I-TEAM: Is Agent Orange’s lethal legacy extending to other generations of Vietnam vets?

Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock/NBC at 7

Richard Mead, Sr. (center-right) was in Vietnam and was exposed to Agent Orange. He was later diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. (Source: Mead Family)

FORT GORDON, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- It took the government decades to admit Agent Orange exposure could be deadly, but some believe veterans have also passed the toxin down to their kids and grand kids.

The VA isn't exactly known for approving claims quickly.

So our I-Team continues to dig deeper into a possible lethal legacy.

It all started when the government admitted to testing Agent Orange at Fort Gordon. We asked a man exposed to it here -- how is your family? That's when we learned his daughter -- and other children of local veterans -- could also be paying the price.

That price has never been more apparent than looking at the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. It’s normally a place of reflection where visitors are supposed to see their own reflection. The wall is almost like a mirror that connects the living to the more than 58,000 who never returned.

Most were killed in action. Others were MIA, but presumed dead, but all the names on the wall are connected to combat.

As a Command Sergeant Major, Richard Mead was painfully aware of each and every name from his unit.

"He was the one who had to write the letters home to the parents saying, ‘Hey, sorry for your loss; your son has been killed in Vietnam,’” Mead’s son, Richard Mead, Jr., said.

Mead, Jr. was born after his dad returned from Vietnam. He survived the war, or so he and his family thought. Decades later, the government would admit his cancer was "service-connected" and "100% disabling." It was also "associated with exposure to Agent Orange."

Which brings us back to the granite wall in DC. You won't find Sgt. Maj. Richard Mead's name there. If you were a victim of Agent Orange, your name isn't etched in black.

Video shows just how negligent the government could have been when it came to safety in regard to Agent Orange.

The Army took the video in 1969 of soldiers spraying Agent Orange along a riverbank in South Vietnam. None of them were wearing protective equipment. Nothing. Not even gloves.

The government was also reckless with information. According to a Congressional report, the VA got its "first claims asserting conditions related to Agent Orange in 1977."

Two years later, Congress finally enacted several laws to take a closer look at "whether exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam was associated with possible long-term health effects and certain disabilities."

Congressional Research by Jeremy Turnage on Scribd

But we've uncovered this document from DOW Chemical -- the company behind Agent Orange. It's dated Feb. 22, 1957 and specifically mentions cloracne -- the most common skin sign of dioxin poisoning -- or Agent Orange exposure.

Dow Chemical by Jeremy Turnage on Scribd

It references a letter even earlier -- in 1955 -- describing the hazards due to the toxicity of 2,4,5 trichlorophenol - or what's used to make dioxin which makes Agent Orange so lethal.

Still, seven years later in 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave approval for the US to start spraying.

"He said it was normal for them to, you know, have the fields sprayed with Agent Orange while they were, you know, there,” Mead, Jr. said.

Agent Orange was supposedly helping Command Sgt Maj. Mead and his men defeat the enemy. Instead, the toxin would serve as ammunition his own body would use against him decades later. The attack came April 11, 1996. It was Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma linked to Agent Orange.

"We moved in to help, and then I got sick,” Mead, Jr. said.

He thought it was just breathing problems, but it turned out to be something far more serious: a case of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, too.

Mead, Jr. was only 38 years old.

"We were both undergoing chemotherapy at the same time,” Mead, Jr. said.

Father and son were now fighting a war side-by-side. Mead, Jr. also helped his dad battle the VA.

"He was turned down, I don't know how many times," Mead, Jr. said. “And he had to resubmit it, then they'd review it, then turn down, resubmit it. Well now we're only going to give you X amount of percentage. Then he had to resubmit it again, we'll give you this amount of percentage. It's kinda like, hopefully they were waiting for him to die so they wouldn't have to pay anything."

Unlike so many Vietnam Veterans, Mead outlived his claim.

He died in Augusta Nov. 29, 2010 with full benefits.

Mead, Jr. is going to apply for benefits, too.

“Now that I've talked to you, and now that I see that there is an avenue for me to explore,” Mead, Jr. said.

Right now, the VA recognizes certain birth defects of children of vets exposed to Agent Orange as collateral damage. It took decades for spina bifida to be added.

It also took decades for the VA to admit many other diseases and illness are connected to the Veterans being exposed.

And then there are the Blue water Navy Veterans who were stationed on ships off-shore during the Vietnam War. A decision came down this year they could be included. After years of fighting, their claims will finally be considered in 2020.

A lot of them won't live that long.

"I never went in to war,” Mead, Jr. said. “I don't deserve any praise, you know? I haven't seen my best friend die in combat, so I didn't really feel like I deserve it."

But after our report, where three different doctors said they believe Mandy McCormick's rare blood disorder is because of her dad's Agent Orange exposure, he reached out to some who have seen combat.

"I talked to a couple of veterans and they're like, well, you're almost a veteran like us because you were exposed to Agent Orange, so I wouldn't be offended if you did apply for them,” Mead, Jr. said.

How to Get Benefits - National Archive by Jeremy Turnage on Scribd

So Mead, Jr. will apply for benefits and hope for the best even though he expects to hit a wall at the VA -- much like names of Agent Orange casualties that are stonewalled from ending up on the stone wall in DC.

Something else to note, Richard Mead, Sr. also had a daughter after returning from Vietnam. She doesn't appear to have any health problems, but her daughter was born with spina bifida.

You'll remember that's one of the VA’s recognized birth defects for children of vets exposed to Agent Orange. This could be further proof the toxin can be passed to three generations. She is now in the process of applying for benefits, too.

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