Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Vietnam - Life after Agent Orange: 'I lose my friends ... every day,' Vietnam vet says

Duane Wiskus remembers seeing Agent Orange being loaded aboard C-123 cargo aircraft at Nha Trang when he was based there during the Vietnam War.

"Nobody ever said anything about it," the Air Force veteran said. "It was just everybody doing their job."

U.S. military cargo planes and helicopters sprayed about 19 million gallons of Agent Orange and other "rainbow" herbicides across South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971 to deny enemy troops the use of crops and the cover of jungle.

What service members didn’t know was that Agent Orange contained dioxin, which has been linked to heart disease, diabetes and several forms of cancer.

On Sunday and Monday, read The World-Herald's special report on how the Vietnam War continues to takes its toll on the health of those who served – and, many believe, on the health of their descendants.
Veterans groups fought for years for the right to receive health care and disability benefits for those diseases from the Department of Veterans Affairs. So far, veterans can receive compensation for 18 different illnesses.

Now the battle continues on behalf of the children and grandchildren of those same vets. Advocates believe birth defects and a host of other medical conditions among those offspring are connected to their fathers’ exposure to Agent Orange.

For Wiskus, a native of Carroll, Iowa, who now lives in the Elkhorn area, the Agent Orange story is deeply personal.

Doctors suspected a link to Agent Orange, he said, when one of his sons was born with infantile muscular dystrophy and died at age 3.

Now 67, his own health problems are piling up. The macular degeneration that has taken most of his sight is not linked to Agent Orange. But Type 2 diabetes and the series of heart attacks he's suffered since 2003 are presumed by the VA to be connected to his wartime exposure. And so are the illnesses that have afflicted too many of his fellow veterans.

"A bullet killed my cousin over there," Wiskus said. "But I lose my friends now to Agent Orange every day."

Steve Liewer

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