Local veteran fighting for benefits for family after Agent Orange exposure

Published: Jan. 31, 2020 at 10:10 AM CST
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The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is now taking claims from Navy veterans who served offshore during Vietnam and were exposed to Agent Orange, but its taken years for those veterans to be recognized or get benefits.

Retired U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Powell spent 30 years fighting for our country, but now, his battles are at home.

Powell has a laundry list of health issues.

“Type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, and peripheral neuropathy,” Tom said.

Doctors believe all of that is tied to one thing.

“We went through areas that were completely de-foliated and we knew nothing about Agent Orange,” Tom said.

The United States used Agent Orange to clear the jungles of Vietnam, making the fight against the enemy easier for our troops.

“There were bomb craters with water in it and we weren’t getting a resupply of water, so we drank the water out of the bomb craters," Tom said.

What was just survival for Thomas during the war is now turning his own body against him. Turns out, the fight to survive is now a generational one.

“It wounded me more than any gunshot to know that I gave my granddaughter a problem that may shorten her life,” Tom said.

Tom’s granddaughter, Lia was born with a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis. It causes tumors on the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.

“This kind of deletion was seen in about 2% of vet offspring prior to Vietnam and 13% after Vietnam,” said Lia’s mother, Kate Powell.

Kate has done her own research, finding other families with health issues connected to service in the Vietnam War.

"Really validating for me to find other people who are struggling with the same issues, to know that it's not just my family, that we're not by ourselves," Kate said.

In fact, 3 million people were exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

The Department of Veteran Affairs just this year started accepting claims for Navy veterans that served offshore.

Phil Kraft with the HonorBound Foundation says they've been helping families for decades.

"Recent studies are showing now, they're expecting five generations worth of birth defects based on the exposure to the original Vietnam veterans," Kraft said.

HonorBound helps veteran families medically and financially. Kraft says he won't stop fighting until veterans' families get help, too.

"Maybe they're waiting for enough of us to die so that they can say, 'yes, you were right it did cause all of those cancers, and we're not going to compensate the families but by golly, we love our troops'," Kraft says.

Tom's legacy of service is something he’s proud to leave behind. He just wishes it wasn't at the expense of his granddaughter's health.

"I think that the government needs to step up and figure out how they're going to take care of these people. They sent us there," Tom said.

If you're a veteran and believe you have been affected by exposure, the Texas Veterans Commission suggests filing a claim through the local VA clinic for free.

You can find a link to filing a claim with TVC at the link in the ‘Related Links’ section.