Bill introduced to help vets exposed to Agent Orange at US bases outside Vietnam

Agent Orange was sprayed to destroy vegetation used as cover by Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War.

Exposure to the pesticide continues to cause illness to vets who served in Vietnam, but the story doesn’t end there. Veterans who served in direct support of the war are also paying a high price for exposure. However, since they weren’t directly serving in theater, their calls to the VA for help are going largely unanswered.

In an effort to help the forgotten veterans, a Florida congressman introduced a bill that would allow Vietnam War veterans who served in Guam and other areas easier access to federal benefits for Agent Orange exposure.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, introduced the Fighting for Orange-Stricken Territories in Eastern Regions (FOSTER) Act, which would provide presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to Vietnam War-era veterans who served in specific areas, including Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa, and show symptoms of medical conditions currently associated with such exposure so they can receive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

The bill is named after a veteran, Leroy Foster, who served on Guam and who said he routinely sprayed Agent Orange in Guam.

“Nearly every day, I speak to or hear about Vietnam veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange, but are unable to receive VA benefits for their diseases associated with this toxic herbicide because the Department of Defense does not acknowledge Agent Orange was used in the areas they claim to have been exposed. These brave men and women cannot be denied help any longer, which is why I introduced the FOSTER Act to help them qualify for VA benefits,” Ross said in a press release.

The Department of Defense denies Agent Orange was ever used outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War, despite the influx of veterans coming forward with claims of exposure outside of these areas, including Guam, Ross said.

However, veterans who served outside the AOR are making contradictory claims to the DoD’s official narrative. Not only are these vets sick from the pesticide, they say they were tasked to spray Agent Orange for weed control on Guam.

Bruce Borton, who was stationed at Naval Facilities Engineering Command on Guam from Feb. 21, 1971 to Dec. 3, 1973, said he personally sprayed an herbicide as part of the Seabee detachment at Ritidian Point, according to a story published by the Pacific Daily News.

“One of our tasks was to spray the jungle to keep it back off the road,” Borton said.

“Seabees sprayed along the road where the guard shack was, on both sides of the hill, up to where the road flattens out. We also sprayed around the buildings and in the compound under the fuel tanks.”

Seabees refilled portable sprayers by hand from a drum kept in storage, Borton said.

“The chemical we used was stored outside in a 55-gallon drum, away from the compound on the north. There was a field there behind the engine room and shop areas with a high security fence,” Borton said. “The drum was outside the security fence, and surprisingly, we never had to mow that field. We would fill up a can sprayer from the drum that sat upright. I know we spilled the chemical in the dirt there while filling up the spray can.”

Borton now experiences diabetes, high blood pressure, prostate cancer, erectile dysfunction and hearing loss. His two children, born in 1978 and 1979, both have incomplete albinism and ADHD, he told the Pacific Daily News.

Rep. Ross doesn’t buy the government’s official story that Agent Orange wasn’t sprayed outside the AOR, and vows to protect vets who were exposed to the agent … no matter where they served.

“Currently, the DoD denies Agent Orange was ever used outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War, despite the influx of veterans coming forth with claims of exposure outside of these areas, including Guam,” he said. “My legislation would grant presumptive Agent Orange exposure status to U.S. service members who served in specific areas outside of Vietnam and Thailand during the Vietnam War and suffer from any of the diseases the U.S. Government has linked to Agent Orange.”

A Michigan lawyer is asking the VA to step up to the plate and give exposed vets the benefits they deserve. He said on Lawyer Firm Newswire exposure is not only affecting vets, but also their decedents.

“Rather than waiting for the problem to simply disappear, the VA should pay close attention to the vast research that has been conducted about the devastating effects of Agent Orange,” said Jim Fausone, a Michigan veteran’s attorney. “It is likely that the exposure could have also impacted the descendants of service members. Seeking benefits from the VA should not be this difficult for affected veterans and their families.”

Air Force veteran Cleveland Walters was stationed for temporary duty at Andersen AFB from July 23 to Dec. 29, 1972. Walters originally deployed with the 96th Bomb Wing, but once on Guam he was assigned to the 43rd Transportation Squadron, as an airman.

“We did a lot of spraying, trying to get rid of the weeds,” he told Pacific Daily News. “It’s unbelievable how quickly the foliage grows back over the roads, probably because it rains there every day,” Walters said. “Then, of course, we had to haul drums from the transportation to the dump.”

Walters described the drums as “rotten” and “rusted,” which made it hard to see any distinguishing colors. However, the drums that weren’t rusted were often used as makeshift barbecue grills.

From the time he was on base, Walters battled “jungle rot,” or chloracne — rashes and boils around his face and hair line — as well as digestive problems, dizzy spells and blackouts. He sought medical attention for his skin nearly every day, Walters said. Years later, with the help of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), Walters obtained a partial copy of his Guam medical records, supporting his claim.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs presumes cloracne as Agent Orange-related for Vietnam veterans.

Walters now suffers from hearing loss, severe acid reflux, neuropathy, restless leg syndrome and intermittent tremors, and continued cysts and rashes on his skin.

Four of Walters’ daughters have asthma and allergies, and one daughter had to have an ovary removed at age 13. Walters’ grandson and granddaughter, he believes, have ADHD, and his granddaughter currently is undergoing medical treatment for abnormal development of her teeth.

“They said that those in Vietnam are presumed to have been exposed. Fine, I go along with that. But what about the places that stored it before they even get there? The people who touched it? Somebody had to get it to Vietnam and get it away from there, and it had to stop two places before it even got there,” Walters said.

“I just don’t understand. They know it’s there, why don’t they just turn around and take care of us? As we raised our hands up and were sworn in, they also made the promise that they would take care of us,” he said in the Pacific Daily News story. “I wish some of those guys in Congress would turn around and just live in my skin right now, and see what I’ve been going through for 40-something years.”

Rep. Ross said the time is now for the VA to start serving those who served our nation.

“It is downright heartbreaking and shocking to hear these veterans list off their myriad of ailments and life-threatening conditions, knowing our government isn’t providing them any relief even after they selflessly put their lives on the line to serve and defend our nation. We must quickly provide them the help and services they deserve.”

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  • Jim Verchio is a staff writer for Popular Military. As a retired Air Force Public Affairs craftsman, Jim has served at all levels. From staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, he has more than 30 years experience covering military topics in print and broadcast from the CONUS to Afghanistan. He is also a two time recipient of the DoD’s prestigious Thomas Jefferson Award for journalism excellence.

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