Riders aim to help those who suffer

ALPENA – The health troubles associated with the effects of the chemical Agent Orange among soldiers who fought in Vietnam has been well documented for years, but the impact it is having on the welfare of the children and grandchildren of the soldiers still is a large concern and coming to light.

The Agent Orange Riders were formed to help educate people about the harmful effects the chemical weapons have on veterans and how they are passed on genetically to sons and daughters. They also work closely with kids who are stricken by diseases recognized by the government that come as a result of exposure of Agent Orange by American troops. The AOR also lobby the government for help on behalf of the victims.

In Michigan there are four chapters of Agent Orange Riders and the number of members is growing, and other service groups are joining the cause.

Alpena Agent Orange Riders-Chapter #1 President Bob Cummings said there are veterans in Alpena who have lost children due to diseases they believe were the result of Agent Orange. Cummings, who served in Vietnam, said he has lost a son to spina bifida and a grandson who had a congenital heart defect.

He said females who served and have children who become ill or are born with abnormalities are compensated and provided health and financial care. He said the same is not true for men who served.

He said because the number of men greatly outnumbered women in the field, the cost to cover offspring of all of the men with sick children and grandchildren would be great. Cummings said that is no excuse and the government should try to do more to help the families of the soldiers who were exposed and put at risk.

“There are a lot of children out there who have health issues, who are on the list of disabilities from Agent Orange, but basically because it was their dad who was exposed and not their mom, don’t get the help they deserve,” Cummings said. “I talk to a lot of veteran’s children and the things they are going through, the cancers, the birth defects and all the different health issues that can be traced to Agent Orange, and the only thing they want is for the federal government to step up and help them in some way, shape or form. That’s all we are asking for.”

Veteran Denny Mayo said the group’s primary focus is to help get care for the children and grandchildren of the soldiers.

“We do the things we do for the kids,” Mayo said. “We raise money for research and to raise awareness and to help find a cure for the things that Agent Orange inflicts on generations of our children. Our goal is to do whatever it takes to make sure these kids are taken care of.”

Cummings said the National Association of Vietnam Veterans has recognized the group and he hopes more people will join the effort. He said you don’t have to have a motorcycle to join the group, which meets once a month.

“I encourage people to visit websites and to research what these kids are going through and to learn more about Agent Orange and the impact it is having on our sons, daughters and grandchildren,” Cummings said. “If more people were aware, they would be outraged. As parents and grandparents of these kids, we have an obligation to step in and help them as much as we can.”

Cummings said the Agent Orange Riders flag, which was designed in Alpena, is now begin displayed in many parts of the state in establishments where veterans and members of the general public gather.

“A group of us designed an Agent Orange flag and that is now the national flag for us,” Cummings said. “Right now it is in the Vietnam Museum and VFW posts are starting to fly it, some American Legion posts are starting to fly it and it is just a showing support and letting people know that we still have an issue and we need to make sure to get help for our kids.”

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com.