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Agent Orange Problems Out There?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by fishpicker, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. fishpicker

    fishpicker Monkey+

    Hi There.
    Just had a prostate biopsy and tested positive for cancer.
    I am a Vietnam Vet and it is presumed that all of us were exposed to agent orange which is linked to prostate cancer.
    I've started the claim process but wonder if there any brother veterans on this board that have gone through making claims regarding health issues related to A.O.
    I'm fortunate to have a decent job with pretty good health insurance so I am so much better off then others but who knows what's down the road.
    Appreciate any input.
    Motomom34, chelloveck and HK_User like this.
  2. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

  3. chelloveck

    chelloveck Diabolus Causidicus

    Just letting you know that the like is for seeking counsel of other monkeys in dealing with VA about war service health related issues. There are a number of monkeys here who are war veterans, some of whom, like HK, are negotiating the VA obstacle course in securing assistance with dealing with service related health issues. He is a good resource to consult, and may be able to refer you to other resources that may support your quest.

    Best wishes go with you, and those who are your immediate support network.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  4. Motomom34

    Motomom34 Moderator Moderator Site Supporter++

    This is an old thread and I hope that @fishpicker got the help he needed. My Uncle is a Vietnam vet. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had half of his stomach removed. It seemed the medical issues started to snowball about 10 years ago. The VA has been good with addressing all of his health issues. They declared him disable because of one issue after another, all that related back to agent orange. My Uncle had never been active n the VFW but when he got sick, he learned that they were able to help him and point him to the resources that gave him the help he needed.
    HK_User and chelloveck like this.
  5. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    Yes AO is a cumulative problem, with time the damage to the human DNA within the body causes many problems.

    So far I have missed AO bullet as well as mesothelioma. Test have shown me to be pretty much a non contender for Meso and if I make it another 20 years then the same for AO.
    Ganado and chelloveck like this.
  6. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    My take is that the VA is limited by Congress, sure Congress makes the laws that control the VA, a point often missed by the Media and the world at large. But it will take Congress to pass the laws to allow the Blue Water Sailor a chance at receiving the services they were promised. Of course most will be dead before that happens.

    The problem arises with the phrase itself of Blue Water Sailor, security was paramount during Vietnam and even though I was there I had to apply for a DD215 to prove it and receive my service medal - IN 1991!

    My problem now is that our operations were all coastal and with a ribbon and three stars that means this so called Blue Water Sailor was actually a Brown Water Sailor and drinking a lot contaminated water from Vietnam. So we are now in the process of proving this fact. Thanks to a lot of information gathered on line the dates of when we were there is now listed and the Operational Names jive with those dates and prove that we were within the watershed area and thus the run off of AO spraying.

    I am finding that those I served with are decreasing rapidly, many from common causes of AO.

    My task is to prove the dates and locations of our operations and help those I can.

    Recently In a discussion with my very knowledge wife, after she found out what I was researching, she stated "If you were not computer savvy and had a problem with the VA then you wouldn't have a chance." Truer words were never spoke and that's why I am up at 0530.

    I woke from dreaming and remembering one tid bit of information I had saved and the other thick notebook of US NAVY Awards on my book shelf which confirms my thoughts.

    Time to advance my research into the real world and kick down the VA door.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2016
    chelloveck, kellory, Garand69 and 5 others like this.
  7. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    Reliving Agent Orange

    40 Years After Vietnam, Blue Water Navy Vets Still Fighting for Agent Orange Compensation
    Though most didn’t step foot in Vietnam, some 90,000 Navy vets who served offshore may have been exposed to the chemical brew and seek benefits. The battle is playing out in the courts and in Congress. It boils down to a comma.

    by Charles Ornstein and Terry Parris Jr., ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-Pilot, Sep. 11, 2015, 7 a.m.

    18 Comments Print Print
    This is part of an ongoing investigation
    Reliving Agent Orange
    ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot are exploring the effects of the chemical mixture Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans and their families, as well as their fight for benefits.

    The destroyer Edson, shown in this undated photo, refuels from the aircraft carrier Hancock off the coast of Vietnam. (Naval History and Heritage Command)
    This story was co-published with The Virginian-Pilot.

    To the best of his knowledge, Jim Smith never saw or handled Agent Orange on the Navy ship he served on during the Vietnam War.

