Martin C. Evans

Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam Veterans’

Vietnam Vets Troubled By Early Deaths

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm

From Newsday, Dec. 16, 2010


WHEN Diane Lake began visiting her late husband’s resting place at
Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, she became alarmed by
what she saw nearby: memorial markers that showed many of her
husband’s fellow Vietnam veterans had died even younger than he had.

The markers, spaced along a wall where the ashes of her husband, Spc.
4th Class Robert Lake, and others are interred, indicate which war a
veteran served in, along with rank and branch of service.

Diane Lake is concerned that Vietnam vets are facing early deaths. Her husband, Robert Lake, 65, died last year of skin cancer.

“I would look up on the wall and see this one was only 62 and this
one was only 61, and say to myself these men were pretty young to be
dying already,” said Lake, whose husband was 65 when he died of an
aggressive skin cancer May 13.

Lake, of East Northport, is among an increasingly vocal number of
Vietnam veterans or their loved ones who are questioning whether
participation in the Vietnam War is hastening the deaths of soldiers
who survived it.

John Rowan, of Queens, national president of Vietnam Veterans of
America, said his organization had been frustrated that the
Department of Veterans Affairs has not done current research on the
death rates of Vietnam vets. But he said he sees change coming. In
September, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said his department has begun a
study of the health impacts of the war, which he said would be
complete in about three years.

“The insight we gain from this study will help give us an
understanding of how to better serve America’s veterans,” Shinseki
said in a news release.

Death rate concerns veterans

The VA study could go far in addressing concerns of Vietnam veterans
groups who believe the war has had a devastating effect on their
health and life expectancy. Their evidence is mostly anecdotal,
though. Some experts familiar with limited data regarding veterans’
deaths say they have seen nothing that supports the charge that
Vietnam vets are dying at unusually high rates. Still, many Vietnam
veterans believe it is true.

“The Vietnam guys are going faster than the World War II guys,” said
Joe Ingino, president of the Nassau County chapter of Vietnam
Veterans of America. He said he has come to believe this from stories
he has been told across the region.

Examples on Long Island include a Medal of Honor awardee, Army Spc.
George C. Lang, who grew up in Hicksville. Lang, who was paralyzed
during a 1969 firefight, was 57 when he died of cancer five years ago.

Sharing a section of the memorial wall, known as a columbarium, in
Farmingdale are the names of Staff Sgt. Leslie Garcia, formerly of
Central Islip, who was 58 when he died of a heart attack this year,
and PV2 Angel Gonzalez, of Manhattan, who was 53 when he died in
2009. The marker for another soldier nearby – Pfc Lawrence Gilmore
was 61 when he died of a heart attack last year – reads “No more pain
beloved son and brother.”

“He was in a lot of pain,” said his mother, Eva Gilmore, of
Port Richey, Fla., who said Gilmore battled diabetes before he died.

Many veterans note with alarm that the VA this year again expanded
the list of more than a dozen diseases – including a host of cancers,
Type 2 diabetes, and ischemic heart disease – directly linked to
exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides sprayed in Vietnam
between 1962 and 1971. A diagnosis on the list can entitle a veteran
to compensation related to a service-connected disability.

Other factors at play

Advocates say factors other than service in Vietnam also likely
undermined the health of veterans. Because returning troops were
rejected by a war-weary public, many turned inward, battling anxiety,
depression and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome on their own, often
made worse by alcohol or drugs, experts say. And for most of the war,
troop rations included free cigarettes.

“I can’t say if his heart attack had anything to do with him being in
the war because he was a heavy smoker,” said Jocelyn McIntee, of
Greenlawn, whose husband, Eugene, served in Vietnam in the mid-1960s,
and died in 1992 when he was 49. “He really didn’t talk about it, but
do I think he came back with a lot of stress, yes. He saw a lot of
people killed, and that must have been disturbing.”

As early as 1987, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reported that troops who had been in Vietnam were dying faster
because of risky or violent behaviors after their return.

In its 1987 Vietnam Experience Study, the CDC reported that the death
rate for U.S. troops who served in Vietnam was 1.5 times higher than
for troops who served elsewhere in the first five years after their discharge.

Violent deaths accounted for much of the increase in that study, with
Vietnam veterans twice as likely to die from car crashes, suicide and
homicide as were troops who served elsewhere during that era.

A 1996 study by Australia’s Department of Veterans Affairs showed
that Australian troops who served in Vietnam died younger than
Australian troops who served elsewhere in the same period. They were
twice as likely to die of lung cancer and three times as likely to
die of cirrhosis of the liver, the study showed.

