Agent Orange

7:27 pm Health Stories

Friday, December 30, 1994

By DAWN SHURMAITIS; Times Leader Staff Writer

Agent Orange sufferer Mike Milne received his last check from a
multi-million dollar compensation fund last year.

He used the $512 to buy trees.
“It’s better than nothing,” said Milne, who served in the U.S. Army
infantry in the Mekong Delta from 1967-69.

Milne got the money from the fund because he was exposed to Agent Orange, a
toxic, vegetation-killing chemical the U.S. government sprayed in Vietnam
to make it difficult for enemy soldiers to hide and find food. Veterans
said it caused illnesses such as cancer and produced birth defects in their
children.

Ten years ago, veterans and their families reached a $184 million
settlement in a class-action lawsuit against makers of Agent Orange.
Veterans started receiving checks in 1989.

Thursday, a federal judge extended a deadline for disabled Vietnam veterans
to apply for money from the fund.

U.S. District Court Judge Jack Weinstein in New York signed an order
pushing the deadline for veterans and their families to apply for payment
from the Agent Orange Settlement to Jan. 17. The deadline had been
Saturday.

Weinstein decided to make the change after the insurance company
administering the fund, Aetna Insurance Co. of Connecticut, was deluged
with thousands of telephone calls this week from veterans trying to meet
the deadline.

About $21 million has not been claimed. Disabled veterans can get from $256
to $12,800; families of deceased veterans can receive from $340 to $3,400.
Leftover money will be distributed to those who put in valid claims.

About 39,000 veterans and their families have received money from the fund,
which is supported by seven chemical companies: Dow Chemical, Uniroyal,
Monsanto, Hercules, Agricultural Nutrition, Diamond Shamrock and Thompson
Chemical. Nearly 28,000 claims have been denied.

In 1985, the Wilkes-Barre based Veterans Outreach Center estimated 20,000
to 25,000 Vietnam-era veterans lived in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Approximately 2,500 to 3,000 had filed disability claims with the federal
government for various illnesses related to their service, including
problems associated with Agent Orange.

Federal disability payments range from $89 to $1,823 a month for
service-related illnesses.

Most of the veterans exposed to Agent Orange suffer from skin cancer, said
Skip Kaufman, benefits counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs
Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. Veterans can receive disability benefits
and payments from the Agent Orange fund.

In the last five years, only about 50 area veterans have filed for money
from the Agent Orange compensation fund, Kaufman said. The number has
steadily dwindled during the years but Kaufman expects a surge this week
due to the publicity surrounding the deadline.

Most of the veterans are now in their late 40s or early 50s.

The Dec. 31 deadline to apply for compensation was set by U.S. District
Judge Jack Weinstein, who ruled that the 1984 settlement should include
people who had not yet become ill.

Milne is executive director of the Wilkes-Barre-based Veterans of the
Vietnam War, a national organization with 35,000 members. The organization
joined 34 other groups in a lawsuit filed to extend the deadline. The
groups argue that some veterans who were exposed to the agent have not yet
developed symptoms.

The suit is expected to be heard in court next year, Milne said.

Milne’s symptoms started in the mid 1970s. In 1976, he went to the Veterans
Administration Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, which he said failed to properly
diagnose his illness. In 1978, private doctors determined he suffered from
herbicide poisoning.

The poisoning caused bone and nerve problems in Milne’s spine and hands.
Milne, now 50, uses a cane. He also collects monthly disability payments
from the government for his service-related illness.

The Aetna Insurance Co. is accepting the calls from veterans. A company
spokeswoman said her staff of 16 has been inundated with 800 to 1,000 calls
per day in the last three weeks, up from about 200 calls a day.

Neither the government nor the insurance company could estimate how many of
the callers were from Pennsylvania.

Aetna will accept telephone inquiries about the fund from at (800)
225-4712. Applications may be requested by fax at (203) 636-0444.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story

Mike Milne

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