    “I never sprayed the stuff, never touched the stuff,” said Smith, 65, who lives in Virginia Beach. “I knew later, vets started getting sick from it, but I didn’t think it had any impact on me.”

    It turns out, he might have been drinking it.

    ‘I Didn’t Think It Was Going to Affect Me.’
    U.S. Navy veterans describe their Vietnam tours, their Agent Orange concerns and their fight for VA benefits. Read more.

    Are you a Vietnam veteran?
    ProPublica and the Virginian-Pilot are interested in hearing from veterans and family members for our ongoing investigation into the effects of Agent Orange on veterans and their children. Share your story.

    The realization came in 2011 — almost 40 years after his one-year tour aboard the ammunition ship Butte — when Smith was diagnosed with prostate cancer and started doing some research.

    He learned that he and other so-called Blue Water Navy veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides even though most of them never set foot in Vietnam, where the spraying took place.

    That’s because the chemicals, used to kill vegetation and deny enemy cover, could have washed into rivers and out to sea, where patrolling Navy vessels sucked in potentially contaminated water and distilled it for use aboard the ships—a process that would have only concentrated the toxin. Every member of the crew would have been exposed: Distilled water was used in showers, to wash laundry and to prepare food. It was used to make coffee, as well as a sugary beverage known as “bug juice,” which flowed from fountains in the enlisted mess.

    “Of all the hazards we faced at sea, I don’t think the drinking water registered on anyone’s list,” said Smith, who’s among thousands of former sailors now seeking compensation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for their ailments, which the Institute of Medicine says could plausibly be related to Agent Orange exposure, though there’s no proving it.

    “I was there,” Smith said. “Agent Orange was there. Would I have gotten cancer anyway? Maybe. But maybe not.”

    Jim Smith of Virginia Beach says he was exposed to Agent Orange aboard the ammunition ship Butte during the Vietnam War, but the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't compensate ailing vets who didn't set foot in country. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
    Agent Orange contained the toxic chemical commonly known as dioxin, which has had harmful effects on Vietnam veterans. The VA presumes any vet who served on land in Vietnam or on boats in its inland waters was exposed to the herbicide, and it compensates them for a litany of associated illnesses, including diabetes, various cancers, Parkinson’s Disease, peripheral neuropathy and a type of heart disease. But the agency has repeatedly argued there’s no scientific justification or legal requirement for covering veterans who served off the coast.

    The group of Blue Water vets — so named to set the sailors apart from their Brown Water Navy counterparts, who patrolled the murky rivers of South Vietnam — has been fighting the VA for more than 10 years. They were initially deemed eligible for compensation under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, only to have the VA change its interpretation a decade later.

    The VA said it is once again considering its policy on Blue Water vets after an appeals court ordered it to do so in April. There is no timetable for a decision, spokesman Randal Noller said.

    In the meantime, vets are pursuing legislation in Congress that would force the VA’s hand. “We’ve got the momentum on our side,” Smith said. “And the science, too.”

    Since being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Smith pays extra attention to staying fit. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
    Smith is among more than 2,700 Vietnam veterans and family members from across the country who’ve shared Agent Orange-exposure stories with ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot in recent months. A few dozen have identified themselves as Blue Water veterans.

    Smith’s experience during the war was typical among Navy vets: He was the personnel officer aboard the Butte, a ship that steamed up and down the southern coast of Vietnam, resupplying destroyers. They usually stayed within a few miles of land but rarely saw the shore, where tens of thousands of Americans waged a ground war.

    Smith, who spent another seven years in the Navy before going to work as a military analyst, had assumed Agent Orange was a problem only for the soldiers who came in direct contact with the chemical on land or those who sprayed it along river banks — “the guys who were in the thick of it,” he said at his kitchen table last month.

    “But like the King himself, Elvis Presley, sang,” Smith said before crooning in a baritone: “‘Like a river flows, surely to the sea ….’

    “Of course our ships came in contact with Agent Orange out there,” he said. “Where else was it going to go?”

    The story of Blue Water veterans’ exclusion from Agent Orange benefits is long and complicated, with the fight still playing out in Congress and in federal courts.

    But at the most basic level, it has come down to the inconsistent placement of a comma.

