Veterans seek coverage related to Agent Orange exposure – new bill would give treatment to all who served in Vietnam

October 25, 2009

By Brian Tumulty

WASHINGTON — When Wayne Rademaker underwent prostate cancer surgery in 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied him coverage, even though he’d been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam in 1969.

The water that the 60-year-old Oakfield, N.Y., resident drank and showered with aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany in the Tonkin Gulf contained traces of the toxic defoliant.

But to save money, the VA years ago stopped covering Vietnam veterans who didn’t serve on the ground.

“They changed the wording, saying if you didn’t have feet on the ground, you weren’t part of the war,” Rademaker said.

Until that policy shift, Rademaker had received a free annual VA physical to check for service-related illnesses.

Some New York lawmakers want to reverse the VA policy.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced legislation this week in the Senate to cover Navy, Air Force and other personnel who came into contact with Agent Orange at sea or while loading aircraft used to deliver it.

Veterans who received the Vietnam Service Medal or the Vietnam Campaign Medal automatically would be covered.

An identical bill introduced in May in the House has 180 sponsors, including New York Reps. John Hall, D-Dover, Eric Massa, D-Corning, Mike Arcuri, D-Utica, Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, and Nita Lowey, D-Harrison.

In Elmira, Robert Bly, director and benefits adviser for the Chemung County Department of Veterans Affairs, said the effort to recognize additional veterans for their exposure to Agent Orange comes as good news to him and the local veterans who so far have been excluded from that type of health coverage.

“If there is a measure that is passed that allows them to get that presumption (of exposure), that’s very good news,” Bly said. “I have a number of veterans in that category that we’ve worked on claims for.

“Absolutely it would have an impact,” he said. “We have a lot of what are referred to as blue-water Navy veterans — those who were in the theater but can’t prove that they were boots on the ground in Vietnam.”

Gillibrand said she became aware of the issue from a veterans’ advisory committee she set up while serving as a House member representing the Hudson Valley.

“These veterans are being treated very poorly,” she said.

Passage of the legislation — which would increase the VA’s health care costs — may be difficult.

“It will be controversial, but I think we will be able to develop the support necessary for it,” Gillibrand said.

Recent scientific findings, such as a study earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine, have added to the large body of evidence that exposure to Agent Orange increases the risk of health problems such as heart disease or Parkinson’s.

New York’s junior senator also has introduced another bill, the Agent Orange Children’s Study, that would require the VA to examine the possibility that chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and asthma in children can be traced to their parent’s exposure to Agent Orange.

“I have high hopes,” Rademaker said.

His cancer was covered by private insurance and is in remission, but he still worries about developing other service-related health problems.

Navy veteran Willard Hughes of Bath said in a phone interview that he’s also optimistic that Congress will eliminate the VA’s denial of Agent Orange coverage for service members who weren’t on the ground.

Hughes served aboard a destroyer, the USS Newman K. Perry, while it was stationed for six months along Vietnam’s Mekong River delta. He provided gunfire support for ground troops.

The 69-year-old BOCES retiree suffered from Type 2 diabetes and has breathing problems that he says were caused by Agent Orange in the ship’s drinking water.

“They were using Agent Orange quite heavily during that time as a defoliant,” Hughes said.

He said Australia and New Zealand have recognized the connection and cover their seamen who served in Vietnam.

About Sharon Kramer

Hi, I'm an advocate for integrity in health marketing and in the courts.
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33 Responses to Veterans seek coverage related to Agent Orange exposure – new bill would give treatment to all who served in Vietnam

  1. bernard tuchtenhagen says:

    i am still trying to prove that i was taken to the uss ranger cva61 from cubi pt to danang vietnam
    and then to the ranger on 3-2-1966 records only show me arriving on the ranger says nothing about my cod flight bernard tuchtenhagen 4886469 atr2 i was in vaw13 detachment one

  2. Hi, I’m sorry. I don’t know the answer to your question.

  3. Michele Bretz says:

    What about the family members who were stationed or were pregnant at Midway 1963-64, were we considered exposed to Agent Orange?

  4. Dear brother in arms ,I am still fighting the Vietnam war like you it isn’t over for us now the enemy is the VA I got orders to the rock in 1970 and flew out of Anderson a f b in Dec71 I’m trying to prove that I was a duty driver for my ship the US s PROTEUS I’m waiting for a court date .every time I put a claim in they change my statements .I was diagnosed with WALDENSTROM MACRO GLOBULAR ANEMIA AND DIABETES mellitus 2 in2003 I ,how do I have the same cancer and diabetes mellitus the Vietnam veterans get and never set boots on the ground,? you got answers I read all of your posts we must never give up,the government has all of the data on all AGENT ORANGE EXPOSURE CLAIMS why are we being denied the gov has spent millions for our former enemies but what about us the gov did a very bad thing using AGENT ORANGE knowing that it was harmful it is equally harmful to deny service men exposed to agent Orange medical attention,I must end my rant ,sincerely Bart iannaccone aka

  5. Tom Nall says:

    Anybody who served aboard the USS Wrangell is now on the list as a Blue water sailor for Agent Orange. The VA now has realized it.

  6. J.C. Beller says:

    Thank you for the information! My husband served on the US Oriskany 1968-1970 Westpac Tour.
    He was diagnosed at 61 with Prostate Cancer. The option we took was prostectomy and he has
    done well. The fact of the ED, has caused him some issue’s but he is such a strong man that he does not dwell on any of it. The Oriskany had multiple on multiple times contamination of their water. The crew drank, showered, washed their clothing and ate food cooked with the water. The ship was on the Gulf of Tonkin about 25 miles off shore, do any of you know of the agent orange
    being on the returning planes? How far would the air carry the fall out? My husband is filing for benefits but told, “Blue Water vet’s not covered.” I am asking for help from any of you and your expertise in this matter. Did the Oriskany carry Agent Orange? Our local Va rep, asked that we seek information from other “Blue Water Vets” and get it in writing. I am asking as a friend to
    please write to us , as we will help you. We are grateful for any help. Please mail to:
    J.C. Beller, 3921 Valinda Way, Klamath Falls, Oregon 97603. To all of you, I am sorry for your illness and please know our son is a paralyzed Marine. As he would say Semper Phi!

  7. Go for it. My name is Romeo Nicolas and I have been fighting to gain compensation with VA when I “set foot myself on the ground” of Danang, the 14th of May 1972. I file for compensation from 2004 for PSA followed by Diabetes II and hyphertention but still continue fighting another war with VA ’til now. I knew they are waiting for me to die into different complication. But the truth, the US Navy transfere me from USS Coral Sea CV 43 to FASOTRAGRUPAC in California. At that time, the exact location of the ship was YANKEE STATION and it was a fact. The CO, Capt. Hunter announce that day (14th May 1972) the good news that they are heading to Hongkong vice Subic Bay. I won’t be surprise that thousand of veterans like you and I are being treated now as forgotten veterans God bless you fellow veteran.

  8. Stanley Carico says:

    Have been batteling with the VA for 22 years after having an Ischemic Stroke, left permanetly dissabeled at 47 yr. old. Would like any help possible.

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