Sickened veterans, families, Congress wait on VA to release findings on Agent Orange exposure

Investigations

For years, the family of Lonnie Kilpatrick suspected Agent Orange sickened not only Lonnie, but his children and grandchildren too.

While stationed in Guam, the Navy veteran, who died earlier this month, was exposed to the toxic herbicide, which the military used throughout the Vietnam war to wipe out jungle vegetation the enemy was hiding in. 

“I know my kids they have, this thing that’s caused by Agent Orange,” Lonnie said in an interview in April. “I got a granddaughter that’s already had brain surgery.”

“They say it can be passed down for three generations,” he added. 

Betty Medkeci, the executive director of Birth Defect Research for Children, Inc. thinks its too early to say whether the grandchildren of veterans exposed to Agent Orange are experiencing health issues.  It is her contention that neither the Department of Veterans Affairs nor private industry really wants to go there. 

“We don’t know, but we’re not going to find out unless we do the research,” Ms. Medkeci said.

Congress is still waiting to hear from the Department of Veterans Affairs whether birth defects and other health concerns showing up in the children and grandchildren of veterans are tied to the toxic defoliant.

In 2016, Congress passed legislation directing the V.A. to partner with the National Academy of Medicine “to assess the scientific research regarding descendants of individuals and veterans with toxic exposure,” but Medkeci said the department failed to follow through on the directive. 

“I’m not happy that they’re just reviewing what they’ve already looked at,” said Ms. Medkeci. “If they don’t do the research and they just fiddle around and look at what’s already been out there, which has been looked at over and over again, then we’re not going to be any closer to the answer.”

“I’ve had heart issues my whole life,” said Lonnie’s daughter Keri Ackerson. 

Keri’s daughter Emma, 9, also deals with heart issues. She and her mother both suffer from Chiari malformation, a brain condition that’s associated with Agent Orange, although the VA contends the condition is not related to the herbicide. 

When Emma was only 6, she underwent corrective brain surgery.

“It’s made life very difficult,” said Keri.  “She asks why is she being punished.”

Weeks after her surgery, Emma’s long list of painful debilitating illnesses returned.

“Last night she was complaining of both her hips throbbing, nausea and headaches,” said Keri.

“Most of the time it just feels like throbbing on my hips or shocks,” added Emma.

At times, Emma loses her eyesight.  She must use a wheelchair once she gets out of a vehicle. According to her mother, Emma spends a lot of her time in bed. At night she wears a cooling vest to bed along with ice packs to help control her body temperature.

“As a parent, it’s just hard to watch your child suffer,” explained Keri. “Being a nurse that’s what you want to do, help, but for her, there’s nothing I can do.”

Senator Marco Rubio’s office said our findings are disturbing and they are looking into it.

Congressman Gus Bilirakis’ Office issued the following statement:

Congressman Bilirakis is troubled that there has been no action taken on this research, which is important in order to allow broader access to VA care and benefits for the generations of individuals who have also been impacted by these toxins.  This is something he intends to delve further into and will hold the VA accountable for meeting its moral and ethical obligation to these families. 

If you have something that you think should be investigated contact our Target 8 Helpline at 1 800 338-0808 or contact Steve Andrews at sandrews@wfla.com.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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