More Vietnam vets qualify for Agent Orange benefits - - Texoma news, weather and sports

More Vietnam vets qualify for Agent Orange benefits

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Vietnam veteran William Teague died after becoming ill from the effects of Agent Orange herbicide. (Courtesy) Vietnam veteran William Teague died after becoming ill from the effects of Agent Orange herbicide. (Courtesy)

Thousands of Vietnam veterans who were exposed to dangerous chemicals like Agent Orange have been getting VA benefits for years.

But some military personnel were excluded: Soldiers of the sea.

Now, a recently-signed law will add them to the list of eligible veterans.

It's been a long battle for these "blue water" Navy personnel and everyone who was fighting for them. Veterans and their families say it's been a long, hard battle.

"Dad was one of the most humble men you could ever meet... just down to Earth, funny, never met a stranger," said Billy Teague. "From 1968 to 1969, he served a year in Vietnam."

Sgt. First Class William Teague's year in Southeast Asia forever marked his life, which ended in 1981.

"To see what my dad went through to spend a year in Vietnam... he was definitely in the area. In the area he was in there were over 50,000 barrels of Agent Orange that was sprayed," the younger Teague said.

Agent Orange was sprayed on Vietnam jungles to kill forest cover, but the potent chemical led to health issues for vets like Sgt. Teague. The herbicide is linked to prostate cancer, Parkinson's disease and birth defects among other afflictions.

Land soldiers have been covered since 1991, but military personnel stationed 12 miles offshore weren't. It was initially unclear how sailors at sea could be contaminated.

But it was later understood that chemical-laden water had drained into the ocean.

"They bathed in it, they cleaned with it, they showered with it, they cooked with it, they drank it," said VFW Post 231 Senior Vice Commander Monique Cooksey. 

Minds weren't changed about the impact until recently, when President Trump signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019. The legislation adding up to 600,000 sailors to the list of military personnel who are eligible for VA Agent Orange benefits.

"We encourage anyone -- Vietnam veteran, Navy veteran, Blue Water veteran or not  -- to contact your local VSO or your county's Veteran Service Office and just see if you qualify for these benefits," Cooksey said.

Veteran Services says time is of the essence; the average Vietnam veteran is 73 years old.

"Go ahead and get treatment now," Billy Teague urged. "Get the treatment going, get the benefits going before -- like in my dad's case -- before it's too late."

The benefits are also extended to children and dependents of some Navy veterans.

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