'Legacies of War' - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

'Legacies of War'

Nonprofit releases report on area Vietnam veterans, Agent Orange Report online

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Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2012 12:00 am

Dewey Parker worked on a flight line inspecting airplanes that sprayed the Agent Orange herbicide during the Vietnam War.

Today, the Air Force veteran who lives near Athol, as proud as he was to serve his country, believes he's paying for his Vietnam duty.

Parker suffers from invasive squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that has left deformities to his face and hands due to ongoing surgeries and treatments for reoccurring spots.

He served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 and was diagnosed with the skin cancer in 1994.

"I was told that I'd only have one to three years to live after being diagnosed, but only the man up there knows that," said the 82-year-old, pointing upward.

Radiation treatments have caused Parker to have problems with his jaw and to lose teeth. The condition has led to issues ranging from slurred speech to numbness to watery eyes.

Medical providers have told Parker that his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam and sun exposure on the flight lines during his 26 years of military service were contributing factors to his cancer, but the cancer is not on the Department of Veterans Affairs list for determining benefits associated with the herbicide.

Agent Orange was used to defoliate forests and deprive guerillas of cover during the war. It was later discovered to be contaminated with a toxic dioxin that resulted in deaths, illnesses and birth defects of vets and family members.

Parker has been denied V.A. benefits for his cancer issues multiple times in the past two years, but he and his wife Doris keep adding to the claim file with each treatment in hopes the decision will eventually be reversed.

Medicare has covered most of the medical portion of Parker's condition, but not meals and travel expenses to California and Spokane for treatments. Parker said the couple has had several thousand dollars in traveling costs and at one point had to borrow from their children to pay for them.

Parker's denial of V.A. benefits associated with his skin cancer - he has received hearing aids from the agency - is why he agreed to participate in a newly-released North Idaho survey of Vietnam veterans called "Legacies of War: A Mission to Find the Truth" conducted by Dick Phenneger and his nonprofit Veterans Services Transparency.

The survey, taken by 123 vets, is intended to increase awareness about those who were exposed to Agent Orange during the war. While most vets declined to have their name published due to fears it would decrease their chances for future benefits, for medical reasons and not wanting to come off as complaining, Parker agreed to have his name published in hopes his story may some day help fellow vets and their families affected by Agent Orange.

"It may not help me in my lifetime, but there's a lot of younger veterans than me who were into (Agent Orange) just as much that it might help," Parker said. "Maybe they'll live long enough."

Phenneger, of Post Falls, served as an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War, but doesn't believe he was exposed to Agent Orange so he doesn't have a personal battle in the benefit fight.

Phenneger said, through the interviews with veterans, he was stunned about the "callousness" of the government when it comes to vet benefits.

"To understand today's issues, I needed to understand what happened following the Vietnam War," he said of the report. "Clearly, the perpetual denial of veteran care is a systemic problem within our government. What these Vietnam veterans and their families have had to live with is shocking."

Veterans Affairs officials said the agency evaluates and decides each veterans' claim based on the evidence provided and the laws that govern the granting of benefits. Models to improve claims processing are being piloted. For consistency and quality assurance, an independent auditing group evaluates the decisions made by each regional office.

The Press provided the V.A. a copy of Phenneger's seven-page report and allowed several days for reaction and rebuttal.

"Any veteran concerned about Agent Orange exposure should enroll in the Agent Orange Health Registry Exam," an email from Bret Bowers, spokesman at the Spokane V.A. Medical Center, stated. "Dependents and survivors may also be eligible for benefits."

The agency directed those with concerns to www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange or call (800) 227-1000.

"The V.A. has a process which gives all veterans who served in Vietnam full opportunity to seek benefits and health care," Bowers wrote. "The examination by compensation and pension practitioners at the V.A. Medical Center allows a first-look opportunity to diagnose and confirm whether any presumptive conditions for Agent Orange exposure are present in the veteran and to what extent. If confirmed, the veteran will then be placed into a primary care team for active health care and treatment."

Phenneger said some V.A. staff are outstanding and acknowledges the agency has been adding diseases and illnesses to the benefit list, but doesn't believe the V.A. has done enough for vets and in a timely enough fashion.

He said he has read other reports, including one Admiral E.R. Zumwalt Jr., submitted in 1990 to the V.A. on the association between adverse healthy effects and the exposure to Agent Orange, so he had an understanding of issues over delays or denial of benefits heading into the survey.

