Suffer the Children: The Lethal Legacy of Agent Orange
By Dave Stancliff/For the Times-Standard Posted: 02/21/2010 01:30:30 AM PST
Although Sharon L. Perry has never been to Vietnam, what happened to her husband, who served there during his military service, has affected her life forever.
Since he died in 2005 she has “waded through grief, hate, anger, pain, rage, and lots and lots of heartache.” The heartache started long before Reuben “Bud” C. Perry III died from a myocardial infarction attributed to his diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, and Hep C, all Agent Orange (AO) related illnesses.
It began with the birth of their oldest daughter, Danielle, who has been sick all her life. Sharon fought for years with doctors who didn't seem to know what caused her daughter to suffer debilitating muscle spasms in her neck that often lasted up to two hours. ”Finally,” Sharon said, “a doctor treated her because he said her muscles would atrophy if not taken care of.” The Perrys took Danielle to Shriner's Hospital in Massachusetts where the chief of staff diagnosed a list of 20 ailments. She suffered everything from spondylolithesis, comprised immune system, hip dysphasia, to granuloma annulare.
Then their second daughter, Lisbeth, was diagnosed as autistic, a condition that had never affected either side of the family. When Sharon's grandson began experiencing health problems that went undiagnosed by the doctors, Sharon was nearly overwhelmed. Throughout these challenges she watched helplessly as her husband's health slowly deteriorated over their 27 years of marriage. At the time of his death, he had a dozen severe health problems that were rated 110 percent service-connected.
Most Americans are aware that Vietnam veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, a deadly chemical defoliant used to destroy vegetation surrounding American military bases and forward firebases, to deprive the enemy of cover. It's been responsible for countless deaths and illnesses. Not as well-known are the effects upon the exposed veteran's children. Research has shown that toxins in Agent Orange cause DNA damage.
In 1991, thousands of birth defects attributed to parents' exposure to AO were recorded in the National Birth Defect Registry (www.birthdefects.org). There's an impressive body of scientific evidence that points to increases in birth defects and developmental problems in the children of Vietnam veterans and others exposed to AO. This recognition didn't come overnight.
The burden of proving that AO was deadly fell upon the veterans and their families back in the mid-1970s. They organized and won a class action lawsuit recognizing health problems caused by exposure to AO. Veterans then had to prove they were in areas recognized by the Veterans Administration as “exposed areas.”
Over the ensuing years one health condition after another was added to the list of AO related illnesses. Justice came on July 18, 2008, when the “Agent Orange Equity Act” was passed to make sure all veterans exposed to AO could get disability ratings. The burden of proof was finally lifted from the veterans' shoulders. Facts prevailed for once. Any veteran who went to Vietnam and parts of Korea along the DMZ, is now presumed to have been exposed to AO and eligible for a service-connect rating. Go to www.vva.org. for the complete and updated list.
The VA does recognize Spina Bifida as a birth defect resulting from AO. A Health Administration Center (HAC) was created (1-800-820-1756) to provide money, training, and rehabilitation for those children, but it isn't intended to be a comprehensive health plan, according to HAC literature. Sen. Kirsten (D-NY) introduced legislation -- S.1940 Agent Orange Children's Study -- on Oct. 27, 2009. So far, there's been little support for the bill.
Enter Sharon L. Perry. With a focus born from her grief and trials, she and her daughter Danielle started a Web site called “Agent Orange Legacy” (www.agentorangelegacy.ning.com). Their mission is to unite the children of Vietnam veterans who have AO related illnesses, and others who want to advocate for more research and resources for them. Sharon hopes the Web site will get enough attention to encourage people to support S.1940.
She's currently putting together a national coalition and looking for Agent Orange Legacy representatives from every state to lobby Congress for bills like S.1940, to help the children. Sharon is also working with Mokie Porter, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, who is looking into helping the children of veterans who served their country. As It Stands, I want to thank Sharon for sharing her story, and I hope others will be equally moved to support her mission and help these children.
Dave Stancliff is a columnist for The Times-Standard. He is a former newspaper editor and publisher. Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or to www.davesblogcentral.com. http://www.times-standard.com/othervoices/ci_14444017
Can you stand one more Agent Orange story...please bear with me as I tell you one of America's dirty little secrets. We have now buried more veteran victims of Agent Orange than there are names on the Vietnam Wall.
