Time for VA to Wake Up, Pay Up for All Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange

by Diane Dimond on July 6, 2015

Vietnam Vets Returned to Scorn and Ridicule

Vietnam Vets Returned to Scorn and Ridicule

Isn’t it ironic?

In the 70’s Vietnam veterans returned from an unpopular war to society’s scorn and cries of, “Baby killer!” Over the decades, we began to understand they had been brave and selfless and we learned to treat returning vets with understanding and support – wounded or not – as they transition back into society.

Ironically, we never went back to fully support the Vietnam-era vets who taught us the valuable lesson of honoring our warriors.

Last week I wrote about the injustice I believe has been done to Vietnam vets who served in out-of-theater places like Guam and Okinawa who suffer from diseases known to have been caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Veterans Administration loopholes have been invoked to deny them special AO benefits.

Their Ships Off Vietnam Sucked up toxic Agent Orange

Their Ships Off Vietnam Sucked up toxic Agent Orange

I also mentioned briefly, the 200,000 Blue Water vets who served on U.S. Navy vessels off the coast of Vietnam. I should have said more about them but space was limited.

Their warships, floating off the Vietnamese coast, sucked up AO contamination from sea water. The deadly toxin infiltrated their shipboard water purification and ventilation systems. They lived with it every day.

Because so many Vietnam vets contracted AO related diseases Congress passed the Agent Orange Act of 1991. It clearly stated that any veteran who served in the Vietnam Theater from 1962 to 1975 – ashore or afloat – would be eligible for service connected medical treatment and disability benefits if they suffered from one of the 14 diseases connected to the deadly toxin.

Suddenly, in 2002, the VA changed the rules and declared that only those who had “boots on the ground” or in the “Brown Water Navy” (those who patrolled close to shore) would get the special AO benefits.

The VA Needs to

The VA Needs to Wake Up & Pay Up

Since last week my mailbox has seen a steady stream of correspondence from veterans, their families and concerned citizens who are devastated watching their friends spend their last days fighting the VA for benefits unfairly denied.

Bruce Tomlinson, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, quit school at 17 to join the Navy. He wrote to tell me that after his long standing claim for AO benefits was denied he filed an appeal.  Three years later he’s still waiting for an answer.

“When I ask my attorney every other month the status of her correspondence and or my claim status w/the VA she tells me the same thing that I heard in boot camp, ‘Hurry up and just wait,’” Tomlinson said.

Virginia Compton expressed outrage when she wrote to me, ““My brother-in-law, Lt. Col. John B. King, was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War and was exposed to Agent Orange. It took him on December 22, 2006. The Air Force refused to acknowledge the cause of death as being from Agent Orange. His death certificate states he died from complications from pneumonia. RIP …”

A fellow named Schlaff73 wrote to ask me: “Why do we send billions of dollars to country’s (sic) who burn our flag, etc. but we turn our backs on the guys who risked their lives?”

Pending Bills Don't Have to Be Passed to Help Vets

Pending Bills Don’t Have to Be Passed to Help Vets

I don’t have an answer to that question. But I’m sure things could change if Washington got a conscious.

Congress currently has two bills pending (House, HR969 and Senate, S681) to reestablish the original intent of the 1991 Act.  But many believe that since it was the Veterans Administration that suspended the benefits in 2002, the current Secretary of the VA, Bob McDonald, could unilaterally go back to the original coverage.

I recently watched a CBS 60 Minutes segment featuring “Secretary Bob”, as he likes to be called, and his chin quivered and his voice caught when he was asked what he felt he owed veterans.

“This is very personal,” he said, “Because I served with a lot of these guys.” As he struggled to keep composed he spoke of the enduring relationships he had made during his five years in the Army, where he rose to the rank of Captain.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald

VA Secretary Bob McDonald

“Their life is relying on yours. That’s the kind of relationships you create. That’s the kind of relationships that drive me to do this.”

