Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange in Recycled Airplanes

By Edith Carpio
It was used as a warfare technique during the Vietnam War. Today, even 40 years after the war ended, people continue to suffer because of it. American planes dropped a total of 19 million gallons of the toxic herbicide called Agent Orange on forests, fields and American military bases in Vietnam to eliminate areas that might have hidden, housed and fed Vietnamese armed forces fighting against US military operations. The main toxic chemical in Agent Orange is dioxin.

Veterans of the Vietnam War suffer from diseases due to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used in the war. Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to numerous diseases including diabetes, Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer, and many more. American veterans are not the only ones who were affected by Agent Orange. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have fallen victim to the herbicide, including children who are born with birth defects, according to the History Channel.

Over the years, the controversy of its use and effects has undergone legal battles. American veterans who fought on Vietnamese soil were given compensation or health care by the Department of Veterans Affairs for their exposure to Agent Orange only in recent years. Not all veterans were given this compensation. Veterans who were known as the "Blue Water Navy," who were based in deep sea vessels, had to fight harder to get compensation compared to those who fought on Vietnamese soil.

Today, Americans are still fighting for compensation. Some served stateside after the war, such as 69-year-old retired Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Silverman. He is one of 2,100 group members who have been on and flown C-123 transport aircraft from 1972 to 1982.

They were told the airplanes, which transported Agent Orange, were properly cleansed and  disinfected after service in the Vietnam War and before they were returned to the United States air bases located in Ohio, Pittsburgh and Massachusetts, according to a recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Silverman and others were never convinced of the safety of the planes and unfortunately now have diseases that prove they were right to be doubtful. Their diseases were confirmed by the Institute of Medicine to probably be the result of exposure to Agent Orange's most toxic chemical, dioxin residue in planes they were on.

Silverman and others have been awaiting recognition and a statement from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This statement was supposed to give them the same benefits that veterans who fought in Vietnam that suffer from the same kinds of diseases they have, because of exposure to the same thing. The awaited announcement was supposed to be released weeks ago but then got delayed another week. Another week passed and again it was not released because the request was still being considered. No one knows exactly when or if they will receive their compensation at all.

Hopefully Silverman, along with other crew members like nurses, mechanics, and pilots are given the attention and reimbursement they require. They are not a group of people who deserve to be overlooked because safety measurements were not taken seriously when the C-123 airplanes were not properly decontaminated.

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