Forgotten Veterans and the Legacy of Agent Orange

by Diane Dimond on September 30, 2013

MSgt Foster on Left, Sgt Ralph Stanton on Right

For this Band of Brothers the Vietnam War never ended. Forty years after the fighting stopped they continue their struggle to be recognized as part of the unenviable group poisoned by the deadly herbicide Agent Orange.

These men who dedicated years to the U.S. military were stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. In the mid-60’s it was an important stop-over on the way to warzones in Southeast Asia. B-52 bombing missions targeting the Viet Cong – with names like Operation Arc Light and Operation Linebacker II — were launched from Andersen. Two years after the conflict the base became a way-stop for more than 100-thousand Vietnamese refugees seeking a new life in America.

Andersen AFB was a well-oiled machine thanks to the dedicated soldiers stationed there. Two of those men – Master Sargent LeRoy Foster and Sargent Ralph Stanton – found each other late in life and began to compare their multitude of similar health problems.

MSgt Foster (R) Musters Out of Air Force 1978

MSgt Foster served at Andersen from 1968 to 1978 as a Fuels Specialists assigned to the 43rd Supply Squadron. Part of his duties, he told me, was to get rid of the vegetation and weeds on the base. Foster says Agent Orange – which contains deadly TCDD dioxin – was among the herbicides he regularly mixed and loaded into his 750 gallon trailer-mounted sprayer. Back then no one knew how deadly it was.

Sgt Stanton worked at Andersen’s fuels maintenance shop. He says he remembers the skinny little Foster always driving by, spraying herbicides that left him and his fellow soldiers with a stomach or head ache. Stanton also recalls using discarded 55 gallon Agent Orange barrels to burn off excess fuels. He showed me photographs of an old herbicide drum he had fashioned into a BBQ for cook-outs.

Today, both these men – and approximately 270 others once based in Guam — have applied with the Veterans Administration for Agent Orange benefits. Many of their diseases are found on the VA’s official list of 15 ailments recognized as being tied to Agent Orange exposure. Among them: Hodgkin’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, prostate or respiratory cancers, soft tissue sarcoma, diabetes mellitus (Type 2), chronic B-cell leukemia, ischemic heart disease and Chloracne, an oily, painful condition of cysts and pustules that erupt on cheeks, arms, chest and groin areas. Although the VA’s rules say the benefit of the doubt should always go to the diagnosed veteran fewer than a dozen Guam-based vets have been granted benefits. Why?

DOD – No Surviving Records, No Benefits

Here’s the rub. The Defense Department has long maintained – and told me again last week – that there are no surviving records to prove that Agent Orange was ever sent to Guam. No proof, no benefits — except in the case of about nine claimants, including MSgt Foster. He stands as a modern-day, human Catch 22. The DOD denies he could have been exposed to Agent Orange on Guam yet the VA has awarded him disability payments specifically tied to the deadly herbicide’s effects. Foster never set foot in Vietnam.

MSgt Foster told me he thinks his claim was approved because he’s been so vocal. He has sent mountains of compelling research and sad testimonials to Congress. He has testified before House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees in 2010 and again in 2012. He has written directly to President Obama asking that personnel stationed on Guam be given the automatic benefits awarded to soldiers who had boots on the ground in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Foster told me he is motivated by the overwhelming guilt he feels for spraying the poison at Andersen for so many years.

Guam Vets Say These Barrels at Anderesen Included Agent Orange

As I researched this story I discovered it is not just the veterans who believe Agent Orange was used on Guam. In 2008, the legislature of Guam passed a resolution asking the Congress to include the island on the list of those locations due benefits under the “Agent Orange Equity Act” saying, “The VA procedures have resulted in an unjustified withholding of benefits for military and civilian workers in staging areas for the Vietnam War such as Guam through which military personnel, munitions, equipment and supplies – including herbicides containing Agent Orange — were shipped.” The resolution has been ignored.

