Agent Orange Exposure Hits Eastern Carolina Family Hard

By: Christine Kennedy
By: Christine Kennedy

It is a chemical that forever changed the lives of Vietnam vets and their offspring. Agent Orange is a chemical used during the war between 1962 and 1971 was initially a big help fighting enemy forces. But the United States' decision to use the herbicide turned out to create a non-stop fight against the health problems it caused and one Cove City, Craven County family is living proof.

Jerry and Josh Avery are the son and grandson of a Vietnam Veteran, the government says was exposed to the toxic chemical. Jerry was conceived after his father got back from war, unaware of his exposure until Jerry was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, deformities, and without tear ducts, all symptoms of agent orange.

Jerry Avery said, "Overtime, it's just part of life, it's part of my life and it's what I have to do."

Jerry's father stayed in the Navy for 20 years to in part help pay for Jerry's 30 surgeries. It wasn't until after the birth of his son Josh that Jerry found out his fathers exposure to Agent Orange had given him a hereditary gene that would pass on the deformities.

Avery said, "I'm not trying to find blame, I'm not trying to point fingers, but the reality of our society and world is that decisions have been made many years ago to do something that impacts the country and world and the citizens that live within it and we have to deal with it."

Dealing with it is a pretty tough for 11 year old Josh not only emotionally but physically too. Josh was born with all the deformities his dad suffered as well as kidney and bladder troubles, so when it comes to treatment for his son he's familiar.

Avery said, "You're not the 1st one who's ever had to do this, you won't be the last, I've been there, I've done it and I'll be there with you as you do it."

Problem is finding the money to pay for the treatment is a bit tricky. Josh who's already had 12 surgeries will need about double that until his healing is complete. Medicaid has paid for much of Josh's surgeries so far, but that's run out. And with a price tag of a quarter million dollars a year paying even 20 percent through medical benefits is way out of the Avery's budget, and Jerry's looking to the government to step up.

Avery said, "I don't want monetary benefits, I'm not after that, all i want to do is be able to take care of him and get him the medical treatment that he needs."

Jerry's father suffers from Agent Orange exposure as well, but those expenses are paid for with government funds. Jerry has been working with Senator Burr's office to see if some sort of legislation can be drafted to pay for the medical bills of Agent Orange dependents. Right now, the only condition recognized in agent orange dependents who are male is spina bifida.

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