Vietnam vets stir interest in convention
By RANDY GONZALES
Next year, the national convention for the Vietnam Veterans of America is scheduled to be in Wichita.
Arden "Kolb" Kobler, Hays, and Larry MacIntire, Natoma, attended this year's convention, which was last month in Jacksonville, Fla. They hope to have more members of the Hays chapter -- which serves northwest Kansas -- by next year's convention, and also have a town hall meeting on the effects of Agent Orange.
The local VVA chapter meets at 7 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of every month at the American Legion, 13th and Canterbury.
Kobler, 65, served in the Army in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1970. MacIntire, 67, was in the Navy; he served on swift boats in Vietnam, from 1967 to 1968.
MacIntire, who lived all across the country before moving to Natoma five years ago, said he is 100 percent disabled due to the effects of Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. Agent Orange was a chemical defoliant used by the U.S. military during the war, from 1961 to 1971.
MacIntire first started having health problems 15 years ago.
"First thing was colon problems, which ended up diverticulitis and cancer; they took part of my colon out," he said. "Year later, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"I've had numerous rashes they can't figure out. It just keeps going."
The medication MacIntire takes now costs $1,600 per month, and a side effect is weight gain; he gained 150 pounds the first 18 months he was on it.
MacIntire, who bought land near Natoma, used to be able to work it. Those days are long gone, he said.
"You're not supposed to work or anything," MacIntire said. "Because of my weight gain, I can only do so much. All the time at the convention, I was walking with a cane."
These days, MacIntire is busy keeping track of his health problems, with the data provided to be used in case his children or grandchildren begin to have health problems.
On its website, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said it offers a free Agent Orange Registry Health Exam to help alert veterans who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 of possible long-term health problems due to Agent Orange exposure.
"My job at this point is education," MacIntire said. "You educate people, they talk to other people."
On the Veterans Affairs website, it acknowledges the Veterans Administration recognizes certain cancers and other health problems as presumptive diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. Not all health problems are covered; MacIntire said the rashes he has are not covered.
Kobler said approximately 10 years ago he started experiencing memory loss. He now has a notepad with him at all times.
One thing Kobler doesn't want other Vietnam veterans to forget is VVA, which was organized in 1978. There are approximately 400 chapters; the Hays chapter, which was organized approximately 10 years ago, has 86 members from northwest Kansas. Of the 1.8 million men and women who served in Vietnam, only 80,000 are part of VVA. MacIntire and Kobler would like to see that number grow.
"A lot of veterans need a voice with the government," Kobler said. "We're showing age; we're at that point where this Agent Orange and other items are coming up."