PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A former U.S. Air Force pilot called it the great betrayal.
Scott Nelms claims a 40-year cover up by the Air Force may have cost veterans and their families dearly. Nelms said the USAF sprayed significant amounts of the toxic defoliant Agent Orange at bases in Thailand.
The Pinellas County veteran accuses the Department of Veterans Affairs of stonewalling veterans who served in Thailand and ignoring the facts about what and when they suffered exposure.
Nelms points to a now-declassified 1973 report that said significant use of defoliants occurred on U.S. bases in Thailand. The Project CHECO Southeast Asia report “Base Defense in Thailand” also stated the defoliants were used inside the perimeter of bases.
Nelms flew about 100 missions out of Thailand, refueling fighter jets and bombers during the Vietnam War. His new mission is getting out the word that US veterans who served in Thailand were exposed to significant amounts of Agent Orange.
Nelms was stationed at U-Tapeo Air Force Base. “I had no idea they were spraying Agent Orange in Thailand,” he said.
He remembers picking out U-Tapeo from the air. It was one big brown spot amid heavy vegetation.
Nelms left Thailand with a skin rash. He saw a civilian doctor when he left the service.
“Within one minute he looked at my hands and said, ‘You’ve been exposed to toxic industrial chemicals,'” Nelms said.
The rash spread all over Nelms’ body and lasted for seven years, the veteran told News Channel 8. He eventually contacted the VA asked if he had been exposed to Agent Orange.
He remembers speaking with a woman who asked him where he served in Southeast Asia.
“I said, ‘No, I was in Thailand.’ She says, ‘Oh no, we never sprayed it in Thailand so it must be something else,'” Scott recalled.
Congress held hearings about the effects of Agent Orange. The hearings began in the late 1970s. The government provided benefits for Agent Orange exposure to veterans in the 90s, but there was no mention of the Project Checo report.
“I thought it kind of strange that none of these people that knew they were spraying Agent Orange in Thailand came forward to congress and said something about it,” Nelms said.
To receive benefits, the VA requires Thai veterans prove their duties placed them on or near base perimeters. Vietnam vets need only prove boots on the ground.
“In my opinion, on that particular base everything was near the perimeter,” Nelms said.
He still isn’t sure Congress has the whole story even after the Congressional Research Service provided members with a 2014 report called “Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange: Legislative History, Litigation, and Current Issues.”
“In this report that Congress gets, Thailand is not mentioned into it whatsoever, not one word,” Nelms said.
Now, instead of flying KC 135’s he is working to ensure Thai veterans are treated equitably by the VA. “The sad thing is a lot of these Thai vets that did have diseases that were affected directly by Agent Orange have passed, their kids have no idea what went on,” he added.
News Channel 8 will be digging deeper into the issues that impact our veterans in our Target 8 Special: “Delay, Deny Until They Die.” That’s coming up on New Year’s Eve – Saturday, Dec. 31st at 7:30 p.m.
If you know of something that needs to be investigated, call our Target 8 helpline at 1 800 338-0808.