A Public Health Report issued by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in 2002 reported water and dioxin soil contamination at Andersen AFB was an astronomical 19,000 ppm (parts per million). The EPA puts the safe level at below 1 part per billion. Even today, Andersen remains on the EPA’s Superfund contamination list. Currently, there is a population of about 8,000 living at Andersen with another 5,000 Marines set to be transferred in soon.

I found another compelling outside opinion in financial advisory reports for potential investors in Monsanto and Dow Chemical, two manufacturers of Agent Orange. The 2004 report stated, “Soldiers stationed on Guam who handled Agent Orange have become ill and symptoms of TCCD (dioxin) poisoning are apparent in the general population of the island as well.” Indeed, Guam does have a higher than normal cancer rate, especially rare leukemia-type cancers in children.

Foster’s Granddaughter – Extra Toes and Fingers

The saddest part of this story to me has to do with the birth defects reported in children born to these Andersen vets. Foster says his daughter was a victim and her child, Foster’s granddaughter, was born with twelve toes and fingers and is feared to be autistic. These birth defects mirror what has happened to generations of children born in Vietnam.

The latest Institute of Medicine report on Veterans and Agent Orange says more study is needed on the question of “paternally transmitted effects to off spring.”

It has been 40 years and these vets wonder how much longer it will it take. Many believe the VA is engaged in a program of, “Deny, deny until they die.”

I find it hard to argue with that.

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Read more on this topic here via The Daily Beast.com

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 11:49 am

Reader Wilfredo Ayala writes:

“HI DIANE, MY NAME IS WILFREDO AYALA, CALL ME WIL. I WAS STATIONED ON GUAM TOO. I TOO WAS EXPOSED TO AGENT ORANGE ON GUAM. I VISITED ANDERSON AFB TO SEE THE B-52’S UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL. I WENT INSIDE ONE. I ATE AND DRANK BEVERAGES ON THE BASE WHILE VISITING IT THAT DAY. HERE’S THE RUB, I WAS STATIONED AT NAVAL STATION GUAM, AT SPECIAL SERVICES. WE TOO HAD JUNGLE GROWTH ENCROACHMENT. AND YES I SPRAYED HERBICIDES ALL OVER THE SPECIAL SERVICES COMPOUND. I USED TO GET BACK TO THE BARRACKS COVERED IN THE STUFF FROM HEAD TO TOE. I WAS 20-21 YEARS OLD. I AM NOW 65. I HAVE DIABETES II AND A HOST OF COMORBID SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED SECONDARILY TO THIS DISEASE. I KNOW HOW THE US NAVY GOT AHOLD OF AGENT ORANGE ON GUAM.

THE NAVY IS STEEPED IN TRADITIONS THAT GO BACK SINCE BEFORE WE WERE A NATION. WE COPIED THEM FROM THE BRITISH NAVY, NATURALLY. ONE OF THESE TRADITIONS STILL IN USE TODAY IS CALLED ‘KUMSHAW OR CUMSHAW’. THERE IS A NAVAL COMMAND IN WASH. D.C. THAT DEALS SPECIFICALLY WITH THE HERITAGE OF THE US NAVY. PLEASE CHECK THEM OUT AND VERIFY THE DEFINITION OF KUMSHAW. THE DEFINITION AMOUNTS TO A CENTURIES OLD TRADITION OF A BARTERING SYSTEM THAT LEAVES NO RECORDS. IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU ARE A NAVAL VESSEL OF WAR OR A MERCHANT VESSEL CARRYING AGENT ORANGE!!!!!!!!!

LETS SAY YOUR VESSEL PULLS IN TO NAVSTA GUAM AND I ASK YOU WHAT YOU ARE CARRYING, THEN I SAY I NEED A 100 BARRELS OF THAT TO KILL SOME JUNGLE…..I ASK WHAT YOU WANT TO TRADE FOR….YOU SAY ‘STAKES, BEER, WHATEVER….DONE DEAL. AGENT ORANGE ON GUAM!!! THE NAVY AND DOD KNOWS THIS. PLEASE LIGHT A FIRE UNDER THEM USING THIS INFORMATION. THANKS, WIL.”

pj jones December 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

My family (myself as a dependent) were at Naval Station Guam 1968-1970 living in South Tipalao. My first son born in 1977 was born with a congenital heart defect and clubbed feet, both AO-related defects. He passed away at 6 mos. 9 days old from the heart defect. There is no justice for our military or their dependents who were on Guam and ultimately drank the proverbial herbicidal Kool-Aid. #Joshua’s life mattered!

