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Widow’s experience spurs legislation to aid veterans

In a world that increasingly is made up of abbreviations, Nevadans may sometimes hear the letters “NRS,” “BDR” and others in regards to the Legislature in Carson City. Those letters could be tossed aside as just more politics, but they are important designations when it comes to getting legislation passed in the Silver State. And they are extremely important to Barbara Rodgick, a Southern Nevada Agent Orange widow who has displayed a versatile expertise in getting a bill passed that could benefit thousands of veterans.

Several years ago Rodgick’s husband came down with multiple myeloma, a disease connected to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. For several years the couple had no inkling that the illness was related to Army service.

“Like the majority of veterans, he only saw civilian doctors,” she said. “Fortunately for us, we accidentally found out that his disease was connected to his military service, and we applied for benefits. And we were overwhelmed by the wonderful support we got from the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

At the time they were living in Seattle, and their benefits were handled by the VA in that city. “In less than two months we got an answer from the VA, and we could not have been happier,” she said. However, due to the delay in understanding how the illness was contracted, much time had elapsed before treatment began. “He passed away one week before our planned move to Nevada was scheduled. But my husband died knowing that his country was there for him,” Rodgick explained.

Her husband, Bill, served four years in the Army, in Korea and Vietnam, working in the intelligence field. After the service he used the G.I. Bill to earn a college degree.

As the illness began to develop in her husband’s system, they were initially unaware of its source. “You know, like most veterans we had all heard the term ‘Agent Orange.’ I mean, who hasn’t heard ‘Agent Orange’? But did we know the 14 specific diseases that it is associated with? No, we didn’t.”

When she learned about the diseases associated with the chemical, “it was a total surprise to us. Agent Orange is just a catch term, and people really don’t understand exactly what that means.”

Her medical education came by accident. “It’s your loved one so you are doing all you can, and I was always on the internet searching for the latest information, the latest medication. And one day out of the universe, it prompted me to put in the words ‘VA and multiple myeloma’, and it came up. I was shocked.”

She filed a claim with the VA, and in a very short time she and her husband received a large compensation check for back benefits. Her husband was rated at 100 percent disabled. “We didn’t expect that. We thought we’d get to go to the VA hospital, and that was it.”

After Bill’s death she said she began to process thoughts about the realization that many civilian doctors don’t know about Agent Orange diseases. She and her husband had medical insurance and had initially gone to civilian doctors, who were unaware of illnesses connected to military service. She learned that military service can affect all aspects of health, from infertility to tinnitus to joint and back problems to homelessness. “It’s just everything that you can imagine.”

She said civilian medical professionals in general are unaware of any of that information. She began to speak about the situation at various veterans gatherings and, over time, she was encouraged to approach elected officials and develop information for potential legislation. She caught the ear of Assemblywoman Brittney Miller, who agreed to sponsor a bill draft request. The result as of now is a 16-page request, AB300, that Rodgick hopes will become a Nevada revised statute that will accomplish her goal.

“What we want to have is that civilian health care professionals ask their patients, ‘Did you have any U.S. military service?’ And that is not a ‘yes or no’ answer. That is not a ‘check the box.’ That’s the beginning of a conversation. And that’s what’s so important. We want to start a conversation about that and see where it goes from there.”

The bill provides for civilian health care professionals to obtain free online education so they can learn about unique military medical needs. It is going through the required legislative steps at this time. Rodgick said she hopes it will be passed before the end of the current legislative session and signed by the governor. It will be a tribute to her late husband, and the beginning of help for many veterans and their families.

“What we all want is better health care for our veterans,” she said.

Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.

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