Agent Orange Activist. Thanks, Dick Phenneger!

One for the warrior
 Posted: Coeur d’Alene Press – Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:00 am| Updated: 1:08 am, Sun Jan 20, 2013

One man’s war on the ravages of Agent Orange claimed a small but important victory recently during a trip to Washington, D.C.

Dick Phenneger is a local veteran, pilot and businessman who has been working feverishly to raise awareness and, ultimately, responsibility for the devastating effects of Agent Orange on generations of U.S. military and their families. Phenneger’s campaign to help veterans has been featured in The Press, including a story last June about Phenneger and his nonprofit organization, Veteran Services Transparency, launching a survey campaign in North Idaho that brought in more than 100 responses from local veterans who believe they suffer from the effects of Agent Orange.
A number of those surveyed have been denied benefits for medical help, and that’s the prime impetus for Phenneger’s mission: He believes the federal government, starting with Congress, should be far more accountable in treating a host of Agent Orange-related diseases and illnesses that mounting medical evidence suggests should be the government’s responsibility.

Maybe U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, a former state legislator and governor now in the fifth year of his first term as a U.S. senator from Idaho, doesn’t think so. For his trip to our nation’s capital Jan. 8-12, Phenneger had a twice-confirmed personal appointment with Sen. Risch and a key member of his staff. Instead, a young underling was sent out to meet with Phenneger, who offered to come back later in the week to meet with the senator. The offer was declined and no effort was made by staff to apologize or attempt to reschedule.

Phenneger still made the most of his trip. He had what he described as productive meetings with key staff from U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s and U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador’s office. Phenneger’s most promising contact, however, came with two committees of the nonprofit Vietnam Veterans of America organization. Leaders of the committees were so impressed with the data Phenneger has gathered and the manner in which he’s running his grassroots campaign that they indicated an interest in creating a national program modeled after what the Post Falls resident is doing.

We are disappointed that after having agreed to meet, Sen. Risch did not believe the message was worth hearing from a constituent who took the time and trouble to travel all the way across the country to meet with him personally. We encourage the senator to review the material Phenneger left behind and to discuss it earnestly with the rest of the Idaho delegation.

Failure to do so won’t dissuade Phenneger, but it’s likely to disappoint Idaho’s 136,000 or more veterans. And yes, they vote.