Navy & Agent Orange
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Probably the most divided group of veterans in the history of America is the beleaguered Vietnam veteran. This group of veterans were generally rejected by the American people early in the war that none of them started. Most of those serving in Vietnam from 1959 through the literal end of the war were patriotic young people who desired to defend the United States from her enemies. Sometimes the young veteran would have a problem of sorting out just who was the enemy. In Vietnam, the natives who worked during the day turned into the guerilla at night.

We also had the enemy at home. Those who protested the war, for one reason or another.

Many of those were prominent politicians, actors and education leaders. There positions were well choreographed to make those serving look as they were interfering with the chosen lifestyle of the Vietnamese people. When in reality the Vietnamese people were being terrorized by their Communist brethren.

We also have the problem of those veterans who separate themselves as 'in-country' and those called 'Era vets' a situation not seen during WWII or the Korean war. In the years I have worked with veterans this one issue of were you 'in-country' has caused a great schism in the ranks of those who served from 1959 to 1975.

When the Vietnam veteran returned home they discovered many health problems those who did not go to Vietnam did not suffer. These veterans went to the Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs) and made attempts to discover the common link to those problems. It was not long before herbicide exposure was the culprit. For reasons never fully explained the VA rejected nearly every idea put forth from this group of veterans. Even their fellow veterans from other conflicts rejected their quest for answers.

Over two decades we sought information to link herbicide exposure and the health problems which were taking lives at early ages in this select group. It appeared the more research by the supporters of the Vietnam veterans, the more resistance by the government and some of the veterans of prior conflicts. It was not until the San Francisco District Court Of Appeals ruling in which Agent Orange went to trial in San Francisco and was found guilty. On May 3, 1989 in the U.S. District Court, the Honorable Thelton E. Henderson held that former Veterans Administration head, Thomas K. Turnage had imposed "an impermissibly demanding test" for determining whether an ailment could be linked to dioxin. A position many of us had stated for over a decade.

The ruling was not appealed by the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs. This has opened the doors for new opportunities for those who have been maimed by this, the deadliest of man made synthetic chemical compounds, TCDD or as we know it Agent Orange. Multiple Thousands of claims nearly 34,000, at that time had been denied over the years. So in the next decade the VA established regulations concerning diseases and exposure. The regulations have been changed as new diseases were recognized. In the early 1990's those who were in the adjacent waters to Vietnam were presumed exposed. When diabetes type 2 was recognized in November of 2000, the regulations were revisited by those in the legal departments of the VA. The presumption of exposure to herbicides was changed by the VA..

The VA has denied many claims since mid 2001, stating the veteran was not exposed due to the fact he did not go ashore. This is an incorrect assumption based on economics and not fact. The current Agent Orange exposure in-country regulation: "(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1112)

(6) Diseases associated with exposure to certain herbicide agents. (i) For the purposes of this section, the term ``herbicide agent'' means a chemical in an herbicide used in support of the United States and allied military operations in the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, specifically: 2,4-D; 2,4,5-T and its contaminant TCDD; cacodylic acid; and picloram. (Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1116(a)(4))

(ii) The diseases listed at Sec. 3.309(e) shall have become manifest to a degree of 10 percent or more at any time after service, except that chloracne or other acne form disease consistent with chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, and acute and subacute peripheral neuropathy shall have become manifest to a degree of 10 percent or more within a year after the last date on which the veteran was exposed to an herbicide agent during active military, naval, or air service.

(iii) A veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975, shall be presumed to have been exposed during such service to an herbicide agent, unless there is affirmative evidence to establish that the veteran was not exposed to any such agent during that service.

The last date on which such a veteran shall be presumed to have been exposed to an herbicide agent shall be the last date on which he or she served in the Republic of Vietnam during the period beginning on January 9, 1962, and ending on May 7, 1975.

'Service in the Republic of Vietnam' includes service in the waters offshore and service in other locations if the conditions of service involved duty or visitation in the Republic of Vietnam."
When a person is within the geographical or territorial limits of the land mass, that person is considered by international law within the nation. There are recorded incidents of U.S. warships being seized (USS Pueblo 1968) and U.S. fishing vessels (Peru 1964), as well as the US Navy boarding Russian vessels (Cuba 1962).

