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Local Vietnam vets hope new legislation finally sparks progress in Agent Orange issue

Landmark legislation in Washington, D.C., this week not only helps veterans exposed to burn pits from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it helps veterans who have been battling Agent Orange-related illnesses since they returned from Vietnam.

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Ed Ahonen, a Fargo Vietnam Veteran, has suffered impacts from Agent Orange after serving as a medic during the war.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — As many Vietnam veterans reach their 70s, more are facing health issues. After over 50 years of fighting for help, new legislation will make it easier for Vietnam vets to get benefits without having to prove senseless details that for years have delayed care.

On Thursday, June 16, the U.S. Senate passed the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, commonly called the PACT Act . After the U.S. House of Representatives approve of the Senate's amendments to the bill, it will head to President Joe Biden's desk to be signed into law.

Once signed, the law will expand health care coverage for veterans exposed to hazardous chemicals in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, as well as Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

Ed Ahonen grew up in Lakota, North Dakota. He was 23 when he was drafted and sent to Vietnam from 1969 to 1971. He was a medic during the war.

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A picture Ed Ahonen while serving in Vietnam War.
Contributed / Ed Ahonen

He recalls Agent Orange, a chemical used to defoliate the jungle there, was commonplace during the war. It would be years later that he and other veterans and family members experienced cancers and infertility.

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"It was difficult for the system and the government to admit Agent Orange could do severe damage for so many years, five generations," Ahonen said.

Now after 50 years of fighting their own government for care and benefits for the impacts of Agent Orange exposure, that relief is coming.

"To see those improvements by our government reinstates a feeling this is going in a positive direction," Ahonen said.

As news of this legislation begins to filter through the veterans' community, veterans service offices expect a flood of phone calls.

"I know 50 years is a long time and they have hung on and they are going to get what they deserve, and they fought for their country. They should be commended for that," Chris Deery, Cass County Veterans Service Director, said.

Contact Cass County Government Veterans Services to learn more.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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