Investigations

Impacts being seen in grandchildren of Vietnam War veterans, is it Agent Orange?

HOLIDAY, Fla. (WFLA) - Birth defects and heart problems are showing up not only in the children, but the grandchildren of veterans who served in America's military during the Vietnam War.  

The question is whether Agent Orange, a powerful poison sprayed by the military to wipe out vegetation, is a contributing factor. 

Emma Ackerson, 9, of Holiday, looks like any other little girl playing her with dog.

But this list of Emma's medical problems keeps growing:

  • Connective tissue disorder, which is EDS ( Ehlers Danlos syndrome)
  • Hypermobility 
  • Vision problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sleep apnea
  • Epilepsy (benign occipital epilepsy)
  • Orthostatic hypotension
  • Dysautonomia
  • Long QT syndrome
  • Joint pain
  • GI problems
  • Migraines
  • Acid reflux 
  • Arrhythmias
  • Balance problems

Emma suffers headaches and stomach pain, as well as heart problems.

"All of a sudden she gets pale. She gets dark circles under her eyes and you either have to lay her down on the floor, you have top pick her up, because she'll pass out," explained Emma's mother, Keri Ackerson.

According to her mom, Emma's problems stem from a birth defect called Chiari malformation, a neural tube defect.

"It's a structural defect in the brain where part of the brain is going down in to the spinal column," said Keri.

Chiari malformation is also a condition associated with Agent Orange.

The military sprayed more than 20 million gallons of the powerful defoliant in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to deny the enemy food sources and cover.

Tens of thousands of American military personnel handled, sprayed or were sprayed by this herbicide.  

The chemicals in Agent Orange are known to cause a variety of illnesses including several types of cancers, among other diseases.

It took decades for the Department of Veterans Affairs to admit that the powerful herbicide poisoned thousands of U.S. service members. 

It took even longer for the government to acknowledge the children of those contaminated could also be affected.

Emma Ackerson's grandfather, Navy veteran Lonnie Kilpatrick was exposed to the toxic herbicide while on Guam in the 70s.

Sheila Kilpatrick, Emma's grandmother, also lived on Guam, in an apartment complex near a jungle that was also sprayed.

"All my kids, they all have something, heart problems," explained Sheila. "We've pulled up all this information to link to Agent Orange."

Keri Ackerson, Sheila and Lonnie's daughter, was diagnosed with heart trouble at age 20.

"I black out probably 20 times a day, every time I stand up my vision goes black," stated Keri. "I wake up in the middle of the night feeling like I'm going to die."

News Channel 8 Senior Investigator Steve Andrews will have much more on this story Thursdsay at 5 p.m., including thoughts from the executive director of Birth Defect Research for Children Inc., who is gathering data on children of veterans who served in Vietnam.


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