Thus my position has been accepted as law, by the Executive Branch of the United States of America. There are no provisions in Title 38 of the United States Code, for any department, agency or division to deny due process under accepted treaty, law or regulations of the United States of America.


Since 1977, I have represented veterans in their claims before the Department of Veteran Affairs. To lesser extent, the Social Security Administration, the military and naval services.

As most sailors, my Navy experience will live with me throughout my lifetime. In my experience as a Veterans Service Officer, I do realize we have a tendency to remember the best of times and forget those days of struggle and woe.

I wish to leave my thoughts of our involvement in the infamous Bay of Pigs, Cuba incident. I served aboard the USS Cony DDE 508. We were one of seven destroyers of DESRON 28, Task Group Alpha serving with the USS Essex CV-9 and the USS San Marcos LSD-25, in the actual waters off the coast of southern Cuba. The event was from Monday, April 17th to Friday April 21, 1961. But not just another work week.

This story is true; but it almost falls into a "sea story" category. We were not given any indication, of any change in our normal "out to sea" for ASW exercises. We all expected to be out for our normal two weeks and return for two weeks in port. As our DESRON was two in two out. When the ship Quartermasters were ordered to no longer log our position and no longer to use the sextant. We all became suspicious.

Our Captain (CDR. Frank Dunham) who with our XO (Lt. Jack Wilson) did all of the readings and logs. None of the crew had access to any logs or equipment to allow us to figure out where we were. We did know for sure we were not in our usual patrol areas and it was getting hot, in temperature as well as pressure. Neither the Captain nor the XO spoke of what was going on. When we asked we only received a smile. Fortunately for the Cony sailors we had two outstanding leaders, both were very crew oriented. The smiles were seemingly sincere; but we understood.

The seven destroyers were chosen to go into the bay , they were the Bache, Beale, Cony, Conway, Eaton, Murray and the Waller. The Essex and San Marcos remained further at sea. At this time, I was a leading seaman and in charge of the side cleaners. We were instructed to go over the side and paint off the five of our hull number. We became the 08 rather than 508. We then painted off the name Cony on the stern. Then our Commission pennant and U.S. Flag were removed; there was no longer any question of what we were going to do. We still didn't know where or why. We had unknown (to us) civilians come aboard, VIA our motor whaleboat. Although I was a member of the boat crew, we were not to speak to them at any time, for any reason.

As documented by author Peter Wyden in his book THE BAY OF PIGS, THE UNTOLD STORY (Simon & Schuster 1978), our ships did meet some resistance. It is further documented in the VFW Magazine (September 1993), "a whaleboat carrying sailors heavily armed with Browning automatic rifles, from the Cony, was beached at one stage. While rescuing Brigade survivors, it was fired on by a Cuban helicopter." Actual small arms fire struck the Cony. A round from a Cuban artillery piece was fired over the bow of at least one of the destroyers. We went to GQ. It seemed as if GQ lasted for the entire five days, but I am sure we had breaks in the time or at least went to a relaxed battle condition.

Several times during the invasion we were certain we were at war with Cuba. However we were unaware that the President of the United States had altered the plans of the invasion. Of course we sailors, other than the Captain and XO had no idea of where we were, or what we were doing. In an amusing fact, it is a lot of what we experience today, from the layman's perspective. While underway to our port, we were instructed by the Captain, not to discuss any event we had observed or heard about. After our return to port, one of the crew members of the USS Conway had written a poem of the Bay of Pigs, the poem was briskly distributed throughout the DESRON and retrieved just about as quick. We were again instructed not to discuss the events with anyone.

When I first read the book BAY OF PIGS: THE UNTOLD STORY, I called Captain Dunham and asked him if we could finally discuss that event. The skipper told me we were now declassified and could tell the world. For the first time in my life in 1978 I told family and friends, not one seemed impressed at all. Too little, too late.


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