Help Promised to WWII Vets Subjected To Mustard Gas Tests

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John's service photograph.

John and Joan Tedesco stand before a wall filled with World War II memorabilia including John’s service photograph.

This week – NPR revealed that 60,000 World War II veterans were exposed to mustard gas while training in the U.S. and some are currently living in the Tampa Bay region.

The NPR investigation found that the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to keep its promise to help any of the mustard gas veterans who had permanent injuries. After the NPR investigation, the VA is again pledging to reach out to ensure exposed veterans are getting the benefits they’ve earned.

And the vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, has called for a hearing and offered his assistance to one of his constituents, John Tedesco of Pasco County.

John Tedesco as a  US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII - notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

John Tedesco as a US Navy Seaman First Class in WWII – notice the photo of Joan tucked into the left corner.

Tedesco said he was part of the Navy’s mustard gas experiments conducted at Great Lakes Naval Training Station in early 1944. He was 17 years old.

“We really didn’t know what was going on. We were young,” Tedesco said. “We got all kinds of shots. But I figured it was just normal, you know, routine.”

Now 88 years old, Tedesco doesn’t remember specifics of the mustard gas test, he does remember being checked by doctors and corpsmen at noon each day after the test for more than a week.

Some of his buddies from Company 92 at Great Lakes were able to give detailed accounts in a 1991 Erie, Pennsylvania newspaper article. It was published shortly after the U.S. Department of Defense declassified the mustard gas experiments.

“When I was back in Erie and I met some of the fellas, they said they were going to go put a claim in because they were all kind of sick too,” Tedesco said adding that his group went to the local veterans affairs office together to fill out paperwork and then to the VA for two days of tests. He said his claim was denied.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

John Tedesco holds up the 1991 newspaper article that details how he and some of his friends from Erie, PA were used for mustard gas experiments while at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in 1944.

Tedesco said he developed breathing problems shortly after joining the Navy. He got out in May 1946 but didn’t go to the VA about his health issues until 1991 – more than four decades later.

“I was a carpenter and I was a builder, a small builder and I did that up until I quit,” Tedesco said. He retired at age 57. “You know I couldn’t stand – like if they’d be bulldozing on the job and making dust, I’d have to go home because I’d get sick. If they’d paint, I’d have to go home. Smells and that, they bother (me), my wife don’t wear perfume or anything because it bothers me.”

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco's wedding in October 1947.

A photo of Joan and John Tedesco’s wedding in October 1947.

His wife of 67 years, Joan Tedesco, said her husband’s health problems were really bad when they lived in California in the 1960s.

“I used to rush him to the hospital all the time, he couldn’t breathe. Here they found out he was allergic to the redwood,” said Joan Tedesco. “We just loved it out there but there was no way we could stay, so we ended going back to Erie.”

Their son, Dr. John Tedesco, is a family physician practicing in Wesley Chapel. He also has vivid memories of when they lived in California.

“My father was in construction. They said he was having allergy problems but what it was it was asthma,” Dr. Tedesco said.

“His breathing was absolutely horrible. One time they had to call paramedics to come to the house because he couldn’t breathe and I remember them doing an intra-cardiac epinephrine shot,” Dr. Tedesco said. “As a little kid watching somebody stick a big needle into your father’s chest while he was lying on the ground because he can’t breathe, I’ll never forget that.”

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

A high school yearbook photo of John Tedesco on the golf team when he was in eleventh grade. His health issues limited his ability to play sports with his children.

He said his dad’s breathing problems prevented him from even simple joys like playing sports with his children.

Dr. Tedesco believes his father’s asthma is not due to allergies but instead related to his mustard gas exposure. He even wrote a letter to the VA to help his father file another mustard gas claim – that too was rejected.

After a while, the World War II veteran who spent 21 months in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea just gave up.

“You know, I feel they should have done something and they didn’t do anything,” Tedesco said.”We tried. They turned me down so many times I figured just let it go.”

Hearing of Tedesco’s plight, his member of congress, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, promised to help.

“We’re going to reach out to him and if he gives me permission to advocate on his behalf, I certainly will,” Bilirakis said.

The vice-chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, told NPR he’s working on bringing in VA officials to testify, and has already requested a hearing.

Knowing what he knows now — Tedesco says he’d volunteer to serve today if asked.

