Niagara Gazette

Features

September 8, 2013

Local veterans group still fighting against Agent Orange

Niagara Gazette — Agent Orange, one of a host of highly toxic herbicides used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War has returned with a vengeance, affecting many of the three million veterans who served in the war in Southeast Asia and their families.

Called “Agent Orange” because of the orange band painted on the drums that stored it, was used to defoliate hiding places of the Viet Cong, rice paddies and fields as well as around the military bases. 

“We were told it wasn’t harmful to humans,” said Jim May of North Tonawanda, who served in the Navy in Vietnam serving on a hospital ship off the coast, classified as “blue water.” 

From 1962 to 1971, 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed in Vietnam, May explained. By the time the spraying stopped, Agent Orange had destroyed more than 5 million acres of land, roughly the size of New Jersey.

“Even though the government said it was safe, they were endangering our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren,” May said. “It wasn’t just the spray, but the dioxin got into the water system, used for drinking, showering and food.”

But the terrible effects of the dioxin that caused cancers, diabetes and a host of other diseases and disabilities for the veterans, went beyond the veterans.

A case in point is May’s grandson, who at nine months old was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, cancer of the eye. The baby had his eye removed and now has a prosthetic.

Although there’s no family history of anything like this, May did know several people in the area who are Vietnam veterans and whose grandchildren have had similar problems.

May himself, shortly after his return to civilian life, experienced a rash on both legs. His legs became swollen and doctors were unable to find a cause. Following a long struggle with the government and the VA, he was able to persuade them to re-evaluate his case.

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