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 11:55 am

Reader Harald Borsch writes:

“Why not comment on all the Veterans stationed in Thailand that are being denied benefits because they can not prove they worked near the perimeter of the base…”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I’m looking into doing another piece on this subject, Harald. Not only do vets from Thailand complain the VA is not receptive to their health benefits claims – so do vets who were stationed on Johnson Island, Subic Bay, Okinawa and other Vietnam Era military installations.
This column – and the story I wrote for The Daily Beast.com – focused solely on AGENT ORANGE exposure on Guam. I believe many other different types of poisons were widely used by the U.S. Military – including Sarin, Mustard Gas, VX. I have come to think that during the time period between 1955 and 1975 our political and military leaders were engaged in unthinkable campaign of chemical warfare experimentation on foreign soils. They knew it wasn’t safe to do it on our land so they outsourced it to military bases worldwide. Shameful. ~ DD

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:02 pm

Reader Rick Barrett writes:

“I have the same story of exposure of AO and Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. The evidence is in my medical records and the EPA Superfund report.”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:03 pm

Reader Barbara Nell Garcia writes:

“My husband Michael Garcia was station at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam from Oct.1967- Oct.1968 . He work on the air field supplying the planes ( B-52’s ,k c 135,and others ) than went to Vietnam. In 2001 he was diagnose with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, type 2 Diabetes ,and numerous other Diseases. After a 11 year battle he pass a way on 11/11/11 Veterans Day . We filed a claim in Feb. 2011 ,I filed a DIC claim and was denied on both. I was on Guam too, as a Military dependent ,we lived off base in Agana , I was 7 or 8 months pregnant and have my first daughter at the Naval hospital 2/17/1968 , and conceded my second daughter in May 1968,in September I went to the Naval hospital , cramping and bleeding . I was in the hospital for one or two days. The nurses was telling me than there was a abnormal amount of miscarries . We were send back to the states with in a month ( October ) 1967, even those he had another 6 months to be on Guam. “

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Reader Sgt. Harvey Johnson writes:

“Diane,

I too have cancer. I was stationed at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam 1969 to 1971. I found out I had stage 4 cancer of the prostate September 2012. I was on the waiting list trying to get into the VA for 3 years. I really didn’t know I had cancer, but I had lost my job because of an injury and then my wife and myself had no insurance. I was forced on to disability because of my injury with an IPG implanted into my back to relieve pain. Then I received a letter from the VA that I had been excepted and to report to the Carrollton, GA branch for test. That is the day they found I had 5 tumors which were found to be positive. Recently I have completed 45 treatments which took 9 weeks everyday and now on Eligard injections to kill all hormones. The doctors told me they would try to give me a few more years. Too, I have tried to get some results and recognition that this was caused from my exposure to Agent Orange on Guam. I was in the Transportation department, transporting personnel back and forth to the flight line and that included pilots out to their planes day and night all during the missions that were taken place. My daughter too had cancer at the age of 22 and took 5 weeks of radiation for Hodgkin’s which is a by product from me being exposed to the chemical. I tried to get a lawyer to get something done because I am having to pay every time I go to the VA. I have to pay a co-pay for service to get treatment every time I step in the door. They say my cancer is not related to my service connection. So, the lawyer could not help me since I never stepped foot on Viet Nam. They would not even reimburse me for travel expense back and forth for treatment 85 miles round trip for 9 weeks and other test that were being done. I already have paid several thousand dollars out of pocket for treatments and mileage and it never ends.

Just to let you know that there are other veterans going thru the same thing and the government denies any exposure. I have written Ralph Stanton several times for his continuing effort on behalf of all veterans stationed on Guam.

