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VA admits ‘Agent Orange' caused Utah man's heart disease



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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.

**What is … Agent Orange?**
Agent Orange is the name given to a blend of herbicides the U.S. military sprayed from 1961 to 1971 to remove plants and leaves from foliage in Vietnam that provided enemy cover. The name "Agent Orange" came from the orange identifying stripe around the 55-gallon drums in which it was stored.*[ -US. Department of Veterans Affairs](http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/basics.asp)*
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."

**What is… cardiomyopathy?**
Cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease, which weakens the heart muscle and/or enlarges, thickens and/or stiffens the heart. It is often associated with inadequate heart pumping or other heart function problems.
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.

**Veterans' diseases associated with Agent Orange**
• Acute and Subacute Peripheral Neuropathy • AL Amyloidosis • B Cell Leukemias • Chloracne (or Similar Acneform Disease) • Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia • Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2) • Hodgkin's Disease • Ischemic Heart Disease • Multiple Myeloma • Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma • Parkinson's Disease • Porphyria Cutanea Tarda • Prostate Cancer • Respiratory Cancers • Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or Mesothelioma) *[U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs](http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/diseases.asp)*
"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.

E-mail: cmikita@ksl.com

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Carole Mikita

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