"But I had no idea how this was impacting our neighbors," he said.

One vet, a medic who transported wounded soldiers, said he was told he didn't qualify for assistance because he wasn't stationed on the ground.

"How can they say I wasn't contaminated when every soldier I pulled into the chopper was covered with the stuff?" he said in the report.

An airplane mechanic said he was denied because he wasn't in the fields.

"But dozens of times every day it was my job to scrape the belly of the planes dropping Agent Orange to check for stress fractures," he said. "While I was scraping, that stuff would wind up covering me from head to toe."

Phenneger said the survey information will be submitted into a computer statistical model developed by Columbia University scientist Jeanne Stellman. The report and data will be submitted to Idaho's congressional leaders, veterans and vet organizations.

Dewey Parker said he's "too dang stubborn" to give up on fighting for benefits for his fellow veterans' sake and the fact that he spent 26 of his prime years serving the country. His worsening condition is fueling that drive.

"My theory is, 'Is there something I should be doing about it?'" he said. "This has got to get somebody's attention."

- A copy of "Legacies of War: A Mission to Find the Truth" can be read at phenneger-associates.com. Click on the link that says "Legacies of War - Agent Orange."

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  • Jill Heine posted at 4:06 pm on Tue, Oct 16, 2012.

    Jill Heine Posts: 408

    let's not forget that the VA recommended end-of-life counseling for older Vets only a year ago.
    PTSD cocktails are all the rage as Vets succumb prematurely. voxpop doesn't agree with the fact that those in control want fewer people roaming their planet. I don't know of a single Veteran who signed up or was drafted knowing they would be experimented on. AND...the powers didn't stop using it in Viet Nam. They are still using it in Oregon:


  • BoxcarBill posted at 10:56 pm on Mon, Oct 15, 2012.

    BoxcarBill Posts: 1074

    Dow's bank account has suffered no consequences.

  • Kristen posted at 8:35 pm on Mon, Oct 15, 2012.

    Kristen Posts: 2

    There was more than Agent Orange, there was a whole range of colors. Who knows what cancer those cause. Military will hardly admit to Agent Orange much less anything else.
    The VA needs to be revamped from the ground up..or maybe from the top down. Service and help is horrible to get, and is given with attitude if you get it at all.
    My stepdad has no hip and is in a wheelchair and has pain no pill can touch. He has been trying for years to get a hip replaced (yes it is service related) and the VA sets new rules everytime he meets their goals.
    Basically they are saying we'll never give you a new hip. Go die. This man is a Purple Heart veteran that served during Vietnam.
    So much for taking care of our own. Those rights and freedoms that everyone enjoys must not mean much to them, considering the way they treat others.

  • 5thofthe7th posted at 6:09 pm on Mon, Oct 15, 2012.

    5thofthe7th Posts: 24

    Sometimes the system takes too long to recognize the obvious. There is no question that Dewey should be considered 100% service related for his health issues. God bless you Dewey.

    As to how most folks were exposed, lets consider another group. How about the ground soldiers? Say guys who spent three months at a time on the ground in the jungle of the central highlands. Guys who filled their canteens from local streams, wherever they were. Two or three canteens a day. Throw in an iodine tablet and there is your germ free water for the day. If they sprayed anywhere uphill from you there could be Agent Orange in your water. This was not done with malice, it was not intended, but it happened. We all make mistakes.

  • huntergirl20 posted at 4:18 pm on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    huntergirl20 Posts: 4

    Ok just a thought, I believe anyone who is willing to serve their country and protect my livelyhood, no matter what should have any type of medical issue treated and paid for by the ones they protected. Us. Period no questions. Sometimes we are too friggin greedy. What happened to taking care of our own.

  • DeNiles posted at 1:54 pm on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    DeNiles Posts: 2450

    Milburn... I harbor no misgivings about the willingness of our gov't to obfuscate facts and avoid responsibility. Yet, as you know, agent orange has been well and thoroughly studied by many more professionals that just those from the gov't. The facts remain facts.

    This veteran is receiving the medical care for his cancer from the VA. He is just not being afforded the additional accommodations afforded by his cancer being service related. None of this diminishes the respect owed these men for their service to the country. If it were up to me I'd much rather see them receive a broader base of benefits. They earned much more than they receive.

    As bad as agent orange was - it is not the source of all types of any cancers the exposed veterans will ever get. The science does not support that assertion. Of all of the cancers potentially implicated, skin cancers and agent orange have been intensely investigated. This is because most servicemen exposed to agent orange were exposed through dermal applications.

