Vietnam vets relate Agent Orange tales

By Marianne Renner

When local Viet Now members gathered Saturday to learn about new research in Agent Orange, many expressed their own experiences with the chemical and correlated diseases.

William Lewis of the New Jersey Agent Orange Commission said a recent widow called him to relate the story of how her husband died of “Hot Leukemia.”

“She said her husband was feeling fine until around Christmas when he felt a little sick. He didn’t think much of it until one Friday he felt pain all over. When he went to the doctor, he was diagnosed as having ‘Hot Leukemia.’ The doctor said he had about six months to live, and by the following Wednesday, he died,” he said.

The man was a Vietnam veteran who had been married for five months.

The victims claim doctors in the Veteran’s Administration and the federal government will not accept or recognize the concept of Agent Orange.

“It is non-existent to them,” said Dan Driessen, Agent Orange committee representative and Viet Now member. “I went to the VA hospital for stomach problems and skin rashes. I said to the VA doctor that the cause was Agent Orange and he said, ‘What’s that?'”

Sandra Davis, Viet Now national Agent Orange chairman, agreed the doctors do not acknowledge the chemical. “When my husband (a veteran) went into the hospital they asked if there have been any miscarriages or birth defects, but they can’t say why they are asking,” she said.

The VA doctors will not mention the word Agent Orange or admit to knowing anything about it, Davis said.

Davis has a 13-year-old son born with cerebral palsy. She said, “He can’t sit up, he can’t do anything for himself and he has to wear a diaper. I have no doubt Agent Orange was the cause.”

Davis’ husband was a combat engineer in the war, and part of his responsibility was to spray the chemical for defoliation.

Dreissen said a friend of his recently was diagnosed as having lymph node cancer. He said when he went to the VA hospital, to get his medical records; he could not get them. He said he wants his family to receive benefits, but the government does not recognize Agent Orange or the war as a factor.

Davis said, “We are trying to get Vietnam veterans to be aware of these (health) problems. Imagine, a guy is told he was poisoned, then the guy next to him starts getting sick.”

Sam Russo, Viet Now national vice president, said he has five children and the only one without asthma is the one born before he came back from the war. He said there is no absolute proof the chemical was the cause, but the “coincidences” are great.

Pam Peterson, also a wife of a veteran, said her husband suffers from an overweight problem. She said he hardly ever eats, yet he continues to gain weight and no one can offer a diagnosis.

Peterson said her son suffers from epilepsy, yet, it does not run in her family, and doctors do not know what kind of epilepsy it is.

All victims agree the best solution to the problem is more Agent Orange research to help families in the future.