Some Vietnam Veterans Are Just Now Experiencing the Effect of Agent Orange

Orange should stand for something nice — sunsets, tangerines, Creamsicles. But when it's Agent Orange, the color means poison.Agent Orange is the herbicide sprayed by the millions of gallons all over South Vietnam during the war from 1961-71. The operation was designed to remove the triple-canopy jungle and other vegetation the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops used for cover. The operation's motto: "Only you can prevent a forest."The poison got its name from the stripes on the 55-gallon drums in which it was shipped, mostly from several major chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and Monsanto.The Air Force dumped Agent Orange on South Vietnam for 10 years. That campaign exposed an estimated 2.8 million American troops to the deadly dioxin. Most were not affected while serving in-country. But after they came home — often decades later — tens of thousands of veterans paid a price with their health.House Bill 326, "Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2019," is now pending in Congress. It reads in part:"Agent Orange exposure continues to negatively affect the lives of veterans of the United States Armed Forces, Vietnamese people, Vietnamese Americans and their children. The lives of many victims are cut short and others live with disease, disabilities and pain, often untreated or unrecognized."The Department of Veterans Affairs has recognized at least 14 cancers and other diseases related to Agent Orange. The VA says veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits from these diseases. Court cases and congressional action since 1979 have ruled in favor of veterans afflicted by the herbicides showered over the war zone. In 1991 President George H.W. Bush signed the Agent Orange Act, which ordered treatment for cancers resulting from wartime service.Further, Vietnam Veterans of America says "significant numbers of Vietnam veterans have children and grandchildren with birth defects related to exposure to Agent Orange."For decades, the VA has been criticized for some of its actions and reactions for disability claims related to Agent Orange. But one survivor of Agent Orange says he's satisfied with the care he's gotten from the agency. Greg, 69, asked that his last name not be used because he's sensitive about prostate cancer and its effects. He and his wife live in Shawnee, Kan., and winter in Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley.Greg served in Vietnam 1968-69 as a Seabee with the U.S. Navy. His outfit did repairs around airfields, which became refueling stations for airplanes that were spraying Agent Orange. "We took our breaks sitting on these orange cans," he says. "We read 'defoliant' and nobody thought anything about it ... We put our food on the barrels."He got out of the Navy after seven years, then joined the Army, attaining the rank of major. He spent 17 years in that branch, serving as a quartermaster during the Persian Gulf War and elsewhere.In 2014, at age 65, during a routine physical, he was diagnosed at a VA hospital with prostate cancer. Nobody in his family had ever had it. His tests were off the charts. He underwent the surgery at a Kansas VA hospital."I never had a bad experience (with the VA)," he says. "It's no different from the military. I'd say 99 percent of them do a good job."Today, Greg gets a 100 percent disability from his claim — about $20,000 a year. "They shot at me on five continents," he says, "and missed. Prostate cancer didn't miss."Mike Tharp writes an occasional column about veterans issues for The Dallas Morning News. Tharp, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran who received the Bronze Star.   Continue reading...

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