ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- It’s been over 50 years since Emil Baker was eating, sleeping, and fighting on the base known as “Rocket City” during the Vietnam War. However, the toxic fumes from Agent Orange that filled his lungs at only 19-years-old still continue to impact his health today.
“As a kid, I’d say, this is great. There’s absolutely no vegetation here. And here I am lying in Agent Orange with no clue that it was there,” Baker said.
The newly passed 2021 Defense Authorization Act has recognized three more illnesses stemming from exposure to Agent Orange during service.
Baker is one of the more than 34,000 Veterans who will now be eligible for benefits for Parkinsonism, Bladder Cancer, or Hypothyroidism—conditions now acknowledged as service-connected presumptive conditions.
“I have tremors. My balance is off, I trip and fall, I’m unsteady. And now, my memory. I have certain words I can’t come out with,” Baker said.
Baker suffers from Parksonsism—Parkinson’s-like symptoms without the diagnosis of the disease. Parkinson’s Disease was already acknowledged as one of the 14 diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure; however, that still left Baker without benefits for his Parkson’s-like symptoms.
Baker made his claim for his Parkinsonism on New Year’s Day after the defense bill passed. He said, “it’s progress,” but it’s come a bit late for many Vietnam Veterans in need.
“I’m glad it’s happening, and for the remainder of time we have on this Earth, we can be taken care of now,” Baker said.
Peter Potter, Public Relations Director for Albany Stratton VA Medical, is thrilled to provide worthy care to Vietnam Veterans with Agent Orange-related illnesses, who have sometimes been previously blocked from their benefits due to bills awaiting approval in Washington D.C.
“Their service is here because of the honorable service to their country, and they deserve it,” Potter said.
Potter urges all Veterans to come to the VA no matter what age. He said there’s a sentiment amongst Veterans that those benefits should be saved for those who “need it most.”
Baker agrees that Veterans, especially from the Vietnam War, don’t like asking for help.
“We were spit on. We had rocks thrown at us. It was pretty bad,” Baker said.
However, Potter said there are plenty of available services and funds for each and every Veteran who needs it. And for Vietnam Veterans like Baker—who have recently come to know the benefits of the VA—providing the care and respect they have long-deserved feels like a “victory.”
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