According to the national Order of the Silver Rose, 2 million Vietnam veterans have died due to their exposure to dioxin, better known as Agent Orange.
by Jessica Arsenault
Left: PLANNING SESSION – In an effort to raise awareness among both veterans and the rest of the community about Agent Orange-related cancer, The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 827, of Herkimer, is combining forces with American Cancer Society Relay for Life Team Tim O'Connor for the 2007 Relay for Life. Discussing plans above are, from left, veteran Richard Bullen, Maria Ajello, veteran Ken Ajello, veteran Chris Bouck and Mary Erin Blair, Team Tim O'Connor team captain and state veteran counselor with the New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs.
HERKIMER – Right now, dozens in the Mohawk Valley battle cancer believed to have been caused by Agent Orange.
For that reason, The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 827, of Herkimer, is combining forces with American Cancer Society Relay for Life Team Tim O'Connor for the 2007 Relay for Life…
“There is a large community of veterans fighting Agent Orange cancer in our area,” said Mary Erin Blair, state veteran counselor with the New York Division of Veterans' Affairs. “More veterans have died of cancer from Agent Orange than died in the war. We're hoping to reach out to those veterans battling cancer.”
Blair and Team Tim O'Connor, with the help of veterans Christopher Bouck, Richard Bullen and Ken Ajello, who is battling cancer himself, plan to set up an informational booth next to their Relay tent to hand out brochures and pamphlets on Agent Orange, an ingredient used in defoliants during the Vietnam War, it's effects and the diseases the United States government has acknowledged as being caused by Agent Orange Exposure, as well as how to get assistance both through Veterans' Affairs and through the American Cancer Society.
“One of the things we've been looking to do is to include this segment of our community in Relay for Life,” said Stephanie Boucher, regional director with the American Cancer Society. “We want to let that group know that we're here for them to provide rides to treatment sessions, educate them about their cancer, and get them in touch with support groups while also creating awareness throughout the entire community about their specific challenges and how their health was adversely affected by their service to our country.”
In addition to handing out information to interested ones, team members will wear brightly-colored and eye-catching Agent Orange T-shirts, further drawing attention to their cause.
The addition of a veterans group to the local Relay for Life, hosted by Ilion Jr.-Sr. High School each year, was the brainchild of Ajello.
“A lot of these veterans are eligible for benefits that they don't even know about,” he said. “If we can reach just one person through this, then we've accomplished something.”
Ajello was diagnosed with cancer two years ago this May.
“We think this is going to be a great vessel for informing others,” Blair said.
To get the joint veterans/Team Tim O'Connor off to a good start, The Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 827, in Herkimer, has donated $250 to their fundraising efforts.
In years to come, Blair, Bouck, Bullen and Ajello hope the team will grow to the point of becoming two teams: Team Tim O'Connor, which has been an active member of Relays for three years already, and a team of veterans fighting for awareness and survival against Agent Orange.
This year's Relay for Life, a 24-hour fundraising relay event benefiting the American Cancer Society, is set for June 9 and 10 at the Ilion Jr.-Sr. High School track.
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