CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA)- The Army sent a Pinellas County veteran along with thousands of military personnel to Panama to protect the Panama Canal.
There they encountered defoliation, contamination and now they deal with debilitation from diseases similar to the illnesses suffered by Vietnam Veterans.
Frank Cayer of Clearwater arrived in Panama in 1976, as a member of the military police.
“I just feel like I’ve been sprayed and betrayed along with other soldiers,” Cayer said.
His photos show whatever the military sprayed on the surrounding jungle, turned it brown and dead, and remembers it landing on him.
“One day I was I was wondering why it was raining outside, there was no clouds, so I went outside and there was a heli on top of me with a silver cylinder and the pilot couldn’t see me cause I was directly under it,” Cayer explained. “And all the liquid just came down the side of my face, and I didn’t know what it was, I just continued on, and did what I had to do.”
Soft tissue sarcoma, a disease linked to herbicide exposure, developed on Cayer’s face. A team of surgeons removed a malignant tumor the size of an orange.
“I can’t have any teeth, I had radiation treatments for over 20 days, and as you can see part of my mouth has been taken from me. This side of the mouth is all paralyzed,” Cayer stated.
Like others who served in Panama and are sick, Cayer turned to the VA.
“I’ve tried to file a claim since I found I had cancer, every time they take out the books and say, well Panama is not covered,” Cayer said.
U.S. Commerce Department shipping records reveal show that between 1958 and 1977 tons of toxic herbicides were sent to Panama.