    The Power of Punctuation
    With the Comma

    This sentence, found in section 3.313 of federal regulations, entitles tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans to presumptive compensation if they are diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Because of the comma after "offshore," the modifier "if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in Vietnam" applies only to Vietnam-era veterans who served in other locations.

    Service in Vietnam includes service in the waters offshore, or service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in Vietnam.

    Without the Comma

    A very similar sentence (minus one consequential comma), found in section 3.307, excludes tens of thousands of Blue Water Navy veterans from presumptive compensation for all other illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure. Because there's no comma, federal courts have said the modifier "if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam" applies to all veterans, including those who served offshore.

    Service in the Republic of Vietnam includes service in the waters offshore and service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam.

    One section of VA regulation broadly defines service in Vietnam as including “service in the waters offshore, or service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in Vietnam.” That definition entitles Blue Water veterans to compensation for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a relatively rare cancer that the VA associates with service in Vietnam and surrounding waters — although it’s not made clear what specifically about service in those areas heightens a veteran’s risk.

    In a separate section of VA regulation — the chapter that describes who’s presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange — service in Vietnam is defined as including “service in the waters offshore and service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam.”

    It’s nearly the same sentence, but because there’s no comma after “offshore" in the second definition, a federal appeals court in 2008 upheld the VA’s 2002 policy decision to exclude Blue Water veterans from Agent Orange compensation unless they can prove they set foot in Vietnam.

    In a letter to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs this year, VA Secretary Robert McDonald wrote that the “VA is obligated to assess the factual and scientific basis for granting disability compensation for all claims, including those associated with Agent Orange exposure. For Veterans who served in the offshore territorial seas of the Republic of Vietnam, there is insufficient evidence to establish a presumption that they were exposed to Agent Orange, which was used over the Vietnam land mass to destroy enemy food crops and reveal enemy activity hidden by jungle foliage.”

    The inconsistency in VA policy is “maddening,” said John Wells, a Louisiana lawyer who’s spent more than a decade advocating for Blue Water veterans.

    “The VA has a way of making simple things complicated,” Wells said. “To me, it’s simple: Agent Orange was mixed with petroleum and sprayed in the rivers. Diesel fuel floats. The rivers lead to the bays, and bays lead to the sea, and seawater was pulled into ships and turned into drinking water.”

    A 2011 Institute of Medicine report seems to support that description, at least in theory. The committee report said there was no way to prove Blue Water vets were exposed to the chemicals, but it identified plausible routes that Agent Orange could have traveled out to sea and into a ship’s distillation system. Although military policy at the time recommended against distilling water closer than 10 miles to shore — where the chemical concentration would have been highest — veterans said doing so was often unavoidable, and their commanding officers routinely ordered it.

    The Institute of Medicine used a theoretical model to assess the desalination process from the 1960s, which used a high-heat flash to evaporate saltwater and collect the salt-free condensation. The researchers found that the process wouldn’t have removed dioxin from the water, but instead would have enriched it by a factor of 10.

    The institute also couldn’t rule out the possibility that some amount of Agent Orange sprayed from airplanes over Vietnam wafted out to sea. Since 1994, the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the congressionally chartered National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, has reviewed evidence on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange and advised the VA.

    Both Blue Water veterans and the VA have cited the Institute of Medicine report. On one hand, advocates point out, the report says it’s possible Navy vets were exposed; on the other, VA officials note, the authors say it’s possible they weren’t.

    Due to a lack of physical evidence, the researchers conceded that they "could not state with certainty” that any Vietnam veteran was exposed to Agent Orange. “Indeed,” the authors wrote, “the committee believes that given the lack of measurements taken during the war and the almost 40 years since the war, this will never be a matter of science but instead a matter of policy.”

    Based on a similar study conducted a decade earlier, which actually replicated the shipboard distillation process, the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs made a different policy decision: It presumes its navy veterans were exposed to Agent Orange off the coast of Vietnam and compensates them for associated ailments.

    Advocates estimate as many as 90,000 potentially exposed Blue Water veterans were cut off from compensation as a result of the 2002 policy change. Any veterans who had received benefits before were supposed to be grandfathered in, but at least one Blue Water veteran reported losing compensation that had been given to him prior to the change.

    Veterans argue the rules are “arbitrary and capricious.”

    In Their Own Words
    Five U.S. Navy veterans describe their Vietnam tours, their Agent Orange concerns and their fight for VA benefits. Hear their stories.

