Town hall seeks to explain effects of Agent Orange
(note: I participated in this event as a panalist)
reporter: Laura Fosmire, Statesman Journal 6:34 p.m. PDT October 18, 2014
"I was told that it was very unlikely that someone your age and otherwise in perfect health would have this kind of leukemia," she explained to a small crowd during a town hall meeting on Saturday.
After a successful bone marrow transplant, Lysne said all was well for another 20 years. But then a tumor on the roof of her mouth led to a cancer diagnosis. And then more testing turned up five other kinds of cancer.
"They told me I had accumulated this very unusual group of cancers and very unusual forms of them," Lysne said.
According to her father, Gary Lysne, family histories going back four generations indicated nothing of the cancers plaguing Lysne.
But there was one thing: Gary, a Vietnam veteran, had been exposed to Agent Orange during his time in the service.
The Lysne family's example echoed several other heartbreaking stories, all focusing on Agent Orange, during Saturday's town hall meeting at Chemeketa Community College. The town hall was held by the Oregon State Council of the Vietnam Veterans of America, or VVA, in hopes of spreading the word about the lingering health impacts of exposure to Vietnam's chemical warfare.
Agent Orange is a highly toxic herbicide that was used by the U.S. Military during the Vietnam War, sprayed across crop fields and forests to destroy possible cover and food sources for enemy forces.
In the decades since the war, veterans have reported a host of medical diseases that have been linked to exposure to the chemical: Diabetes, heart disease, lymphoma, Parkinson's, Spina Bifida and dozens and dozens of various cancers.
But what may be less known, the VVA fear, is that the children and children's children of Vietnam veterans are now experiencing illnesses and defects of their own.
"The children of veterans are now experiencing many of the same types of maladies that veterans experienced," said Oregon State Council president Ron Morgan. "Birth defects are more common among Vietnam veterans who were exposed. Children have learning disabilities at a higher rate and are more susceptible to liver and kidney diseases."
Saturday's town hall hoped to spread that message and make more local veterans aware of the risks their children may be facing.
"We want to encourage the public to get their children registered on the Agent Orange registry and file disability claims with the Department of Veteran's Affairs regarding Agent Orange for the children," Morgan said. "It's a very important topic that we just need to get the public more aware of."
Additionally, Saturday's panelists explained, they hoped to pass key legislation in the U.S. Congress that would help promote research into the issue. The Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2014 would provide a national center for research on the health conditions for the children of veterans exposed to toxic substances like Agent Orange.
By veterans attending these town hall meetings, sharing their stories and hearing the tales of others, it could provide answers into previously mysterious medical issues.
Linda Mooney, who represents Oregon for the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America, had a husband who served as a sailor during the Vietnam war. But efforts to start a family proved extremely difficult for the couple. Mooney, who now has two children, said she suffered a total of ten miscarriages.
"I did not think it had anything to do, definitely not with Agent Orange, but not even with the
But during a conference for Vietnam veterans in Nevada, she heard eerily similar stories from other women who had also suffered miscarriages. They realized that Agent Orange was something they all had in common.
"As all of us get together like this, the importance is in getting this information out there," she said.
Vietnam Veterans of America, Oregon State Council had a town hall meeting addressing birth defects and diseases to veterans children after they were exposed to Agent Orange during the war. Photo taken on Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014, in Salem.
(Photos: ASHLEY SMITH / STATESMAN JOURNAL)