For a number of reasons I have not done much over the past couple of years to keep this blog alive. Life, of course, provides an occasional epiphany that will motivate the most neglectful sluggard.
In June of 2019 I underwent double bypass heart surgery to improve conditions resulting from developing ischemic heart disease. That and my type II diabetes have strong links to Agent Orange, to which I was exposed during a combat tour in Vietnam.
Thanks to my local VA medical professionals, who combined with civilian medical facilities, I received timely treatment and am well on the road to recovery.
I recently put together the following essay which was published in “Military” magazine and which I would like to share with current and past military members, their families and friends in hopes that any of them with developing health issues will be motivated to seek treatment.
For my past readers and (hopefully) new followers, it is my intent to vault back into the saddle and continue to comment on the interesting times in which we live.
From 1966 to 1967 I was assigned to components of the 1st Medical Battalion, First Infantry Division, spending my time in areas northwest of Saigon toward the Cambodian border in base camps such as Lai Khe (which was positioned to intersect the Ho Chi Minh Trail) and Di An and covering an operational area which included the Ho Bo Woods and the Iron Triangle.
My duties varied from accompanying troops on combat operations (where I earned the Combat Medical Badge) to providing security on MEDCAP (Medical Civil Action Program) sorties designed to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese in rural areas through offering medical and dental services to all comers. We could never be sure as to whether or not some of the medical supplies were restricted to non-combatants only but were generally happy to be able to help the elderly, women and children and escape the area after receiving only an occasional sniper round.
During my thirteen months in country I lived in forest and jungle areas, plus base camps that had been reduced to bare ground and then covered with crushed laterite that was absorbed into your pores at a rate that required several soakings in a bath tub, which was rarely available, in order to leach it out of your skin.
Over the ensuing years I joked with other Vietnam veterans that, considering the assortment of parasites, bugs, and tropical diseases we encountered, “who knows what may crop up in our systems in later years”. Little did we know that we had as much to fear from our own additions to the land of Vietnam as we did from its native environment.
It was only much later that I learned that much of the area occupied by First Infantry Division troops was the target of heavy herbicide operations.
20 years ago, I was diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, a disease that has been linked to exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides.
In June of 2019 I underwent double bypass surgery to treat Coronary (Ischemic) Artery Disease. During follow up with the head cardiologist at my local Veterans Administration medical facility I learned that this diagnosis is now showing up frequently among Vietnam veterans in my age bracket and is also linked to herbicide exposure. Continuing monitoring and treatment will now be a requirement for the rest of my life.
I urge any of my fellow Vietnam veterans from all military branches to pay close attention to the emergence of symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest pain and other indications of cardiac distress and seek immediate diagnosis and/or treatment. Ischemic heart disease is a condition that for years may exhibit few if any symptoms and then begin with minor discomforts that may quickly escalate into angina or stroke.
This advice might also be valuable for veterans of any of the Middle East deployments since conversations with many of them validate that the “burn pit” methodology of disposing of unwanted chemicals and other waste material has not only been continued from the Vietnam era, but greatly expanded.
The media as of late has been happy to feature negative stories describing the difficulties that surround VA treatment centers. I cannot speak for other regions, but my experiences here in Maine with the Togus VA Medical Center and its several associated outpatient centers has been uniformly positive, as has the assistance provided to me by staffers of Maine Veterans Services. A new VA program that offers optional treatment to include surgery and follow up services in local community medical facilities proved in my case to be highly satisfactory.
In numerous conversations with other veterans both young and old I have learned that many of the younger returning veterans seem reluctant to become members of the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and other organizations that for decades have provided valuable information and services to ex-military personnel in need. While understanding and respecting the experiences and feelings that may fuel this aversion, let me assure any who have served that help is available from many sources, including the retired military community.
All of us, active, reserve components and retired are part of a special group and we support each other.