Monday, January 28, 2013

Exclusive: Who is the Real John Kerry?


John Kerry's Vietnam days (Kerry is in the back row, center)
Watching Sen. John Kerry's somewhat stilted testimony at his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee as he prepares to be approved as the new secretary of state as soon as tomorrow, I was reminded how different this guy is in one-on-one conversations than he is in the public square. I've been a part of some of Kerry's most personal and revealing interviews on record, and I can tell you that, whatever you think of the stoic senator, there are sides of him you're probably never seen.

When I was covering Kerry's 2004 presidential run for Newsweek, for example, I wrote a story titled "Getting Out the Music Lovers," which chronicled Kerry’s efforts to appeal to Southern Democrats. During the telephone interview for that story, Kerry apparently Googled my name and clicked on my music website (I had a national record deal at the time). Just as I was about to ask him a campaign-related question, he interrupted me and said, "Wait a minute, Jamie. Is this you, the country singer with the guitar that I see here?"

It caught me off guard, but I felt obligated to reply. "Yes, senator, that's me," I said. "I have another life as a singer-songwriter. But I'm not really country, I'm more rock."

"Oh, I see," he said. "So with your musical pursuits, where do you find time to write for Newsweek?" 

Clearly more interested in talking music than politics, Kerry proceeded to ask me about my guitar playing, then told me he was learning some country songs, presumably to win more Southern voters. 


At a campaign stop in New York City just days before that interview, Kerry had broken out into a performance of the Johnny Cash classic Ring of Fire after being handed a guitar. So I asked him if he was goin' country.

He laughed. "Jamie, I'll tell anyone who will listen how much I enjoy playing Ring of Fire," he said. I thought to myself, "This is not the same pretentious politico I saw the other day on C-Span." The conversation revealed a side of Kerry I didn't know or expect, a lighthearted, music-loving side. It made me wonder: who is the real John Kerry?

In a more serious but equally revealing Newsweek story I co-wrote that same campaign year titled “Kerry and Agent Orange," the senator talked for the first time about his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam, and recalled his lifelong friendship with Giles Whitcomb, a Naval Intelligence officer who served with Kerry.


Whitcomb, who died in 1988 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the same cancer I've battled for the last 16 years, had along with Kerry been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. Kerry pressured the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure that Whitcomb's widow received full veterans’ benefits after his death. 

It took a generation for VA to admit there is a link between Agent Orange and many types of cancer. Kerry, a survivor of prostate cancer, which like lymphoma has also been linked to Agent Orange, has been a champion for veterans with VA claims, and he always gets emotional when he talks about Whitcomb. This is another side of him the public doesn't often see.


In an interview for a San Diego Magazine story I wrote titled “An End of Innocence,” Kerry was particularly candid and unguarded. He shared with me what his life was like during military training in San Diego in 1968, fondly recalling those carefree days drinking beer in Mexico with his buddies, surfing at Windansea Beach in La Jolla, and riding his bike around Coronado.

“My best memory of living in San Diego was surfing, without a doubt,” Kerry told me. “There was such a dichotomy between what we were preparing for - combat - and what we were able to do in this beautiful place in between. We used to just surf until we dropped. We were already tired from survival training in the mountains. We’d finish the day drinking the best beer I’ve ever tasted.”

Kerry also told me in that interview that he was a bit of a thrill-seeker back then. A pilot, he said he especially enjoyed “herding cows” from his plane.

“That’s the single best memory of flying in San Diego: me and my friend David Thorne coming out of the clouds in this little plane, flying right over the fields and herding the cows, sending the cows running,” he said. “We really had a good time being foolish sometimes. It was such a great way to just lose focus and put away the real world for a while.”


At the same time he was surfing, drinking beers and herding cows, Kerry was also preparing to return to Vietnam for his second tour, which he says changed him as a person and made him more cynical. That second tour planted the seeds for the controversial anti-war demonstrations he participated in after he came home. 


Kerry, who was awarded three Purple Hearts in Vietnam, as well as the Bronze Star and the Silver Star, told me that San Diego will always have special meaning for him. "It was the place where I spent those last days before I ended up going off to a very different war than the one I’d known during my first tour of duty," he said.


Several years after that interview, in a Newsweek story I wrote about Kerry's daughter Alexandra titled “The Book on John Kerry,” she told me how frustrating it has been for her that her father is so often mischaracterized by the press and misunderstood by the public.


“I know who he is, “ Alexandra said. "So it's odd to know someone, to know his character and his layers, and then see him portrayed in such two-dimensional ways.”


I, too, have come to know a different John Kerry than the man the public sees. The common perception? He's a bit of a stiff. But in conversations, I've found Kerry to be much warmer and more relaxed, with a great sense of humor. He can even be goofy and self deprecating. 


During that 2004 presidential race, Kerry endured more than his share of verbal assaults from the so-called Swift Vets and POWs for Truth and others. He told me he wasn't bothered by the character attacks, but the pain in his voice said otherwise. Kerry served honorably in Vietnam and was clearly hurt by the lies that were being told about him. 


Kerry and I always maintained that journalist-subject distance; we never became friends. But we did establish a mutual trust. He opened up to me and shared sides of himself that I don’t think he's shared with many reporters. In my interactions with him he's been far from the aloof character many describe. He is indeed layered, and surprisingly funny.


But make no mistake: despite his opposition 40 years ago to the Vietnam War, a war that millions of Americans now believe was a huge mistake, Kerry is no dove. He understands the real threats to America that exist around the world. Namely Iran. And he will make a tremendous secretary of state. Even more than president, this is the job he's really prepared for his entire adult life. 


And given the travel demands of his new job, I suspect he’ll have plenty of time to brush up on his guitar. Maybe he can even teach Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a few chords, though a duet of Kumbaya is probably off the table.

Friday, January 25, 2013

HOW I SURVIVED MULTIPLE BLOOD CLOTS!


Coumadin for blood clots
Last summer, as I was nearing the end of a grueling three-set tennis match in 90-degree heat, I felt a very sharp pain in my left side, below my heart, and then just collapsed on the court. It was easily the most painful thing I've ever experienced. I could barely move. 

I wasn't sure if it was a heart attack, a ruptured spleen, a tumor, or what. All I knew is that it hurt like heck and that it was probably something serious. With the help of my tennis partner, I made it to the car and then to Sharp Memorial Hospital, where, after a bunch of blood tests and scans, the ER doctors discovered the problem: multiple blood clots in both lungs. 

The doctors at Sharp were amazing: very thorough and truly compassionate. When they told me the news, I was shocked and a little frightened. I spent a few days in the hospital, where I was treated very well, and the pain finally subsided in a week or so. I fully recovered. And ever since I've been taking something called Coumadin, which I now know is one of the most prescribed drugs in the United States and the number one most prescribed anticoagulant or “blood thinner.” 

I don't generally like taking meds, but Coumadin is literally a lifesaver. It's a very popular drug because blood clots are unfortunately very common. They occur for a variety of reasons. For me, it was likely related to the fact that I'm a three-time survivor of stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma who still has some cancer in my body. 


Many famous folks have survived blood clots, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently had a blood clot in the vein between the brain and and the skull behind her right ear. She, too, is on anticoagulant medication and, if her fiery testimony this week before the House and Senate on the Benghazi matter is any indication, she, too, has made a full recovery. 


I've learned that millions of people have survived blood clots and happily moved on with their lives. But when it first happened to me, I naturally had questions and concerns. When I went on Coumadin, one of my biggest fears was consuming too much Vitamin K, which the ER doctors told me can interfere with the effectiveness of Coumadin. An increase in Vitamin K can influence the time it takes for blood to clot (this is measured by a simple blood test called INR, or International Normalized Ratio). 


I was not on a multivitamin for the first few months I was on Coumadin, and my INR number was stable (it should be between 2 and 3). I wanted to start taking a multivitamin for obvious health reasons, but I was worried about how it would impact my INR. It seems every vitamin I looked at contained Vitamin K.


If you take a daily multivitamin with vitamin K or other nutrients that alter your INR, your Coumadin dose must be adjusted accordingly. This can be dangerous because missing a dose, stopping the multivitamin, changing the brand or even just changing formulations within the same brand can result in dangerous fluctuations of INR and should be accompanied by a trip to your area Coumadin clinic (my clinic here at the University of California San Diego is staffed by good people who've helped me every step of the way). 


Anyway, I was going to go on a multivitamin and just deal with the possibility of having to adjust my Coumadin dose. But then I discovered K Free Daily, a new multivitamin designed for people like me who have to take Coumadin. Unlike most vitamins on the market, K Free Daily contains no vitamin K, no niacin and less vitamin C and E than other multivitamins. These are the ingredients that evidenced-based research proves can change your INR.


When I find a new product, before I take it I typically like to go right to the folks who created it. So I contacted the developers of the vitamin, Aric Isaacson, a retail pharmacist, and Ashley Cohen, a clinical registered dietitian, and asked them a bunch of questions. They were both kind, receptive and knowledgable. 

Aric told me he and Ashley just wanted to do something positive for the many people they've met met who, like me, are taking Coumadin. He said patients can start or stop taking K Free Daily at any time during Coumadin therapy without having to get their INR checked and their Coumadin dose adjusted. They can also consume more Vitamin K from their diet without fear of going over the recommended daily allowance.  

“All multivitamins we studied, even those marketed specifically for this exact patient population, contain ingredients that have been clinically proven to increase or decrease INR in patients who are otherwise stable,” Aric said. “As health care professionals working closely with this patient population, this really scared us and drove us to come up with an original and unique multivitamin formula that poses no risk to these patients while still providing them with all the physical and mental benefits of a complete multivitamin.”

It may sound like a small thing, but it isn't. Finding this unique new multivitamin has boosted my comfort level. The folks at my Coumadin clinic told me that taking K Free Daily would be fine; they gave me the green light. 

Bottom line? While blood clots are potentially dangerous and can even be fatal, they are treatable, and preventable with medication. I no longer let the fear of blood clots get in the way of living my life. And here's the happy kicker: A few weeks after I went to ER with all those pesky blood clots in my lungs, my tennis pal and I finally finished that marathon tennis match. Guess who won?



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

ROUTE 66: THE LEGENDARY HIGHWAY'S ENDURING INFLUENCE ON POP CULTURE

In 1946, up-and-coming composer Bobby Troup left his home in Harrisburg, Penn., and headed west. Traveling with his wife in their used Buick, Troup hoped to sell some of his new tunes in California. Little did he know that the drive itself would be the inspiration for Troup's most memorable and successful song.

As they cruised along U.S. Highway 66, Troup told his wife he wanted to write a song about the trip. She threw him the line, "Get your kicks on Route 66." That stuck in his head as he began to construct his musical travelogue. When he arrived in Los Angeles and met with Nat King Cole, Troop nervously sat down at the piano and played the half-written song. 


The rest is history. The song became a huge hit for Nat, spending two months on the pop charts and elevating him from well-known jazz pianist to superstar pop singer.

A great American travel story set to music, (Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 is one of the hippest, catchiest and most enduring songs in American popular music history. Recently called one of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century by National Public Radio, Troup's tune, which lists in fun and creative fashion many of the cities through which the highway runs, has since been recorded by everyone from Chuck Berry, the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison to Manhattan Transfer, Depeche Mode and Cole's supremely talented daughter Natalie Cole.


Troup went on to write such hits as The Girl Can't Help It for Little Richard and also established himself as a skilled jazz pianist and actor, playing Tommy Dorsey in The Gene Krupa Story in 1959 and Dr. Joe Early in the 1970s NBC drama Emergency. But he'll always be remembered as the guy who wrote that affectionate, swingin' tribute to the legendary two-lane highway, which remains a metaphor for the American dream.


But Troup's song is only part of the story. It's virtually impossible to overstate the impact Route 66 has had on America's popular culture. Once the gateway to the west and a symbol of freedom and the open road, Route 66 saw the beginnings of its demise with the Interstate Highway Act of 1956. But many communities along its path are working now to preserve the famed highway, and much credit for that has to go to all the songs, books, television shows, movies and video games about America's Main Street.


For nearly a century, artists of all kinds have helped keep Route 66 alive in America's consciousness. Humorist Will Rogers, born near Claremore, Oklahoma along 66, was deeply connected to the highway and in 1928 greeted runners in the Bunion Derby, a foot race sponsored by the U.S. Highway 66 Association to bring more publicity to the new road. 


And author John Steinbeck dubbed 66 "The Mother Road" in his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath, the gripping account of the migrant farmers of the Dust Bowl who left on Route 66 for California's San Joaquin Valley in search of a better life.

Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and the subsequent acclaimed 1940 film of the same name, which starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad, the book's heroic main character who traveled Route 66 westward, cemented the highway in American hearts and minds as a place where you can find adventure and opportunity and reinvent yourself.


Steinbeck's story also proved inspiring to folk singer Woody Guthrie, who was born in Okemah, Oklahoma, also a city along 66. Guthrie sang about the road and its travelers timeless American worker songs such as The Ballad of Tom Joad, which includes the poignant passage, "They stood on a mountain and they looked to the west, and it looked like the promised land. That bright green valley with a river running through, there was work for every single hand, they thought, there was work for every single hand."


Steinbeck's book and, presumably, Guthrie's song even inspired Bruce Springsteen to write the dark, haunting The Ghost of Tom Joad, which includes the line, "The highway is alive tonight, but nobody's kiddin' nobody about where it goes. I'm sittin' down here in the campfire light, with the ghost of old Tom Joad."


Route 66 is also said to be the inspiration for Jack Keruoac's classic beat generation tome On the Road. Though he never mentions the highway by name in the book, Keruoac did threaten to sue the producers of the Route 66 TV show because he thought it was based not loosely enough on his book. Keruoac also apparently didn't like the fights between the show's two main characters, Buz and Tod.


But the lawsuit was never filed, and the TV show became a hit. Debuting on CBS in October, 1960, Route 66 show told the story of  sheltered, privileged Tod Stiles' (Martin Milner), whose father dies and leaves him a new Corvette but little money, and his buddy Buzz Murdock (George Maharis), who had a rougher childhood and was more street-wise.


The two buddies take off in the car to discover America, and themselves, along the legendary highway. Entertaining and slightly ahead of its time, Route 66 was at times brilliant, other times just routine drama. Nelson Riddle's theme song for the show became a hit in 1962 and is still played as background music on many documentaries


The highway has permeated our popular culture. The acclaimed animated Pixar film Cars was about a forgotten town along 66. A touching and wonderfuly written movie, Cars is a wonderful tribute to the Mother Road.


The Inland Empire 66ers, a minor league baseball team in San Bernadino, took their name from Route 66, which ran through San Bernadino. There's even a Sega video game called The King of Route 66, which features such iconic California 66 stops as the Baghdad Cafe, the Wigwam Village in Rialto, and the Santa Monica Pier.


In the game, you battle in your 18-wheeler with the evil Tornado Corporation and their army of goons while you try to win the hearts of the beautiful queens of the road. The idea is to smash and destroy your rivals and become the king of the road as you tackle that historic drive to California. Probably not what Bobby Troup had in mind. But hey, at least they're still talking about 66, the Mother Road.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

CHILLING TESTIMONY: DESIGN FLAWS AT CALIFORNIA NUCLEAR PLANT PUT MILLIONS IN DANGER

San Onofre nuclear power plant - inhabitat.com
The operator of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California made critical errors in the design of the plant's replacement steam generators and, as a result, the public was put in great danger last year, according to expert testimony Wednesday by an internationally renowned nuclear engineer at a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) hearing.

The chilling testimony, which was presented to the NRC Petitions Review Board, was accompanied by evidence showing that plant operator Southern California Edison should have been required to go through a license amendment process before installing the new steam generators in 2009 and 2010.

The nuclear expert, Arnie Gundersen, a consultant to Friends of the Earth, explained to the NRC that the design changes proposed by Edison created a dangerously high level of steam at the top of all four replacement steam generators. These changes created conditions causing vibration that a year ago led to severe damage to the thousands of tubes inside the steam generators in both San Onofre reactors. 

As a result, some of the radioactive steam was released into the atmosphere. The nuclear power plant has been shut down ever since.

“Nearly a decade ago, when Edison was designing these defective steam generators, it should have been obvious to them that this combination of radical changes required a license review,” said Gundersen on Wednesday. “If Edison had assessed the design changes correctly at that time, the flaws in the design and their consequences, including high void fraction and fluid elastic instability, would have been discovered.”

