Monday, March 3, 2008

Veteran Bears Scars of Stateside Agent Orange

Fort Gordon Veteran exposed to Agent Orange

When it comes to deadly poisons, few are better known. The military's use of Agent Orange is one of the dark chapters of the Vietnam War.

But NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Ben Hall has found the military used Agent Orange here in the United States -- and one veteran says he has the health problems to prove it.

Agent Orange was a toxic herbicide used by the military to thin out the jungles of Vietnam. Soldiers sprayed millions of gallons, unaware how poisonous it was.

"There was a problem and the evidence is on my back and my chest and 40 years of my life," says James Cripps, a Vietnam era veteran.

He says he was poisoned by Agent Orange, but he never served in Vietnam.

"When I got wounded I didn't know it I had no reason to suspect there would have been no way to have proved it," Cripps says.

Cripps had what seemed like a dream job as game warden at Fort Gordon in Georgia.

"This is me in 1971 when I got out of the Army you can see all the marks on my face," he says, pointing to photos of himself.

Cripps says when he left the military he had already been exposed. He believes he sprayed Agent Orange in the lakes around Fort Gordon to kill weeds.

"I was ordered to spray that herbicide," Cripps says. And pictures show signs warning people about fishing in the lakes Cripps once cared for. "I know what's in those lakes, I put it there," adds Cripps.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has uncovered defense department documents that prove the military sprayed Agent Orange at Fort Gordon during the time Cripps was there.

Documents detail more than 30 locations in the United States where Agent Orange was tested.

The documents show helicopters sprayed at least 95 gallons of Agent Orange at Fort Gordon in 1967. Cripps says that alone should prove he was exposed.

"A lot of them cause scars sometimes they go so sore he can't wear his shirt," his wife, Sandra Cripps, says.

But he and his wife say his body offers the greatest proof. The blackheads on his back contain the poisonous residue from Agent Orange which causes acne called ‘chloracne.'

"In some persons the skin legions persist," says Dr. Dewey Dunn, an Agent Orange expert.
He says chloracne is a tell-tale sign of Agent Orange exposure. "It's just sort of a marker so its on the list and probably at the top of the list."

Dr. Dunn examined James Cripps but could not talk specifically about his case. Medical records show Dr. Dunn diagnosed Cripps with Chloracne and type-two diabetes, another sign of exposure.

Despite all the evidence, the VA will not approve James Cripps disability claim. "I'm being denied my medical care to this very day," says Cripps.

"From what I see it strictly gets down to money," says Donald Stephens, who is with the Disabled American Veterans. He's helped hundreds of veterans prepare their VA medical claims.

Ben Hall asks, "How strong is Mr. Cripps claim?"

"A ten," Stephens answers. "I would give it a ten."

He says there's plenty of help for veterans exposed in Vietnam, but he believes Cripps claim would open the floodgates for veterans exposed in the United States.

Meanwhile, James Cripps is on multiple medications and he's struggling to pay his medical bills. And now the VA is actually garnishing his Social Security checks.

"We have discussed of late, even yesterday, the thought of suicide," he confides.

After years of service, Cripps and his wife feel broken and betrayed.

"I can see why some veterans would give up," Sandra Cripps says. "It's not fair."

Back to NewsChannel 5 Investigates

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