Harold Johnson: After 50 years, Vietnamese veterans are still fighting for recognition and treatment
Here I sit, a decorated, combat-bound American Vietnam Veteran, on the annual National Vietnam War Veterans Day – an annual day of combat service recognition associated with those who have bravely and honorably served during the Vietnam War – and I wonder why, after nearly 50 years of waiting for recognition of service, we the forgotten are still waiting for recognition from combat-related disability and remain in the fight for life .
In 1986, the Nehmer v. US Department of Veterans Affairs A class action lawsuit has been filed challenging 38 CFR 3.311a, a former VA rule, “which stated, among other things, that chloracne is the only disease scientifically shown to be associated with exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange used by the United States in Vietnam,” according to the National Veterans Legal Services Program.
It was around this time that I noticed district tremors in my hands. In 1986, I was unaware of any connection to the tremors and any exposure I had had with Agent Orange. Over time the tremors became more pronounced and spread to other parts of my body.
Fast forward to 2020.
In 2020, as the tremors progressed and I became aware of the link between agent orange and Parkinson’s disease, I conducted my own research and discovered that individuals were fighting the Department of Veterans Affairs for an alleged acknowledgment of the link between parkinsonism and exposure to agent orange. Also, I learned that the unit I fought with in the Navy was exposed to Agent Orange. In an effort not to burden the VA system, I decided to request a civil neurological exam to determine my condition before filing a VA claim. It was confirmed. I was diagnosed with parkinsonism.
In 2021 House Resolution 6395, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 went into effect and in early 2021 the VA was forced to acknowledge the additional harmful and potentially fatal effects of the agent Orange’s military deployment on duty to our country during the Vietnam War. Parkinsonism was on the list.
Over time, my parkinsonism got worse. Because it took some time to make the necessary appointments with the civilian neurologist to verify my parkinsonism, it was not until April 2021 that I was correctly diagnosed accordingly. On April 12, 2021, I filed a claim with the VA outlining the alleged association between my Parkinsonism and exposure to Agent Orange. I knew this was going to involve a reasonably quick process. I have filed claims in the past; but none was presumptive. You see, I’m 60% disabled due to hearing loss and tinnitus from combat action. So, as part of the presumptive claim process, it was clearly determined early on that I had served in the Vietnam War and that my unit had been exposed to Agent Orange. .
About a month after filing my alleged request, and on May 27, 2021, Denis McDonough, the VA Secretary, said the following regarding the new presumptive conditions (in my case, parkinsonism): “A lot of veterans in our country have waited a long time for these benefits. The VA will not keep them waiting any longer. It is absolutely the right thing to do for veterans and their families.
Please remember his statement. At first, it was a lie.
Yes, we have waited a very long time, Mr. Secretary, and I am still waiting with no end in sight. Remember I noticed my tremors around 1986 and that started the first fight for Vietnam veterans recognition for long term life threatening suffering for all Vietnam veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange. In my case, it took until 2021 for the VA to acknowledge the alleged association between Agent Orange and Parkinsonism. How many decorated Vietnam veterans have died and suffered or suffered while awaiting recognition of their disability?
As of March 28, 2022, the last communication I have with the VA regarding my April 2021 claim states: As of September 30, 2021, the VA is at the “Gathering, Review and Decision” stage of my “ alleged claim”. .” Yes, for six months, no movement.
So what course of action can disabled Vietnam veterans take to help expedite situations like this where we are forced to wait for the VA to recognize presumptive Exposure to Agent Orange? Wait for the government to enact laws to enforce the alleged association? Wait for the VA to process complaints? And wait for the results? Again, some of us have been waiting since 1986. Some of us have not survived the wait; some of us will pass while waiting.
The only course of action that we, who remain in the fight for our lives can take is to contact our VA state representatives and/or our congressional representatives. I did both. They contacted the VA and the VA told them that even though my claim is a 1986 Nehmer case, all Vietnam vets, who have been waiting so long, have to wait longer because our claims go to the bottom of the pile and the battery is heavy.
Vietnam veterans who have waited over 50 years to be recognized by our nation and waited over 35 years for the right decisions do not meet the criteria to be moved to the top of the pile. Yes, there are criteria, but having to wait that long to be recognized is not one of them. Even though we were online for over 50 years – waiting.
Moreover, time is running out. According to the available and most recent census taken in August 2000 (22 years ago), the estimated population of American veterans surviving Vietnam is 1,002,511. We lost nearly 711,000 between 1995 and 2000 : on average 390 per day pass. However, we are now in 2022.
Most likely, over time, death percentages will increase. Time is something that is becoming increasingly elusive and precious to my Vietnam Veteran brothers and sisters.
In August 2000, 22 years ago, the age of Vietnam era veterans was around 71, and we are still fighting the war; however, this time the enemy is our own government.