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Uniform Poison by Phil Hunter
He sits in his chair, full of the meds to counter the chemo and pain, reading the latest letter from the VA. The monkeys behind the keyboards have once again said his rectal cancer and lung cancer are not from Agent Orange or from the cocktail he was given in the Camp LeJeune water. Regardless of the evidence, studies, doctor’s letters, and pure logic they still deny him and his family the compensation he earned as a Combat Marine. Once a Marine always a Marine, Door Gunner in Vietnam, Aircraft Mechanic at New River on Camp LeJeune, Drill Instructor and now a basket case in his chair. Two brothers both Marines, both in Vietnam too, dead and gone to cancers which the VA says were not related to Agent Orange. He continues the daily fight to survive.
Career Soldier working in his garden thinking of all the gardens he has had across the globe. Vietnam, an infantry soldier in garden spot of the Far East, Special Forces, Green Beret, operator in hell holes all over the planet. 30 years of service to the nation and to the Constitution culminating in a trip to smoky Iraq and Kuwait in 1992. Dust, oil fires, burn pits, Agent Orange, who knows what else. He scoots a few feet along the row of tomatoes and catches his breath before picking up a plant to put it in the mound in front of him. It didn’t used to be this hard. That was before the heart attacks started. VA says the emphysema wasn’t brought on by the oil fires and since they can’t figure out which is causing the problem the Agent Orange caused atherosclerosis in the heart or the lungs they rate him as low as they can, 10%. The blockages in his heart arteries, the Agent Orange caused atherosclerosis, has begun to hit his carotid arteries, surgery to avoid a stroke. No, your arterial problems in your neck aren’t caused by the same thing that caused them in your heart. No, we don’t believe what your doctor says, the Secretary of the VA has said no connection….He drops another plant in a hole, covers it and scoots down the row.
“They denied me again” he says quietly to his service officer obviously he is resigned it is the end. “How is it that they can’t see the reason for my leukemia? I was there before, during and after 6 shots, I had to wear a tag and get checked every Thursday”. The former Air Force Supply Sergeant now 80 something is dying from a cancer no one in his family has ever heard of let alone been stricken with. The man stands tall, as tall as he can, and walks out of the office. Within a week he is dead from the cancer. His wife is left to carry on asking the same questions. “Why is it that there is no record of him being there for the tests?” she asks after her death benefit claim comes back denied too. This was the lot of the man of character who went to his grave believing he had done for his country what was asked, no matter the cost.