“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” PSALMS 37:25″

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Reader Joe Sipala writes:

“Ms. Diamond,

I recently read your article regarding Agent Orange and Guam veterans that were exposed during the Vietnam war. Thank you.

You should know that Guam is not the only area outside of Vietnam that shipped, stored and sprayed Agent Orange.

I am the owner of the Face Book page “Agent Orange Okinawa”. I/we would be pleased to have you visit this page, as there is substantial information for you to read regarding Agent Orange and other herbicides which were used on Okinawa. Specifically, a recent “hot-spot” discovery of Dioxin was unearthed on property formally owned by the DoD (Kadena AFB).

Please let me know if I can be of more help.”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Noozhawk Reader Publius writes:

“The cycle is always the same.
National emergency.
Patriotism.
Draft or surge in volunteer enlistments.
Our brave heroes. Is
there anything they don’t deserve?
Then the war drags on and on. Or it ends.
Stuff that happened, or stuff we did – Agent Orange – turns out to be not so benign as they’d been told.
Health problems.
Problems focusing.
Military or veterans health establishment.
Delays, paperwork, underfunded budgets, bureaucratic delays.
Small problems become big health issues. Treatable things
progress to chronic conditions.

The news media has moved on. So has Congress. A new generation
of young people are in their neat new uniforms. Those who served before are forgotten, or ignored, or short-changed.

It happened when Hoover ordered Douglas MacArthur to turn his
troops and fire hoses on WW I veterans marching on Washington.

It happened after Viet-Nam. After Desert Storm. After Iraq. Is
still happening now.

Thanks to Dimond for not letting wounded warriors be forgotten
or sloughed off like yesterday’s problem.”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Reader Doug Kelley writes:

“How did herbicides get to Vietnam? Did they go straight there and how did it get in the water and soil on Guam? And how come there are 16, Superfund wells on Guam? That’s one every 6000 feet away on ANDERSON AFB. And why do we have a man that sprayed it, a man that carried it on the truck, a man that inventoried it, a man that stacked it and others that have testified (that it was on Guam). How come we have EPA DOW MONSANTO, NPL AND 2 or 3 scientists, 4 other DRs water/soil samples and at least 10 judges from the VA (that have granted claims) and says IT IS THERE. (Yet the VA says) they don’t have any documents on it. BUT THEY CAN SAY NO to us veterans .”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 12:18 pm

These are all great questions, Doug. I can tell you what the Pentagon told me about how the herbicides got to Vietnam. Their spokesman – who I quote in TheDailyBeast.com piece here:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/the-hero-project/articles/2013/09/25/were-vets-who-served-in-guam-exposed-to-agent-orange-and-denied-benefits.html

…told me that a recent review of all the existing stateside shipment records indicates when the AO left America it went straight to Vietnam making no stops in between.

That’s what he said. No stopping in Guam, Okinawa, Thailand – no place. As I’m sure you probably know the military has long been “records dependant” and if something isn’t proveable by paper later down the road they easily dismiss its very existance. ~ DD

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Twitter Pal Nickidewbear writes:

“@DiDimond They never gave a Purple Heart to my great-granduncle Bernie, and he died from his war injuries. So, I’m sadly not surprised.”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Twitter Pal MeJesi writes:

“@DiDimond the shutdown will only make this worse! We can’t stand 4 this!”

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Reader Larry W. Raines, Msgt. USAFR (ret) writes:

“I read with interest your article regarding AO exposure on Guam. The story is strikingly similar to that of A.F. Reservists that worked on C-123k spray planes that had returned from VietNam and put to use by the A.F. Reserve here in the U.S. Below are links to information regarding the C-123 veterans experience .

We published the C-123 Agent Orange book in two formats, free for easy download:

• iPad: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/c-123-veterans-va-blocks-agent/id680418307?mt=11

• Kindle: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/11413053/C-123%20Kindle.pdf

Diane Dimond September 30, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Facebook Friend Bill Voinovich writes:

“As soon as they have served their purpose, the government kicks them to the curb without giving them a SECOND THOUGHT………
THAT’S pretty evident by the way all the vets are treated when they REALLY need something…”

Jim Reynolds October 2, 2013 at 2:50 am

Diane: Can’t thank or praise you enough for your persistence in being a champion for veterans rights. With you in our corner, our “voice” will always be heard. God love you!

