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Ao & Parkinson's, New Fight, Same War: Dave Hamm Is Still Fighting For Survival



  • HadIt.com Elder

AO & Parkinson's, New fight, same war: Dave Hamm is still fighting for survival

A big thank you to Scott Williams & Greenbay Press for helping to publicize this issue. Far too many are already dead and buried from AO, with no claim, no comp, while they VA denied them for years.


While celebrating Christmas with his family in 1995, Dave Hamm developed a peculiar twitch in his right thumb.

By Scott williams • swilliams@greenbaypressgazette.com • November 8, 2009

Within a few months, the sensation had reached his shoulder.

Although his symptoms continued to worsen, it would take doctors three years to determine that the Green Bay man was afflicted with the neurological condition known as Parkinson's disease.

More years passed before Hamm discovered what had caused his illness.

Not until his wife, Noreen, started doing research about farmers sickened by pesticides did Hamm make a connection to something he encountered as a soldier in Vietnam in the 1960s: Agent Orange. That revelation set the Vietnam War veteran and his wife on an odyssey that would bring more upheaval into their lives than the war itself — and end even more painfully.

Now 60 years old, Hamm is ravaged by advanced Parkinson's symptoms. His body trembles constantly. He can barely speak or swallow. And his 6-foot-tall frame has withered to 125 pounds.

So it is a bittersweet victory for him to hear that the U.S. government now has acknowledged both that Agent Orange contributed to his health problems and that the government has a responsibility to make amends.

Just last month, the federal Veterans Affairs Department announced that it would extend disability benefits to Vietnam veterans with Parkinson's disease without requiring them to prove that military service caused their illness.

Sitting in their living room on Green Bay's west side, Dave and Noreen Hamm said that while the government's concession is significant, it comes too late for them. Dave's debilitating condition long ago robbed the couple of the fishing trips, dinner engagements and other happy memories that they had expected of their retirement days.

"No money's going to bring that back," Noreen said.

Dave, who served in the Army from 1967 to 1969, said his only solace is in knowing that other Vietnam vets will get help under the new federal policy.

"A lot of guys can benefit from this," he said. "I'm not the only one."

The government has estimated that more than 2 million military personnel in the 1960s were exposed to Agent Orange. The military used the toxic herbicide to defoliate trees in Vietnam's dense jungles so that enemy troop movements could be tracked from the air.

Of those American soldiers exposed to the herbicide, the government expects about 200,000 to seek benefits under the new policy, which also applies to Vietnam veterans with certain types of heart disease and leukemia. Each such ailment has been granted "presumptive status," which means that if an afflicted veteran was in Vietnam when Agent Orange was used, the government assumes a cause-and-effect relationship, and no further proof is needed.

The same status had long been approved for diabetes and other health problems. But veterans seeking disability benefits for Parkinson's disease faced bureaucratic hurdles that made it extremely difficult to qualify.

"It does become complicated," said Thomas Braun, a spokesman in the U.S. Veterans Administration regional office in Milwaukee.

With the government's change in policy, VA officials look forward to awarding new benefits to many deserving Vietnam vets in Wisconsin and elsewhere, Braun said.

"That is a good thing for us," he said. "We're very happy."

In addition to medical coverage commonly provided for all veterans, the VA soon will begin awarding Parkinson's sufferers disability benefits of up to $2,774 a month, in some cases retroactively.

Among those lobbying for the change was U.S. Military Veterans with Parkinson's, a private research and advocacy group. The group contends that Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange are two to three times more likely to develop Parkinson's disease than the general population.

Parkinson's disease is an incurable disorder that results from the premature death of certain brain cells, leaving sufferers with deteriorating control of basic motor functions. The most common symptoms are muscle tremors, rigidity, lost strength and slowness of movement.

Well-known sufferers include former boxing champion Muhammad Ali and TV and movie star Michael J. Fox.

Alan Oates, a leader of Military Veterans with Parkinson's, said his group does not necessarily fault the U.S. government for using Agent Orange in Vietnam, but for refusing, until now, to fairly compensate veterans who were hurt by it.

Of the policy change, Oates said, "It's a great win for veterans."

Dave Hamm recalled U.S. warplanes dumping the herbicide on him and other ground troops in Vietnam. Army commanders, he said, offered assurances that the substance was safe, even as the mist caused his eyes to burn.

But arriving home safely in 1969, Hamm never really gave it much thought until after that fateful Christmas holiday season when his thumb began to twitch. Years of suffering followed, and mounting medical bills destroyed his family's financial security. But the federal government refused his pleas for help until now.

Hamm is philosophical about the ordeal now that the government has done an about-face.

He has learned to accept his health problems as a tradeoff for the strategic military benefits of Agent Orange. Because the herbicide helped U.S. troops avoid enemy combatants hiding in the jungles, American casualties likely were reduced, he said.

"If it saved 5,000 lives, which would you pick?" he said. "I guess I'd pick Parkinson's."

"Keep on, Keepin' on"

Dan Cedusky, Champaign IL "Colonel Dan"

See my web site at:


Edited by allan (see edit history)
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