Friday, December 4, 2009

Vietnam vets deserve better

Vietnam vets deserve better

Vietnam vets deserve better


First published in print: Friday, December 4, 2009

Too many veterans who served our country decades ago still suffer from horrible medical problems stemming from their time in the military. Time and again, the federal government has failed to provide them with the quality care they have earned.

Sometimes, it is bureaucracy that stands in the way. Other times, it is red tape or cost-cutting measures that prevent vets from getting the care they deserve. But for hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans, it is a shameful technicality in the law.

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of the defoliant Agent Orange. The chemical cleared the way for combat troops to see their enemies, but it also infected service members with serious, long-term illnesses.

It is time to face the consequences of Agent Orange.

Right now, 800,000 Vietnam veterans, who were exposed to Agent Orange and need medical care, are being ignored. More than 13,500 of them live in New York.

Federal law requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover all illnesses directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. But in 2002, the VA determined that the government would only cover veterans who were "boots on the ground." That excluded those known as Blue Water veterans -- those who were on duty in the air and sea around Vietnam.

But Agent Orange didn't discriminate among those on land or water or in the air. When this toxin spread through wind and water, it infected millions of our troops stationed on ships and aircraft miles away from Agent Orange drop sites.

Just like those who were "boots on the ground," hundreds of thousands of Blue Water vets are chronically ill as a result of Agent Orange exposure.

From Type II diabetes to Parkinson's, to several blood and respiratory cancers and higher rates of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Agent Orange has been proven to cause a broad range of serious illnesses. But not one single Blue Water veteran's Agent Orange-related illness is covered by the VA.

These courageous veterans risked everything to fight for us. And now, because of their service and sacrifice, they are sick and need care. Serving as seamen or airmen should not deny them the needed benefits they've earned.

Even Dr. Mark Brown, former director of the VA's environmental agents service, has publicly acknowledged that there is no scientific basis for excluding Blue Water Navy veterans from coverage. But the VA continues to deny them care.

It's an outrageous injustice, and it must be changed.

Last month, I introduced the Agent Orange Act of 2009. It would fix the existing law so that Blue Water veterans and every service member awarded the Vietnam Service medal, or who was deployed on air, land and sea in Vietnam would be fully covered by the VA.

It would also streamline the VA's processing of Vietnam War veterans' claims for service-connected conditions by extending the VA's presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to all Vietnam veterans.

Agent Orange is a very difficult chapter in our nation's history. It is time that we correct the errors of the past.

We have a solemn responsibility to those who answer our nation's call to service. They fulfilled their duty.

Now, it is our duty to make sure they have access to every benefit they have earned -- from health care to education and affordable loans to buy a house.

Let's make sure we never stop fighting for those who fought for us.

Kirsten Gillibrand represents New York in the U.S. Senate.


I want to applaud Senator Gillibrand for sponsoring this legislation, however I wish she would add a few groups of veterans to this piece of law, or she might want to consider a new law for the veterans that were used in this nations secret testing of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, drugs and biological weapons, these tests were mostly performed from the end of WW2 thru 1975 when Congress learned of the human testing thru the 1975 Department of the Army report on Human Experimentation. President Ford issued a Presidential Proclamation in 1976 that banned all government agencies, the military services, the CIA and anyone else from clandestine testing programs.

This was in response to the disclosure of the nuclear tests, the LSD experiments known as MKULTRA, the biological weapons tests at Fort Detrick that had been stopped after President Nixon signed the 1972 Bio-Weapons Treaty, the drug and chemical weapons had been tested on 7120 veterans of the Army and Air Force personnel at Edgewood Arsenal, Md, from 55-75, about 6,000 men had been used in Operation SHAD/112bioweapons experiments at Fort Greeley Alaska, and open sea trials off Hawaii, in the Cheasapeke Bay off Edgewood Arsenal, and other still not disclosed locations.

These veterans have largely been ignored by Congress, lied to by DOD and the VA, we have been told these experiments never happened, if we were there then we were NOT harmed by any toxic substances, we personnaly were NOT used in any hazardous experiments etc.

A Institute of Medicine Report published in March 2003 based on a FY 2000 survey of the 7120 Edgewood veterans, was used to placate veterans of the first gulf war that Sarin had not harmed them. The Edgewood veterans were the only known group of people that DOD had access to that had been exposed to Sarin. We were the control group used for this study.

One problem with this, they could only find 4022 surviving veterans of the experiments, even though they had access to VA, IRS and Social Security databases, they could not locate the other 3098 veterans. All of these men would have been between the ages of 45-65 in 2000, men of this age are either paying taxes, or in receipt of benefits checks from the VA or SS or SSD. I will grant a few men may have moved overseas and do not have any current data in the US, but not all 3098 of them. One can presume that the majority of them were already deceased. 40% of the test group, an extremely high number. Considering to be selected for the test program they only took the highest IQ's a soldier had to have GT score over 100, this score was also the cutoff score to be accepted into OCS. They were in good health or they would not have been in the military, and the majority of them were between 18-21 when selected for the 60 day Temporary duty assignment.

They also gave us extensive physicals when we arrived at Edgewood. Mental health tests, etc, it was the most extensive exam I had ever been given, before or since. We were told the program was so safe that they would not be doing any follow up studies afer we left. The real purpose behind no follow up studies is the fact none were programmed or funded for long term follow up. The only reason they found us in early 1980's was a report titled Veterans at Risk 1993 by the IOM, and then we were used as the control group to show Gulf War veterans that Sarin was safe, BS. The IOM ignored previous studies from the National Instiute of Health, and from SIPRI that show the known medical problems of Sarin exposure, and they wrote a very narrow report, that showed 25 per 100,000 developed brain tumors (cancer) and a higher than normal percentage of Sarin exposed veterans had sleep disorders, which is not a very high disability rating by the VA. It seems apparent the symptoms were financially acceptable to DOD that the IOM showed in the 2003 study, the NIH report showed links to pulmonary problems, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal problems, in other words, some medical issues that might end up in veterans being totally disabled or deceased by and would cost the DOD and or the VA billions of dollars.

Senator Gillibrand could do a lot very many veterans and their wives and children if they would look at all of these "forgotten veterans" not just the Agent Orange veterans of Vietnam, the government had not kept their PROMISE to these veterans, WHY?

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