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by Jeanne Winnick Brennan   |   November 10, 2020

Brotherly Love – Prostate Cancer and Agent Orange

This is a story about John, Bill, Phil and Bob — four California college buddies who entered the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) back in the mid-60s, served their country in Viet Nam and Korea, returned home to their civilian lives, and years later discovered they were each being diagnosed with prostate cancer. One by one, they shared their medical situations, provided moral support, and did one more important thing – they talked about their prostate cancer being connected to Agent Orange and the Veteran’s Administration’s (VA.gov) disability health benefit. Long removed from their military service with careers as an architect, attorney, and business executives, it wouldn’t have been a first thought for any of them.

Agent Orange 

Too often veterans who have been out of the service for years don’t realize they qualify for this health benefit after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, but it’s extremely important for them and their survivors. Some veterans may not believe they meet the eligibility requirements. My husband, Bill Brennan, an Army Viet Nam veteran, didn’t apply for almost 18 months after his diagnosis in 2015 because he didn’t think he had been in close contact with Agent Orange. Bill’s application was approved with a 100% disabled status only months before his death in 2017. Our youngest was in college, so he received a small education benefit through to graduation. Under the VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program, I receive a monthly, tax-free benefit as Bill’s widow. 

Information Chain Reaction

None of this would have happened unless Bill’s close friend, Phil Cannon, who also served in the Army in Viet Nam, had learned of the prostate cancer/Agent Orange connection from his high school buddy, John Praisler, who had served in the Navy in Viet Nam and was the first to be diagnosed. This is exactly the type of information chain reaction that is needed among veterans with prostate cancer.

One more link in that chain was added this week. I contacted Bob Pollock, another Army veteran and college friend of my husband’s to get a picture of Phil and Bill for this story. I had just reviewed the Agent Orange information on www.va.gov and learned that Korea was added to the list. Bob, who served in Korea near the demilitarized zone where the herbicide was used, was diagnosed shortly after Phil. It occurred to me he might be eligible for the disability benefit. He had no idea. However, Bob has already started his online application.

Brotherly Love

Bill Brennan in Saigon.

When veterans and their survivors reach out to other veterans, it can create a powerful connection. I asked John how he learned of the Agent Orange disability benefit, and he told me he had to do quite a bit of searching ten years ago. He spreads that word to veterans whenever possible, and also tells of the Brotherhood of the Balloon, (protonBOB.com), a community of 10,000 prostate cancer survivors who have been treated with proton therapy. John’s boyhood friend, Phil, now a retired executive from Xerox Corporation is still a natural salesman. And he too is on a mission to share information. When Phil meets a new guy around his age – whether he’s on a golf course or in a Bible study group — he starts with his pitch, “Are you a veteran? Were you in Nam? How is your prostate?”

Not everyone can be this direct, but don’t hesitate to share some brotherly love and information with other veterans and their families. It can make a world of difference.