Time to step up to the plate, Bob. I know you inherited the mess that is today’s VA, with its failed hospital and health care system. But the U.S. military sprayed over 20 million gallons of Agent Orange, transported through bases on Guam, Okinawa and others – and it’s time for the VA to wake up and pay up.

End our collective guilt over how Vietnam era vets have been treated – once and for all.

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Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:33 am

ABQ Journal Reader Edward Gonzalez writes:

“Diane,
The effects of agent orange go far beyond those of us who were exposed to agent orange during the Vietnam war. My 43 year old daughter has suffered from a rare form of breast cancer that nearly took her life as well as other serious ailments that have prevented her from living a normal life and having a family.

Along with my diagnosed disabilities I also suffer from the guilt of having my DNA altered by exposure to agent orange and passing it on to the next generation. This “sacrifice” for the nation is unprecedented for American soldiers of other conflicts.”

Edward Gonzales

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:34 am

ABQ Journal Reader Frank Giacobbi writes:

“Diane,
From your piece: “I recently watched a CBS “60 Minutes” segment featuring “Secretary Bob,” as he likes to be called, and his chin quivered and his voice caught when he was asked what he felt he owed veterans.
“This is very personal,” he said, “Because I served with a lot of these guys.” As he struggled to keep composed he spoke of the enduring relationships he had made during his five years in the Army, where he rose to the rank of captain.
“Their life is relying on yours. That’s the kind of relationships you create. That’s the kind of relationships that drive me to do this.”

It’s great that “Secretary Bob” was so moved at the thought of the bonds he’d formed over 5 years of service.
However, it’d be even better if he’d preside over a VA that actually lived up to its own grand pronouncements, was similarly moved when it didn’t, and (other than “advertising” his e-mail address & phone number and paying lip service to turning VA around by Veterans Day 2014), would actually do something when his VA’s actions didn’t match those pronouncements.
This veteran’s experience has been that VA, rather than, first, concede it had failed to abide by its own “ethical & legal obligation” (VA’s words, not mine), and second, conduct a bona fide inquiry into the issue(s) I raised, actually doubled down and came up with a “finding” as risible as it was fraudulent.
Veterans need a Linda Bilmes as SECVA, and a Kenneth Fineman to clear up the claims/appeals backlog.
Thank you.
Regards, Frank
PS: Even though I couched my VA experiences in generalities, I can document every point I made.”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:35 am

ABQ Journal Reader Bruce K. Tomlinson (mentioned in column) writes:

“Ms. Dimond- You can’t begin to comprehend the joy and enlightenment that I derived from your latest article on “our” plight w/the VA and our AO claims! It shook me. To have you call ME out of the 80K vets in New Mexico and our efforts to attain our benefits was overwhelming. I asked if it was possible to make a couple inquiries- hell, you ’em blew up!! AND as it turns out I received a call just after your last article from my attorney that the VA had contacted her and that my claim was to be reviewed (revisited?) this month! “When” my benefits are granted, (how can they be denied now?) I will contact you and let you know. Now as for the other guys…
Thank You so very much for your support and kind words for those of us that went in harms way only to be disregarded when we really need help!

Bruce K. Tomlinson~
Albuquerque New Mexico

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:44 am

Reader Mike Yates writes:

“I want to thank you for the article published July 4, 2015 in Crime and Justice. The article was sent to me.

I am one of the 175000 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans. I have Prostate Cancer and also have Thyroid Cancer. I send most of my time trying to get the information out about the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.

I hope it was alright that I shared your article on the Facebook page Blue Water Navy Awareness on Facebook.”

Mike Yates
No virus found

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:46 am

ABQ Journal Reader Betty Russell writes:

“Hi Diane… Re: “Time has come for VA to pay up for Agent Orange”.. THANK YOU xo.. SUCH an appropriate column for the 4th !!
I didn’t know that the VA had suspended the benefits… this SO INFURIATES ME !! my husband was exposed to AO, though not on such a level as the Blue Water vets, Brown Water Navy, Boots… he flew recon out of Naval Air Station DaNang and various other locations in Southeast Asia…. he proved exposure to areas where AO was and signed on to some sort of claim with AO Act of 1991.. he received a recompense check in the amount of somewhere around a thousand $.. i can’t remember the exact amount, but we shook our heads at the sum at the time… He died from complications of dementia intensified by PTSD and head traumas, but who knows how the AO affected the brain functions..

