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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vet’s Aid

I spoke with a former Marine from Draper, Utah the other day who told me a harrowing story.  When he and his platoon graduated from MCRD, San Diego in 1969, most of them had orders for WESTPAC, which stands for Western Pacific.  In those days that simply meant Viet Nam.  While this Marine’s unit was waiting for orders to Camp Pendleton and combat training, the drill instructors had the platoon working at a storage and shipment warehouse on base in San Diego.  Their job was to take hand carts and move drums of some sort of chemical to loading docks where they would be picked up by trucks, and then taken to port.

The former Marine telling the story says he read the labels on the drums which were clearly marked DuPont or Monsanto.  He wasn’t sure what the other markings on the drums meant, but later he was told that the chemicals inside were the components of Agent Orange.  Not only that, but some of the lids to barrels he hand-carted were so lose that liquid would spill out and end up on the bare arms and hands of the Marines who were crating the drums.

His platoon also did a lot of training in their spare time in the gas chamber which at the time was over at the Navy recruit camp on the other side of the fence from MCRD.  The combination of inhaling the gas chamber air and the effects of Agent Orange spilling on his person became a problem, and he found himself in sick bay often enough that it took him out of the ‘loop’ to head to Nam.  Instead, after a few months of trying to figure out a cure for him, he was simply honorably but medically discharged from the Marine Corps and sent home.

Now living in Northern Utah, this veteran has a long history of complications associated with his exposure to Agent Orange and the gas chamber.  He petitioned the VA to help, which they did by way of treatments, but when he applied for compensation he was denied.  Now, he has enlisted the help of Jim McElfresh at Veterans Angels LLC to convince the VA that he should be drawing comp. 

The more important lesson to the story is how callous we were when it came to Agent Orange.  In Vietnam, I saw the effects of the chemical and how devastating it was to the foliage and canopy in the jungles.  We didn’t give it much thought, really, because it helped to make it harder for the enemy to hide.   Despite its usefulness it was still an extremely deliterious substance, and if soldiers are suffering from the effects of Agent Orange then it needs to be addressed and settled.  And, it is.  to date there are almost 50 illnesses that the VA has recognized as being caused by Agent Orange and other defoliants used in Vietnam.  The veteran only needs to prove “boots on the ground” for the period he or she was there and exposed to defoliating agents. 

My friend the former Marine lives out his days in Northern Utah.  He is happy to be alive but has gone through a lot of hell since discharge from the Marines.  His battle continues with the VA, but he is hopeful that someday they will recognize his plight and will start paying compensation.

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