FOX40 Special Report: Agent Orange Widows at War

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EL DORADO HILLS -- Pegi Scarlett's love story started almost 40 years ago when she met her husband John, who she called a "gentle giant."

"I just wish my daughters would be so lucky to find somebody like him," Pegi said.

Before they started their life together, John was an Army captain, deployed to Vietnam in 1969.

Months later he was in a deadly helicopter crash.

"His helicopter was blown up on landing by a command detonated mine. Many didn't survive," Pegi said.

It was a brush with death, but it didn't kill him.

"We kind of joked about him being a cat with nine lives," said Pegi.

Cancer took his life.

"It was a shock as to where did this come from?" said Pegi.

John was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same aggressive brain cancer that killed Pegi's father.

"I knew the outcome," said Pegi.

She also runs a cancer data management company. She's dedicated her career to collecting information about patients like her husband.

After about two and a half years, John lost his battle.

But that was just the beginning of Pegi's.

She realized John's cancer may be associated with his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.

Pegi wasn't alone.

She found a Facebook group with hundreds of other families with similar stories.

"Not only were they spraying, but their whole area or their camp was covered in Agent Orange spray," Pegi said.

The military used the herbicide to clear the dense jungle while fighting the war.

The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledges 14 diseases are a direct result of exposure to Agent Orange.

Many cancers are on the list, glioblastoma is not.

"With this background, I would like to offer my help," said Pegi.

Pegi is trying to change that by proving there's a link between the brain cancer and Agent Orange.

The VA continues to study the link between Agent Orange and diseases.

But the department says a study released this year confirms earlier research which the VA says:
"did not find any evidence of an excess of brain cancer in Vietnam veterans."

A VA spokesperson added, "While we do not have sufficient scientific evidence that there is an association of GBM or other brain cancers with a potential exposure to Agent Orange, we believe it is important to ask all questions."

For Pegi and others like her, getting glioblastoma on the VA's list would create an easy way to get benefits and recognition.

"These guys have served our country, and here their families and widows are struggling just to survive," said Pegi.

It's a fight Pegi won't give up; for the families of heroes like John, who lose their lives to illness after risking it all on the battlefield.

So far, Pegi has close to 280 cases.

Pegi continues to collect information from other widows around the country.

They are getting ready to present it to the VA soon.

Photos courtesy of the U.S Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, PA.