Vietnam veterans continue struggle with Agent Orange

CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Gery Ezell has been active with Vietnam Veterans of America since the founding of Chapter 396 in Clarksville, and he knows of many fellow members who have been sickened as a result of exposure to Agent Orange.

Ezell, the chapter’s treasurer, has been affected himself – he was exposed to the chemical defoliant in Vietnam in 1967-68.

“We were sprayed with it during nighttime patrols in the jungle,” he said. “It would fall on us like rain.”

He now suffers from Type II diabetes and heart disease that has led to four bypass operations. He has also had his prostate removed as a result of prostate cancer.

The Vietnam Veterans of America Tennessee State Council is taking steps to ensure veterans like Ezell have as much information as possible about benefits available to those hurt by exposure.

The group is organizing an Agent Orange Town Hall Meeting for Oct. 29 from 6 to 9 p.m., at Cornerstone Church, 726 W. Old Hickory Blvd., Madison, Tenn.

According to a VVA press release, the meeting will inform, provide a platform for asking questions and an opportunity for veterans, their children, grandchildren or surviving spouse to speak with veteran service officers about filing claims for VA benefits.

Veterans from all conflicts are urged to attend.

“Battles are still being fought by Vietnam veterans,” the release stated, “but this time, from home. For many Vietnam veterans in the mid-Tennessee area, across our state and nation, the Vietnam conflict isn’t over as the effects of exposure to Agent Orange take its toll on them, their children and grandchildren.”

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Maryanna Christy, a VVA associate member and wife of veteran and Chapter 396 secretary Lyle Christy, has made it her business to find out all she can since her husband first fell ill in 1997.

“I’ve sat through two classes,” she said, “along with all I’ve learned on the Internet. It’s a terrible thing.

“Every time I meet a Vietnam veteran, my first question is, have they been checked for Agent Orange, and if not, why not?”

According to the VVA press release, “The list of diseases related to the veteran’s exposure to Agent Orange is ever-growing. The evidence for inclusion of diabetes mellitus type II as a presumptive disease is very strong, and the same is true of prostate cancer and other service-connected presumptive conditions, such as: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and respiratory cancers (of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea).”

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