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Valley Vietnam Veteran Battles Diabetes Linked to Agent Oran

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PHARR – Vietnam veteran Gabriel Avendano said a part of him will always remain overseas.

"What can I tell you? We never come back," said Avendano, "but I'm here."

Avendano is one of the 2.6 million U.S. military personnel possibly exposed to Agent Orange from January 1965 to April 1970.

"They just flew it through the C-130's and they killed a lot of the jungle," said Avendano.

He was formally diagnosed with diabetes in the year 2000. He said he may have lived with the disease for many years before the discovery was made.

"I have to inject my body twice a day," said Avendano, "in the morning and at night."

Diabetes is one of the many diseases considered a presumptive illness by Veterans Affairs.

These are diseases presumed to be linked to Agent Orange exposure, or a Veteran's qualified military service. Veterans do not have to prove these illnesses were spawned by their military service.

The long list of diseases includes several forms of cancer.

Veterans who believe they are suffering from an illness linked to Agent Orange may have health care options through the VA.

"One of the most important things that they need to do when they believe that they've been exposed to Agent Orange is to come by either the McAllen outpatient clinic or the Harlingen outpatient clinic," said VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend spokesperson Reynaldo Leal.

By taking their DD FORM 214 and driver's license to an outpatient clinic, they can begin to explore these options.

"Once we register them as Agent Orange exposed veterans, they'll be given an assessment. They'll be scheduled for an assessment and they'll be input into the Agent Orange registry,” said Leal.

These veterans may also qualify for benefits such as disability compensation.

"They can go to any number of veterans service officers, they can go through the county, the state with the Texas Veterans Commission," said Leal.

"Keep going and they'll help you," said Avendano. "You got to keep on going. You have to keep on going to the centers and they will sooner or later help you."

Avendano also urges veterans to consume a healthy, balanced diet.

A complete list of presumed diseases linked to Agent Orange exposure can be found at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

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