Thursday, December 29, 2016
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.
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.
With 2016 drawing to a close and a new presidential administration poised to take over, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs faces an array of decisions related to the herbicide Agent Orange, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin and was used to kill vegetation during the Vietnam War.
In the past, the VA has found enough evidence to link 14 health conditions, including various cancers, to Agent Orange exposure. In March, a federal panel of scientific experts said there is now evidence to suggest that Agent Orange exposure may be linked to bladder cancer and hypothyroidism. It also confirmed, as previous experts have said, that there is some evidence of an association with hypertension, stroke and various neurological ailments similar to Parkinson’s Disease.
As part of our Reliving Agent Orange series, ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot have been recording the voices of those impacted by the herbicide, which contained the toxic chemical dioxin. Watch the videos.
Since then, a VA-led study has found stronger evidence to link hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, to Agent Orange exposure. But high blood pressure is common as people age, so compensating veterans for the condition could be expensive.
If the VA adds those conditions to its list of diseases connected to Agent Orange, anyone who has them and who stepped foot in Vietnam—even for a day--could be eligible for disability payments from the VA.
Tuesday, December 27, 2016
More than four decades have passed since the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended and the last American troops left the country. Yet, for veterans of the war -- and in some cases, their next of kin -- the impact of that service on their well-being is still being determined, particularly for those exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange.
Contaminated with the chemical dioxin, millions of gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in South Vietnam during the war as part of a defoliation program to reduce tree cover for North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops and kill crops that provided food for the opposition.
In the years following the war, exposure to Agent Orange has been found to be associated with a higher risk of developing many health conditions. And veterans groups say more still needs to be done to care for veterans exposed to the herbicide, as well as their family members. At present, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes certain cancers and other health problems among a list of "presumptive diseases" -- or conditions presumed to be associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. Those range from certain luekemias, Hodgkin's disease and prostate cancer to Parkinson's disease. As noted on its website, the VA also presumes certain birth defects in children of Vietnam and Korean War veterans are associated with their parents' service. That includes spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when a baby's spine doesn't form properly and that has been linked to Agent Orange exposure. And scientists keep turning over more stones to unearth the long-term health impact.
Most recently, the focus has turned to whether Agent Orange exposure may raise veterans' risk of developing another condition that -- like with diabetes -- is quite prevalent in older Americans: high blood pressure. To take a closer look, VA researchers published a study in November in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine evaluating relative hypertension risk for aging veterans who had served in Army Chemical Corps, including those who sprayed Agent Orange by hand and from helicopters. "What the findings showed was that the highest risk for reporting hypertension was among those who stated that they were sprayers and were in Vietnam," says Aaron Schneiderman, director of epidemiology in Post-Deployment Health Services at the Veterans Health Administration, which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
If Those Who Forget the Past are Doomed to Repeat it, the Future Looks Grim: The Bayer-Monsanto Merger
On December 8th 2016, the State of Washington's Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit against Monsanto for contaminating rivers, land, air, people and wildlife. 120 bodies of water in Washington were named as suffering from PCB contamination. This recklessness by Monsanto comes as no surprise and is a glimpse as what to expect if the Bayer Monsanto merger is completed.
From Bayer's systematic killing of and forced-testing on people in Nazi Germany, to their preventable spread of HIV to thousands, and Monsanto’s deadly development of Agent Orange, PCBs and dioxin, this merger would mark a dangerous new precedent for the biotechnology/biochemical industry if approved.
Together, these two corporations have been responsible for the suffering, torture and deaths of millions. Communities, organizations, small farmers and social movements are working to resist these corporations, and have made a resounding rejection of their merger.
Bayer, Monsanto, Heroin and PCBs--the early years
Bayer, based in Germany, became famous for producing the headache-relieving drug Aspirin in 1899. In 1897, heroin also gained traction with the public, as Bayer was the first to commercially manufacture it. Bayer coined it “Heroin” for the "Heroic" effects upon its first volunteers – Bayer's very own factory workers. Bayer marketed Heroin as a drinkable health tonic and a remedy for coughing fits. Today, heroin is a key player in the drug abuse epidemic (1).
The first well-documented incident of Monsanto’s disregard for human health originated with the manufacturing of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In 1935, Monsanto purchased the Swann company to sell PCBs used to make coolant fluids and as components for electrical transformers and motors. Monsanto contracted licenses to manufacture PCBs in the US and internationally, including to Bayer in Germany. In 1979, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the manufacture of PCBs, ruling that they caused cancer in humans and animals.
Friday, December 23, 2016
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
ProPublica has sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, claiming the agency failed to promptly process a request for correspondence with a consultant about Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War.
The lawsuit, filed late Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that the delays violated the Freedom of Information Act.
ProPublica submitted a FOIA request in May, requesting correspondence between various VA officials and scientist Alvin Young, who has guided the stance of the military and VA on Agent Orange and whether it has harmed service members. The request also sought internal correspondence about any contracts awarded to Young or his consulting firm.
ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot wrote about Young’s role in the VA’s handling of Agent Orange claims in October.
To date, the VA has not provided any of the requested documents.
One off the forms of dioxin found in the two wells was 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD, which is the most potent of all dioxin and is covered in the San Jacinto River Waste Pits.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
Army veteran William Penner used to jokingly call the thick yellow crust that crept across his young son Matthew’s scalp “Agent Orange” after the toxic defoliant sprayed on him in Vietnam before the boy was born. The joke turned sour a few years ago, when Matthew, now 43, was diagnosed with a host of serious illnesses, including heart disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.
Similar worries struck vet Mike Blackledge when staffers at a local Veterans Affairs hospital suggested his children’s diseases could be linked to his time in Vietnam. His son has inflammatory bowel disease so advanced he wears a pouch to collect his waste, and his youngest daughter has neuropathy, spinal problems and gastrointestinal issues. His oldest daughter — the one born before he went to fight in Vietnam — is fine.
They, like thousands of others, are grappling with a chilling prospect: Could Agent Orange, the herbicide linked to health problems in Vietnam veterans, have also harmed their children?
For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has collected — and ignored — reams of information that could have helped answer that question, an investigation by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot has found.
Its medical staff has physically examined more than 668,000 Vietnam veterans possibly exposed to Agent Orange, documenting health conditions and noting when and where they served. For at least 34 years, the agency also has asked questions about their children’s birth defects, before and after the war.
But the birth defect data had never received scrutiny by the VA or anyone else until this year, when ProPublica, working with The Virginian-Pilot, obtained it after submitting a detailed plan describing how it would be used and agreeing to protect patients’ identities.
The analysis that followed was revealing: The odds of having a child born with birth defects during or after the war were more than a third higher for veterans who say they handled, sprayed or were directly sprayed with Agent Orange than for veterans who say they weren’t exposed or weren’t sure. The analysis controlled for such variables as age and health status.
The data has some caveats. The VA, for example, had no way of verifying the vets’ Agent Orange exposure and did not independently confirm information about their children’s birth defects. Even so, experts said the results should prompt the VA to take the issue seriously.
“It’s like a sign that says ‘Dig Here’ and they’re not digging,” said Dr. David Ozonoff, a professor of environmental health at Boston University and co-editor-in-chief of the online journal Environmental Health, after reviewing ProPublica’s findings. “It raises questions about whether they want to know the answer or are just hoping the problem will naturally go away as the veterans die off.”