By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The scars of the Vietnam War have stayed with many Americans for decades and it’s not just the emotional scars. Many Vietnam vets are learning that their health today could be linked to a chemical sprayed during the war and it’s all thanks to a man from Rogers, Minn.

Back in 1967 in South Vietnam, the United States military found itself smack dab in the middle of the Vietnam War. Among those serving there was Minnesota native Steve Fiscus.

Fiscus was a machinist during the war, and though he never faced the enemy in combat, he was exposed to something else.

“Part of our job was to cut these 55 gallon drums in half for outhouses, made barbecues out of them, stored potatoes in them, filled them with sand for bunkers. It was just every day use of these spent drums,” he said.

The drums once contained Agent Orange. More than 20 million gallons of the herbicide were sprayed in Vietnam from 1961 to 1971 as part of Operation Ranch Hand.

After leaving Vietnam, Fiscus had no idea that a chemical once sprayed in a foreign jungle would end up changing his life. That was until about 10 years ago, when a doctor gave him devastating news.

“I was with the guy for 15 minutes and he came back and he said, ‘I just met you, but I’m afraid that I hate to tell you that you have Parkinson’s,” recalled Fiscus.

It was soon after that when he learned other Vietnam veterans across the country were being diagnosed with Parkinson’s as well. The Department of Veterans Affairs wasn’t recognizing the disease, so there was no medical coverage.  That’s when Fiscus and his wife hit the books, hoping to change that.

“We were very determined and we weren’t going to take ‘no’ for an answer. We went ahead and set our goals for the mission and we weren’t going to quit until we got the mission completed,” said Steve.

“That man just said, ‘I’m going to do it’ and he just kept up his research and he did it,” said Pat, Fiscus’ wife. “I have the most respect for him.”

Heartbroken that he could no longer play with his grandkids and that simple things like walking were becoming a chore, he researched up to 18 hours a day.

With the help of other Vietnam veterans, he founded the U.S. Military Veterans with Parkinson’s.

“I felt there’s going to be strength in numbers. Low and behold, they started coming and we’re up to about 500 today,” said Fiscus.

Among those joining his group was Vietnam veteran Ray Tuchnei, who was diagnosed 6 years ago after his hands began to shake uncontrollably.

“Trying to keep physically in good shape, which is really, very difficult because you get up in the morning and sometimes it’s really a struggle just to get out of bed,” said Tuchnei.

In 2009, after years of research, Fiscus won his victory for Tuchnei and other veterans. After looking at his mountain of research, Veterans Affairs and others determined that Agent Orange was connected to Parkinson’s, and put it on the presumptive list.

Ironically though, while many veterans are now receiving benefits for Parkinson’s, Steve is still waiting for his due to various loopholes in the system. A man who put in his time for his country and his fellow veterans, now finds himself on the outside looking in.

“He’s been fighting this for all these years. He’s won it for everybody else, but he can’t win it for himself … that’s the sad part,” said Fiscus’ wife.

Fiscus and his wife will be leaving for Washington D.C. this weekend, in hopes of speeding up the process for many veterans seeking benefits for Parkinson’s.

Of the more than 80,000 veterans with Parkinson’s, nearly half are Vietnam veterans.

Comments (13)
  1. BJ Minneapolis says:

    With 55 gallon drums that held agent orange being used for everything from outhouses – bar b ques and food storage I would think many many more vets would come forward… having your system getting chemicals from so many other ways than ‘sprays’ has to have had a bad toll on health. I wish Mr. Fiscus success in getting his benefits and thank him for getting benefits for others. Thank you..

  2. Jim Jorgenson says:

    Jim Jorgenson
    L Glutathione can improve the quality of life for people who have Parkinson
    L-glutathione is an antioxidant
    L-gluathione is compound that plays an important role in detoxification
    L-gluathione can protect cells from free radical damage.

    I have Parkinson
    My Parkinson medicine is working very effectively
    One side effect of the medicine is the production of free radical resulting in having a foggy mind, biting the insides of my cheeks and lips

    Please try taking some L Glutathione

    Sources — health food stores & your provider of medications i.e. Medco

    L-glutathione is an antioxidant
    L-gluathione is compound that plays an important role in detoxification
    L-gluathione can protect cells from free radical damage.

