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Vietnam vets urged to attend meeting

3/10/2014

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

A town hall meeting has been scheduled for veterans of the Vietnam War to learn more about the effects of Agent Orange.

The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday in Stouffer Lounge of Memorial Union on the campus of Fort Hays State University.

According to a report from the National Organization on Disability, between 1961 and 1972, the United States military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of dioxin-contaminated herbicides over 6 million acres in Vietnam. Among the herbicides used was a compound known as Agent Orange, named for the orange stripe on the barrels it was shipped in.

Part of the military's herbicidal warfare program, defoliants used as part of Operation Ranch Hand destroyed crops, trees and bushes used by the enemy.

"In the course of this use, hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel and millions of Vietnamese were exposed to the chemical in the air, water and soil, and through food raised on contaminated farms," the report said.

One of the purposes of Friday's town hall meeting hosted by the local chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America is to gather data from veterans who might have been affected by Agent Orange. Four VVA members from the national office are scheduled to be in attendance at the meeting in Hays, the first of three town halls in Kansas.

"To inform people, Vietnam veterans, what they're covered for, might be having problems," said Larry MacIntire, Natoma, a member of the local VVA chapter who took the lead in organizing the event. "Basically to have them aware it's now going down to the children and grandchildren, trying to get that covered."

John Pyle, president of the local VVA chapter, also is the veterans' service representative for the Kansas Commission of Veterans Affairs. He will be at Friday's meeting to assist veterans with claims.

"This is the first year that VVA has really presented town hall meetings," Pyle said.

Both Pyle and MacIntire served in the Navy during Vietnam. Pyle was on a repair ship in 1968, while MacIntire was on swift boats that patrolled coastal areas and interior waterways from 1967 to 1968.

On its website, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers eligible veterans a free Agent Orange Registry health exam for possible long-term health problems related to exposure.

At Friday's town hall, veterans can fill out forms to detail their personal story.

"We're going to do a follow-up, find out if they've been affected by it, know anybody," MacIntire said. "This is how we're doing it, building up stories."

MacIntire, 68, has battled colon cancer, prostate cancer and diabetes, all he believes could be related to Agent Orange exposure. His reason for hosting the town hall is personal.

"If you can help one person, that's my feeling," he said. "If I can help one guy and his family."