Bruce K. Tomlinson October 5, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Ms. Dimond~ I too was stationed on Guam at the Naval Air Station during the “window” of time noted in you aticle and now at 58 yrs. old have come down with Amyloidosis and am being treated at the UNMH Cancer Center. Trying to figure out how, where, and when? Your article and the enclosed comments are very eerie as I read and relate- scary stuff! At least I now know how which doesn’t make the symptoms any easier to take but I will be heading to the VA here in Albuquerque to seek some remuneration for my condition thanks to your article. Are there any other agencies or entities that can help us vets deal with (prove to the VA) the VA to receive our compensation without the run around that one can expect from the VA? Thank You! Bruce K. Tomlinson

Diane Dimond October 5, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Reader Bruce Tomlinson writes:

“Ms. Dimond~ I too was stationed on Guam at the Naval Air Station during the “window” of time noted in you aticle and now at 58 yrs. old have come down with Amyloidosis and am being treated at the UNMH Cancer Center. Trying to figure out how, where, and when? Your article and the enclosed comments are very eerie as I read and relate- scary stuff! At least I now know how which doesn’t make the symptoms any easier to take but I will be heading to the VA here in Albuquerque to seek some remuneration for my condition thanks to your article. Are there any other agencies or entities that can help us vets deal with (prove to the VA) the VA to receive our compensation without the run around that one can expect from the VA? Thank You!”

Diane Dimond October 5, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Reader Barbara Garcia writes:

“Thank you , on your article about Agent Orange and Guam. My husband was there in 1967-1968 at Andersen Air Base. He died on 11/11/11 after a 11 year battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma ,type 2 diabetes, and liver cancer. I believe Agent orange killed him.”

Dave October 20, 2013 at 8:25 pm

What about the other toxins that have leached into the air, soil and water on Guam? What about all the other generations that have become sick from this contamination there? I was there in the late 80’s and those pipelines and stations wreaked of herbicide spray. There were years of dumping everything locally on the ground. Years of cleaners and jet fuel leaking on the ground… There are families that drank the water there from contaminated wells and their kids have illnesses from it… Wells contaminated from years of toxic chemicals leaching into the water tables all over the island. People just don’t know about it…. This is worse than Camp LeJeune…

Gerald December 4, 2015 at 8:25 am

I was stationed on okinawa in the USAF in SAC during Arcade Light in 68. I was an Airborne Radio Repairman. I worked on B52s and KC135. I ended up with non Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2004. Has anyone else have a history similar to mine?

Jimmy Criddle September 21, 2016 at 11:22 pm

The AO in Guam most likely came from the Philppines Cubic Point, from there AO was shipped to several countries. The AO came from New Zealand.

Dennis Zenz December 6, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Hello Diane,

Good article.

I would like to contact Jimmy Criddle September 21, 2016 at 11:22 pm about AO in Subic Bay. I was exposed there in 1967.

Beryl Lee January 11, 2017 at 10:35 pm

My husband was stationed in Guam during the late “60’s” at NCS. He died in 1989 from severe acute leukemia. Is there a way that all those affected with AO can come together to get the VA’s attention?

Tsgt. Cleveland Walters May 29, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Hi, Diane ,just wondering if you were still out there keeping up with our fight for disability on agent orange and other herbicides ,about us guys who were stationed at Andersen AFB, Guam. Checkout the interviews of Msgt. Foster and myself. His done on WFTV-ABC Channel 8, aired January and my on 12NewsNow ,Beaumont, Texas ,aired 22 February with Foster in it too.

Diane Dimond May 31, 2017 at 11:17 am

Yes! Thank you for the heads up, Sgt. Walters. And thank you and all the others for your brave service to our country!

Martin Wayne Vaughn August 13, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Hey, I have a question, I was wondering if there was a list of Buffs somewhere, that had dropped Agent Orange? Thanks, Wayne…

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