Isn’t it amazing how a “tactical herbicide” (Agent Orange, Blue, Pink, White, Green, Purple) can miraculously fall to the ground at the water’s edge and not enter the Gulf of Tonkin? Or in the alternative, that it can run off during the monsoon into the tributaries of streams and rivers but never flow downhill to the ocean? Yes, this amazing chemical is so knowledgeable that it knew not to infest the South China Sea. How considerate. This spared all those souls aboard US Naval vessels out off the coast. And due to the latest extensive scientific research on that subject by the wizards at IOM, we now know with certainty that blue water sailors were never exposed.
In fact, these “blue water” Navy personnel never had to worry that their single-stage, water purification systems would ever ingest the dioxins and picloram byproducts associated with the rainbow defoliants. Calling them tactical herbicides in 2012 is a wonderful attempt to characterize them as some kind of military version of Roundup®. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve used Roundup many times. It has never made vegetation dead as a door nail in less than 24 hours.
After I was no longer exposed on a regular basis to Orange and Blue, I quit coughing up blood. It was never sprayed on me. It was kicked up in the red clay by the rotor wash of choppers taking off and landing. It was blown galley west by the prop wash of C-123s and Porters. In a word, it was in everything, on everything and everywhere I was. I finally got the presumptive exposure in 2008. Lucky me. It only took me 18 years to get VA to recognize and grant it.
On the other hand, the gentlemen of the Navy are not accorded this assumed exposure. The military conveniently “disremembers” that every one of us was given a three day R&R or rest and relaxation break during our one year in country. I hate to be the first one to pop this idyllic balloon but most personnel did not spend it aboard ship nor did their vessel weigh anchor and sail merrily down to Australia for this R&R. Most went ashore and took the 130 klong flight down to Clark AB and thence on to Sydney. The klong flight was a daily milk run originating in Da Nang and went to Cam Ranh Bay, Bien Hoa, and made a u turn at Tan Son Nhut. While it might be argued that only minor amounts of AO were used at Tan Son Nhut, it cannot be said that no one was exposed to this. Every chopper that came in stirred it up. Every F-4 that kicked in afterburner on takeoff blew it about.
Agent Orange, once sprayed or distributed on the ground, whether mixed with diesel or straight out of the drum, still was a heavy molecule that resisted percolation. If stirred up, it jumped right back into the air. Now, what on earth makes the scientists think this insidious substance magically pulled up short when it arrived at the water’s edge? Brown water Vets are accorded this presumptive nicety. They undoubtedly were just as exposed as any of us were. We who were on land can be granted this presumption even if we landed for thirty minutes to refuel before going on to Don Muang for further deployment up north.
This is another nasty truth that the VA overlooks. Every flight from Travis AFB carrying the majority of us over there was on the illustrious World Airways. They were a no-frills contract airline much like my alma mater Air America. No liquor but smoking permitted. Coffee, tea and water. World Airways 707s landed at Hickam AFB in Hawaii to refuel. They then proceeded to Anderson AFB in Guam for their next stop. The flight next landed at Tan Son Nhut AB in-ta da- Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. Most of you will be disenfranchised from this presumption because you didn’t have any orders with a PCS saying RVN. You landed there and deplaned for thirty minutes. You were exposed but you will have the devil’s own time establishing that because VA refuses to acknowledge it. Some have proved this enigma but they are a small minority.
So it is almost incongruous to assume that you went there but somehow magically hovered several feet off the ground and your boots never “set foot in-country”. Maybe, six months later, you zipped down to Vung Tau on R&R, did your 3 day/100 missions over Suzy Wong and were only shot down once (VD). Yet you still managed to do this without actually coming in contact with the eeeevil red clay. By the same token, while aboard ship, you never ingested any liquids that had aspirated through a water purification plant that obtained drinking water via reverse osmosis. After 365 wakeups, you departed by reporting for your return World Airways flight back to the World from TSN. Somehow, you did this by tiptoeing above the red clay without actually coming in contact with it again. Magic? you betcha.
I will grant that there were some on larger vessels who arrived and departed via same. I will not grant that every Tom, Dick and Harry sailed across the Pacific in a minesweeper or missile frigate. VA insists this is so unless you can prove otherwise. At present, there are documents that state 2.3 million of us actually got our boots dirty. Of those, only 867,000 are still vertical and currently exerting a carbon footprint on the planet. Our numbers continue to erode far faster than any other group of Veterans. The list of diseases recognized has expanded by about 10 since they even admitted there might be a problem in 1991. Several Vets I know are now coming down with insidious forms of autoimmune diseases even though there is no family history of this. I have Crohn’s disease that isn’t Crohn’s. All the symptoms and indeed the pathology of all the small bowel (currently 82 cm)they have been cutting out of me since 1996 scream Crohn’s but the cell structure is subtly different. My son suffers from the large bowel version called Ulcerative Colitis. Coincidence? You betcha. I have more iron in my liver than a magnet. The alarms go off at the airport when I go through the detector (just joking). Nevertheless, for years VA insisted this Porphyria is inherited, or, perhaps from drinking too much. It couldn’t possibly be from two years of AO exposure because I didn’t manifest it to a “compensable” degree within one year of leaving Vietnam. It couldn’t be from hepatitis because hepatitis is not listed in my “military” SMRs but rather in my private “civilian” records that just happened to be dated at about the same time I was serving.
Let’s be frank here. Does anyone with a scientific medical background honestly believe that every disease exhibits the exact same pathology in all subjects 100% of the time? If no one knew to look at a skin disease they suffered since 1972 or the blood they were coughing up until someone mentioned AO, they wouldn’t attribute it to this. Monsanto knew in 1957 that there were BIG problems. The Air Force knew by the early sixties that there were going to be “issues” and scaled back use of Agents Pink, Green, White and Purple. Once the genie was out of the bottle, it did not sink down in the soil as most would imagine. Certainly it did so over time but we are not arguing that. The extensive use of it day in and day out created a large amount for a finite time but it was omnipresent. For the VA to downplay your exposure due to being several miles offshore is patently ridiculous if you even went ashore once. That’s their familiar “just a little bit pregnant” version. VA’s Adobe Acrobat (2) word program describes this as “stepped foot in Vietnam” as in “We went down to Tijuana last weekend and I stepped foot in Mexico for the first time.” For those of us with real TDY or PCS orders assigning us in-country, we got the presumption for being there- even if for just 30 minutes. Why not three days on R&R?
I would ask each and every one of you reading this to remember how you got there. Did you sail over? If not, then you were exposed. Just because the VA says you cannot prove it is immaterial. The process of elimination is useful here. We can safely rule out swimming over. Once it has been ascertained you flew there, the presumption kicks in. There is no other explanation other than FM- with the latter letter standing for Magic, of course. Since VA doesn’t recognize FM, or many other logical explanations, anyone filing might want to submit a Mercator projection of the earth’s surface and the fuel tank specifications/range of Boeing 707s.
One day, when all of us are long gone, there will be a gnashing of teeth, a beating of breasts and ululations of grief that the scientists were so dense as not to realize AO had matriculated into the Gulf of Tonkin. Letters of apology will be sent out but-due to death-no remunerations will be forthcoming. That will be the enduring legacy to Mr. Haas and his blue water compatriots. FM? You betcha.