I-TEAM: Documents highlight those sprayed and betrayed at Fort Gordon

Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 4:18 PM EST
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FORT GORDON, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - New estimates show around 300 Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange die every day.

We’ve now lost more than five or six times the number of soldiers to that dangerous toxin than we did in battle.

And that’s just those overseas. More than a decade ago, our I-TEAM helped to uncover Agent Orange was tested during that time in our area. The same danger in a different location makes for a different fight when it comes to benefits.

Sometimes a few documents could make all the difference for those feeling sprayed and betrayed.

What happened in Vietnam has never been black and white. To this day, the war is still painted in shades of gray and flooded with questions that further muddy the waters.

Still, the colors remain vivid: the lush green jungles, the red bloodshed, and a chemical known as Agent Orange.

“It’s the deadliest poison known to man,” said James Cripps.

The I-TEAM first introduced you to Cripps 13 years ago after he became the very first person to prove to the government was exposed to Agent Orange – not in Vietnam – but in the United States at Fort Gordon.


“At the time, I thought I was six or seven thousand miles away from Agent Orange,” Cripps said.

The I-TEAM uncovered a map in 2010 that proves he wasn’t. It shows the government tested Agents Blue, Orange, and White in Augusta from January 1967 to December of 1969, exposing soldiers stationed here to a rainbow of tactical toxins.

They got their colorful names from the color of the stripes painted on their barrels.

In a previous report with Richard Rogers, Lou Krieger explained why they would have used Fort Gordon to test Agent Orange.

“Specifically because the climate, the topography, and everything like that fairly represented what we had over in Vietnam,” Krieger said.

Back then, part of Fort Gordon was known as Camp Crockett.

It was no secret the Army built mock Vietnamese villages there to make training as real as possible.

We found clips of the training sites in our old film archives. However, until our News 12 investigation blew the lid off Camp Crockett as an Agent Orange testing site, many soldiers stationed here had no clue the danger was real. Steven Kirby once walked those Camp Crockett fields.

He now lives in Myrtle Beach. He almost couldn’t believe it when an old friend called to say he spotted Steven in an old picture in one of our stories on News 12.

He sent Steven the link so he could watch the story on his computer.

“Oh, yeah. No question. No question about it. 100%. That’s me,” said Steven via Zoom.

We also sent him another photo we used in a story years ago that looked similar. He confirmed that was a photo of him serving at Camp Crockett as well.

Unfortunately, his face wasn’t the only thing he recognized in our stories. He heard familiar stories.

“Back in 2017, that’s when I really got sick,” Steven Kirby said.

Kirby ended up in the emergency room when his nose started bleeding and wouldn’t stop. After a week in the hospital, he learned he had cancer.

Multiple myeloma. It was Stage 3.

“If I hadn’t come in when I did, pretty soon, you know, I may have died,” Kirby said.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells. Think of it like a weed that chokes out healthy cells in the bone marrow. There is no cure, but Steven takes a chemo pill every single day. Some days, he says the side effects are easier to stomach than others. On other days, he says he cannot leave the house.

That can make going to work difficult. So, he applied for VA disability compensation.

After all, multiple myeloma is so closely tied to Agent Orange exposure, the VA considers it a “presumptive disease.” There’s a list of diseases.

If you have one, approval for benefits is pretty much automatic because the VA assumes Agent Orange is to blame, but you also have to have served in a presumed location.

There’s a list of those too. The Pact Act just went into effect in November. It added two more health conditions and five new locations, but even after the I-TEAM uncovered the map of Agent Orange testing at Fort Gordon, Fort Gordon is STILL not on that list.

Steven Kirby has been denied benefits two times now, even with a letter from his cancer doctor listing Agent Orange exposure as the likely cause of his Multiple Myeloma.

“I got sick, doing what you told me to do where you told me to go,” Kirby said. “It’s just -- it’s just not right.” He’s not alone.

The I-TEAM combed appeals from 2022 and 2021. We found dozens of cases where veterans like Steven Kirby stationed at Fort Gordon in the 60′s and early 70′s had Agent Orange claims denied.

Some even submitted our I-TEAM investigations as evidence, and the appeals board notes considering our “multiple internet articles.”

WRDW is even specifically named in a 2018 appeals case. Most cases are remanded.

That means they are sent back to the veteran to do more paperwork, but some of them win.

Joseph Webb sent this email: “Your stories and my research helped me get 100% VA compensation.”

We hope to have another positive update just like this one very soon. Louie DeRoos is another person to come forward, using the internet to connect with the past and the I-TEAM.

“I went on the web, and I looked at Fort Gordon toxins, and your video popped up, " DeRoos said. “I watched that video three times.” DeRoos is in Storm Lake, Iowa.

He’s the Executive Director of Veterans Affairs for Buena Vista County. He reached out to the I-TEAM because he’s helping a veteran exposed at Fort Gordon who can check multiple boxes on the presumptive disease list, but this veteran has not seen a dime.

“He’s filed claims four different times,” explains DeRoos. “Denied. Denied for every single one of them. I think we’ve got a fighting chance for this one.”

He says he’s now very hopeful because he has our reporting and our map to send with the claim.

He believes the map will come in handy for other vets, too., so they can send it to the government as part of their claims.

The I-TEAM got that map from the government as part of a Freedom of Information Act request. So, if the government had it all along, why did we have to jump through hoops to get it so that vets could send it back to the government?

“There should be a registry, and they should be calling these people,” DeRoos said. “Why does it have to be so difficult? Part of me feels that they make this process so difficult, so hard, most veterans give up.”

Steven Kirby is giving it one more try. On March 29th, he’ll face a judge in the Court of Appeals.

This time, he has some legal help and that I-TEAM map.

“I just turned 74 in November, and I’m still working. And I’m drawing social security. And it is not enough to pay my bills,” Kirby said.

The draft had already started when Steven Kirby joined the Army right after high school, so he figured he probably would be sent to Vietnam. Instead of the jungle, he landed in the snow, spending his military career in Germany and New England.

Now, he says he’s fighting a different battle: that of a Vietnam Vet who was never actually sent to Vietnam. He’s living in the fog of a war he never fought with battle wounds he never realized he had until decades later. In the last couple of months, the I-TEAM has had multiple requests for our Agent Orange map. While we’ve had it posted to our website before, we will repost downloadable copies with it to this story so it is easy for veterans to find.

This is a public record, and it has helped countless veterans get the benefits they deserve, so we want to make sure anyone who needs it to get those benefits – has access to it.

It is important to note the VA has come a long way. Now, it has a section on its website where it, at least mentions spraying at Fort Gordon. However, it’s not as complete as our map and documents, and it takes a lot of clicking to get there, but it’s a start.