VALLEY PATRIOT OF
Her statistics from 1970 are simple:
female, 5 foot five inches, 125 pounds,
age 19. As she entered her Junior year at
the now-closed Catholic Trinity College
in Burlington, Vermont, Agnes M.
Bresnahan was surrounded daily by images
of the Vietnam war:
Images of war protests on TV, sounds of
protest songs led the Billboard chart.
But to spunky Irish as she
was known, her love of country and
dedication to service led her to enlist
in the United States Army.
Born in Methuen, MA, raised in
neighboring Lawrence in a family of 12
children, four brothers and seven
sisters, Irish said she had a simple
choice based on her familys makeup:
politics or military to
follow the steps of those family members
who came before her.
The U.S. Army had a special program
for Juniors, and three woman from Trinity
joined that year, Irish explained.
The military was recruiting and I
became a Corporal when I was 20. One day
before graduation, my enlistment contract
Irish was commissioned as a 2nd
Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, and began
Boot-camp training at Ft. McClellan in
Alabama. Fort McClellan was home of the
Womens Army Corps School, and the
U.S. Armys Chemical Center and
School. In addition to the Chemical
School, Fort McClellan hosted the U.S.
Armys Combat Developments Command,
Chemical Biological-Radiological Agency .
It was here, she claims, that her life
took an unexpected and unwarranted turn.
Unfortunately for Irish, she says,
training exercises involved
exposure to various gases which we were
told were not in a quantity to
inflict permanent harm. We thought
it was tear gas, she said.
Following an extreme skin reaction after
exposure, Irish says she began a downward
spiral of medical problems. She was later
transferred to Camp Richie in Maryland
and from there received her diagnosis at
Walter Reed Medical Hospital in
D.C. Having shrunken from 125
pounds to just 96 pounds, she began a
long road back to stability.
After her apparent recovery, she applied
and was accepted as an operations
officer, and then applied and was
assigned to a battalion in southern
Germany in the signal corps. Women were
not allowed in combat in leadership
positions at the time.
It was during her trip to Germany that
she was notified of the cessation of
action in Vietnam.
She continued to serve, earned medals of
commendation and was promoted to Captain.
Her service also included the National
Defense Service Medal. She was discharged
in 1977. Later, under the Vietnam
Readjustment Act, she was hired at the
IRS in Andover where she worked until
2005. In 2005, complications of her
earlier chemical exposure led to a
downward spiral of medical problems and
she was terminated. I needed that
job, a reason to get out of bed, and a
steady routine. I need the
structure, she explained.
Today, at age 57, looking back at her
time in the military, she proudly
displays her medals and speaks with high
regard for her fellow veterans. But she
remains frustrated and saddened at not
being able to help others as much as she
would like to help them: to spread the
word and let her fellow veterans know
that they are not alone.
I was diagnosed with stateside
Agent Orange (exposure) at Walter Reed
(hospital) in 1972. And, so I knew it was
progressive, she related.
Ive suffered brain damage,
system. Im told to avoid stress.
The only treatment I have is for pain.
They cant stop any of
I was able to do well. But the
dioxins in my body, they dont go
away, and they slowly eat away at you. I
was young. Im still young, but
Im dying. Little by little, for 37
years Ive been dying, she
Now, Capt. Bresnahan sits beside a map of
the United States scattered with pins to
show the locations of fellow veterans who
she has been in contact with who, she
said, have experienced state-side Agent
Its something I have been
outspoken about said the now vocal
activist and advocate for medical support
for her fellow veterans.
They would throw canisters, they
would spray from above. They would spray.
They would simulate war exposure,
she said. How many thousands of us
are there? she asked.
On one of the exercises, they had
mustard gas, she explained.
When I came out of the exercise, I
blistered up. Around my mouth, around my
neck. I was treated at the
Since her downward spiral accelerated a
few years ago, Capt. Bresnahan says that
she has made it my crusade to try
to contact every single person I knew in
the military to inform them that if they
were sick too, to see my example,
She said she has gone to Washington, D.C.
three times to provide testimony
regarding state-side chemical exposure.
Capt. Bresnahan is a member of the
Vietnam Veterans of America, the Disabled
Veterans of America, and the American
Legion amongst other veterans
Initially denied VA medical benefits
because her service records did not show
service in Vietnam, she appealed and won.
She relates cases where others have been
denied entitlements, medical care, and
compensation and are still struggling to
get the care they need.
Time Is Running Out
We dont have time. We are
running out of time, She said.
There is no cure, no treatment. It
just keeps coming. We are dying
dont know how many of us there are.
Agent Orange doesnt care
where you were exposed. Its an
equal opportunity poison. You could be
here or in Vietnam or anywhere, she
People think the baby boomers are
going to drain Social Security.
Were not, because well be
lucky to make it to age 60 or 62. You try
to get the word out, she explained.
Everybody has to fight on their
own. I have so much documentation through
my medical records. What I tell the
people is to use my case.
Heres my heart break.
How old do I look? she queried.
Its caught up with me and
its killing me
I gave me life
to my country, she said.
Is there such a thing as a typical
Vietnam-era solider? Capt. Breshnanan
thinks that every soldier, no matter
where or how they served, served their
country and she is proud of them. We at
the Valley Patriot are equally as proud
of our veteran heroes and think our
country should do everything possible to
help them deal with the aftermath of
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(C) copyright, Valley Patriot, Inc., 2008