Sunday, February 27, 2011

Agent Orange: An Unending Nightmare, 1983

With the publication of Friendly Fire, Dad became one of the go-to journalists for magazines wanting to do stories on Vietnam. In 1983,The New Republic asked Dad to review a new book, Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange by Fred A Wilcox.
In the review he remembers meeting Paul Reutershan five years earlier at a sparsely attended Memorial Day Ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans in Hartford,CT. The young Vietnam vet, who flew helicopter missions through herbicidal mists, was dying of cancer of the colon, liver and abdomen. "I died in Vietnam." he said, "but I didn't even know it."

Not quite seven months later, Reutershan would pass away
During the war it is estimated that eleven million gallons of Agent Orange had been sprayed on Vietnam and 4,119,960 acres has been defoliated. The idea was to deny the enemy cover by destroying jungle growth in Vietnam.
However, Dow Chemical's own documents reveal the company knew as early as 1957 that the process used to synthesize Agent Orange also produced trace amounts of dioxin.
Perhaps 370 pounds of dioxin in all fell upon Vietnam.--an insignificant amount, one would think, were it not known that one part oer 20-billion dose of dioxin ingested by a young male rhesus monkey killed it in twelve days.
Vietnam vets who crawled through sprayed areas, and drank and bathed from water there, had been exposed to dioxin. They suffered from kidney, bladder, colonic and testicular cancers; chloracne rashes, migraine headaches, nausea, violent rages, mood swings, premature aging.
The Vietnamese also suffered of course: children were born without eyes, shortened limbs, abnormally small heads, with parts of their brain missing--at rates 100 times normal.

In the early 80's, The Veteran's Administration was still denying disability checks to Vietnam vets exposed to Agent Orange, asking for patience until further studies were concluded.
One vet responded "Five years, five more years. I think I have got it now. I think we've all got it now. They are just waiting. They are waiting for us all, every fucking one of us, to die".
Dad ends his article with this plea on behalf of veterans:

Let there be an act of Congress immediately authorizing the V.A. and the government to assume the cost of the medical care of these families. They need the money now; they can't wait until long-range studies and drawn-out lawsuits are completed. There is adequate reason to believe that Agent Orange might be responsible for many of the veterans' and their families' problems. Even if we don't know yet for sure, even if we doubt that Agent Orange has anything to do with the veteran's illnesses and their children's deformities, we have to take care of them. We should be generous in our compassion and in our willingness to provide these veterans and their families with the medical care they need.
The government should replicate the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission Study for Vietnam verterans in order to give them the answers they need about what is happening to them, so that they can plan the rest of their lives, help their children make decision about marriage and childbearing and allow the rest of the world to evaluate the full impact of the dioxin problem.
This is not too much to ask.
Two and a half million healthy young Americans went to Southeast Asia at their country's call. They did their patriotic duty. Regardless of our feelings about the merits of that war, we owe them honor. We owe them and their families care.

In 1984, a class action lawsuit against Dow, Monsanto and other chemical companies was settled out of court for $180 million, outraging many veterans who. at most, would receive checks amounting to $12,000 spread over ten years.

In 1991, Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act which gave the VA authority to treat and compensate veterans exposed to dioxin as long as the veterans suffered from a one of the wretched diseases on their list.

As for Vietnamese victims,their lawsuit against the chemical companies was thrown out in US District Court because the judge ruled Agent Orange wasn't designed to harm people. He ruled the chemical companies shared the same sovereign immunity as the government for which they worked.

In the past year hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease have been added to the VA's laundry list of illnesses associated with dioxin.
Last year, U.S. veterans of Vietnam received nearly $2 billion in disability payments related to Agent Orange.But Agent Orange is still killing veterans ten , fifteen, twenty years before their time. It truly is an unending nightmare

For more information on the cancers connected to Agent Orange exposure:

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