Veteran spreads awareness on Agent Orange's connection to heart - WNEM TV 5

Veteran spreads awareness on Agent Orange's connection to heart disease

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John Looney flips through story after story of his service, reminiscing about the simple pleasures.

"One of the few times you get a shower and feel halfway decent," Looney said.

And the toughest times when he had to soldier on.

"This is how you look after you've been three weeks with malaria," Looney said.

Starting in 1966, Looney spent 13 months with the Marine Corps in Vietnam – the majority of it as a radio operator trying to keep his men informed and himself hard for the enemy to spot. 

"I bent the antenna of the radio down over my shoulder," Looney said.

Like other Vietnam veterans, his service wasn't celebrated when he came home, rather scorned.

Life moved on until 23 years later when it almost stopped.

"It was a Monday," Looney said.

At 45, Looney had a heart attack.

His doctors attributed it to stress. After three months, life moved on once again.

He went back to work as a builder for several years, but his regular hours started to wear on him, his work-days got shorter. Something he said he wasn't used to.

"I was a licensed builder for 41 years and I’ve never drawn a day of unemployment and I’ve never had to look for work," Looney said.

In 2011, he found out the reason for his fatigue.

A friend told him new research showed heart disease – among a slew of other ailments – was linked to Agent Orange, the toxic herbicide showered all over the lush Vietnam landscape to kill dense vegetation.

"All of this stuff has been sprayed and over-sprayed. Even if you soft-sprayed, you got over-sprayed and you're going through it," Looney said.

Soon after, he received 100 percent benefits, but it was hard for him to swallow.

"When the benefit came through from the VA, I actually felt guilty for a little bit,"

That guilt turned into action, Looney knew there had to be other veterans affected by Agent Orange who didn't know how to receive benefits. And he wanted to show them.

"So there's a whole bunch of things that people need to know - it's online, it's in these books," Looney said.

In the past few years, Looney has helped more than 20 veterans receive benefits, many of them through word of mouth.

"We'll just get to talking to people and find out that this one knows this guy and I’ll say oh, have him give me a call," Looney said.

While he won't admit it, Looney continues to be a hero more than 40 years after his service.

As he keeps sharing his own war stories,

"There’s one of my stripes," Looney said.

He's helping many more share theirs.

"I do what I can," Looney said.

>>READ MORE: Veterans Affairs health risks associated with Agent Orange<<

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