    For now the data does not indicate a relationship. That may change and I expect that this an ongoing process. Cancers of all types are at the forefront of medical research. Medical science wants to understand what causes or leads to any form of cancer. The incidence of, and the diagnosis and treatments for cancer has improved significantly over the last 50 years.

  • milburnschmidt posted at 11:32 am on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    milburnschmidt Posts: 1160

    Having lost two close friends in the last year to cancers related to agent orange related cancers and a family member years ago I often wondered what happened to those who handled and loaded the planes who delivered it. It seems a bit to hasty to pass judgement on what types of cancers are directly related to the exposure after 40 years since the Govt is in denial and and thru history has covered up any knowledge of harmful effects of expiriments or side effects of exposure to hazards it introduced.It seems fair to say the more we delve into cancers the more complicated it gets and conclusions are mostly theory. The sad thing is its to late to reverse the damage and very few will survive the damage inflicted by our decision makers. In the 50s I came close to being exposed to atomic blast studies which we were assured were harmless only to learn later the effects were unknown at the time and years later would result in tumors and deaths from radiation exposure. I was spared marching into ground zero but have talked to a few who were and all had health issues that they also are still fighting the VA to resolve. Anyone with a oipen mind should know the use or expended uranium anti tank ammunition or exotic fuels or materials used in modern weapon system sused in the Gulf war wil lalso show up in years to come.Workers ar area 51 destroying material and fuels used in stealth technology were dying from exotic cancers and the Govt refused to even admit the base was there much less admit liabilty or provide medical treatment for those afflicted. This should be a lesson to those who are so eager to turn over their healthcare and other freedomsover to Government decision makers and what to expect when things go wrong. When you read the difficulty getting veteran treatment from these conditions should we expect better in health care decisions of treatment from the same type of people who will decide who and what treatments are doled out to us. Its a little hard to accept DeNiles position that this man is suffering from to much sun with just a peek into Mr Pasrkers medical history and diagnosis.Does Deniles suggest this mans cancer is from the sun not agent orange that is a stretch thats not credible and considering our Govts tenacity in keeping studies secret I dont buy it. If agent orange exposure did harm to those in the field with a limited amount of exposure then its common sense heavy exposure to handling and loading covering the crewman daily would result in greater exposure and damage. To ignore that is saying there is no agent orange problem.. I do thank Mr parker for his service and wish him well.

  • Kristen posted at 9:53 am on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    Kristen Posts: 2

    Mr Parker should contact The Wounded Warrior Project and see if they can help.

    Personally, he is a Veteran, I dont think he should be denied care by the VA regardless of what caused the cancer.

  • DeNiles posted at 6:46 am on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    DeNiles Posts: 2450

    This form of cancer is not shown to be caused by agent orange exposure. Even this mans account sort of reflects this. He claims he was covered from 'head to toe' in agent orange but he suffers from skin cancer only on his hands and face, areas commonly exposed to the sun.

    It is understood and accepted by the VA that ground crews working with agent orange were heavily exposed to this defoliant, more so than those inadvertently sprayed during application. There are (unfortunately) many forms of systemic cancers that are shown to be related to agent orange - but not SCC. In veterans heavily exposed to agent orange this type of skin cancer occurs in no greater frequency or severity than in the general population. Statistically, from an epidemiological viewpoint, squamous cell cancer occurs exactly the same for veterans heavily exposed to agent orange as in people never exposed to agent orange whatsoever.

    No cancer is good news. I hope for the best outcome for this man.

  • Will Penny posted at 6:45 am on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    Will Penny Posts: 301

    Mr. Parker,

    Thank you for your service. Doesn't sound like much in lieu of what you are going through, but I mean it, thank you.

  • voxpop posted at 6:15 am on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    voxpop Posts: 738

    It never ceases to amaze me how very ignorant (in the stupid, can't be fixed sense) some in N Idaho actually are. Population control? Ye gods.

    And Brian, "reoccurring ?" You normally do better.

  • Jill Heine posted at 5:50 am on Sun, Oct 14, 2012.

    Jill Heine Posts: 408

    Agent Orange was used to defoliate forests and deprive guerillas of cover during the war.

    Really? Why was it banned in Oregon for causing spontaneous abortions? Veterans denied today were not supposed to survive. They were expendable in an experiment at population control.

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