Letter: Vietnam veterans facing another silent enemy
By Curtis Hendel, Wilmont
Veterans of the war in Vietnam have faced many challenges that extended beyond their time in the combat zone. Too many of these great Americans have died decades too early from issues that attacked them after they returned home. As if the enemy they faced in battle and the societal enemies they faced back at home were not enough, their war would not end easily.
Post-traumatic stress would haunt them as they attempted to reintegrate in to civilian life. The enemy they faced was not only brutal on the field of battle, but also with their use of booby traps of all sorts, unconventional warfare tactics, and the use of civilians to kill for them has kept veterans awake at night to this day. The use of Agent Orange, a defoliant used to clear jungle vegetation, would be found to bring cancer to our veterans later in life.
As with their other issues, our government has been slow to respond to the needs of those that fought for our freedoms. The battle over Agent Orange was a long one, beginning in the late ’70s and being worked over with settlements in the ’80s that did little for the veterans themselves. A completely disabled veteran was to receive $12,000 over the course of 10 years. A widow of an affected veteran would receive a paltry $3,700. This was just another example of the veteran paying more than once for our freedoms.
In the last week the news has broken that another form of cancer, one of the bile ducts, has been directly linked to servicemen’s time in the Vietnam War. At this point, the main indicator ties the consumption of raw or poorly cooked fish with a parasite called a liver fluke. A 2016 study found that 20 percent of blood tests came back with positive results for liver fluke antibodies.
This bile duct cancer is extremely slow acting, as the decades that have past proves. When the first symptoms come to the surface the veteran typically has only a few months to live, and the disease is very painful. There is no way to guess how many Vietnam veterans were affected during their time in country, as many ended up eating freshwater fish when they ran out of rations in the jungle.
Liver flukes are very common in the rest of the world, especially in tropical locations. The worst part of this story is that the flukes can be knocked out with a handful of pills early in any infestation. So all of our veterans who have died to date could have been treated upon return to the United States and would have never had to face a painful death from bile duct cancer.
So, to all of you Vietnam guys out there, if you have any question as to whether or not you could have become infested with liver flukes, please please get in and find out. Even some veterans that were surprised by the blood tests found cysts on their bile ducts, but they were found early enough to head of the development of cancer. Your life is certainly worth a short amount of time to get tested. Please take this new threat seriously. Even though it has been four decades, your life may depend on it.