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An issue affecting thousands of Vietnam-era veterans is to take center stage in Orland Park next month during a three-day event focused on veteran health and access to benefits.
During the Vietnam War, the United States military sprayed more than 20 million gallons of powerful herbicides such as Agent Orange, which in the decades following the war has been linked to severe health issues affecting individuals exposed to the toxic chemical.
Now, veterans are fighting back.
In an effort to secure health and disability benefits, local veterans groups are teaming up with the national Quilt of Tears campaign to educate veterans of the benefits available to them and to advocate for those who are still unable to receive assistance for diseases linked to herbicide exposure.
“The whole event centers around the fact that herbicides used in Vietnam, primarily Agent Orange, have taken a much higher death toll of our veterans than of the soldiers who actually died in country,” said Dale Carver, chairperson of the Orland Park Veterans Commission.
The Orland Park Quilt of Tears exhibit, which is scheduled to run Feb. 6-8 at the Orland Park Civic Center, 14750 Ravinia Ave., is to shed light on the issue of herbicide exposure, inform local veterans of recent changes to eligibility requirements for benefits, give a voice to those individuals still not eligible for government assistance and honor the memories of all Agent Orange victims.
The Agent Orange Quilt of Tears is a national organization that travels the country displaying memorial quilts commemorating those thought to have been affected by military herbicide exposure. The project was started by Jennie Lefevre in 1998 in honor of her husband and as a way to support impacted veterans and their families. Lefevre’s husband, Gerald, was a Vietnam veteran who died as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange.
“The Quilt of Tears is a traveling memorial in honor of Agent Orange victims,” said Henry Snyder, who along with his wife, Shelia, took over management of the Agent Orange Victims and Widows Support Network after Jennie Lefevre died in 2004. “Our goal is basically education and awareness on Agent Orange, and the effects that it has on veterans and their families.”
Snyder, who is himself a Vietnam veteran suffering numerous illnesses as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange, said the traveling memorial has grown to include 40 quilts, each with 20 squares representing individual Agent Orange victims.
“The Quilt of Tears gives our event a focus,” said Carver, who notes that the exhibit is just one aspect of the upcoming three-day event in Orland Park.
The Orland Park event also is to include discussions and classes on veterans benefits, an Illinois candidates forum on veterans issues and herbicide legislation, a military expo featuring local veterans groups, and a speaker subject forum focused on topics, such as filing VA claims and veteran suicide.
The Orland Park Quilt of Tears exhibit and associated activities are free to attend, but donations to the nationwide Quilt of Tears project and local veterans organizations will be accepted.
For more information, including the schedule of events, visit the “Quilt of Tears Exhibit” event on Facebook created by the Village of Orland Park.