Last Friday I announced I was going to be writing more about Agent Orange and those who have suffered greatly from its exposure. That sad part of having to write about this issue is that almost everyone who was exposed to the toxin had no idea they were being exposed to a deadly and dangerous toxin and that we have a government which seemingly cannot or with not come 100% clean on the issue.
The last three days I received another dozen letters from veterans AND regular citizens who have come face-to face with Agent Orange without the slightest indication that they were in for a world of hurt just doing their job or in volunteer service helping others. For the veterans, the battle has become more than personal, as it must be waged on multiple fronts, against a bureaucratic fortress original commissioned to aid veterans. For the civilian, there is nowhere to turn. They appear to be pawns in the Agent Orange debacle being played out on the international stage.
First we have a government which won’t disclose exactly how much of the toxin was produced, where is was produced, how and by who it was transported and stored, how it was deployed and by exactly what piece of equipment was used to deploy it; every area where it was used and the probability of being spread by rivers and waterways, and what happened to the product that was never used and if, and when it was destroyed and by what means.
Second, we have victims that have to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange, prove that the toxin is responsible for their particular ailment, prove even if exposure was minimal, that exposure to other toxins that were used or stored on military bases, overseas or here at home, did or didn’t compound their poor health condition, and provide the Veterans Administration or a court with irrefutable facts from records that are nearly impossible to locate and medical diagnosis’ that can’t be 100% proven without access to a million dollar medical research laboratory.
Third, we have lives that have been totally destroyed because of the exposure to Agent Orange and other toxins that were admittedly transported to, stored on or destroyed at 1400 known military locations (Air Force report), but nobody really knows if this list is complete. It was just a few years ago we learned of Agent Orange being used or dumped in South Korea, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, Guam, and elsewhere. The link to Agent Orange is irrefutable and has so far been associated with prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT-form of skin blisters), peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. This list now includes B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease, these last three having been added on August 31, 2010.
Early-on it seems the Veterans Administration was more open to claims of Agent Orange exposure and related health problems, but as a longer time elapses and more people are being diagnosed with an abnormally high rate of unexplainable illnesses, we have seen an increasing adversarial relationship forming from those who have been commission to protect the veterans and provide needed services. It is bad enough when “goal posts” of medical coverage are being moved as more and more veterans are needing help, but when promises made to those who served their country are outright being stolen, then it is time to take a stand.
One of the letters I receive from a veteran is heart breaking as he has struggled for years to get recognition that his deteriorating health condition is the cause of Agent Orange and possibly other toxins that have been reported on bases where he was subsequently stationed after Vietnam. “Your proposal for a strong consolidated action group or voting block is the way to go. Just today had blood drawn and will have current PSA results tomorrow. The VA has agreed to provide care at long last and maybe too late to make a difference, but I’m also using a civilian doctor to verify and give a second opinion concerning my condition. This is the greatest effort we, as Veterans have to face in the war that we carry everyday with those who made the promise to us of. I have carried no hatred, bitterness or negative energy into this battle. I do not believe it would have changed the outcome. It would only have changed the outcome of “me.”
Searches have been made high and low for a promise made to veterans about “health care for life”. It has been a recruiting slogan for every branch of the military. From the armies of George Washington to current military recruitment we have a vast litany of rhetoric making such a promise. President Abraham Lincoln said, “our mission to care for those who serve in the military who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan.” All of this sounds good, but the fact is, nothing was contractually promised to veterans. It has all been a big lie.
It’s the promise of politicians who want us to think they are keeping a promise to veterans or want us to think some other politician isn’t keeping a promise. It is a “political posture”.We also want to believe our country will care for those who return from the fields of battle with physical and psychological wounds. Anything else would not befit the standards we have set for ourselves as Americans.
Following his service in the Marine Corps Ed Mattson built a diverse career in business in both sales/marketing and management. He is a medical research specialist and published author. His latest book is Down on Main Street: Searching for American Exceptionalism
Ed is currently Development Director of the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program, Fundraising Coordinator for the Warrior2Citizen Project, and Managing Partner of Center-Point Consultants in North Carolina.
Mr. Mattson is a noted speaker and has addressed more than 3000 audiences in 42 states and 5 foreign countries. He has been awarded the Order of the Sword by American Cancer Society, is a Rotarian Paul Harris Fellow and appeared on more than 15 radio and television talk-shows.