Although the Vietnam War ended nearly 40 years ago, for those who survived combat, the war has had deadly consequences.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund recently started an In Memory program, which honors soldiers who died as a result of the Vietnam War, but whose deaths didn’t fit the Department of Defense’s criteria for honor on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
Puyallup resident Steve Vermillion is helping those who lost their lives after the war from war-related illnesses get the recognition they and their family deserve following their service.
“Nearly everyone who served was exposed to Agent Orange,” Vermillion said. “It really has lasting effects.”
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Those who were exposed to Agent Orange (herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its herbicidal warfare program during the war) or who died from post-traumatic stress disorder-related health problems, diabetes, cancer or a heart attack could qualify to be honored as part of the In Memory program.
To receive recognition, the veteran’s family must have a death certificate, military records that show proof of service in Vietnam (Form DD214) and two clear photos of the service member.
“It allows the family to process and to give validation of their service,” Vermillion said. “There’s a ceremony at the Vietnam Wall for the families left behind. It provides closure.”
So far 1,200 people have applied and been accepted to the In Memory program.
Vermillion estimates some 10 people per year die from a result of their service in Vietnam just in Washington state alone. While the war ended nearly 40 years ago, honoring those who have served and since died is more important now than ever, he said.
“Twenty years ago, the government and military were in denial that folks were dying as a result of their service in Vietnam,” Vermillion said. “There’s been lots of lost limbs and chemical exposure. As time and research moves forward, things are becoming more connected. It’s been a process to get to this point over the last 15 years. It’s important for families to honor their loved ones as a closure mechanism.”
Vermillion is a volunteer who works with families and loved ones to work through the process of applying for the In Memory program, and can be contacted at 253-906-2938.