    “I think when we get through with all of this, we’ll find that there’s no difference … between those who served in country and those who served off the coast of Vietnam,” said John Rossie, executive director of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association. “For years, infantry grunts who served on the ground have been watching all their buddies get sick and die from their Agent Orange exposure. I’ve been watching the same thing happen to guys I served with in the Navy. It’s the same story, only the VA says we’re different.”

    A pair of bills being pushed by Rossie’s group would change that. The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act has more than 260 co-sponsors in the House and 21 co-sponsors in the Senate. It would require the VA to provide presumptive compensation for any veteran who has a condition associated with Agent Orange exposure and whose ship came within 12 miles of Vietnam’s coastline or barrier islands (in some places, about 90 miles from the mainland).

    Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Senate version. “Agent Orange did not discriminate between those who stood on boats on rivers and those who stood on boats off-shores,” Gillibrand said in testimony before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee this spring. “So why should the VA discriminate between the two?”

    The VA opposes the legislation, as it has several previous iterations dating back to 2008. It estimates the bill would cost taxpayers $4.4 billion over 10 years, and the first year would cost the most — $1.3 billion — because of pent-up demand. By comparison, the VA spent $21 billion to compensate Vietnam-era vets in fiscal 2013 (the most recent year for which data is available), a figure that includes monthly cash payments but not health care services.

    The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association says extending compensation to Blue Water vets will cost closer to $1 billion over a decade.

    Rossie said this year’s bill has more co-sponsors than in the past, but even without congressional action, many Blue Water vets may soon be eligible for coverage. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims struck down VA rules that denied presumptive Agent Orange compensation for sailors whose ships docked at certain harbors in South Vietnam, including Da Nang. Those ports, the court determined, may have been in the Agent Orange spraying area.

    Depending on how the VA interprets the court ruling, as many as 90 percent of Blue Water veterans who entered territorial waters may be covered, Wells said, because most Navy ships that came that close to shore also docked in Vietnamese harbors. At that point, the legislation to cover any remaining Blue Water vets would cost only about $100 million over 10 years, Wells said.

    But his clients aren’t counting on it.

    “We’re going to keep pressing Congress to act,” Wells said. “The problem is, all our people are dying now, so we’re going to push forward. If we wait on the VA to make this change, who knows how long we’ll be waiting."

    Mark Spiegel, 68, who served aboard the attack transport Pickaway, came down with a number of different cancers after his service. Initially, no one mentioned Agent Orange as a possible culprit. He didn’t apply for benefits at first because of the hostile reaction troops received upon coming home.

    “It just wasn’t a real positive kind of experience,” said Spiegel, who lives in Idaho. “The Navy was OK, but the reaction of the people to the service people wasn’t, so it was something that I kind of stayed away from afterwards.”

    He now believes such compensation is essential for him and those with whom he served.

    Wilson McDuffie, 70, was a postal clerk and courier aboard the aircraft carrier Bennington when it deployed to the South China Sea in 1966. Although most aircraft carriers stayed farther out to sea and didn’t enter Vietnam’s territorial waters — and therefore sailors who served on them wouldn’t be covered under the bills in Congress — McDuffie believes he was exposed. He frequently rode in a helicopter to deliver and pick up documents and other items to and from Vietnam. Supplies used on the ship were flown in daily from Vietnam, and vets say much of the haul was coated in the chemicals.

    The South Carolina resident suffers from diabetes and other ailments he attributes to Agent Orange exposure, but because he doesn’t have documentation to prove he set foot in country, the VA has denied his claims for compensation. Many veterans say they lack documentation of their movements during the era because it was a time of war, and records were lost or destroyed.

