More than 40 years after it was last used in the Vietnam War, Agent Orange continues to have a major impact on veterans.
Agent Orange is a plant-killing chemical that was sprayed over large areas of jungle and brush to clear them.
It’s known to cause several deadly health problems. Channel Three’s Joe Douglass has more on its continuing impact.. In a story that, for him, is very personal.
People like me who’ve lost a family member because of Agent Orange, know its victims often go unseen. Their names are not included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. And they’re not included here on Wall South in Pensacola.
Wall South is a replica of the DC Memorial. It shows only the names of troops who’ve died directly from combat-related wounds.
It’s estimated that it would take another two or more entire walls to include the names of Agent Orange victims and of those with Post-traumatic stress disorder who’ve committed suicide.
Thurston Mosley, a Vietnam veteran and Agent Orange victim, said, “I wish you could put all the names on the wall that died from it.” Mosley and his canine companion Tarzan are a popular pair at the American Legion Hall in Foley.
Tarzan helps the former Platoon Commander with a lot of everyday activities. “He retrieves things for me,” Mosley said about Tarzan, “He can open up doors, turn on and off lights.” Mosley was shot through the heart while out on patrol in Vietnam.
He says his exposure to Agent Orange has only complicated his heart problems.
“In Vietnam, I died three times on the operating table,” Mosley said, “I died once here in Foley.”
Dan Kirkpatrick, another victim, said, “The Agent Orange is a different issue. I don’t think the names should be added to the Vietnam wall.” Kirkpatrick revved up his Harley outside his home in Milton before talking with us. It’s one of the few activities the Vietnam veteran and lifelong rider can still enjoy.
“I can’t walk all the way up and down the street. I can’t ride my bicycle with my granddaughter,” Kirkpatrick said, “I just don’t have the stamina.”
For more than a dozen years Kirkpatrick says he’s been treated for heart disease associated with his exposure to Agent Orange while in the Army. “At the time, we were told, ‘Don’t worry about it…It won’t bother you’,” Kirkpatrick said. The 63-year-old is retired now and taking a number of medications, some with serious side effects. Just last year he had bypass surgery. “I got to a point where I couldn’t hardly work and my work was sitting behind a computer desk all day,” Kirkpatrick said.
Doctor Mary Brawn, of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Superclinic in Pensacola says the facility treats hundreds of veterans with Agent Orange-related conditions each month. Brawn said the conditions include, “Diabetes, coronary artery disease, ischemic heart disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer.”
Three years ago, the VA increased the number of conditions it associated with Agent Orange, allowing many more veterans to apply for and receive benefits. Those applications make up a large part of the backlog of more than 400-thousand overdue disability claims that remain unprocessed. “It’s gonna grow because most of those conditions again are conditions of aging,” Brawn said.
This story is extremely personal for me. My father, a Vietnam Veteran, died nine years ago from cancer that was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange. He was just 57 years-old.
In 2011, my mother spoke during an event near the wall in Washington, DC commemorating my dad and other victims. “I had a five-and-a-half-year battle with the VA,” my mother told the crowd, “They finally did the right thing last year and recognized my husband for dying from exposure to Agent Orange. His name is George Orville Douglass. Please someone answer this, why are these wonderful veterans not on the wall?”
Although my father was obviously not happy about what happened to him, he still loved his country deeply. The two veterans I spoke with say they feel the same.