More than 200 veterans showed up to a special forum at Northeast State Community College Tuesday evening. The topic -- chemical exposure and how to file claims for VA benefits.
The Tennessee State Council, Vietnam Veterans of America, along with co-sponsors Kingsport VVA Chapter 979, Johnson City Chapter 824 and with support from Tri-Cities Military Affairs Council, hosted the Agent Orange Town Hall Meeting.
The president of the Tennessee State council of Vietnam Veterans of America, Barry Rice, says there are about 15,000 Vietnam veterans in upper east Tennessee who were exposed to Agent Orange.
Organizers of Tuesday night's event want to make sure the veterans are properly compensated for any illnesses they -- and even their children and grandchildren -- may be facing.
Experts say, it may not just be Vietnam veterans who need to hear this message.
Agent Orange was intended to protect American and allied troops in Vietnam and other southeast Asian countries. The chemical was sprayed to defoliate the dense jungle vegetation hiding enemy positions during the long and controversial war.
"Vietnam was never a subject we ever spoke of," said Linda Chandler of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Chandler lost her husband, a Vietnam veteran, a little more than a year ago.
He died of heart issues now being linked to exposure to Agent Orange, but filing a claim has been complex. "It was absolutely mind blowing as to what I had to go through," said Chandler.
Tuesday night, Chandler learned more about the process along with so many others, like Korean War veteran Herman Sams.
The VA believes veterans who served along the demilitarized zone, or DMZ, were also exposed to herbicides. "He's had a double bypass and two stents in place," said Sams' son Johnathan Sams. "He has Parkinson's."
Veteran advocates say recent conflicts may have also caused health issues. "Maybe [veterans] from Iraq or Afghanistan who have been exposed to any type of chemicals, such as those oil well fires that Saddam created when we first invaded there," said Barry Rice.
Now exerts say there is evidence that chemical exposure is reaching other generations. "If you suspect that you have any health problems whatsoever, or suspect your child or grandchild does, please seek medical help and go see a veterans service officer," said Rice.
Researchers say there is scientific evidence pointing to increases in birth defects and developmental problems in the children and grandchildren of Vietnam veterans and others exposed to dioxin-like chemicals.
For more information on how to get help, please contact:
Tennessee State Council
Vietnam Veterans of America
104 Candlewick Place
Hendersonville, Tennessee 37075
Phone: (615) 479-8619