    At this point, after years of fighting for coverage, McDuffie’s primarily concerned about former sailors suffering with more grave ailments:

    “The problem is, we are all facing our mortality,” he said. “My feeling is, they’re waiting it out until the Vietnam veterans die and they don’t have to deal with it. Because it’s certainly no hurry-up to get it done for those who are suffering.”
    chelloveck and oldawg like this.
  8. kckndrgn

    kckndrgn Moderator Moderator Founding Member

    I had an uncle that passed due to cancer directly related to A.O. He was Army and was in directly in that crap.
  9. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    For some the connection is way outside the Vietnam arena.
    Here we have proof that Military Personnel who were at Subic Bay or Clark Air Force base were as good as any "Boots on the Ground" contact as mandated by Congress.
    NZ admits supplying Agent Orange

    ABC Online
    NZ admits supplying Agent Orange during war. 09/01/2005. ABC News Online
    [This is the print version of story
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200501/s1279024 .htm
    Last Update:
    Sunday, January 9, 2005. 4:00pm (AEDT)
    NZ admits supplying Agent Orange during war
    A Government Minister says that New Zealand supplied Agent Orange chemicals to the United States
    military during the Vietnam War.
    The disclosure led to immediate claims that New Zealand was in breach of the Geneva Convention and
    could face a flood of lawsuits from veterans and Vietnamese.

    Transport Minister Harry Duynhoven says the highly toxic chemical was sent to a United States base in the
    Philippines during the 1960s.
    "The information that has been given to me is that products used to make Agent Orange were shipped from
    New Plymouth to Subic Bay in the Philippines," he told the
    Sunday News

    After nearly three decades of official denials, a high
    level parliamentary committee formally
    acknowledged late last year that New Zealand soldiers in the Vietnam War were significantly exposed to
    Agent Orange.
    However, no mention was ever made that the country was a supplier.
    Although the National Party was in power during the Vietnam War, Mr Duynhoven says his current
    Labour Government is responsible for setting the record straight.
    "Any government has to deal with the situation it finds itself in and it's always a problem if previous
    governments leave a mess," he said.
    Veterans spokesman John Moller says that the Government must compensate ex
    soldiers and their
    families, some of whom have suffered generations of health problems.
    "It's bloody unacceptable what the New Zealand Government has done to us and the other countries
    involved in the war," he said.
    "Through their deceit, cover
    up and negligence, the New Zealand Government has the blood of thousands
    of Kiwis, Vietnamese, Australians and Americans on their hands."
    Under the Geneva Convention, countries cannot be party to chemical warfare and must declare the use or
    supply of defoliants during conflicts.
    The vice
    chancellor of Canterbury University, Scott Davidson, an authority on international law, says the
    Government had left itself open to lawsuits from Vietnamese.
    US lawyer Constantine Kokkoris, who represents Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange, says he may sue
    the New Zealand Government.
    "It is my intention at this time to look into the possibility of bringing a class against against the New
    Zealand government," he told the
    Sunday News
    Mr Davidson says if negotiations broke down, the United Nations could be called on to find a setting for a
    court case.
    From 1961 to 1971, the US and South Vietnamese military sprayed millions of litres of toxic herbicides,
    mainly Agent Orange, over South Vietnam to destroy the vegetation used by communist forces for cover
    and food.
    Vietnam says the defoliant has caused health problems for more than 1 million Vietnamese and continues
    to have devastating consequences.
    A study released in August last year by scientists from the United States, Germany and Vietnam found that
    Agent Orange is still contaminating people through their food.
    Dioxin, the defoliant's deadly component, can cause an increased risk of cancers, immunodeficiencies,
    reproductive and developmental changes, nervous system problems and other health problems.
    2008 Australian Broadcasting Corporation
    Copyright information:
    Privacy information:
    ABC Privacy
  10. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    Direct Exposure to Agent Orange
    July 29, 2011/in General /by Matthew Hill
    Direct Exposure to Agent Orange Subic Bay Philippines

    The VA has admitted that exposure to Agent Orange can be very harmful to one’s health, and the exposure can lead to the development of several serious diseases. In most Agent Orange cases, the VA concedes that the veteran has been exposed to Agent Orange due to a presumption of exposure. The VA has granted broad presumptive exposures to veterans who served on the ground in Vietnam. The VA also has extended presumptive exposure to veterans who served in the DMZ in Korea in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Recently, the VA has additionally conceded that Agent Orange was used in Thailand and has started granting the presumption of exposure to veterans that served there as well. Essentially, if a veteran served in one of these areas, the VA presumes that that the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange. But what about veterans that served outside the presumptive areas and were still exposed to Agent Orange?

