I’m a Baby-boomer. Born in 1960, I grew-up during the Vietnam conflict. Members of my family served in that undeclared war. I remember the tears shed for those who were leaving … and for those who were lost. And I remember the tension … the protests … the disclosure of the Pentagon Papers. I would use the term “turmoil”, but the era was more than that. It was also a time of rude awakening. One of the worst being the true impact of Agent Orange.
For those who aren’t certain what Agent Orange actually is, I’ll add a little background on the subject. Agent Orange was a powerful herbicide used by the United States military, in Vietnam. It contained significant amounts of a dioxin known as TCDD. We now know that it was the most dangerous of all dioxins used at the time. Approximately 20M gallons were sprayed over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in a decade (1961-1971). Many of those who came in contact with it suffered severe consequences, i.e. various forms of cancer, birth defects, type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, chloracne, damaged immune systems, neurological problems, etc. It became a health issue not only for veterans, but their children and even their grandchildren. Consider this fact: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., displays the names of over 58,000 U.S. servicemen and women who died in that war. What it doesn’t mention is the 2.8M veterans who served and later died from exposure to Agent Orange. They too are casualties.
There were no tests to confirm if a patient had been exposed to Agent Orange. So the Veterans Administration looked at where he or she served and when they served, to determine if the patient’s condition was the result of exposure. While the method may sound unconventional, it is the norm when dealing with a “presumptive disease”.
Since 1978, the Agent Orange Registry has been an ongoing program administered by the VA for veterans who qualify and are willing to participate. These veterans receive a free medical exam, lab tests and referrals if necessary. Disability compensation is also available to veterans with some types of cancer. To learn more about these benefits, you can contact the Department of Veterans Affairs by phone at 1-800-749-8387, or online at https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/.
To borrow a line from a Billy Ray Cyrus tune, “… All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” And some are still paying the price, over four decades after they served this nation. May God bless them.
*Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash