|Agent Orange demonstration - veteransforpeace.org|
The government’s flagrant mistreatment of our troops during and after the Vietnam War is nothing less than a national disgrace, and it tragically continues to this day. It's taken 40 years for the feds to acknowledge the deaths and devastation caused by Agent Orange, the deadly herbicide developed by Monsanto to which so many thousands of our troops were exposed. And many Vietnam-era veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals are still fighting for the care they deserve.
A federal judge in Oakland ruled just last week that veterans who were harmed by secret chemical and biological experiments run by the government aren't entitled to medical treatment outside the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical system. As AP reports, some 8,000 U.S. veterans alleged in a lawsuit that VA failed to properly treat health problems caused by these despicable experiments.
The veteran plaintiffs say the feds exposed them to chemical agents, germs and all sorts of drugs in researching how to defend against "nontraditional" weapons attacks. The lawsuit also alleged - and this is something everyone knows is true - that the VA system is so overburdened it can't properly treat veterans now suffering health problems because of their participation in these experiments.
But U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken is unmoved. Last week she rejected most of the veterans' claims by ruling the government has attempted to reach out and offer help to them over the years. This of course is total nonsense, and makes me wonder how Wilken sleeps at night. Our troops deserve so much better. But this is nothing new. This is the way our government has treated Vietnam veterans ever since they came home. They’ve been repeatedly disrespected and dismissed.
All this reminds me of when I was covering former Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry’s presidential campaign for Newsweek in 2004. Not only had Kerry been unfairly maligned for his honorable service in Vietnam, but during that campaign I also stumbled upon a fact no other reporter knew: John Kerry had prostate cancer, and he had been exposed to Agent Orange while skippering a Swift Boat along the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War.
Kerry’s best friend Giles Whitcomb, a Naval Intelligence officer who served alongside Kerry on the delta, was also exposed to Agent Orange, and died in 2003 of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which, like prostate cancer, has been linked to the toxic herbicide. But the VA would not recognize this connection and give Whitcomb’s surviving family the benefits they had earned.
So Kerry stepped in. As I noted in my 2004 profile of Kerry in San Diego Magazine, he assisted Whitcomb’s widow, Susan, in obtaining full veteran’s benefits. In a letter written to VA shortly after Whitcomb’s death, Kerry wrote, “I commanded a PCF 94 in the Mekong Delta. I personally observed the spraying of Agent Orange for the purpose of defoliation on many river banks in the area. ... I hereby testify with absolute certainty that Lieutenant Giles Whitcomb and anyone else in that area of operations was definitely exposed to Agent Orange.”
Kerry does not believe his prostate cancer was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange - despite the fact that medical science has linked them. But he has fought for years to help fellow Vietnam vets suffering from cancer, nerve and skin disorders and other diseases linked by medical science to Agent Orange. He was a chief sponsor of the 1991 legislation that now affords tens of thousands of exposed veterans full benefits for various disabilities.
Bergmann & Moore, a law firm that solely represents veterans with disability claims with the VA, notes on its blog this month that VA has just updated its list of Navy and Coast Guard ships that operated in or near Vietnam during the war. This list "can help Vietnam War veterans find out if they qualify for presumption of Agent Orange exposure when seeking disability compensation for Agent Orange-related diseases,” writes Bergmann & Moore’s Jess Walker.
The disturbingly long list of medical conditions presumed to be associated with Agent Orange, which can be found at VA’s website, include multiple cancers, Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes, and much more.