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|Veterans seek assistance for Agent Orange disease|
|Written by Mack Kearns|
|Thursday, 10 September 2009 22:48|
“Buffalo” Rick Galeener wants veterans debilitated by Agent Orange to receive the treatment they deserve.
He and other Vietnam veterans gathered in Tombstone Aug. 29 to honor fellow soldiers who suffer the debilitating health effects of the toxic herbicide that chemically wounded many during the 16-year conflict and in other wars, too.
The thunderous sound of rumbling motorcycle engines signaled the arrival of a pack of about 50 veterans. With American flags waving, the group paraded down Allen Street before assembling at the American Legion to hold a brief ceremony in which six veterans were awarded a special honor – the Order of the Silver Rose – in recognition for the sacrifices they made in defending their country.
The diseases that stem from exposure to Agent Orange are numerous – leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease and chronic breathing problems are at the top of a list that includes diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer.
According to a veterans group, more than 100,000 members of the armed forces who fought in Vietnam have been stricken with Agent Orange-related illnesses. Many veterans like Galeener feel there is not enough recognition within the armed forces and the military health system for those who suffer or have died from the toxic agent – especially toward Navy veterans.
“I came home in 1970 from Vietnam,” Galeener said. “I’d served on the USS Enterprise – came home with out a scratch. Thirty years later, they wanted to take my left leg off because of a 10-pound tumor.”
Galeener said his battle against the adverse heath effects of the toxin has been made difficult by a recently enacted policy that precludes veterans who were not in a combat zone when they were exposed to Agent Orange from receiving long-term heath care.
“If your boots never hit the ground, not only will you not be compensated for Agent Orange but they won’t even recognize you,” Galeener said during a ceremony honoring the veterans. “They will treat your cancer and then they’ll cut you loose.”
Unlike ground forces who came into direct contact with the herbicide, which was used to remove concealing foliage, Galeener was unknowingly exposed to the toxin on board ship.
“The distillation systems boosted the dioxins instead of taking them out,” Galeener said. “We were drinking it, showering in it, preparing food with it – everything on board ship. And the guys on board ship are the ones who got cut out of compensation for it.”
In order to recognize veterans, the Order of the Silver Rose, which is a private organization, is dedicated to raising funding and awareness for victims of Agent Orange. Because the Department of Defense has determined those wounded by Agent Orange do not qualify for The Purple Heart, the Order of Silver Rose is instead awarded to recognize the courage and heroism of veterans.
Sgt. Donald Bush served as an assault helicopter gunner in Vietnam. He now suffers from severe breathing problems and diabetes. Bush said he felt welcomed and honored by the award.
“It was like a homecoming for us,” Bush said of the ceremony. “When I got off the plane from Vietnam a lady spit on me. People were so anti-Vietnam then, they’d almost call you a traitor. So, it’s so nice that people will recognize us today. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Those that received the Order of the Silver Rose were: Ronald Heilman, David Dubois, Donald Bush, Dennis Giles, Ernest Molina and Frank Stone.