    Those veterans have to prove to the VA that they came into direct contact with Agent Orange. These cases are difficult for several reasons. First, the VA is not likely to help the veteran with his case. Even though the VA has a duty to assist veterans in developing evidence to prove their cases, when it comes to cases involving exposure to Agent Orange outside of the presumptive areas, the VA will not help veterans get records. Furthermore, the Department of Defense has stated that Agent Orange was made in Gulfport, Mississippi and shipped directly to Vietnam. It is extremely difficult to find service records documenting the storage or use of Agent Orange outside of Vietnam.

    Recently, Hill & Ponton won a case where the veteran never set foot in Vietnam. The veteran was stationed in Subic Bay Philippines. He was responsible for guarding an ammo depot. He testified that merchant ships would bring in barrels of Agent Orange and that he would have to guard the barrels at the dock. The VA Regional Office denied the case stating that there was never any Agent Orange sent to Subic Bay from Gulfport, Mississippi. We found evidence that the Agent Orange was actually produced in New Zealand and sent directly to Subic Bay Philippines. Through the New Zealand evidence, buddy statements from men who served with the veteran, and the veteran’s testimony that he had the liquid from the barrels leak onto his shoes, we were able to convince a judge at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals that this veteran did have direct exposure to Agent Orange.

    Once you prove that a veteran was exposed to Agent Orange—presumptively or directly—then the veteran is entitled to service connected compensation for any disability on the VA’s presumptive list. So, in our Subic Bay case, the veteran has diabetes mellitus. Now that we have shown that he had a direct exposure to Agent Orange, he is entitled to compensation for the diabetes because that disease is on the VA’s presumptive Agent Orange diseases list.

    As you can see, cases involving direct exposure to Agent Orange are much more difficult than presumptive exposure cases. Direct exposure cases require the veteran to go the extra mile to find supporting documents and witnesses to verify the veteran’s statements. The important lesson to take away, though, is that just because it is difficult does not mean it is impossible. If you believe that you were exposed to Agent Orange outside a presumptive area—on a Naval ship or a place like Subic Bay Philippines where it was stored—do not give up when the VA denies your claim. Instead, realize that you are going to have to find the evidence without the VA’s help.
    Cruisin Sloth likes this.
  11. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    Two Marine Veterans Unite Decades Later to Win VA Appeals for Exposure to Agent Orange in Subic Bay, Philippines

    Two Marine Veterans Unite Decades Later to Win VA Appeals for Exposure to Agent Orange in Subic Bay, Philippines
    How Veterans Use Buddy Statements and Other Evidence to Reopen Cases

    4 [​IMG]
    July 09, 2013 13:32 ET | Source: The Law Offices of Hill & Ponton, P.A.

    Daytona Beach, FL, July 9, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Marines are known for getting the job done. What seems impossible to the rest of us is not so to a Marine--whose hallmark bravery, strength, and determination carry him on the battlefield to accomplish any mission. And when service to our country comes to an end, those traits which embody the Marine are not left behind. That grit in the face of all odds prepares the veteran for a different battle at home. For many disabled veterans whose claims for service-connected disabilities are denied by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the road to victory before the Board of Veterans' Appeals (BVA) is an uphill battle. This is the story of two Marine veterans, their exposure to Agent Orange, and the fight to obtain benefits which our government promised them long ago.

    Agent Orange is the name given to a blend of highly toxic herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1962 to 1971 in Vietnam to remove foliage that provided enemy cover. Its name is derived from the orange identifying stripe used on the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored. The U.S. government has maintained that the only place where Agent Orange was ever stored was in Vietnam and in the factory of origin, which was located in Gulfport, Mississippi.

    Ariel Cintron served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1970 to 1973. While stateside, he was stationed in Camp Lejuene, living in Haddick Point. He was also stationed in Subic Bay, Philippines, and served with the Separate Guard Company of the Marine Barracks. As a security guard, he patrolled the Cubic Point Naval Magazine and piers. It was at Camayan Pier, one of the main piers in Subic Bay, that Cintron was directly exposed to Agent Orange. The veteran recalls merchant ships delivering 55-gallon barrels, some with orange stripes, which were stacked on the pier. Many of these barrels were leaking due to corrosion, and the liquid would get on his shoes as he moved between barrels to check for hidden enemy. He remembers the smell of the liquid--an unmistakable odor of herbicides.

    As with all of our nation's veterans, the price of war is high. Even for those lucky enough to come home, the physical and emotional toll is heavy. As a result of his direct exposure to Agent Orange, Cintron developed Type II Diabetes Mellitus and many secondary disabilities resulting from that service-connected disease. However, the VA's Regional Office denied his claim in December 2002, and thus began his long journey of appeal, just as so many veterans before him.

