For 32 years, the reunion group — which is not affiliated with any other veterans organization — has met, usually in one of the state’s medium-size cities. In the past two years, it has met in North Platte and Norfolk.
This year, the group's members are coming to Omaha for only the third time. They are hoping to boost interest by visiting the state’s largest city.
“Most of our clientele is outstate, west of Lincoln,” said Jaime Obrecht of Lincoln, a member of the reunion’s board of directors. “Each year, we try to pick up new people.”
Typically, the gathering attracts about 300 veterans at a family-friendly reunion that is heavy on social events like golf, hospitality suites and tourist visits but also features helpful seminars from groups including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
One of the headline events will be a pair of town hall-style “Faces of Agent Orange” sessions moderated by Maynard Kaderlik, a Minnesota veteran who is chairman of the Vietnam Veterans of America Agent Orange committee.
“Faces of Agent Orange” is the VVA’s national campaign to boost awareness of possible health threats that wartime exposure to herbicides poses to the children and grandchildren of veterans of the Vietnam War.
For years, the VA has paid benefits to Vietnam veterans who contract several diseases — including several forms of cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s disease — that have been linked to exposure through scientific studies.
It has long been suspected, but never proved, that veterans’ exposure to Agent Orange may cause birth defects and genetic maladies in their children and grandchildren. The Vietnam Veterans of America is supporting federal legislation that would direct the VA to study the impacts of veterans’ chemical exposures on their offspring.
“It was some of the deadliest dioxins that anyone can have in their bodies,” Kaderlik said. “We feel like we brought this home and passed it along through our wives to our children.”