'They can't cure it'
Eleven years ago, at a routine physical, Terry Singer's doctor ordered him to see an oncologist. The elevated protein he found in his blood pointed to multiple myeloma, a rare and deadly cancer of the plasma cells and one of the presumptive diseases the government recognizes as associated with Agent Orange exposure.
"I didn't have any connection in my mind between the disease and my service in Vietnam," Singer said. "I didn't know there was any connection."
Singer was told he may have two to three years to live.
"The diagnosis was pretty shocking," he said.
Eleven years later, Singer continues to buck his doctor's expectations. The Hummelstown resident darts from one doctor's visit to the next, tending to quarterly medical screenings. Every four months or so, Singer undergoes blood work, MRIs and CAT scans to monitor his disease. So far, he has staved off treatment, which comes with its own adverse side effects and limitations.
"Sooner or later, it'll stop working," Singer said. "You run through the gamut, and then you have nothing left. They can't cure it."
Singer is playing the odds that he won't need chemotherapy for a long time.
A self-proclaimed news junkie, he worries that the government and VA have not adequately informed veterans of Agent Orange compensation.
"My gut tells me there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, [of Vietnam] veterans across the country ... who have been diagnosed with a disease, who are not aware that they might be eligible for disability benefits," he said.
Singer knows firsthand that, even under the best of circumstances, much less a crisis, the VA puts veterans through an exhaustive undertaking to process claims and secure benefits.
Singer waited close to a year for his claim for a presumptive disease to be settled.
He has never come across publicity or outreach on the part of the VA to inform Vietnam veterans about Agent Orange benefits. The federal agency, for the record, maintains a comprehensive website filled with information related to Agent Orange. Singer worries that thousands of veterans, even those who, like him, find out about the benefits by accident, are falling through the cracks.
"Part of not forgetting the sacrifice of that era, in particular because of the harsh way they were received by their countrymen, part of the commitment that needs to be sustained until that generation no longer exists is to be committed to doing as much as possible to make sure these veterans are aware they are entitled to compensation for these diseases," Singer said.
Singer counts himself lucky. Now retired, he has his own insurance and Medicare, and his 100 percent disability covers the medical care for his blood cancer.
"I feel fortunate that I'm still here and fortunate that I haven't suffered a lot," he said. "I know there are thousands of veterans who have suffered more greatly ... not that any benefit will make up for that. It won't. But it can make navigating things a little easier."
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