Something I haven’t really discussed in too much detail is the fact that I am a veteran’s daughter. My father fought in Vietnam in 1968 through 1969. 68 was a bad year, although honestly, they all were bad years. His generation of service was the generation of anti military protests, of being spit on and called baby killer. There were no emotional half time reunions with my grandparents and aunts. My family was just ecstatic he came home in one piece.
Dad didn’t have a plum assignment, he was drafted into the infantry not long after high school ended.He survived his tour and left. He did not want to be a career military man. He saw and did things that have caused him nightmares. He had PTSD before they had a name for it. You never approached him from behind without announcing who you were, something my mom learned shortly into their courtship. As the years went on, and he started our family with my mom, the mental anguish stopped, only to be replaced with physical ailments related to his service, specifically stemming from his exposure to Agent Orange. First it was eczema, then diabetes. The eczema morphed into psoriasis and his arthritis was re-classified as psoriatic arthritis. His ankle, injured when he stepped out of a Huey after it landed, is now misshapen by arthritis and gout. His back is 95% arthritic and riddled with bone spurs. Dad deals with it, as most men of his generation do, by just gutting it out and continuing on. But now things are different, and I am the reason why.
My father receives medical treatment through the VA. He was lucky enough to get in quickly, not being one of the thousands of people on wait lists. He was in for a check up related to his high blood pressure and diabetes management, and mentioned all of my ailments to his doctor. The doctor surprised him by saying they were hearing of more and more Vietnam veterans with children having similar problems. The doctor suggested I go in to talk to a claims representative, that I might be denied coverage at first, but that a new bill has been submitted that is due to change the coverage veterans’ children receive. When my dad advised me of this, I was skeptical (he has hearing issues in addition to all his other problems), then I started doing research as to health benefits for children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange.
Let me say first off, this research does not produce the most cheery and uplifting results. I learned that, even as sick as I am, I am well off. I can walk and care for myself, which is more than a large percentage can say. I also lived past 30 years of age, again, putting me ahead of many others. However, I found that migraines, reproductive issues, immune system disorders, emotional and mental development problems are found in higher percentages among children of Vietnam veterans than among other groups. I also learned that the federal government is doing next to nothing to help these children. If you think the horrible treatment Veterans get is frustrating, check into what their dependents get. (Interestingly, in doing this research, I also learned my ex-fiancee was exposed to chemicals during his deployment in Iraq, which ended a few months before he and I got together. I am praying he never experiences health problems as a result of his deployment)
My father just attributed his illnesses to getting older, to making poor diet choices, to family history, etc. Now we have learned that many of these things stem from his service and exposure to Agent Orange. He complains very little when you consider all he is going through, and all he went through. He’s always been a good father, provided for his family and didn’t run around on Mom, hit us or drink. Sometimes he doesn’t know what to say when it comes to my illnesses. He’s always prided himself on being able to fix things, be it the car, the house, the yard. He can’t fix what I am going through, and it bothers him to no end. I know he is hoping that the VA may be able to help me, that the same system that is so broken and backwards can help me heal and move forward.
Is it a stretch to say that all my health problems stem from my father’s exposure to Agent Orange? Maybe, but it’s not without merit. We learn more and more about the horrible chemicals every day. There’s a reason there are so many anti Monsanto groups, many headed by children of other Vietnam veterans exposed to their company’s evil product. It’s unknown at present just how many generations will be affected by Agent Orange exposure. This legacy is yet another reason I mourn the Vietnam Veterans, even the ones still alive. Such a thankless, unnecessary war (though all wars are) and they will be victims even after they pass away.
On a related note, please do not turn a blind eye to ways you can help veterans. There are many organizations across the country that help. I am embarrassed not just by the wait times for veterans to get help through the VA, but also by the huge number of homeless veterans. But the number that makes me cry is the number 22. That is how many veterans commit suicide per day. Mind you, this is just the number of reported suicides, the number may actually be higher. We need to change this. You don’t have to be pro-military or pro-war or even pro-Second Amendment, but maybe being a little more pro-human would help all of us.