    Rene Hernandez, also an ex-Marine, performed active military duty from December 1968 to October 1971. In fact, he was a contemporary of Cintron's in the same unit in Subic Bay, and performed the same job function--security guard. After completing his service, Hernandez too claimed direct exposure to the Agent Orange stored there in 55-gallon barrels. He also developed Type II Diabetes Mellitus and a host of secondary disabilities, as well. His claim for compensation was also denied in December 2002 by the VA's Regional Office, and the arduous task of appeal before the BVA was begun.

    Neither of these Marines could have foreseen that their paths would cross again stateside. Neither man at their time of service was aware that the liquid stored in those barrels was Agent Orange. Complicating matters, while the VA has admitted that Agent Orange can cause devastating diseases, including the diabetes suffered by these two ex-Marines, the agency has mandated that veterans must either have served in Vietnam or have had direct exposure to Agent Orange to claim benefits--a difficult thing to prove. Given that neither Cintron nor Hernandez had ever served in Vietnam, their cases rested upon the direct exposure connection. Somehow, contrary to the government's assertion, Agent Orange did end up in storage barrels in Subic Bay, Philippines. But how did it get there, who knew about it, and what could be done to prove it to the government? The veterans had their work cut out for them. Without new and material evidence that placed the storage of Agent Orange in Subic Bay during their service, the two cases were closed for good.

    The burden of proving exposure to Agent Orange lies with the victim. Though lay testimony is gaining acceptance before the VA--particularly in cases of combat veterans or victims of military sexual trauma--a victim's statement alone is generally not enough to prove the occurrence of an incident in service. Attorneys who advocate for veterans often rely upon the detective work of their clients to investigate their past service and uncover new and material evidence that can be used to reopen their cases. That's where the power of the buddy network comes into play.

    The cases of Cintron and Hernandez shared three important circumstances of service--time, duty, and location. To find in favor of one veteran in terms of direct exposure would be to find in favor of the other, given that the two veterans were similarly situated individuals. Both veterans conceded to the Board that, at the time of their service, they did not know the contents of the barrels with an orange stripe contained Agent Orange. It was only later that each read an online VA fact sheet which indicated that barrels such as those they had witnessed did contain Agent Orange. And, thus, the investigation began. These two men who were there for each other as Marines had come full circle to support each other as veterans decades later.

    Both veterans would present new and material evidence to the Board, relying heavily upon "buddy statements" of service members from their past. These letters and affidavits would describe witnessing drums of herbicide marked with orange stripes being shipped to Subic Bay in the Philippines. Others would attest to seeing similar barrels leaking at piers in Subic Bay and cleaning spills from such barrels on ships bound to or from the Subic Bay harbor. In addition, media reports would surface in both the United States and New Zealand that contradicted our government's long-held assertion regarding the storage of Agent Orange only in Vietnam and the factory of origin. One such report actually quoted a New Zealand public official acknowledging that his government had indeed supplied the United States with Agent Orange chemicals which were shipped from New Zealand to Vietnam via the Philippines.

    On May 9, 2011, the VA notified Rene Hernandez of its decision "resolving all reasonable doubt in his favor." As a result, Hernandez has received benefits for treatment of his Type II Diabetes Mellitus as a presumptive in-service disability, along with the multiple complications he has suffered from the disease. In his case, these secondary conditions include neuropathy of his lower extremities, bilateral eye disorder, and kidney disorder.

    The decision afforded Hernandez was used by his attorney to substantiate the case of the other similarly situated marine, working around the VA's mandate that the merits of each veteran's case must stand on its own. Ariel Cintron received the VA's notification to grant his claim for service-connected disability of Type II Diabetes Mellitus on August 9, 2012. His appeal for service connection for bilateral eye disorder was denied. The issues of service connection for peripheral neuropathy, hypertension, and kidney disorder required further examination by the Board, and were eventually granted as well.

    According to Matthew D. Hill, who represented both veterans before the Board, Cintron finally received compensation from the VA this April, 2013. Both veterans reside in Florida. According to Attorney Hill, one of the veterans recently reported from the hospital that he is down to four toes due to the peripheral neuropathy of his diabetes. Both men are willing and able to talk to others about their cases of appeal.

