If you’ve had a conversation with Donald Measel recently, chances are the topic has drifted to Agent Orange, herbicides used in Vietnam to defoliate trees and bushes that could conceal those fighting U.S. forces.
Measel, the sergeant-at-arms of American Legion Post 324 in Genoa, has been on a mission to inform Vietnam veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange - and anyone who can pass the word to them - about assistance that is available.
For the past few months or so he’s been wearing a cap with emblems of his service in Vietnam, hoping it will draw a comment from anyone he meets and give him an opening to discuss what has become his personal crusade; to alert as many veterans of the war as he can there is help if they need it.
“If you start talking with me about Vietnam you’re going to get an earful,” said Measel, who served there for 11 months while in the Army. “I tell anyone who served in country and feels they have medical conditions caused by Agent Orange they should re-apply for help if they’ve been turned down.”
Citing a study by the Institute of Medicine, Eric Shineski, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, last October established a service connection for Vietnam veterans to three specific illnesses based on evidence of a link with Agent Orange herbicides.
As a result of Shineski’s decision, B cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease will be added to a list of diseases presumed to be linked to Agent Orange.
“In practical terms, veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have a `presumed’ illness don’t have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service,” the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a prepared statement announcing Shineski’s decision. “This ‘presumption’ simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits.”
Shineski’s new policy brings to 15 the number of illnesses recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as being associated with herbicide exposure.
The DOVA announced this past March that more than 80,000 veterans will have past claims reviewed and may be eligible for retroactive payments and those who are not currently eligible for enrollment into the VA healthcare system will become eligible.
Measel believes his heart problems are the consequence of being exposed to Agent Orange. He recently decided to participate in the DOVA Agent Orange Registry, which is designed to collect information about the health status of those who served in Vietnam.
His appointment for an initial physical exam and blood testing is May 20 at a Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
“A lot of guys don’t even know about the registry,” Measel said last week.
But if they should happen to run into him they will likely learn about it.