Pegi Scarlett was a bit nervous in the moments leading up to her speech last November at a meeting of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Washington, D.C.
“It was kind of intimidating at first, with all the epidemiologists and physicians watching, but they gave me a very warm reception,” said Scarlett, 65. The gathering was part of the National Academies’ effort to determine if it should recommend any additions to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ list of “presumptive diseases” caused by exposure to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide used by the Department of Defense during the Vietnam War.
Her talk focused on her husband, John Scarlett, an Army Ranger and helicopter pilot in Vietnam who was among the 2.6 million U.S. personnel believed exposed to Agent Orange during the war. He died in November 2015.
His cause of death was glioblastoma, a lethal brain cancer that is not on the VA’s list of presumptive diseases, but is being diagnosed at an evidently accelerated rate in the past few years among Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange.
Scarlett, a cancer registrar with six grown children, traveled from her home near Sacramento, Calif., to the nation’s capital to give her impassioned presentation, which balanced memories of her husband with data she’d collected about his cancer. The speech elicited loud and long applause and left some NAS scientists in tears.