VVA’s The Faces of Agent Orange

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In my last issue of VVA Veteran magazine, I noted that our organization has escalated efforts to get the stories of people and families exposed to Agent Orange the attention deserved.

VVA has had the longest Agent Orange Committee outside of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and Veterans for Peace (VFP) have also been the tip of the spear on Agent Orange advocacy beginning with the end of the Vietnam War and continuing today.

I’ve decided to help in this effort by publishing what VVA or anyone else sends me about efforts being made in this area, but most of all to tell the stories of Veterans and families touched by Agent Orange who has had no voice in the public media.

The Worthingtons by Jim Belshaw

“I hate myself,” longtime VVA member Herb Worthington said. “Why? For bringing all this pain and suffering to my children. They don’t deserve it.”

His daughter, Karen, 35, suffers from multiple sclerosis. His son, Michael, 33, has suffered from bronchitis and allergies since infancy. Michael’s children also have chronic bronchitis, and Herb says they display uncontrolled and inexplicable fits of anger.

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Herb, himself, is 100 percent disabled, diagnosed with Agent Orange-caused type II diabetes. He suffers from peripheral neuropathy. “It starts out as a tingling, like pins and needles,” he said. “Hands and feet get cold. As it progresses, they go numb and have stabbing, knife-like pains. They say it’s a circulation problem.”

Married for 41 years to Angela Sorrentino, he is president of the VVA New Jersey State Council. They met in high school and married in 1968, the summer before their college senior year. Five days after he graduated in 1969, he was drafted.

After completing AIT, he received orders to Vietnam as a Light Weapons Infantryman. He was assigned to the 2/60 Recon Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division and was sent to the Parrot’s Beak, Tan Tru, the Plain of Reeds, and then, with the 25th Division, to Cu Chi.

“What is significant is the amount of Agent Orange dumped on the Plain of Reeds and the barren dust-bowl camp known as Cu Chi,” he said.

Three years after he came home, he and Angela started a family. Karen, the eldest, grew into such an attractive woman that strangers stopped her to ask if she were a model or an actress.

“She was talented, played two instruments, was an athlete, and an A student,” he said. “Everything went well until her senior year of high school when she started getting migraine headaches.”

Several MRIs and doctors later, Karen was diagnosed with MS. She married, then divorced, and swears she will never have children for fear of passing the disease to them.

“She still works, but she uses a cane, and the right side of her face is numb,” Herb said. “Now she’s beginning to fall down. She goes to the MS center in New York. She’s seen so many specialists and tried different treatments, but I think most of it is a bunch of crap. It’s so sad to see her like this.”

He sees signs of disease in his grandchildren, one 3 years old and the other soon to be 5. “Both suffer from bronchitis,” he said. “And they can turn to anger in a second. I can see the physical change in them when they do it. I can see it coming, because I watch them like a mother hen.”

Herb Worthington has worked as a veterans service officer and has visited the VA to discuss his diseases and the illness of his children. He comes away angry.

“I went to doctors I knew in the VA,” he said. “I went to the regional office and spoke with people I knew, and I asked if there was anything, and there was nothing. You talk to these doctors, and you mention the possibility of Agent Orange, and they ‘yes’ me to death and say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ ”

He doesn’t know what the future will bring, but he carries a great anger toward the VA and the government and the Vietnam War. “I had a life map set out for me, and the war ruined almost everything,” he said. “It ruined whatever chance I had to do in life; it ruined my health; it ruined my children’s health. The VA hates me. They will tell you that I have an acid tongue. This thing has consumed my life like no one can imagine.”

A word from Jim Belshaw and VVA:

“Significant numbers of Vietnam veterans have children and grandchildren with birth defects related to exposure to Agent Orange. To alert legislators and the media to this ongoing legacy of the war, VVA seeks real stories about real people.

If you wish to share your family’s health struggles that you believe are due to Agent Orange/dioxin, send an email to Mokie Porter at mporter@vva.org or call 301-585-4000, Ext. 146.

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Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I've posted on Veterans Today, I've had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner. My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me. Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000. I've been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I'm now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house. I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.