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SYRACUSE -- Utah resident and Vietnam veteran Larry Kerr has waited 30 years for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to admit a connection between his heart disease and a chemical used in that war called "Agent Orange." Now that it's happened, he says he's not sure he'll live long enough to fight for compensation.Sgt. Larry Kerr spent 15 years in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a weapons specialist in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1968. During that time, the U.S. military sprayed a blend of herbicides, code-named "Agent Orange," to kill the leaves from forest trees that hid enemy forces. That chemical dust caused various health conditions for the Vietnamese and American soldiers.
"I told them way back then I think it's from of all the chemicals I have," Kerr says. "I had rashes on my legs and arms and everything from that stuff for a long, long time; and I kept telling them, but of course I couldn't prove it."KSL News first met Larry Kerr at University Hospital in 1981, after he had been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Military doctors were puzzled about his heart disease; it was extremely rare, located in the lower-left ventricle unlike other patients.
"They come to me and they said, ‘Sergeant Kerr, we don't know what's wrong with you. Your arteries are good.' But they could see something at the bottom of my heart," Kerr says.
"The classic diagnostic criteria for apical hypertrophy, the newly-reported disorder, [was]seen before, only in Japanese patients," Air Force Capt. Dr. Arthur Fokakis explained in 1981."Immediately I told him that, yes, I was stationed in Japan, in Okinawa, receiving all the weapons back that we didn't use, and things and equipment. And he thought, but he didn't want to say," Kerr says. Because of his heart disease, the Air Force retired Kerr. He says he and his family lived as paupers. He could not work because his medications caused side-effects.
Nearly 30 years later, the Veterans Affairs has finally decided to connect B-cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease with Agent Orange exposure.
"What we're trying to do -- our illnesses are tied to Agent Orange -- is to get some of our retirement back," Kerry says.
Kerr fought for his country. As a result, he says, the country owes him compensation. He's still fighting for that.
Kerr says he anticipates a lengthy process as he requests disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, that department of the federal government has 400,000 cases backlogged.