“Agent Orange has killed more Vietnam Veterans then were killed in the war,” said Paul Narson, Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 president. “We felt the world should know about it.”
Chapter 32, based in Whitestone, was one of the sponsors of Saturday’s event along with the Military Outreach Committee and Free & Accepted Masons.
The event was one of 76 held over the past year as part of the Agent Orange Education Campaign, organized by the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the Committee for Agent Orange Exposure.
Agent Orange is the name for a toxic herbicide used by the U.S. military in Vietnam and other Southeastern Asian countries to defoliate jungles and expose the enemy. It is estimated that between 1962 and 1971, almost 11 million gallons of Agent Orange—named for the orange band on the storage drum—was sprayed in Vietnam, primarily from aircraft.
“We’d take our shirts off, we thought it was a cool mist,” said Mark Ginsburg, a combat medic in Vietnam from 1967-1968, “Three days later the trees would be barren.”
In 2006, Ginsburg was diagnosed with bladder and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is one of 68 diseases and illnesses presumed by the Veterans Administration (VA) to be linked to Agent Orange, so Ginsburg receives monthly compensation from the government. Bladder cancer is not linked to Agent Orange, according to the government.
Despite his illnesses, Ginsburg was more fortunate than others in attendance on Saturday.
One former paratrooper, who declined to give his name, was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer four years ago and has been battling bureaucracy at the VA ever since to receive compensation.
“I must call 30 times before I get to speak to anyone, then they say ‘send me your paperwork.’ But I filed 1,000 pages of paperwork two years ago,” he said.
It was stories like these that Herb Worthington came to capture. Worthington, now the National Chairman for Agent Orange Exposure and the director of Region II for the VVA, served as a light weapons infantryman and combat illustrator in places like Cu Chi and the Plain of Reeds, where significant amounts of Agent Orange were used.
Not only did he develop type II diabetes and nerve damage from the exposure, but his daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his son has suffered from severe allergies and bronchitis since birth. Worthington is sure his children’s suffering is related to Agent Orange exposure.
“We are trying our best to help our children and grandchildren,” he said. “We know of kids who have died because of their conditions.”
The only illness in children of veterans recognized by the government as connected to Agent Orange is Spina Bifida, but Worthington and the VVA are convinced there are many others.
“There are not one or two or six or 10 diseases you can point to,” said VVA President John Rowan. “There are many, many illnesses. Some are physical, some are mental, some are a combination.”
Worthington started to think his daughter’s illness was related to Agent Orange when he worked for the VA and met numerous other veterans whose children were also diagnosed with MS.
That is why he and his wife, Angela Worthington, have made it their mission to gain support for S.1602, introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. The bill proposes a national center for the diagnosis, treatment and research of health conditions of the descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances during service.
The center would not only help Vietnam veterans, but veterans of any wars who were exposed to toxins. Gulf War veterans, for example, were exposed to toxins from burning oil and ammunition dumps and now have the highest rate of disability of any war veterans.
“This just goes on and on,” Herb Worthington said. “It’s a terrible thing and we need your help.”
To alert legislators and the public to the ongoing legacy of the war, the VVA is seeking more stories about real people affected by Agent Orange. If you wish to share health struggles that you believe are related to Agent Orange or dioxin, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-585-4000, Ext. 146.
To see lists of illnesses and health concerns that have been linked to Agent Orange, along with benefits, compensation and available health care, visit www.veterans health.org.