I just read in todays 5 July Alb Journal editorial by Charles Krauthammer that Kerry and Obama have offered Iran “(quote) $150 BILLION ” upfront as a bonus for signing the nuclear treaty that will be MEANINGLESS…
I AM SO OUTRAGED !!!!!
IF this $150 BILLION is so readily available to just ship off to some country like Iran that is laughing up their sleeve at our naivete, then we CAN MOST CERTAINLY take care of our Vets FIRST !!!
This just really makes me want to throw up.. i am writing to my House Reps and Senators all… Time to step up to the plate Congress AND Bob !!

Keep their feet to the fire Diane…

Betty Russell

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:47 am

Reader Perry Hagan writes:

“Dear Miss Dimond,

Thank you so much for your feelings put forth for the deprived of the veterans of the Vietnam era. I myself was a Sgt. in the marine corps, 3rd FSR 3rd Marine Division FMF Pacific. I worked the dock area in Naha Okinawa.

We had Trucks,Jeeps,Black barrels with Orange rings around the center along with oil and solvents. A lot of vehicles and equipment that we unloaded was damaged and had arrived from Nam. We were a support unit for the war. These vehicles and equipment was taken to KADENA AIR BASE for storage and and staging. A lot of these vehicles and equipment had residuals of Agent Orange on them, from being sprayed in country.

Consider the heat and sweat from getting this chemical on you. The barrels marked herbicides and solvents along with oil was taken to Kadena Air Base warehouses for storage.

I’m now suffering from cancer which has returned after having my Prostate removed in 2011.After five years I’m undergoing radiation treatment. I was also stationed at Marine Corps base, Camp Lejuene NC. There I was taking showers and drinking water that was contaminated for 3 years. All this had taken place between 1963 to 1967.

I like thousands of others can’t understand why our government refuses to do what’s right?

My cancer doctor says it is as likely as not that the cancer was caused by my exposure to agent Orange.

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 11:51 am

NOTE TO READERS:

If you are interested in having your voice heard by U.S. Congress please take 2 minutes and register your thoughts with Senator Johnny Isakson, the Vets Committee Chair HERE:

http://www.veterans.senate.gov/chairman

Drop him a note asking him for his support for ALL Vietnam Era vets affected by Agent Orange.

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Facebook Friend Lisa Wolfe writes:

“I AGREE!! My dad suffers from the effects of agent Orange to this day… Very sad .. It’s about time someone helps…”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 1:09 pm

Facebook Friend Bill Voinovich writes:

“Time for the VA to PAY UP TO ALL VETERANS, up to and INCLUDING those exposed to agent orange…..
The VA’S treatment of ALL VETERANS is simply DISGRACEFUL, especially after expecting them to lay it all on the line for an administration that couldn’t give a DAMN ABOUT their welfare….
This needs to change IMMEDIATELY, and put people in charge that actually DO CARE about the treatment the vets are getting as a whole…CARE about their treatment……..”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:55 pm

Facebook Friend William Drummond writes:

“Seriously? The VA is so dysfunctional, it does not even open its mail! Check the record. Vets are denied because they did not get their paperwork returned. Turns out hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail were in tubs and had never been processed.”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:56 pm

Facebook Friend Drew Rutberg writes:

“It’s not just Vietnam vets with exposure to agent orange. It seems to be vets as a whole.”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Facebook Friend Carmen Matthews writes:

“The Entire VA HEALTHCARE SYSTEM should be privatized.”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:57 pm

Facebook Friend Andrea Saint James writes:

“The most abused soldiers ever. And please remember, THEY WERE DRAFTED! Today’s soldiers ENLISTED. Lots of love shown to every war vet after Vietnam, but not to Vietnam vets. Every single one I know still has PTSD and a host of other issues they are ashamed to talk about. HORRIBLE what this country did to them.”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Facebook Friend Georgia Butler McCallister writes:

“So true , my husband is a Vietnam Vet !”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Facebook Friend William Schoen writes:

“I don’t get it. Vets on the street, homeless playing the piano? Doesn’t the government take care of its soldiers? Why are there so many commercials for wounded warriors? Shouldn’t the government take care of them?”

