For Edward W. Medvit of Anaheim, the Vietnam War isn't over. Every day, he experiences pain he believes was caused by Agent Orange.
On Dec. 21, Medvit joined thousands of veterans filing last-minute claims for compensation from the Agent Orange Settlement Fund, which was set up by seven companies responsible for manufacturing the chemical defoliant the United States used during the Vietnam War.
The deadline to apply for compensation, originally set for midnight Saturday, was extended Thursday by a U.S. District Court judge to Jan. 17.
Thousands of Vietnam War veterans have been inundating insurance company phone lines to claim their share of $22 million left in the fund, which was established in 1985 with $184 million. About 40,000 U.S. veterans and their families have received money from the fund since the program began sending out checks in 1989, authorities said.
Medvit hopes to receive a portion of that money to help pay his medical bills.
The 58-year-old veteran served as a chief petty officer from 1964 to 1971 in the Mekong Delta, where Agent Orange was widely used to kill vegetation so that it would be difficult for the enemy to hide and find food.
"Nobody ever told us what that was," Medvit said. "All they ever put on the drums (of chemicals) were serial numbers. We thought it was to kill the bugs in the jungle."
About six years after then-President Richard Nixon ordered the troops back home, Medvit began breaking out in severe rashes that his doctor couldn't explain. Recurrent internal infections required surgery to remove 80% of his stomach, he said.
Post-traumatic stress syndrome hit him "like firecrackers."
"I couldn't go into movie theaters," he said. "The kids would be eating popcorn, and I would hear a round going off."
Maria Martinez, administrator for Aetna Insurance Company, which is in charge of distributing the fund, said that, too, is a symptom of Agent Orange exposure.
In 1989, Medvit quit working for the Veterans Administration in Montana because of the illnesses. Medvit now lives on Social Security benefits and "a lot of medications," he said.
If Aetna decides in his favor, Medvit will receive a lump sum anywhere from $256 to $12,800, depending on factors such as how long he might have been exposed to Agent Orange, according to Aetna statistics. Veterans' survivors who also have been affected by Agent Orange usually receive from $340 to $3,400.
To be considered for the payments, Vietnam veterans must be disabled and unemployable for at least the past year, be under the age of 60 and have served in Vietnam between 1961 and 1971.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in New York said Thursday that he was extending the deadline because of the large number of applications submitted in recent weeks and because of a flood of inquiries this week.
Weinstein established the fund as part of a settlement reached after veterans brought a class-action lawsuit against the makers of Agent Orange. Participants are Dow Chemical, Uniroyal, Monsanto, Hercules, Agricultural Nutrition, Diamond Shamrock and Thompson Chemical.
Not everyone who might have suffered from Agent Orange will be filing a claim, said Jim Shaffer, a post commander for Veterans of Foreign Wars who served in Vietnam for about six months.
"They're already dead," he said.
Shaffer, who will not be filing a claim, said a good friend of his died from cancer of the blood, which has been linked to Agent Orange. His friend, Dennis Russell, served in Vietnam for two years where Agent Orange was used.
"He is not here with us today because of that stuff," Shaffer said. "And nobody will have to pay for it, except him."
For more information about the fund, call 1-800-225-4712 or fax to 203-636-0444.