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A Father’s War, a Son’s Toxic InheritanceStephen Katz’s estranged father was exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam. Now the photographer wonders if that caused his own health problems.
By Stephen M. Katz
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The package also delivered a warning: A handwritten note attached to a stack of Veterans Affairs medical records. During the war, before I was born, Al had sprayed Agent Orange along riverbanks in Vietnam, often soaking his uniform in the herbicide. The exposure, he wrote, had caused him serious health problems, including a neurological disorder, and he believed it also might have harmed me.
My mind raced as I thought of my own troubled medical history. A heart defect diagnosed at birth. An underactive thyroid. Problems with my nervous and immune systems. More recently, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and a nerve disorder that severely limits the use of my right hand.
I’m now 46. A lean 6-foot–2 and 190 pounds. I don’t smoke. I try to eat healthy. But the number of pills I swallow every day would make you think I’m twice that age. As a teenager, I was sick so often, I joked that my healthy brother and I couldn’t be related. He’d been born before the war, before Agent Orange.“There really is nothing that can be done now, as far as I know,” Al had written in 2009, “except be aware of the ravages of A.O.”
What my father didn’t know was that I’d already become familiar with Agent Orange and its consequences.
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When I read this I shudder at the human casualties caused by this “weapon”.
Talk about “friendly fire” and “collateral damage”.
At the very least, the damage should be assessed.
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