Diane Dimond July 6, 2015 at 10:59 pm

Facebook Friend Fred Farrar writes:

“It is impossible to imagine why the media has apparently lost interest in this continuing disgrace.”

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 6:29 am

ReadervRobert Borden writes:

“Dear Diane,

I wish I could be more upbeat about your Agent Orange article. I think it’s nice that you want the VA to do the right thing, but the truth is it’s way too late for anybody to do the right thing about Vietnam. The ones who are left are in their 60s and 70s now, many years after having been the group with the highest suicide rate in the world. It’s too late to say “Thank you for your service.” It’s too late for anyone to “heal.”

It’s even too late for politicians to avoid repeating the idiotic history Vietnam veterans have already seen with their own eyes. All of it is way too little, decades too late. Long after the last Vietnam veteran dies, the anger will live on. And on.

Nobody is going to get a “do-over” on Vietnam. It’s literally history. It is what it is, and everyone is stuck with it, whether they’re racked with guilt over it or not. And I don’t think very many people are.

Thanks for trying. I appreciate it. But it’s too late to turn the tide. I don’t know what else to say.

Robert Borden
USMC 1967-69

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 6:34 am

Mr. Borden,

First, thank you for your service in a time of massive ingratitude in this country.

Second, I don’t think its ever too late to right a wrong…never too late to do right by soldiers, sailors and marines who fought wearing a U.S. military uniform.

The right thing is for the Veterans Administration to clean up its collective act – re-instate the original terms of the Agent Orange Act and give full health benefits to every veteran of your era who has health problems on the AO watch list. That’s the very least I think should happen. Then there all the children and spouses of these service men and women who should be helped.

You may be weary of the fight, Mr. Borden (and who could blame you?) but I am not.

God Bless. ~ DD

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 6:44 am

Steubenvill Harold Star Reader Barbara Schratz writes:

“Hi Diane,

My brother Jim McDonald just called me and read an article that you wrote and published in the Steubenville Harold Star. My two brothers and I were all in the Navy during the Vietnam War.

I was stateside, my older brother as a SeaBee,boots on the ground, and my younger brother was onboard the USS Tiaconderoga,” Blue Water”,offshore Vietnam.

My older brother died of complications associated with AO. He was 68 years old. My younger brother has fought his battle with Prostrate Cancer and Type 2 Diabetes.

I have emailed Rep. Lou Barletta and Sen. John McCain to please get behind both HR Bills.

My younger brother, as well as all those onboard ships where they breathed AO through ventilation systems and in the drinking water. The only compartment on the ship that did not consist of outside air, was the Communications Room. This was a system of its own to keep a constant temperature for all of the equipment.

I won’t stand by and lose my brother,Jim. He’s God’s gift to this world. He always recognizes our fellow Veterans and is known to pay for their meal if he sees them at a restaurant. We talk everyday whether there’s something special to talk about, but mostly because someday one of us will be gone and our talks will stop.

Please help us save our Veterans. The injustice at the VA has to be corrected so our soldiers can get treatment and identified as having been exposed to AO. My brother and I would go anywhere to pass the word and get these HR Bills passed. Please let me know if you have other sources that I might email. Anything to help. Thank you for hearing my thoughts as I put them into words. ”

Sincerely,
Barbara Schratz

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:44 pm

Facebook Friend David LaFontaine writes:

“Whatever happens, will come about a decade too late for my Uncle Glen.”