More recent data on the rate of Vietnam veteran deaths is anything
but clear, says Mary Paxton, of the national Institute of Medicine, a
sister organization of the National Academy of Sciences that
evaluates health data for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Paxton said studies of U.S. veterans cannot be regarded as definitive
because incomplete record-keeping by the U.S. military means
researchers cannot reliably track the health outcomes of the 2.6
million Americans who served in Vietnam.

No ‘massive die-off’

But her reading of research has convinced her that there is no
epidemic of early deaths among Vietnam vets.

“I get calls from veterans who say they are dropping like flies, but
that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Paxton said. “I think they are at
somewhat higher risk, but there is not the massive die-off that is
being claimed.”

Paxton referenced a 2004 update of the 1987 CDC study, which followed
18,313 male Army veterans.

“Death rates from disease-related chronic conditions, including
cancers and circulatory system diseases, did not differ between
Vietnam veterans and their peers,” the report said.

To families of many Vietnam veterans, the statistics only go so far,
as many now wonder whether their service in Vietnam so long ago is
threatening their lives a second time.

That’s a question that tugs at Diane Lake, who said it became clear
her husband knew he would not live past 65.

“He said, ‘Diane, I don’t have much time,’ ” she said, recalling his
words shortly before his death. “He was with us another 10 days, and
he was gone.”


Study Links PTSD to Heart Disease

In Uncategorized on July 26, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Veterans with post traumatic stress disorder are more likely to develop heart disease than those without ptsd, a federal study shows.

The study conducted by researchers at the Greater Los Angeles Health System of the Department of Veterans Affairs, showed that veterans with ptsd developed higher levels of coronary artery calcium, or hardening of the arteries, than veterans with no history of ptsd.

Calcification is associated with arterial plaques, fatty blockages that can restrict the flow of blood to heart muscles, and bring on atherosclerotic heart attacks.

The study, published in April by the American Journal of Cardiology, could raise new concerns that the psychological toll exacted from soldiers has debilitating physical consequences. Some veterans advocates have suggested that Vietnam veterans are dying at a faster rate than their counterparts who were never sent to war.

The authors reviewed electronic medical records of 286,194 veterans, most of them male with an average age 63, who had been seen at Veterans Administration medical centers in southern California and Nevada. Some of the veterans had last been on active duty as far back as the Korean War.

Researchers also had access to coronary artery calcium CT scan images for 637 of the patients, which showed that those with PTSD had more calcium built up in their arteries — a risk factor for heart disease — and more cases of atherosclerosis.

The study showed that veterans diagnosed with PTSD had 2.41 times the rate of death from all causes, compared to veterans without PTSD, after adjusting for age, gender, and common risks for heart disease.

Even though PTSD was diagnosed in only 10.6 percent of all the veterans studied, nearly 30 percent of those who died had PTSD, the results showed.

The research, said to be the first of its kind to draw a direct link between ptsd and atherosclerotic heart disease, was conducted by researchers Dr. Naser Ahmadi and Dr. Ramin Ebrahimi. They said they hope their findings will lead to a greater appreciation of how psychological trauma can have physical consequences.

“The goal would be for PTSD to become part of routine screening [for heart disease risk factors],” Ebrahimi told HealthDay news service.

Although PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans, it’s now also widely linked to people who have survived traumatic events, such as rape, a severe accident or an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster.

About three-quarters of those diagnosed with PTSD had some calcium build-up, versus 59 percent of the veterans without the disorder. As a group, the veterans with PTSD had more severe disease of their arteries, with an average coronary artery calcification score of 448, compared to a score of 332 in the veterans without PTSD — a significantly higher reading.

But scientists are not ready to say with certainty that ptsd causes heart disease. They say behavior choices, such as smoking or heavy drinking, could be responsible for the higher rates of coronary disease among ptsd victims. Stress hormones could also be a factor, as could genetic traits that may influence a person’s risk for both PTSD and heart disease.

Did Burn Pits Claim Life of West Babylon Man?

In Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Did a former West Babylon soldier contract the cancer that killed him from a routine military practice that has exposed hundreds of thousands of U.S. GIs to toxic gasses while they served in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Newsday is reporting that the soldier, former Sgt. Bill McKenna, died at a Florida hospice Dec. 27 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
His wife Dina, a Lindenhurst native now living in Florida, insists that the rare cancer was the result of his daily inhalation of smoke from military burn pits during his wartime service.
McKenna, who in his free time during the 1980s and early 1990s played bass guitar with local metal bands Chemical Warfare and Skull Rot, was only 41.
McKenna enlisted in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, and served two tours in Iraq.
While there, he was constantly exposed to smoke from the burn pits that Balad and virtually all US military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan used daily to incinerate tons of plastic, medical waste, spent equipment and other trash.
The practice produced irritating chemical aerosols that many soldiers say left them with asthma and other respiratory problems.


Recent concerns about the possible link between burn pits and health troubles echo earlier anxieties of many Vietnam veterans, who believe their exposure to Agent Orange a generation earlier has led to a rash of premature deaths among them.

Newsday first reported on concerns related to burn pits a year ago.

That article cited the chief of the allergy section at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Dr. Anthony Szema, who told a congressional committee that the pits were exposing soldiers to mercury, arsenic, dioxins and other toxic combustion products released by the constantly smoldering pits.


Earlier this year, a federal judge allowed a class-action lawsuit to proceed against contractors who operated burn pits for the U.S. military, according to the Tampa Tribune. The lawsuit already has 300 plaintiffs in 43 states.

Last Vietnam War pilot retires from NY Guard

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

The New York National Guard lost its last remaining Vietnam War helicopter jockey, when Chief Warrant Officer Herb A. Dargue, the grandson of one of the U.S. military’s first pilots, retired today.

Here is what I wrote in today’s Newsday.

Chief Warrant Officer Herb A. Dargue represents the end of the line, both for the New York Army National Guard and for the Dargue family itself.

The veteran helicopter pilot, a hale man of 62 whose retirement Friday ends a military career that began in the 1960s, is the last Vietnam War pilot still flying for the New York Guard.

The Brookhaven resident is also the last pilot in a family whose aviation roots reach to the dawn of military flight.

CW4 Herbert A. Dargue, at the 3-142 Assault Helicopter Battalion Headquarters Ronkonkoma. (Charles Eckert photo)

“I’m very proud of my grandfather,” said Dargue, who flies Blackhawks with the Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation unit, based in Ronkonkoma. “He was at the very beginning of military flight.”

His grandfather, Maj. Gen. Herbert A. Dargue, flew two-seat biplanes during General Pershing’s 1916 pursuit of Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Two years earlier, he was the first pilot to use a radio in flight.

CWO Dargue’s career as a helicopter pilot began with the muscular enthusiasm of youth 43 years ago in Vietnam, a 20-year-old Army airman dodging death at the controls of a multimillion-dollar aircraft. Dargue does not want it to end with a whimper – a retirement party, handshakes from colleagues, a final goodbye.

“I’m looking for a job,” said Dargue, of Brookhaven, whose last flight with the Guard is scheduled for this morning. “Flying is in my blood.”

Flying is also amply represented on his resume.

Other pilots express astonishment at his more than 20,000 hours at the controls.

After flying combat missions in the Mekong Delta, Dargue left the Army in 1969 to work as a helicopter pilot, ferrying traffic reporters above Washington, D.C., for a capital radio station. Later he provided helicopter training for the Iranian military, from 1977 to 1979 when the overthrow of the shah forced Dargue to flee. He joined the Guard in 1980 while keeping his day job as a corporate pilot based in New York. But in 2005, Dargue found himself again in a combat zone, when his unit was deployed to Iraq.

An amazing career

“I don’t know anyone with 20,000 hours in helicopters,” said Richard Schmitt, of Danbury, Conn., who flew corporate choppers for 40 years, before retiring in 1999. “It represents an amazing career in helicopters. I probably have 1,700 or 2,000 hours, which is very respectable in military aviation.”

Schmitt, 67, who also flew helicopters in Dargue’s Guard unit, described Dargue as a low-key professional whose experience has steeled fellow Guardsmen.

“He’s not a flash dancer, so to speak – he’s rock-steady Herb,” Schmitt said. “I think the example that he sets rubs off on others – keeping your head and doing the job with very little fanfare.”

His calm demeanor probably saved his life on at least four occasions, when he went down while flying helicopters whose power quit.

Each time, he coolly used the helicopter’s own downward momentum to power the rotor and steer himself to safety, including once when he had to weave between buildings to set down in a Long Island City parking lot.

“He’s an aviator’s aviator,” said Keshner, 66, of Great Neck, who flew up from his Florida winter home to attend Dargue’s Champagne-doused send-off Friday. “He’s the end of an era for all the Vietnam guys.”