“It’s a good country. Yes, I would,” Tedesco said. “It’s the best country in the world.”

 

 

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Navy Recall of Furloughed Civiian Workers

Seal-A411075[1]The following is information from the U.S. Department of the Navy for civilian workers currently furloughed:

All currently furloughed Navy Department employees should return to work tomorrow or as soon as practical with the exception of the employees in the categories listed below:

1 – Chief Information Officer (CIO) functions, not previously excepted from furlough based on the Contingency Plan Guidance for Continuation of Essential Operations in the Absence of Available Appropriations of September 2013.

2 – Deputy Chief Management Officer (DCMO) functions not previously excepted. Should not be any below the Secretariat/Echelon I level.

3 – Legislative Affairs and Public Affairs functions not previously excepted or required in support of internal communications to members of the active service.

4 – Auditor and related functions, including Inspector General (IG), not previously excepted. Employees supporting Financial Improvement Audit Readiness (FIAR) activities are excepted and can report to work.

5 – Work done in support of non-DoD activities and Agencies (except the U.S. Coast Guard) not previously excepted. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) employees are excepted and can report to work.

Employees in these categories will receive calls from their supervisors today explaining the situation. If you have questions, please contact your chain of command.

Update:13 Dead, One Still Sought in Naval Yard Shooting

An FBI released photograph of Aaron Alexis, who they identified as the dead gunman in  the Naval Yard shooting where at least 13 have been killed.

An FBI released photograph of Aaron Alexis, who they identified as the dead gunman in the Naval Yard shooting where at least 13 have been killed.

As of 4:20 p.m. Monday, Washington D.C. officials said the death toll had risen to 13 people in the Naval Yard shootings including a suspected gunman. Authorities are still working on identifying all the victims.

One of two potential suspects officials were seeking has been cleared. Law enforcement officials talked with a white male suspect dressed in khaki military-style uniform and determined he was not involved in the incident.

But officials are still looking for a black male in his 50s dressed in an olive-drab colored military-style uniform with gray sideburns as a potential suspect or someone who could provide information.

The deceased shooter was identified by FBI officials as Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, Texas. The FBI is asking for anyone who may know him or have information pertaining to the dead suspect “no matter how small” to call 1-800-CALL-FBI. They’re looking for information on his recent movements and recent contacts.

The scene inside the Naval Yard building was described by the police chief as having “multiple victims, there was still gunfire going on” when the Washington D.C. police officers entered the building.

The Washington Nationals baseball game set for Monday night was rescheduled for Tuesday afternoon because the stadium just blocks from the Naval Yard shooting.

Veteran: How Do You Define Who Is a Vet?

Alison Derr, a Navy Veteran.

Does a military service member have to experience combat or be part of a life-risking mission to earn the title Veteran? Is it fair to compare the sacrifice of veterans by service branch,  by deployments or the number of years of service? Email me at bobrien@wusf.org with your definition of who is a military Veteran. Send your response by November 9th so  I can publish your answers on Veterans Day.

In a blog entry for the VA blog VAntage, Navy Veteran Alison Derr explains why she’s a little uneasy being called a Vet after four years at sea.

Alison Derr: The Definition of a Veteran

There are very few words that catch me quite like “Veteran”. It’s such a short word, but in today’s world, it means so much and identifies a person in just seven letters. Yesterday, I attended a local job fair that I thought was just for Veterans. However, I learned that it wasn’t specifically for Vets, but that it was sponsored and coordinated by a local Veterans support organization. The job fair was a major bust for me, but I did go with an ulterior motive and that was to support a local Veterans appreciation event held in my county every year.

After I spoke and gave my presentation to promote the event, I hung around to answer any questions from the group. And a few people did, in fact, stay behind to talk to me. A father asked if his teenage daughter, who is contemplating joining the military after high school, could contact me (“Of course!” was my response), another lady introduced herself as a family friend and a young guy who looked like a former Marine asked if he could take a pamphlet. But of everyone who stopped to chat, a very elderly man came by and our conversation went like this:

“Excuse me miss, but I just have to ask….are YOU a Veteran?!” he asked with astonishment in his voice.

“Yes, sir,” I answered. “I served four years in the Navy.”

“I’m a Sailor too!” he said through laughter. “I served during WWII on PT boats!”

You can  read the full VAntage blog entry by Alison Derr HERE.

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