Jets and helicopters used the destroyer USS Buchanan as target practice in the year 2000. Mike Kvintus, of New Port Richey, remembers a much different ship. He served on the Buchanan during the Vietnam War.
“We provided direct shore bombardment for the U.S. Military. We also provided search and rescue missions for our pilots,” said Mike, a former Bosun’s Mate on the ship.
The military sprayed Agent Orange on the jungle to kill vegetation and along river banks. Rivers flow into harbors. Deck logs obtained by 8 On Your Side show the Buchanan maneuvering into Da Nang Harbor on August 12, 1966. Herbicide exposure maps for that same day also reveal the military sprayed thousands of gallons of Agent Orange around Da Nang.
“The plume just covered that whole harbor,” Mike remembered.
Today, Mike suffers from diabetes, heart disease and neuropathy, all conditions that are caused by Agent Orange. The Department of Veterans Affairs rejects that his illnesses are tied to the defoliant since he never stepped foot on Vietnamese soil.
Advocacy groups contend the VA is ignoring plenty of scientific evidence that shows Blue Water Navy vets were exposed to a more concentrated form of Agent Orange through ships’ water systems. Distillation systems turned salt water into fresh water to power ships engines and more.
“We drank that water; we bathed in it, brushed our teeth, everything in that water,” Mike said.
According to studies done by the Australian Navy, as well as the Institute of Medicine, distillation systems actually exposed sailors on ships in harbors and just off the coast to a more potent form of Agent Orange.
“The studies have shown that, that actually did not remove the dioxin, it enriched it,” explained retired navy commander and lawyer John Wells. Wells heads Military Veterans Advocacy, Inc.
“So these guys were getting a straight shot of Agent Orange into their drinking water,” he added.
Florida Congressman Jeff Miller of Pensacola, chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Miller said he isn’t buying.it. He’s asked the Department of Defense to test the distillation systems of Vietnam era ships for traces of Agent Orange.
John Wells contends that makes no sense at all and is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
“Here’s why, those ships, from the time they left Vietnamese waters, were constantly being flushed by water. All the piping was being flushed; the distillation plants were being flushed; the tanks were being flushed because that’s part of normal ship’s operations,” Wells pointed out. “Most of them are either at the bottom of the sea or razor blades.”
Navy veterans are hoping Congress passes the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2015, but Miller has refused to let it out of committee until he gets more evidence.
There will be no luck determining whether there are traces of Agent Orange on the USS Buchanan. “It’s at the bottom of the ocean,” Mike chuckled.