Agent Orange in the Vietnam War: One Veteran's Exposure

After serving in the Navy on the Mekong River during the Vietnam War, a veteran begins to experience the side-effects of Agent Orange.

| October 2014

  • Vietnam Outline - Square
    During the Vietnam War, Navy veterans like Dave Maier were unknowingly exposed to harmful Agent Orange chemicals that had run off river banks and into the water.
    Photo by Fotolia/filipbjorkman
  • Toxic War Cover
    In “Toxic War,” attorney and author Peter Sills reports on the effects of Agent Orange and those who are affected by it after service in the Vietnam War.
    Cover courtesy Vanderbilt University Press

  • Vietnam Outline - Square
  • Toxic War Cover

After the Vietnam War ended, America’s soldiers were still feeling its effects in multiple ways. In Toxic War: the Story of Agent Orange, attorney and author Peter Sills examines and explains the way veterans of Vietnam struggled against more than Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and war injuries—some of these veterans battled and continue to battle the effects of Agent Orange. This excerpt, which details Navy veteran Dave Maier’s exposure to the chemical while on the Mekong River, is from the introduction.

Going to the Vietnam War

Dave and Laurel Maier spent the first night of their married life in downtown Cleveland, in a hotel that later became the local YWCA. They waited two months and journeyed several thousand miles for their second night together. They had no idea what they’d gotten themselves into—a strange, terrible war, and two glaringly different, barely comprehensible societies. But their adventure didn’t really begin until they got back to Cleveland.

Twenty-seven years later, Dave and Laurel told me they were, in some ways, grateful for the suffering they’ve endured. Their lives are undoubtedly richer, and they’ve had a powerful impact on others. But when asked if they would choose to go through it all again, Dave could only laugh. Laurel cried out, “No! Nobody would ever choose that! That’s why those choices aren’t left to us.”

They met placidly enough, in 1965, at a Methodist young adult group in the Cleveland suburbs. Dave was twenty-one and in college. Laurel was just under eighteen and about to graduate high school. Both were devout Christians, descended from a long line of German settlers. They had always kept close to home.

They started dating almost immediately and were engaged a year later. Dave dropped out of college to work as a bank teller. He joined the Navy Reserves in 1964, partly to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam. He hoped the war would be over by the time he finished his two years of training. But he was wrong.

Dave was due to ship out sometime in 1967. They wanted to get married as soon as possible, but their parents were against it. Laurel’s mother and father liked Dave, but their daughter was only twenty, and her new husband would be leaving for two years, maybe to die in combat. It made more sense to wait.

10/21/2014 2:49:45 PM

Our hearts goes out to the families of these Veterans who have died due to delayed appointments at the VA. But then think of all the thousands of Vietnam Blue Water Navy Veterans excluded from the presumption of herbicide exposure (Agent Orange) who have died because the VA refuses to give them service related status. This does not seem to provoke the conscience of Congress or the public. Does the Vietnam stigma still haunt these men and women Veterans? It's like post war Germany when the citizens refused to admit the existence of the concentration camps and the atrocities committed there. So the next time you're shocked by an article about the death of one or tens or hundreds of Veterans, will you think of those thousands in the Blue Water Navy? For more information on exposure and the DVA read A Re-Analysis of Blue Water Navy Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure at Perhaps the plight of the Vietnam Blue Water Navy Veterans who have died because of a DVA ruling on herbicide exposure should be considered wrongful deaths and be brought up on civil charges! Exposure to Agent Orange has been linked to numerous health problems, including non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, prostate cancer, Type II Diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and other issues. In 1991, legislation was enacted that empowered the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to declare certain illnesses "presumptive" to exposure to Agent Orange and enabled Vietnam veterans to receive disability compensation for these related conditions. However, in 2002, the VA limited the authority of the Act to only those veterans who could provide orders for "boots on the ground" in Vietnam. As a result, veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam were forced to file individual claims with the VA to restore their benefits, which are then decided on a case-by-case basis. After 40 years the evidence needed for these Veterans to obtain benefits no longer exists. Please help correct this inequity. I urge you, the public, to communicate to Representative Jeff Miller R-FL, the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, that HR 543, The Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013, now has 251cosponsors and your support. Call Phone: (202) 225-4136. This is enough for a discharge petition to force it to the House floor. This would be an embarrassing situation to this committee. After 14 years of being disenfranchised by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Blue Water Navy deserves its day on the House floor for a vote. The estimate is that 30,000 Veterans of the Blue Water Navy are being denied health care today. With the fiasco facing this nation with the deaths of Veterans in care of the DVA, let’s not add to the count. Please ask Representative Miller to bring forth this bill for a full vote of the House. If you are a Veteran, a Veterans’ relative or simply a person interested in supporting Veterans causes, Join Blue Water Navy and fill out a membership application to the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association.

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