Pegi Scarlett had just returned from her husband’s grave this past Memorial Day — the first since his death — when, on a whim, she decided to search online whether other Vietnam vets had died of the same aggressive brain cancer.
With a few keystrokes, she found a Facebook group with a couple hundred widows like herself, whose veteran husbands had died of glioblastoma. She also found an intriguing article: A widow in Missouri had fought for almost eight years before convincing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that she was entitled to benefits for her husband’s fatal brain cancer because of his exposure to the toxic defoliant Agent Orange.
“Shocked is probably the word,” Scarlett said, describing her reaction to what she found. “Story after story after story.”
Many Vietnam veterans are battling the VA to compensate them for a growing list of ailments they believe are caused by their exposure to Agent Orange. But because of the seriousness of glioblastoma multiforme — which is often fatal within months — widows are the ones left to fight.
The Department of Veterans Affairs must decide whether to add new diseases to its list of conditions presumed to be linked to Agent Orange. It also faces calls to compensate naval veterans and those who served along the Korean demilitarized zone. Read the story.
“There’s not a lot of people who fully understand what we’ve all gone through,” said Scarlett, who is now one of the leaders of the Facebook group, where women trade stories and help each other build their cases for benefits.
Scarlett, who lives outside Sacramento, brought an important skillset. As a certified tumor registrar, the 64-year-old spends her days searching through patients’ medical records, logging details about their lives and cancer diagnoses to help the state of California look for patterns.
Now, in her off hours, she gathers information about veterans who’ve died of glioblastoma, hoping to persuade the VA it should provide benefits to their widows. They believe dioxin, a contaminant of Agent Orange, caused their husbands’ cancers.