Burn baby burn

The use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam war maimed US soldiers as well. A first hand account

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

Burn baby burn

-- In 1967-68, I was a proud 19-year old soldier with the American army's infantry division (1st/4th cavalry) fighting the Vietnamese. About 25 years later, I suffered severe back pains. I suspected lung cancer and got a full physical examination done. Sure as hell, the cancer was there -- I was disabled for life. Doctors told me that I would have been dead and gone, had I taken a little longer in getting the examination done. I was lucky; there are many Vietnam veterans who have no idea of the cancers caused by exposure to Agent Orange (ao) dioxins -- the chemical we used against the Vietnamese.

It might sound strange but much about ao is shrouded in secrecy. But aren't there piles of literature and numerous websites on it? There are, but only a couple of them say that if exposed to Agent Orange (ao), you must get complete physical examinations and cat scans done. The major veterans groups in the us such as the American Legion, the AmVets and the Disabled American Veterans obstinately refuse to publish such warnings. The Agent Orange Handbook that is regularly dispatched to Vietnam veterans does inform a lot, but guess what: it says nothing about getting regular cat scans done.

The Veterans Administration (va) department of the us government lists 43 kinds of cancers and sickness caused by ao. The list does not include many types of cancers. Colon cancer is one of them. I get numerous letters from veterans who suffer from it. But the va is not totally to blame for this omission. The Veteran Service Officers -- the people supposed to represent the veterans and file claims on their behalf to the va -- quite often refuse to accept claims pertaining to this cancer -- even though they have been told quite strictly to accept all claims.

Moreover, the average civilian doctor in the us has little idea about ao and so rarely considers the possibility of a disease caused by this deadly chemical. Not only does this affect treatment, most widows and families of soldiers who succumb to ao-caused diseases are also left without a physician's certificate, which gives the exact cause of their hero's death. As a result they cannot avail the benefits given to families of those who die of ao-caused afflictions.
Nurses affected, too And this is not all. I once met a group of 35 nurses who had served in Japan during the Vietnam War. All these women had breast cancer and other types of cancers, and their children had learning disabilities. The reason: the nurses had to take care of soldiers severely maimed during the war. So how did they get affected? The clothing of the wounded soldiers was covered with thick layers of ao and the deadly dioxins passed on to the paramedics. But these nurses are not eligible for compensation for they have never served in Vietnam. Navy and Air Force veterans, who have not served in Vietnam for a sustained period, have similar compensation woes.

And what about those who somehow manage to have their malady diagnosed for them? Completely disabled soldiers like me are put into category 8, which means that we are entitled to treatment or can see a doctor once in 30 days. The others have to wait between four months to a year -- depending on which part of the country they are in and how dense the veteran's population is in that area -- to receive their medical entitlements. So the Heaven save soldiers if they develop cancer: they might have to spend four months just to get into a hospital -- by which time they would be corpses.

And what about other diseases? Recently, I had one of my directors hold a Vietnam Information Day in New Orleans, Lousiana. 32 veterans, who attended that event, had diabetes, but were unaware that their malady was very likely a result of exposure to ao -- a result of very little information about the dioxin.

By the way, we were exposed to another terrible dioxin in Vietnam. I am sure you would'nt have heard of it -- it is called Larium.

But that's another story.

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