By Adam Bednar
October 17, 2009
The Vietnam War may seem far away and long ago, but some Carroll
County veterans who served in that conflict are still suffering from
the health effects of being exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange.
The list of illnesses the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
recognizes as being caused by exposure to Agent Orange during the war
continues to increase.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki announced Tuesday a
service connection between three more diseases and the herbicide. B
cell leukemia, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease are now
recognized by the federal government as being caused by exposure to
the herbicide during the war.
The Department of Veterans Affairs now recognizes 15 illnesses as the
result of exposure to Agent Orange, which was sprayed to defoliate
trees and remove cover from the enemy.
"We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to
service, and we will," Shinseki said in a press release. "Veterans
who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence."
Al LaBeau, a veteran employment representative for the state who
works in Carroll and Howard counties and is a disabled Vietnam
veteran, said veterans had to fight to get the government to
recognize that their health issues were related to exposure to the herbicide.
"A lot of vets fought for the diseases [to be recognized] tooth and
nail. A lot of them died without getting their claims," he said.
LaBeau said he struggled with the government for eight years before
they would recognize his heart problems as being related to his
exposure to Agent Orange during the war.
LaBeau, who served as a supply sergeant with the 118th Assault
Helicopter Company in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, said he was exposed to Agent
Orange when the Air Force sprayed the herbicide near the base.
He said one day the company formation was sprayed with the chemical
when a plane flew overhead.
"I looked up and thought, 'What the hell are they doing that for?'"
Kurt Hider, who works for the state's disabled veteran's outreach
program in Westminster, said the county has more than 14,000
veterans, but he did not have an exact figure of how many served in Vietnam.
The insidious thing about Agent Orange is that service members in
Vietnam weren't the only people who were exposed, Hider said. Because
the chemicals were created in the United States and sent overseas,
many veterans who never saw Vietnam came into contact with it.
"Anybody that served in the Vietnam era was exposed," he said.
Reach staff writer Adam Bednar at 410-751-5908 or adam.bednar@car
Illnesses previously recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs
as being caused by exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War are:
Acute and subacute transient peripheral neuropathy
Chronic lymphocytic leukemia
Diabetes mellitus (Type 2)
Porphyria cutanea tarda
Soft tissue sarcoma (other than osteosarcoma, chondrosarcoma,
Kaposi's sarcoma, or mesothelioma)