A lot of Vietnam veterans wonder whether they were exposed to toxic herbicides like Agent Orange during the war.
Gary Ferguson of Omaha doesn’t have to wonder. He knows he touched it, ingested it and repeatedly got sprayed with the stuff during his year as an enlisted aviation mechanic with the Air Force’s Vietnam War defoliation program, Operation Ranch Hand.
Thousands of Vietnam veterans with a fraction of Ferguson’s exposure to chemical herbicides are now collecting disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. By law, the VA presumes that their diseases are linked to their wartime service.
That grinds at Ferguson, who at 71 is tanned, trim and healthy. He still works full-time as maintenance supervisor at Grace University. He’s especially unhappy that veterans are lobbying for VA benefits for what he considers dubious claims that the illnesses of their children and grandchildren are somehow linked to Agent Orange.
“There’s so many people out there who are putting up these bogus claims in hope of getting government checks,” Ferguson said. “It really bothers me.”
Yet experts argue that the good health of even heavily exposed veterans like Ferguson doesn’t necessarily disprove the link between Agent Orange and deadly diseases.
“It’s important to look at the totality of the evidence,” said Dr. Kenneth Ramos, interim dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix. “Just because you have one or two people who are healthy doesn’t mean there is no risk.”