I ask my friends to support us by writing their congressional representatives, and am heartened by this letter to Congressman Burr (chair of the Veterans Committee). Earlier, I'd convinced Mike to sign up for the Agent Orange Registry and he was fortunate to discover a previously unknown health problem during the physical! Here's this retired senior Naval officer's letter:
My friend, Major Wesley Carter, USAF, Ret. Has been spearheading an effort to give aircrews who flew in Agent Orange contaminated aircraft the right to treatment in Veterans’ Administration medical facilities. As you know, a number of C-123 aircraft that were used to spray Agent Orange during the Viet Nam war were later assigned to CONUS-based reserve squadrons. Air Force tests show the aircraft remained contaminated, and, in turn, the crews who manned them were exposed to dioxin. I thank you for the support you have already given to this issue. I understand from Wes that your staff member, Brooks Tucker has been tireless in his efforts to obtain VA medical support for these aircrews.
I see VA’s adamant refusal to recognize the claims of the aircrews who flew in C-123K aircraft post-Vietnam as just another manifestation of the historic bureaucratic foot-dragging that has been typical these last thirty-odd years. The VA has fought treating service members exposed to Agent Orange at every step of the way, but I fear we have yet to see the end of the claims resulting from this powerful toxin. In the spring and summer of 1972, the aircrews from my helicopter detachment were in Da Nang at least every third day. Out of approximately a dozen pilots, I know of one with diabetes, another with prostate cancer and one with heart disease. These diseases are on the list of illnesses attributable to Agent Orange. Unfortunately, I haven’t been in contact with the remaining aircrew personnel in my unit and there could certainly be more illnesses.
In the coming years, we are going to see efforts to reduce and restrict the benefits available to our active duty and retired military personnel. In the current fiscal climate, Americans are going to have to make sacrifices. I often hear the statement, “Thank you for your service.” The sincerity of that gratitude will be revealed, in part, by whether the American people will demand that military personnel (active and retired) make sacrifices in addition to those already incurred by virtue of their service. I hope you will continue to “support the troops” both by backing Major Carter’s tireless labors and in broader areas of military benefits.
/Michael N. Lewis/
CAPT, USN, Ret.