By Heather J. Carlson
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
From the very beginning, Steve Fiscus knew the odds were stacked against him.
A machinist by trade, he soon found himself delving into the world of medical research and grassroots politics all in hopes of proving one thing — that exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam can cause Parkinson's Disease.
It all started in 2000 when Fiscus was diagnosed with the neurological disease. He applied for veteran's benefits in 2001, only to be turned down. Unable to work any longer, he devoted his energy to reaching out to other Vietnam veterans experiencing similar symptoms and poring over medical studies. Four years ago, he and a handful of other area veterans established the United States Military Veterans with Parkinson's group.
"Until we formed our group nobody knew which way to go. And once we started getting the group together and started getting some force behind it, they knew we were playing for real. It wasn't just somebody calling in and making idle squawk, that we've got a problem," said Fiscus, of Rogers.
The former Marine served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 at a base 40 miles south of Da Nang working as a machinist. Back then, the military reused all the barrels that had stored Agent Orange.
"Part of my job was cutting barrels in half. We used them for outhouses, we made barbecues out of them, we used them for darn near everything. And they were Agent Orange barrels, so when I am cutting those with a torch, I am breathing those fumes in," he said.
It wasn't until a meeting in July 2007 in Rochester when the group started to make some headway.