In addition to these three veterans interviewed for The Japan Times, records from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs (V.A.) contain hundreds of similar accounts of Agent Orange on Okinawa during the late 1960s and early '70s, a time when the island was under U.S. rule and served as a forward base for the American war in Vietnam. The testimonies reveal that the dioxin-laden herbicide was not only stored in large quantities on Okinawa before being transported to the war zone, but also that it was routinely used to clear weeds on military installations and tested in the northern Yanbaru jungle.
This protracted, widespread use of Agent Orange on the island has left many of the service members who handled it seriously ill. Spencer, Threet and Sipala are today suffering from a litany of dioxin-related sicknesses including cancer, type 2 diabetes and ischemic heart disease. Moreover, Sipala's first child died in the womb — so misshapen that the doctor said he should be thankful the baby didn't see the light of day — and his two surviving children suffered from deformities consistent with Agent Orange-poisoning.
After 11 months of deliberations, though, the V.A. denied Sipala's claim, citing two grounds. First, it stated there was no proof of him having developed illnesses due to exposure. Sipala refutes the notion. "My medical records clearly show that I developed diabetes right after I returned from Okinawa. Why didn't the doctors state it was due to Agent Orange at the time? This was 1970 and no one really knew about the dangers of exposure."
Second, the V.A. stated, "We were unable to find any evidence of spraying, testing, storage (or) usage of Agent Orange in Okinawa, Japan, by the personnel in your unit."
This phrase is common among denials issued by the V.A., and it baffles Sipala. "I don't understand how they can keep rejecting claims due to lack of data. Do they expect us to believe that the 1998 ruling was the one time anyone ever used the herbicide on Okinawa?" Meanwhile, as the hundreds of veterans whose appeals have been denied by the V.A. continue to grow sicker and sicker by the day, Sipala believes that the government is neglecting its duties to those who once served their country. "Among vets, the unofficial motto of the V.A. is 'Deny, Deny . . . until they die.' The only way that we can force the government to recognize what they did is for more of us to come forward and tell our stories to the world."