HR 2254 is languishing in the House of Representatives with 245 co-sponsors. It will restore the benefits for the disrespected and disenfranchised veterans who served in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia & Guam...the United States Air Force Veterans who were in the air space above Vietnam and the United states Navy Veterans who served in the waters around Vietnam.
We the widows join our beloved Veterans who are currently suffering the ravages of illness and disease due to the United States Government's decision to continue the use of the rainbow herbicides with full knowledge of the outcome in requesting...no, DEMANDING, that this bill come to the floor of the House of Representatives to once and for all deliver the respect and benefits to these unselfish men and women who are paying for said benefits with great pain and suffering and their very lives.
This bipartisan legislation will reap beneficiaries in all congressional and senatorial districts. It will ease the financial burden of the suffering veterans and their families as well as validate the widows. We the widows have suffered the consequences of the exposure to Agent Orange for longer than you will ever know.
Our husbands returned to this country with no government support system. We nurtured them through the anger, the nightmares, the lifelong stomach problems, the mood swings and the symptoms of what we now know to be agent orange related illnesses that caused their early departure from this earth leaving us to become young widows. We lost our husbands...too old to start over and too young for social security. We lost our loving husbands, our lifelong companions. Our children lost their fathers...and our young grandchildren will never experience that special love that only a grandfather can bestow.
Suddenly the young widow realizes the secondary losses...no more income, no health insurance, no couples social life, no one to have dinner with, no one to wrap their strong arms around us for comfort through life's miseries. He will never again walk in the door at the end of the day to put a smile on our weary faces. As we carry our burdens alone our government abandons us as they have abandoned our veteran husbands.
When our children were born with structural birth defects never heard of in the geneology of our family we had no idea that Agent Orange was the cause. We suffered life's blows together without aid and assistance from the United States Government.
It wasn't until several months after my husbands death that I literally tripped over a web site with a list of known birth defects caused by exposure to Agent Orange that I suddenly realized why we had that burden to carry when we were only 19 and 23 years old. Because our husbands served our country in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam conflict we are in this position. Our Vietnam Veterans who served outside of the country of Vietnam are required to prove "boots on the ground". Most of them did in fact have "boots on the ground"; however, when we file FOIA requests they continually come back stating "THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE DID NOT MAINTAIN THOSE RECORDS". We, therefore, are being given an impossible task to prove "boots on the ground"...the single most asinine language to get past our elected officials.
My husband (like many others) left Travis Air force Base in California, traveled through Seattle, Washington, on to Alaska and in to Saigon. He was in Saigon for several days prior to his arrival in U-Tapao Thailand. He also flew in and out of Vietnam frequently. He was in Bien Hoa, Nha Trang, Phu Cat and other locations that I can't recall from stories that he would tell.
Interestingly enough my FOIA request for his morning reports came back stating again that The United States Air Force did not maintain these records.
In 2008 many months after my husband's death, I found the CHECO report on the internet. Agent Orange was used on virtually every air base in Thailand to quell vegetation growth. The bases, including living quarters in Thailand were extensively sprayed with Malathion for mosquitoes due to the fear of malaria. Does Malathion also contain deadly dioxin? Did Malathion contribute to my husband's early death?
In 1999 the Thailand government found buried Agent Orange barrels when expanding the Bor Fai Airport so as to accommodate their growing tourism industry. Bor Fai is near Hua Hin, Cha Am, Pranburi District...where according to the DoD the United States Government tested Agent Orange in 1965. My husband has photos from Cha Am, Hua Hin where he visited while serving in Thailand in 1968. He ate the food, breathed the air and swam in the water...did this contribute to his death?
Why is HR 2254 introduced by Congressman Bob Filner (D) CA, with enough bipartisan co-sponsors to be an up and down bill just sitting there? Where is the outrage? Where is the press? Where's the justice?
Are we as a nation to sit back and allow our elected leaders to continue to wring their hands and shed crocodile tears over the needs and wants of ILLEGAL aliens while continuing to ignore the very men and women who unselfishly served this great nation in Southeast Asia at the convenience of the United Sates Government?
Please contact your Congressional representative to express your support for our Vietnam Veterans and their grieving widows. Demand action on HR 2254 now. To all Veterans I thank you for your unselfish service to our great country...to all Veterans widows I send you my love and sincere condolences for your loss.
Sincerely Rita D'Ottavio York, PA
From a Blue Water Navy widow.....
When will the US government and chemical companies accept responsibility for these chemical warfare crimes against humanity?