Vietnam veterans speak about effects of Agent Orange

KENILWORTH, NJ — The New Jersey State Council of Vietnam Veterans of America met on Sunday, Sept. 18 at Kenilworth Veterans Center to raise awareness about the long-lasting impact of toxic exposure. The focus was on the effects that chemicals have had on veterans’ offspring and the illnesses and defects that many have endured. This was the sixth meeting held concentrating on this topic.

This presentation was called “The Faces of Agent Orange and Our Toxicity Legacy.” Members of Vietnam Veterans of America spoke about their experiences during a panel discussion, which included a question and answer session. An introduction was given by past State Council President of Vietnam Veterans of America John LeGates.

“The VA stands for ‘Veteran’s Adversary,’” LeGates said. “They’re not your friend.”

Veterans have submitted claims reporting medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cancer, all which can be traced to exposure to dioxins, particularly Agent Orange. Many claims are completely dismissed. However, the effects of this chemical continue to affect generations even today.

“Herbicide orange is used by the United States military as part of the herbicidal warfare program,” Dioxin Committee Chairman Mike Eckstein told LocalSource. “The United States sprayed 20 million-plus gallons of herbicides and dioxins during Vietnam.”

A veteran from Pennsylvania spoke about his experience with cancer that resulted from exposure to the toxin. When his left leg swelled twice its normal size, his doctor discovered that he had a tumor in his abdomen. There was no genetic predisposition to cancer in his family, and the only cause found was exposure to Agent Orange. His daughter is afraid to marry and have a family due to the fear that this chemical will have an impact on her unborn fetus. The veteran’s grandson was born with attention deficit disorder and anger management issues. The VVA’s goal is to pass a bill that would ban the government from using this lethal chemical.

“The chemical was sprayed along mangroves to open the field of fire in order to discover where the enemy was hiding,” Eckstein told LocalSource.

Paul Sutton, of the Dioxin Committee, further explained the history of Agent Orange. It was invented in 1922 and sprayed on the ground and in the air from 1961 to1971. Three billion veterans in Vietnam were exposed to it, as well as the civilian population.

“The chemical was tested between 1940 to 1960,” Sutton said. “The government wanted a certain amount of it sprayed in San Francisco and heated up the process to meet the requirements. This was when the chemical became its most lethal. People could be exposed just by spending time in an area where it was once sprayed. Twelve to fourteen different dioxins can be found in industrial areas such as New Jersey. Years after being exposed, it can still be detected in the blood stream.”

Sutton conducted a question-and-answer session, which included questions about the Blue Water Navy and their exposure to the chemical. There was also information given about how to submit a claim regarding medical issues related to exposure.

“It’s important to make sure that anyone who sees a doctor for an illness related to exposure of this dioxin tell the doctor to make note of it,” said State Service Officer Margaret Wojciechowicz. “This note can then be submitted to the government by a state service officer such as myself,”