I am still alive," said Molina. 

Molina thanks his doctor, Oriel Mclean, who has been paying for his cancer medication and care while waiting for the VA's Foreign Medical Program reimbursements. 

"It takes six months, eight months, sometimes a year, to get the reimbursement for what he pays for me," said Molina. 

In addition to the late reimbursements for care, the Foreign Medical Program only pays for health care services and needs for conditions associated with a service-connected disability. 

Molina said it takes time for approval, time he didn't have while battling cancer. That's when the United States Disabled Veterans Abroad stepped in and paid for three life-saving surgeries on his bladder, eyes and nose. 

"Like anything in the world, if you can pay, you get a better standard of care versus, you know, socialized medicine," said founder Pete Salazar. "So we decided that we were going to try to do the best that we could do to raise funds to make sure that these veterans are being taken care of in every capacity." 

Salazar founded the nonprofit last year after realizing there are tens of thousands of vets overseas in Molina's position. The group is working at the federal level to get the program improved, but until then, Salazar hopes Independence Day serves as a reminder to help vets in need.

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