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OPERATION RANCH HAND:  AGENT ORANGE AND ME

This particular article has nothing to do with ancient history or the American Indians.  It relates only to the US military using a very dangerous chemical in Vietnam between 1961 and 1971.  That chemical, known as Agent Orange, was sprayed throughout the country by the US Air Force in an attempt to defoliate the jungle forests so as to deny the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese military their hidden avenues of movement.  It was also meant to destroy rural village crops in an endeavor to force the villagers into moving to the cities that were controlled by the US military and to deprive the enemy of any hope of finding food in these villages.  Thus in 1961 a military exercise called Operation Ranch Hand was begun, for the purpose of destroying crops and concealed paths.  Some years later this writer was sent to Vietnam and came under the influence of Operation Ranch Hand. This is the story of Agent Orange and me.

I was involuntarily inducted into the US Army, in 1967, through the process known as “The Draft” and was compelled, by the Army, to go to Vietnam in 1968 and became part of the 101st Airborne Division.  By then the giant chemical companies Monsanto, Dow Chemical and Diamond Shamrock had been producing and shipping to Vietnam, for over six years, this extremely poisonous dioxin in large orange striped barrels (thus the common name Agent Orange).  The US Air Force was loading the toxic agent onto C-123 aircraft and spraying it throughout the nation and most certainly dousing friends as well as foes.  By the time this showering of the chemicals ended in 1971, the Air Force has admitted it flew over 6500 aerial spraying missions and scattered almost twenty million gallons of the deadly trichlorophenoxyacetic acid laced pollutant into the air and foliage of Vietnam and parts of Laos and Cambodia.

During the period of these poison spraying operations, many US military persons went to Vietnam and returned to the United States suffering from numerous maladies which later were recognized as being directly related to Agent Orange.  Law suits were filed against the chemical companies in the late 1970’s and they denied that their herbicides were either dangerous to humans or carcinogenic in any form.  Of course, what else would they say – they closed ranks and protected their profits.  According to the high priced lawyers employed by these companies, if some ordinary military service personnel had any diseases, said ailments could not have been caused by any products manufactured by these huge corporations. The law suits were settled in 1989 with a few of the seriously ill former military men and women receiving a very small payment for pain and suffering – no more than $12,000 to be spread out over a period of ten years.  In 1991 the US Congress passed a law called the Agent Orange Act that specifically named various ailments as being caused by exposure to Agent Orange and ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin administering financial and medical assistance to the veterans with these ailments.  The VA has stated that any service person that spent twenty-four or more hours on the ground in Vietnam was exposed to Agent Orange since the lethal agent was continually being sprayed throughout the country. The disorders, as spelled out and amended by Congress between 1991 and 2010, include various cancers, myeloma, type II diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease.  There are other ailments in the congressional listing which you can obtain on the VA web site www.publichealth.va.gov/PUBLICHEALTH/exposure/agentorange/index.asp.   You would want to believe that the words and actions by our elected leaders in Washington would have solved any and all problems related to Agent Orange but it has not.  That brings this dialogue to me as well as many other Vietnam veterans.

I am suffering from insulin dependent diabetes mellitus type 2 which the VA (Veterans Administration) has acknowledged was caused by me being subjected to the menacing Agent Orange during my time in South Vietnam forty-five years ago.  In July 2012 I suffered a major problem with my heart and subsequently had open heart surgery with five by-pass grafts, three of which later failed.  I filed a compensation request with the VA in October of 2012 and in October of 2013 (a year later), I received a notice that the VA was conceding that my ischemic heart disease was caused by exposure to Agent Orange and was going to grant me disability at 100% --- for a period of only three months since their belief is that after three months I was cured – no more heart disease after that time - which is in direct disagreement with my cardio doctors.  A short period later I received another notice from the VA stating that I should not have been granted disability at 100% and they wanted 35 % of their money returned.  At this time, I also was notified by the VA that my level of regular compensation for the insulin dependent diabetes was being reduced from 40 % to 30% - perhaps as recompense to the VA for the extra monies I received for the heart disease.  This is but another example of our public servants not serving the “people” but merely covering themselves for their own lack of intelligence!!!!   I had another heart attack in August of this year (2013) and had another open heart surgery with three by-pass grafts.  I have filed another compensation request with the hope that the VA malcontent, who initially decided my heart disease was temporary, has left the agency.  I have a number of friends who also served our great country in Vietnam and who have had similar problems as I, with the VA.  A good friend and former Vietnam serviceman, who lives in South Carolina, seems to have realistically summed the situation up with the term “we are in the dead pool” since it seems that the VA is simply hoping we will soon die thus eliminating their problems.  Until I die or until, hopefully, the decision-making personnel in the VA do make the correct resolutions, I will simply try to forget the period of my life spent in the place we (tongue-in-cheek) called “The Variety Vacation Land of the Orient”.   I do, though, know that I will certainly not be able to forget.  As long as I am alive, I shall always remember the Operation Ranch Hand – Agent Orange and me.