Bellingham town hall focuses on impacts of Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans, families

Nearly 40 years after the Vietnam War ended, veterans say they’re seeing the legacy of that conflict in the illnesses suffered by their children and grandchildren because of Agent Orange exposure.

They’ve organized a town hall meeting that begins 1 p.m. Friday, Sept. 19, to educate veterans and their families. The goal also is to gather testimony as part of the effort by the Vietnam Veterans of America to lobby Congress for medical benefits for the veterans’ descendants and to push for more research into their health problems.

Called Faces of Agent Orange, the town hall is among the meetings being held nationwide. The Bellingham event is at St. Luke’s Community Health Education Center, 3333 Squalicum Parkway in Bellingham.

In addition to Agent Orange, information will be presented to younger veterans about the effects of modern chemicals, “burn pits” and depleted uranium ammunition, according to organizers.

Agent Orange was a toxic herbicide used by the U.S. military in Vietnam to defoliate the jungle hiding places of the Viet Cong. Nearly 11 million gallons were sprayed in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971, according to the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Vietnam veteran Gary Lysne, who was in the infantry, was among those exposed to Agent Orange.

“We were sleeping in it every day. We were sitting in it,” said Lysne, who noted he was in places in Vietnam where concentrations of Agent Orange were high.

He doesn’t mind for himself but “I didn’t sign up my children,” he said, noting his daughter Tonya Lysne was fighting five malignant cancers.

Gary Lysne is past president of Bellingham’s Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 165.

The Friday town hall will include speaker Jack McManus, a veteran who sprayed Agent Orange in Vietnam as part of Operation Ranch Hand. He now works to educate other veterans and their families about herbicide and its impact.

That impact is being felt through generations, according to organizers of the town hall.

“We carry this legacy back from where we served,” said Bill Bowen, past president of the Washington State Council Vietnam Veterans of America and of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 165.

“Unfortunately, it’s being passed down to our kids and it’s even noted in our grandkids,” Bowen added. “Our whole function is to enlighten and educate the veterans.”