Special Events

Toxic Exposure Town Hall at War Memorial Center in Milwaukee

Veterans from the Vietnam Era to Post 9/11 and their families as well as interested providers will meet at the War Memorial in Milwaukee on November 14, 2020, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm to learn, share, and consider how to deal with their exposure to toxic substances while serving in the military.

In the 1960’s and -70’s service members in Southeast Asia were exposed to herbicides laced with dioxins which was commonly referred to as Agent Orange (AO).  This chemical while doing its job of killing the vegetation had multiple effects on those who handled, sprayed, interacted with AO in the jungles of SE Asia whether in combat, bathing or even drinking the water that was contaminated, or inhaled the toxins.  Many of these service members are experiencing illnesses directly linked to AO or considered presumptive (i.e., presumed in the absence of further information) and are being treated through the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).  The Town Hall will provide this foundation for all SE Asia veterans and share what the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and Associates VVA have been doing since VVA’s origination in 1978 - the same year the VA initiated the AO Registry.

During this Town Hall the VVA Wisconsin State Council’s (WSC) Toxic Exposure Team will provide an introduction to the health affects of AO on Vietnam veterans’ children and grandchildren as well as listen, share, and suggest what can be done for their progeny.

Post 9/11 veterans’ toxic exposure covers a much wider swath issues some of which are being addressed by the VA and others neither the veteran or the VA may be aware.  This Town Hall will cover the “big picture” of toxic exposure of Veterans who served in Southwest Asia as well as what is believed to be addressed by the VA.

Like the actions taken by VVA as early as 1978 for health related services for veterans exposed to AO; the WSC Team will urge the development of a coalition of Post 9/11 veterans to seek support for present and future medical care through the VA.  This support will require research, scientific and anecdotal, to move Congress to direct the VA to provide services to the Post 9/11 veteran and his and her children.

Finally, the Town Hall wants to address all service members and veterans from before the 1960’s to today who have been exposed to toxic elements (i.e., chemicals, munitions, ground water, and more).  While many veterans are familiar with the ground water contamination in Camp Lejune, many are unaware of the contaminated water supplies at 166 (Check Civilian Exposure) military bases, especially those bases using PFAS, a chemical compound that has been used in military and commercial airport fire-fighting foam.

The goals of the Town Hall are three: 1) to inform, 2) listen, and 3) expand an active constituency.       

Harborside students meet with Vietnam veterans

When you’re in combat, it scars you for life. You’re never really the same … It never really leaves you. It’s just something you live and die with, that’s it,” said Gary Beltoya.

Beltoya, a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Vietnam with both the 101st and 82nd Airborne from 1966-68, joined over 20 other veterans as they met with Harborside Academy students as part the school’s Conversation Cafe program on Monday.

“I really loved the people, I did, especially the children,” said Beltoya, who added that what really scared the “living daylights” out of him wasn’t just the enemy, but the tigers they encountered in the jungle.

Syncere Quinn, a 10th-grader at Harborside, listened intently to his grandfather, Anthony Quinn Jr., as he described his experiences as a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran. Quinn Jr. said that working as a teenager in a cemetery and seeing the deceased veterans return gave him a sense of appreciation for their service. Quinn Jr. said of that experience, “It helped me to accept death and really respect the veterans.”

“I think it’s amazing for the students to be able to hear firsthand the accounts of the conflicts,” said Harborside instructor Melissa Thomas, who organized the Conversation Cafe program for her students. “It gives them that perspective that they wouldn’t get just reading about it or hearing me talk about it. They get (it from) someone who actually experienced it. I think of these guys (the veterans) as walking textbooks ... It’s an amazing experience.”

Throughout the year, Thomas’ students have also spoken with World War II veterans, Korean War veterans and veterans of modern conflicts such as the Persian Gulf War and the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The students are currently working on veteran documentaries, and some of the students have interviewed their grandparents about their service for their final project.

“That was really unique for a lot of the kids because they didn’t know anything about their grandparents’ service … so that’s eye-opening for a lot of the students,” Thomas said.

The students’ work will be on display at the Harborside Academy eighth annual Veterans Dinner & Ceremony from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on May 29.

Harborside is also having a Run to Remember Veteran Honor Run/Walk on May 19 to help raise money for the American Legion Post 21.

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