Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fight for Disability Benefits Helped His Fellow Veterans

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Fight for Disability Benefits Helped His Fellow Veterans

Article excerpt

OBITUARY: Tom Gervasi battled to prove water at Lejeune caused his cancer

Tom Gervasi, a veteran who won his protracted disability claim fight with the government over the rare cancer he contracted during his service, died Tuesday at home in Sarasota.

He was 77.

While serving in the Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in 1956, Gervasi was exposed to contaminated water that caused breast cancer, which rarely affects men. For the last decade, he fought with the government over medical coverage for him and other veterans.

After repeated denials, he finally received a letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs in April confirming that the contaminated water had in fact caused his cancer.

The Rochester, N.Y. native, a former police officer and homicide investigator, is survived by his wife, Elaine, four children and seven grandchildren.

"He was a fighter, I'm telling you, you wouldn't believe it," Elaine Gervasi said Wednesday. "He was concerned about other people who had the same affliction. He was fighting to help them."

Mike Partain, of Winter Haven, has worked for years on behalf of veterans and family members who were exposed to carcinogenic water in North Carolina. Many were reluctant to come forward with a "woman's disease" like breast cancer.

Not Tom Gervasi.

"What he did, what he meant, was extremely important," said Partain, who was born at Camp Lejeune and later developed male breast cancer. "The issues with Camp Lejeune, they affect not just a few people, but all Marines and their families.

"Tom, even though he was terminal, went out of his way to help other people. That's what made him special. To me, he was a consummate Marine."

A stubborn character

Gervasi was with his family when he died Tuesday in Sarasota.

"He was declining, but we didn't know it would be so soon," said his widow. "He was talking, he was nodding his head. …

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