Member John of sunny Florida recently wrote to remind me of a perennial program that will soon die. The Agent Orange Act of 1991, which finally unmasked the hideous effects of the Rainbow defoliants used extensively in SEA and to a lesser degree throughout the military over the years, is once again set to expire.
One must remember that this impending expiration of the Act on September 30th will automatically cease any further investigation of disease processes heretofore unknown or unsubstantiated. I probably wouldn’t feel so squeamish about this but it was only five short years ago that National Academy of Scientists (NAS) and the Institute Of Medicine (IOM) identified Parkinson’s disease, hairy B cell leukemia and Ischemic Heart Disease as being caused by it. It was less than 16 years ago they linked Diabetes II to the herbicide. Lastly, it was only twenty five years ago that they admitted something was amiss at all and began studying it in earnest.
To be fair to us Vietnam Veterans and others in Korea, Anderson Island, Okinawa et al, it bears repeating that we are only gradually discovering the correlation between Dioxin and long-term effects. There is much speculation that Crohn’s disease and it’s big brother Ulcerative Colitis (UC) may be linked to this. Far too many of us who got a big dose of Orange and Blue have suddenly manifested the disease late in life. Doctors will tell you that is an anomaly as most digestive diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) surface early on in the late teens.
For the Congress to ignore this catastrophe of its own making and abandon Veterans is grossly unfair. HR 3423 deserves to be extended again and again until all diseases are ferreted out and Veterans are informed. Remuneration for it is axiomatic. Had it not been for my wife, I would probably have never filed for Porphyria Cutanea Tarda in 1994. Had I not done so, I would have suffered in ignorance and died equally so.
I hear many in the Veteran community repeat the mantra that VA’s established policy is to Delay, Deny- Until We Die. Nowhere is this more true than the alleged search for AO diseases. VA has subscribed to the OJ Simpson technique on Agent Orange investigations. OJ spent years after murdering his ex-wife Nicole “searching for her killer” as he put it. The obvious problem was searching for her murderer on some of the finest golf courses in America. The National Academy of Sciences, to their credit, are diligent in their search but are hamstrung by a recalcitrant VA and Congress.
It would be a crime to cease research at this late date when our scientific investigatory capabilities are expanding exponentially. A good analogy would be Orville and Wilbur Wright learning how to fly and then returning the aircraft to the hanger with no further flights planned. What little we know about Dioxin and Picloram has all been garnered within the last twenty five years- a mere blink of the eye in medicinal research. To halt now is unconscionable and short-sighted. What’s truly criminal is that by 1958, The Dow folks were reputed to have deduced that all the Chloracne and Porphyria Cutanea Tarda which the production crews suffered in very high numbers was due directly to dioxin. Nobody said a word.
We owe much to the follow on “Greatest Generation” who served valiantly in ignorance in Vietnam and Laos all the while being hosed by this noxious chemical. That generation also includes my Air America brethren who, in all probability stayed far longer in theatre and subsequently ingested far more. I count myself lucky to only have been diagnosed with one recognized disease (so far). Doctors have been perplexed by my “Crohn’s-like” disease for twenty years because, while it mimics Crohn’s, none of the pathology from the five surgeries has revealed the telltale signature they associate with it. In other words, my Crohn’s isn’t true Crohn’s but a strange variant. My son came down with Ulcerative Colitis in a family with absolutely no history of IBS whatsoever. VA thinks this is merely interesting and has no medical significance vis a vis Dioxin.
It would be a shame to discontinue the search for potential diseases attributable to the various defoliants used on us so long ago. In this day and age of rampant Roundup® use, more and more cases of unique cancers will emerge. The knowledge would be useful for more than just the Vets who were hosed with Orange and Blue. Please ask you congressmen to consider renewing the compact to discover the truth about this. I, for one, do not believe we’ve even scratched the surface on uncovering the truth about Dow’s “gift” to humanity. Perhaps that’s the plan.