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:45 pm

Facebook Friend Robert Mitton writes:

“The USA has not done a thing about all the tons of Agent Orange on Vietnam! I was there in 2001 and saw the devastation and the mutants. Not a penny should go to those “veterans” until everyone and everything is taken care of in Vietnam. The veterans and their leaders committed many war crimes in the American War against Vietnam. I lived there for a summer and saw what “we” did there.”

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Robert,
I don’t agree with what you’ve said here but I don’t believe in censorship either. I side with our own veterans – who, after all, were only following orders, laying their lives on the line every day. ~ DD

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:46 pm

Facebook Friend Stephen Doran writes:

“My First TV movie as a story writer and co producer… called “Unnatural Causes” for NBC starring John Ritter and Alfre Woodard… in ’86… was all over this story…. (I found the story of VA case worker who blew this story open) …been following it for 30 some years.. glad your staying on it… DiDimond. thx…”

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Facebook Friend and author Catherine Whitney writes:

“Sadly, this neglect has been a pattern since World War I. The American people are complicit in the government’s failure to act. When have you ever seen veterans’ issues front and center in political campaigns? Politicians know that voters won’t hold them accountable.”

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Doug O’Brien responds :

“Catherine you are incorrect on one point. This has been a pattern since the Revolution, not WWI.”

Diane Dimond July 8, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Catherine Whitney responds:

“Catherine Whitney Ah, thanks for the clarification.”

Frank Clementino July 9, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Excellent article Diane I have been going round and round with the VA since 2001. I have had numerous surgeries and have 4 out of the 14 presumptive diseases been denied 6 times because no boots on in Viet Nam but I served in Utapo Thailand where the declassified info in operation ranch hand revieled the spraying of Agent Orange all around the base infact that’s where they first tested AO. I am writing Mr. Bob McDonald but will probably never hear from him. Thank you so much for your concern about us vets.
God bless Frank

maxie price December 10, 2015 at 11:30 pm

I was in vietnam in 69 and 70, i was with the 45 th enginers i seen enough to know what was going on, we still had to do our job while we were there. But seeing how the country is treating the vietnam vets is uncalled for. No body thanks about that now, but what will they do when this country treats the next war vets the same way they treated the ones that came back from vietnam.
when i came back people told me to take my uniform off because the people here in the good old USA hated us. It is sad to thank that we went over for our country and get treated the way we were. I would do it again in a heart beat. I know a lot of the vets would, even after the way we were treated. Thas all i’ve got say about the subject, thanks for all those who cares.

Christine January 30, 2016 at 11:27 pm

Any veteran who served our country in any war should receive any and all the benefits with or without agent orange. To deny benefits because someone has the wrong type of cancer is inexcusable for our veterans. Our government sent them to war and they held up their end of the bargain now the government owes them. This isn’t about agent orange, it’s about giving our veterans what the government owes them. I’m disgusted with how they are treated. Shame on you!!!!!

Brian Moyer September 15, 2016 at 2:54 pm

I am a Marine Corps Veteran who was in the Evacuation of Vietnam in 1975 and my ship was homeported on Guam. I was on Guam for two years and have the EPA reports on the water contamination. M/Sgt Leroy Foster has made his lawsuit public for all Agent Orange Victims to see. The Guam Legislature issued a resolution calling on Congress to assist the Guam Veterans, their dependents and the citizens of Guam. The average tour of duty in Vietnam was 13 months again, my tour and the Marines I served with our tour was two years worth of exposure. We used to go up to Andersen AFB a lot to go to Tarague Beach and have fun. I have gone to Senators Rubio and Nelson’s offices and asked that they give us the same presumptive protections as the in country Vietnam Veteran and list Guam as a contaminated site to assist the Chamorro people who have a cancer rate four times higher than the US average. I got a weak watered down response from Nelson and still no answer from Rubio. Both of these Senators have taken money from Monsanto and claim to forever be in our eternal debt and gratitude until its time to do the right thing for the Agent Orange veterans and the civilians it has harmed on Guam, Okinawa, and Thailand and other locations. If anyone would like to come over to Agent Orange Veterans of Guam on Facebook you are welcome to join us in fight for justice.

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