    A summary of evidence supplied by ex-marines Cintron and Hernandez, based upon buddy statements and new reports, to substantiate their cases before the Board of Veterans' Appeals:

    March 31, 2003 - Department of the Army letter in response to February 15, 2003 Freedom of Information Act request by Mr. Rene Hernandez for herbicide information, indicating that herbicides were not sprayed, stored, or tested near U.S. personnel in the Philippines.

    January 11, 2005 - New Zealand Herald article, "Government probes claims NZ exported Agent Orange," by Kevin Taylor, indicating that government officials were looking into a claim that Agent Orange ingredients were made in New Zealand and shipped to the U.S. military in the 1960s, specifically the military base at Subic Bay in the Philippines for the war.

    June 8, 2005 - Eyewitness statement from a retired U.S. Navy seaman/radioman assigned to the USS Arlington from September 1966 to April 1968, who witnessed gray barrels with an orange stripe and green barrels with yellow writing transported on the ship, both labeled chemical, with liquid inside that smelled like herbicide. Over 100 pallets with 4 to 8 barrels per pallet were off loaded at Subic Bay, Philippines in December 1967. He recalls cleaning spills from the barrels, and breathing air, eating food, and drinking water that was contaminated with Agent Orange while at port in Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam.

    June 12, 2005 - Letter from a retired U.S. Navy captain and ship's chaplain, USS White Plains, from 1968 to 1970, regarding specific details of an August 1969 spill/clean up of chemicals, years later identified to him as Agent Orange. He claims the ship served as the primary supplier of the "substance" from the main supply source in Subic Bay to multiple points along the Vietnam coast in Operation Market Time. In 1992, the captain was diagnosed with Type II diabetes with little family history.

    In a statement in support of R. Hernandez, the major spill of non-diluted Agent Orange aboard the USS White Plains was collaborated by a member of the ship's Damage Control and Fire Fighter Team, who served on the ship from 1969 to 1970. He claims his 100 percent disability decision was due to contamination from non-diluted Agent Orange.

    September 1, 2005 - ABC News Online reports New Zealand admits supplying Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The article quotes Transport Minister Harry Duynhoven as saying that "products used to make Agent Orange were shipped from New Plymouth to Subic Bay in the Philippines" during the 1960s.

    July 9, 2009 - Affidavit from a retired U.S. Navy deck seaman who served on the USS Arlington from February to December, 1967, and witnessed the ship pick up 120-plus barrels on pallets in Subic Bay, Philippines, late September to early October 1967. The green barrels with yellow writing and the gray barrels with an orange stripe were stored in the hangar bay, secured, and eventually loaded off at Cam Rahn Bay, Vietnam on November 1-2, 1967.

    July 6, 2010 - Statement of support made by a veteran who served in the Marines from 1968 to 1975, and alongside R. Hernandez at Subic Bay, Philippines, providing security for the U.S. Naval Magazine. He verified the presence of 55-gallon barrels at both the magazine and the pier in the jungle, where all munitions and chemicals were loaded off and on the ships. He observed barrels marked with orange paint, which oftentimes leaked from the bottoms and dripped down on the pallets to the deck, where puddles formed and men routinely walked through them.

    Matthew Hill is on the board of National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, Inc. (NOVA) and a managing partner at Hill & Ponton, specializing in Veterans Disability Law. He oversees the NOVA committee responsible for organizing bi-annual training conferences on veterans' benefits. Hill also speaks at national seminars on veterans' benefits. He is a member of the Florida Bar Association, Orange County Bar Association and American Bar Association. For more information, please contact Hill & Ponton at 1-888-477-2363 or info@hillandponton.com

    Contact: Matthew D. Hill, Attorney at Law
    Tel: 1-888-477-2363
    444 Seabreeze Blvd., Suite 235
    Daytona Beach, FL 32118
  12. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    I have filled a claim for AO direct contact and as a cause for three symptoms I have. I do not expect to win the first round.
  13. HK_User

    HK_User A Productive Monkey is a Happy Monkey Site Supporter

    The VA Cheer:

    Deny, Deny, Deny until they Die!
  1. Ganado
    Thread by: Ganado, Oct 3, 2016, 5 replies, in forum: Survival of the Fittest
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