  3. Katie says:

    Some Vets have developed MS. I know of at least 3 in the Prescott AZ, area. If any of the men referred to in this article would contact the VA Hospital and Clinic in Prescott, AZ, they could get names of other Vets who have received services from the Prescott facility due to Agent Orange. There are alot of troops out there that were affected.

  4. cnerlien says:

    Another life effected.. My Dad died in ’08 due to Nasopharygeal carsinoma(sp). My birth defect(missing left hand) is highly suspect of the genetic mutation of this toxin..

    It truly pains me to hear more of suffering.. You are all in my prayers, please know you have more ‘friends’ of AO than you know!!

    God BLESS!!!

  5. Diane says:

    Too much hiding of known reasons why vets have parkinsons and too little help with the disease. My parents sent in the paper work asked for years ago, were given little time to get it done and in. The military knows the outcome of this type of chemical, they did it in WWII as well, my Father suffered 16 very long years with it, was denied and ignored any type of help or treatment for it. He was a WWII veteran in the Navy Sea Bees, was sent to Quam on a mission, they sprayed heavy chemicals then and he died of parkinsons in 1999. The cost of his treatment was $500.00 per month medications. My Mom who is now 88 is out of money, after trying to care for him all those years, he was in a nursing home for the last 2 1/2 months at $4000.00 per month. Someone needs to step up and recognize this and make sure the vets get help no matter which war it happened in and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

  6. HDC says:

    My Dad died in 07 as a result in a MASSIVE cancer invasion. I still cannot believe how fast it spread. i know that for years befor, he had these bad tremors, much like my suster has now. he served from 68 to 72, in country Vietnam and Okinawa. I am slightly fearfull of developing or having any of the same effects or having related problems.

  7. little sister says:

    Bless you Mr. Fiscus. My brother died of cancer directly related to Agent Orange at the age of 37. He too had served in Viet Nam.

    It is my hope that continued research and noise to the government will force them to stand beside our veterans and offer support to deal with the residual affects of Agent Orange and other chemicals.

  8. Michael J Church Sr. says:

    I know Steve personally and he is a true American patriot with compassion for anyone suffering with Parkinson’s. I applaud his efforts and happily joined him in Washington, DC for the Parkinson’s Action Network’s Public Policy Forum. As a military veteran I salute Steve Fiscus and all the work he does for the Parkinson’s community.

  9. Marcia says:

    Hi, I am Canadian, and l live in Northwestern Ontario…the Ontario Provincial Government has just not admitted to the public that they were using agent orange in clearing brush in various areas, clearing brush for hydro lines, on the side of highways etc. they are just asking the public to come forward now from the 50’s, 60’s 70’s if they feel their health was compromised as a result of them handling the agent orange in those years to contact their employer and start a Compensation claim. They only mentioned cancer… but after seeing your piece on WCCO the other night, talking about Parkinson disease, that really blew me away as my brother in law worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources and was involved in spraying in the 1970’s and has had many many medical ailments, including Parkinson which he was diagnosed in the last several years.
    Thank-you for your persistence in researching this and helping others… you don’t know how much easier you have made it for everyone else. God Bless you for your efforts.

  10. Karen Wallo says:

    Steve & wife & all who started this group THANK YOU! Read comments & I am soooo overwhelmed with sadness that this could happen to all these fighting soliders.God Bless each & everyone of you. My Prayers are said for all. My husband has PD & is bedridden, my heart is so heavy, full of tears & saddened. God Bless & you are all in my thoughts. Karen Wallo wife of James Wallo

  11. Paul Bundy says:

    I wasn’t in The vietnam war, but I did work for the Minnesota forestry in 1970 and used 2-4-D AND 2-4-5-T mixed togeather to kill brush on forest roads.
    this is the two same chemicals that make up agent orange.
    I now have tremmors in my hands and 15 to 20 migraine’s a month. I tryed to get compensated from the DNR but was turned down. I don’t know where to turn to , now. anyone have any sugestions?

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