‘Agent Orange’ Relief Sought for Vietnam

Among the many acts of U.S.-inflicted devastation in the Vietnam War was the aerial spraying of Agent Orange and other herbicides to kill vegetation, thus making the Vietcong easier to hunt down and kill. However, the cancer-causing chemicals proved dangerous in other ways to both those on the ground and in the air, as Marjorie Cohn reports.

By Marjorie Cohn

Aug. 10 marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the chemical warfare program in Vietnam, one of the war’s most shameful legacies. Agent Orange continues to poison Vietnam and the people exposed to the chemicals, as well as their offspring.

H.R. 2634, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2011, which Rep. Bob Filner, D-California, just introduced in the House, would provide crucial assistance for social and health services to Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and U.S. victims of Agent Orange.

From 1961 to 1971, approximately 19 million gallons of herbicides, primarily Agent Orange, were sprayed over the southern region of Vietnam. Much of it was contaminated with dioxin, a deadly chemical.

Dioxin causes various forms of cancers, reproductive illnesses, immune deficiencies, endocrine deficiencies, nervous system damage, and physical and developmental disabilities.

In Vietnam, more than three million people, and in the United States, thousands of veterans, their children, and Vietnamese-Americans, have been sickened, disabled or died from the effects of Agent Orange/dioxin.

Vietnamese of least three generations born since the war are now suffering from disabilities due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange or from direct exposure in the environment.

The organization representing Vietnam’s victims, the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin, has set up some “peace villages” to care for the severely disabled, but many more such facilities and services are needed. Dioxin residues in the soil, sediment, and food continue to poison many people in 28 “hot spots” in southern Vietnam.

Many U.S. veterans suffer from effects of Agent Orange due to their exposure in Vietnam, as do their children and grandchildren. Vietnamese-Americans exposed directly to Agent Orange and their offspring suffer from the same health conditions.

The bill, which the Vietnamese Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign assisted Rep. Filner in writing, defines “victim” as “any individual who is a Vietnamese national, Vietnamese-American, or United States veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange, or the progeny of such an individual, and who has a disease or disability associated with this exposure.”

In addition to compensating the victims of Agent Orange, H.R. 2634 would also clean up the toxic hot spots in Vietnam.

One provision of the bill would expand programs and research for the benefit of U.S. vets and establish medical centers “designed to address the medical needs of descendants of the veterans of the Vietnam era.”

This creates a presumption that certain birth defects that children and grandchildren of exposed victims suffer would be considered the result of contact with Agent Orange.

While the U.S. government has begun to fund environmental cleanup in Vietnam, it has refused to recognize its full responsibility to heal the wounds of war and provide assistance to Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American, and U.S. victims for the serious health and environmental devastation caused by Agent Orange.

There has been some compensation for U.S. veteran victims of Agent Orange, but not nearly enough.

In spite of President Richard Nixon’s 1973 promise of $3.25 billion in reconstruction aid to Vietnam “without any preconditions,” the Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American victims of the disgraceful chemical warfare the United States conducted in Vietnam have not seen one penny of compensation.

Fifty years is long enough. It is high time to compensate the victims for this shameful chapter in U.S. history. H.R. 2634 will go a long way toward doing just that.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor of law at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and co-coordinator of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (www.vn-agentorange.org).

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One comment on “‘Agent Orange’ Relief Sought for Vietnam

  1. Joanna Garrett on said:

    Thank you, Marjorie Cohn, and bless you for the work you are doing. When my 59 year-old Vietnam veteran son died last October of Agent Orange-caused ALS after much suffering, I have often wondered since how many other Vietnam veterans had died in homeless camps and under highway overpasses undiagnosed and uncared for of Agent Orange-caused illnesses.

    I was my son’s sole support and care-giver for most of the last 4 years of his life. I did this by sharing my own WWII widow’s pension with him, but I am advanced in years and was on the verge of physical collapse when he was admitted to the VA hospital for the last time. He had been in and out of VA facilities for years, had suffered 3 major heart attacks and several minor ones, suffered from respiratory problems, and the nightmares and anxieties of PTSD. However, all applications for compensation had been rejected. The VA system is chronically over-stretched and under-funded. Like so many other Vietnam veterans, treatment and counselling were available, but no financial help. So he never recieved a penny compensation for any service-related disability. The diagnosis for Agent Orange-related ALS came the very week he died. By that time he could move only the fingers of his left hand and the toes of his left feet. The VA, at least, paid his cremation expenses.

    It is far past time that the truth about the horrors of Agent Orange exposure be told. What we did to Vietnam was diabolical. It was inhuman and unforgivable. We should hang our heads in shame.

    One can only imagine the dangers of having to live and raise children in such a ravished and poisoned environment as post-war Vietnam. But our government finds ways to pay for new wars and continues to leave a trail of broken bodies, broken lives and bitter resentments behind. The least we can do is to help the victims of US stupidity and lack of humanity with both financial compensation and medical help. We would honor them best by renouncing the evils of our insane warmongering forever and allow the healing to begin.