Edison, which wants to reboot the plant, installed the new steam generators at an expected cost to ratepayers of $670 million. The radically redesigned generators should have operated for decades, but they have rapidly deteriorated in less than two years as thousands of tubes were worn and damaged by rattling and clashing with each other and support structures.

“Edison played fast and loose by making radical design changes and ducking the rules,” Kendra Ulrich, nuclear campaigner with Friends of the Earth, said on Wednesday. “The result was the most rapid breakdown of such replacement steam generators in the history of the U.S. nuclear industry. If Edison had followed the rules, an NRC license review would have found these glaring defects, and the lives and livelihoods of millions of people would not have been put at risk nor would hundreds of millions of dollars have been squandered."


Monday, January 14, 2013

World Exclusive: The Last Americans to Leave Vietnam

Do you remember the dramatic footage of American soldiers and South Vietnamese citizens evacuating from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, Vietnam on April 30, 1975? As a teen, I watched the riveting news reports of that evacuation and wondered who was on the very last helicopter to leave the embassy roof. Who were the very last American troops to officially leave Vietnam? 

That question lingered in my mind for two decades. And in 1994, as a correspondent for People magazine, I embarked on a journalistic mission to become the first person to identify the men on that very last chopper. These men were a part of history, yet the U.S. military never compiled an official list of their names. It wasn’t easy tracking them all down. It took a bit of detective work. But I was resolute. After nearly a month, I found them. It was a world exclusive of which I'm still proud. 


The magazine flew every member of that crew who could make it to San Diego for a highly emotional reunion that I was honored to hostThat was the first time these Marines - most of them guards at the embassy - had been together since that horrific day on the embassy roof. 


What I did not know until I started interviewing them was that they all thought they'd been left behind and that they would likely die on that roof that night. They waited for hours for that final helicopter to come while the embassy beneath them and the city around them crumbled.

When the producers of the play Miss Saigon read my story in People, they called me and invited all these Marines, and me, to the Washington DC premiere of the play at the Kennedy Center. The play, which puts the Madame Butterfly story into a Vietnam context, has a scene at the end that poignantly depicts the helicopter escape by these American Marines.

It was, appropriately, my first visit to Washington. I could not have felt more patriotic and more proud to bring these guys together, again. We all met up before the play at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, better known as The Wall, which most of them had surprisingly not seen. There wasn't a dry eye among these tough Marines at The Wall as they read the names of buddies lost, or when they watched the final scene of Miss Saigon. 



Miss Saigon 
They were watching their own life up on that stage. Afterward, the ranking and most vociferous member of the group, Maj. Jim Kean, commented on the fact that one of his men on that helicopter, S.Sgt. Robert Frain, had reportedly killed himself in 1993 after a battle with depression. My assumption is that Frain may have had post-traumatic stress (PTSD) from his Vietnam days. But I don’t know for certain. 
"I really miss Bobby," Kean told me that day at The Wall, his voice cracking. "I wish he was here with us."
Now here we are again, in another protracted war that many insist is not winnable. The war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history, and whether you think we should stay or go, it's hard not to think about the possibility of the Taliban violently storming the country just as the North Vietnamese did when the Americans left Vietnam. 

As I've written before, our brave and confident troops think they can train the Afghans in time to restore order and keep the Taliban down by the time we leave in 2014. When the last American warriors do leave Afghanistan, I'll be thinking about those men in Saigon 35 years ago, the last to leave Vietnam, and what they saw as they looked out that heli's window: a city, and country, in ruins and being taken over by the bad guys. 


The hope among American military and its allies, and all of us, is that we will leave Afghanistan in a much better state than what we left behind in Vietnam. Regardless, we've been there long enough. It’s time to bring our men and women home. All of them. And, most importantly, we must support them after they come home.

Friday, January 11, 2013

EXCLUSIVE: BIRTH DEFECTS INCREASING AMONG CHILDREN OF OUR TROOPS

Yet another tragic consequence of war has emerged, but most Americans don't even know about it. Children of American veterans face a much higher risk of birth defects than the general population, according to Birth Defect Research for Children (BDRC), a non-profit organization that provides parents with information about birth defects and support services for their children.

