To understand the predicament of World War II veterans exposed to
mustard gas, take a look at what happened to another set of American
veterans who were exposed to a different toxic chemical.
Last month, NPR reported
that some of those World War II vets are still fighting for disability
benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs because the agency
says they don't have enough proof to substantiate their claims.
Alan Oates says that's the same response Vietnam War veterans started receiving from the VA in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
a young Army private during the war, Oates was providing security for
an engineering outfit in the jungle when he first noticed three planes
flying overhead spraying something.
"I asked the engineers:
What are they doing?" Oates says. "And [one] said: They're spraying
herbicides to kill the vegetation, so that the enemy couldn't hide in
The herbicide was Agent Orange, and Oates says he assumed it was
harmless to humans. But years after coming home, he noticed a tremor in
his left hand.
"I had one finger that just one morning started moving back and forth," he says.
made an appointment with his doctor and was diagnosed with Parkinson's
disease. He's one of thousands of Vietnam veterans who came down with
similar diseases — such as type II diabetes, skin disorders and rare
cancers — after returning from the war.
But when veterans first
began reporting their illnesses, the VA said they didn't have enough
evidence to qualify them for service-related compensation.