Agent Orange's poison reverberates for decades

By TIM SINIARD
Posted 5/26/19

United States Air Force veteran Roger Jones does not know which diseases await him as the chemicals contained in Agent Orange continue to wreck his body.Although he left Korat Royal Thai Air Force …

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Agent Orange's poison reverberates for decades

Posted

United States Air Force veteran Roger Jones does not know which diseases await him as the chemicals contained in Agent Orange continue to wreck his body.

Although he left Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base and Takhli Royal Air Force Base in Thailand behind him after he returned to the United States, the lingering effects of the herbicide the former buck sergeant was exposed to while serving there remain with him 50 years later.

 Agent Orange is an herbicide  used as a defoliant on areas of South Vietnam such as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was also used to defoliate the outskirts of bases in Thailand, where American servicemen worked.

It contains highly-toxic chemicals such as dioxins.

“It was sprayed it all over South Vietnam and around the bases in Thailand,” Jones said. “They did it so they could see an enemy approaching the base.”

Jones served in Thailand from August 1969 to August 1970 during the Vietnam War. He is 70 years old, has had a stroke and is afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease. He wonders what will happen next.

“When it comes to the men and women who served in Thailand, they don’t spend a dime on us,” Jones said. “We are the redheaded stepchild of the Vietnam War, unless we worked on the perimeter.”

 A Missouri native, Jones has lived in Cleveland since 1990.

He hopes a recent bill introduced by Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) will bring attention to the plight of veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War era.

The bill, which was introduced on May 9, seeks to allow veterans who served in Thailand the “opportunity to prove toxic exposure in order to qualify for Department of Veterans Affairs benefits,” according to a statement released by the two legislators.

“Exposure to Agent Orange has had serious, lasting impacts on veterans, and the VA needs to address their needs, no matter where the veteran served,” Tester said. “These folks risked their lives for our country when they were deployed to Thailand. We have a duty to ensure they get the benefits to which they’re entitled."

Currently, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, only veterans who served on perimeters of U.S. military bases may have had contact with Agent Orange.

“If you had regular security duty on the fenced-in perimeters of a U.S. military base in Thailand or Royal Thai Air Force Bases between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, you may have had contact with Agent Orange,” a message on the website states. “The U.S. military used this toxic chemical to clear trees and plants during the Vietnam War. Find out if you can get disability compensation or benefits for illnesses believed to be caused by contact with Agent Orange.”

However, Jones is unable to receive benefits because he did not work in the perimeter areas.

The VA currently “awards service-connected benefits for exposure to toxic chemicals to veterans whose duties placed them on or near the perimeters of Thai military bases from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975,” according to Tester and Boozman’s statement.

Jones said the chemical was sprayed by hand along the perimeters of the bases where he served.

“I saw Agent Orange barrels stored at Korat,” Jones said of the odorless chemical.

Jones said the defoliant was sprayed on the base, as well, exposing him and thousands of other U.S. servicemen to the herbicide.

In recent years, Jones has suffered a stroke and has developed Parkinson’s Disease — both of which are listed as side effects from exposure to Agent Orange.

Due to the effects of Parkinson's Disease, he know walks with the assistance of a cane. Balance issues have forced him to stop riding his beloved motorcycle.

Other illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Organge include many types of cancer, heart disease, neuropathy and diabetes. Children of veterans can be born with spinal bifida, although Jones’ children were born with no health problems.

“It causes a whole lot of stuff,” Jones said. “I had a stroke in 2010, and that’s when the symptoms started hitting me. I found out later [Agent Orange] causes you to have strokes.”

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease that same year, as well as two other times during subsequent examinations.

Parkinson’s Disease was added to the list of ailments caused by Agent Orange in 2010.

According to Air Force Magazine, the “significant use” of herbicides around U.S. bases in Thailand was disclosed by a Freedom of Information Act case in 2010.

The VA now awards compensation on a case-by-case basis to those whose duty was at or near the perimeter of these bases.

“That’s when I found out about what had happened,” Jones said. “The government finally admitted they sprayed the bases in Thailand.”

Jones told the Banner no Congressional representatives in Tennessee have yet to co-sponsor the bill.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s press secretary Elizabeth Gregory told the Cleveland Daily Banner the senator “continues to review this legislation through her role as a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.”

“The bill has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office, so the committee doesn't have a working estimate of how much it would cost the Veterans Benefits Administration to implement,” Gregory said. “Sen. Blackburn has long supported benefits for veterans with known toxic exposures, like Agent Orange, and looks forward to receiving more details on this legislation as they are provided to the committee.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s Press Assistant William Heartsill said the bill must first be considered by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to which it has been referred. However, Alexander is not a member of that committee. 

“If the bill is approved by the committee and supported by Chairman Isakson, he will likely support it but we'll have to see what the final bill is,” Heartsill said.

Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), said he has supported previous legislation regarding military personnel exposed to Agent Orange, according to Fleischmann Communications Director Kasey Lovett. She said Fleischmann is monitoring the recent legislation, which is still in committee.

"The congressman does not sit on the committee of jurisdiction pertaining to H.R., 2201, but has previously supported legislation to help veterans exposed to Agent Orange receive the care they need and deserve," Lovett said. "Most recently, the House passed the Blue Water Act, which the congressman supported to expand coverage for veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The congressman will closely monitor H.R. 2201 as it moves through committee, while continuing to support a variety of efforts to care for the men and women who have served our nation."

Jones is hopeful Tennessee's representatives will eventually support the bill.

“Our senators and representatives have not signed on to it,” Jones said. “I want to get their attention, so they will co-sponsor it. There were thousands of us in Thailand.”



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