BDRC, which created The National Birth Defect Registry and has been tracking birth defects and developmental disabilities among children of U.S. military veterans since 1990, says incidents of birth defects in that population are tragically on the rise. And now the organization is asking the public for help in garnering support for a research center to study the phenomena.


BDRC has started a petition urging the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) to establish a research center to identify how toxic chemical exposures may have triggered birth defects in veterans’ children and provide state-of-the-art diagnosis and treatment.


Betty Mekdeci, BDRC’s tireless founder and executive director,  says veterans are dying, but even more tragically, the children they’ve left behind are suffering. 


"But we don't know where to send these folks for treatment," she says. "That's what this petition is all about. If more people knew this was going on, I believe they would support what we are doing. Americans are very supportive of our troops. This is the very least we owe them: to take care of their children."


BDRC was the first organization to discover birth defects in children of Gulf War veterans way back in 1992. Recent peer-reviewed scientific studies confirm that hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans were exposed to toxic chemicals while deployed. 


A 1997 study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research showed that among Gulf War veterans' children, the birth defect rate is more than seven percent at birth. The normal birth defect rate, Mekdeci notes, is 2 to 3 percent at birth.


Here are just some of the published papers that have found links between service in the Gulf War and birth defects:


          1997 Teratology – Aranetta - tripling of Goldenhar Syndrome in Gulf War veteran infants born in military hospitals.

          2001 Ann of Epidemiology – Kang – increased reporting of birth defects significantly associated with military service in the Gulf War.

          2003 Birth Defects Research – Aranetta – higher prevalence of tricuspid valve insufficiency, aortic valve stenosis and renal agenesis in infants conceived postwar by Gulf War veteran fathers; hypospadias in boys born to Gulf War veteran mothers.

          2004 Internat. J. of Epidemiology – Doyle – increased risk of miscarriage, malformations of genital system, urinary system, digestive system, musculo-skeletal system and non-chromosome anomalies in children of Gulf War veteran fathers.

And it's not just the Gulf War. Veterans of the Vietnam War have suffered greatly from exposure to toxic chemicals including Agent Orange/dioxin. And veterans who fought more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan, too, have been exposed to a variety of toxic chemicals.


Paul Sullivan, a highly respected veterans advocate who works at Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that solely represents veterans, says toxic exposures are prevalent among our deployed troops because there are no enforceable environmental laws on the battlefield for ingestion, inhalation, or absorption of hazardous chemicals. 


"There was widespread depleted uranium dust contamination of hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members during the 1991 Gulf War," explains Sullivan. "However, the VA has refused to perform long-term, post-deployment scientific medical research on Desert Storm veterans, even though this is a known carcinogen and associated with birth defects in animal studies."


Sullivan notes that the Department of Defense (DoD) also confirms hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members were exposed to low levels of chemical warfare agents, pesticides, experimental pills, massive oil well fire pollution, and other waste in Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. 


"Nearly 2.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were stationed at or near burn pits that destroyed human remains, surgical supplies, plastics, fuel, and other harmful poisons," says Sullivan, who emphasizes that veterans with disabled children should know their legal rights when dealing with the VA.  

"There are two benefit laws applicable to the children of Vietnam War veterans," he says. "Veterans of both genders who have biological children diagnosed with spina bifida may receive VA disability benefits for the child. And biological children of women Vietnam War veterans diagnosed with certain medical conditions may be eligible for VA as well."

VA Regulation 38 CFR 3.815, which lists the medical conditions, can be found at this link.   


"Because battlefields are heavily contaminated, Congress should fund significantly more scientific research into the long-term adverse impacts of military toxic exposures," suggests Sullivan. "And when scientific research finds more associations between toxic exposures and adverse medical conditions among the biological children of our veterans, VA should provide both benefits and treatment."


Mekdeci says that since 1991, thousands of veterans, their spouses, and their children have sent the BDRC poignant, heartbreaking messages about how exposure to chemicals has affected their lives. 

“These families are frustrated because they don’t know where to turn for proper diagnosis and treatment of their children’s disorders," she says. "We want to serve our veterans as they have served us by petitioning for a 'Children's Center' that would be staffed by specialists who would provide free diagnosis and treatment for their serious health conditions and work with their doctors back home to continue care in their own communities.” These children did not sign up to go to war."