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Remembering Agent Orange this Earth Day

Vietnam Agent Orange Earthday 2018

U.S. Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam.

(Guest expert article by Charles R. Bailey) As we mark Earth Day this Sunday, we remember the first Earth Day in 1970. That year saw another landmark event: President Nixon brought to an end to the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam. That spraying had gone on for a decade. Its aim was to defoliate forests and destroy food crops in order to deny cover and sustenance to opposition forces. The Agent Orange and some of the other herbicides were contaminated with dioxin, a highly toxic substance.

The legacy of Agent Orange/dioxin continues to impact our veterans and the Vietnamese.  Since 1991, scientists at the United States Institute of Medicine have shown dioxin to be a risk factor in a growing number of illnesses and birth defects, and their research is corroborated by the work of Vietnamese scientists.

Not everyone who was in the sprayed areas in Vietnam was exposed to dioxin nor is it possible to definitively enumerate the individuals who were exposed.  For these reasons, it is impossible to determine the actual numbers of Agent Orange victims in Vietnam. Nevertheless, at the population level we see the consequences of dioxin for the Vietnamese in terms of ill health, shortened lives and birth defects. Some 10 percent to 15 percent of all Vietnamese with disabilities are Agent Orange victims. They are primarily living with mobility impairments and mental disabilities rather than hearing, vision and speech problems. Their disabilities affect them severely.

Agent Orange Deformities

Middle aged gentleman stands at the cathedral entrance seeking money while he shows his severe arm deformity most likely related to agent orange exposure when he was in gestation and his pregnant mother was exposed to the defoliating chemical, dioxin. It was frequently used during the Vietnam war from 1965 to 1970 and caused many deformities similar to this, to the Asian population of this area. Saigon(Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, SE Asia

Between 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, and 2006, Agent Orange was an extremely sensitive and controversial subject. Official views were polarized, information was scant, disagreement was rife, and suspicions on both sides ran high. In consequence, there were few resources to address the issue, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and other donors kept well clear of the subject.

Agent Orange Vietnam Zones

Map showing locations of U.S. army aerial herbicide spray missions in South Vietnam taking place from 1965 to 1971. CC Wikimedia Commons, U.S. Army

Events in 2006 proved a turning point: New attention was brought to Agent Orange by the American press in advance of President George W. Bush’s visit to Vietnam for the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Bush’s joint statement with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet, acknowledged for the first time the dioxin legacy of the war.  The U.S. Embassy and the Ford Foundation in Hanoi swiftly followed up. Since 2007, key Vietnamese and American officials and nongovernment players in both countries have helped move the issue of Agent Orange in Vietnam to a subject of active cooperation between the governments of Vietnam and the United States.

As of today, under the leadership of Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Congress has appropriated a total of $231.2 million to begin to address Agent Orange in Vietnam. The funds are split between assistance for people with severe disabilities in the most heavily sprayed areas and clean up of dioxin residues at two former American airbases. The Da Nang Airport is now free of dioxin, and tens of thousands of Vietnamese with disabilities have received help. Most importantly, the two governments now have a practical partnership. The extreme sensitivity of this subject is a thing of the past. The funds and follow up that provoked and leveraged the American government response after all these years came in large part from the Ford Foundation, which provided $17.1 million between 2000 and 2011.

Trust and cooperation between former enemies are often rebuilt and fortified through the work the parties do to remediate the terrible aftermath of war. Postwar measures will never be able to erase deep scars, restore personal losses or make up for great hardship. However, if they are undertaken in good spirit and with vigor and sincerity, they can unite people on a forward path of mutual respect and friendship. Both Vietnam and the United States want to move forward in this way together.

The end of the disaster of Agent Orange/dioxin is within the reach of people of goodwill on both sides—both those in government and in civilian life. This end will be achieved through joint effort, compromise and agreement on solutions and end points. Given the positive record of collaboration and partnership since 2007, it would be foolish, and indeed disgraceful, not to carry through to the completion of the task.

Some commentators on the U.S. side ask: When will it be done? Given the size and the complexity of the Agent Orange/dioxin legacy and the Vietnamese concern about it, it is an understandable question. There is no simple answer, nor one that will satisfy each and every person.

The best solution is to figure out now what a vigorous and substantial commitment would be that could dramatically alter the life circumstances of many affected individuals and families. If that sum is properly expended and the partnership remains strong, perhaps the end will then be achieved or in sight. The clean up of the remaining dioxin at the Bien Hoa airbase will take a decade, and U.S. health/disabilities assistance should continue during that time. It is very difficult to estimate the costs. But if the U.S. spends $100 million each year for the next ten years—half for Bien Hoa and half for health/disabilities assistance—significant progress will be made.

For more information see  https://www.aspeninstitute.org/programs/agent-orange-in-vietnam-program/

Former Ford Foundation executive Dr. Charles Bailey has spent most of his forty-year career working tirelessly to unite the U.S. and Vietnam on the Agent Orange issue, to dissolve the disconnect on this issue and to spark a sharp focus on it. Extraordinary advances have been made as a result of his work, but there is still a decade’s worth of work to be done. Dr. Bailey continues to bring attention to this crisis via his new book, From Enemies to Partners: Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange (Feb. 28, 2018, G. Anton Publishing), which he co-authored with Vietnam-based activist Dr. Le Ke Son.

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Citizen Truth republishes articles with permission from a variety of news sites, advocacy organizations and watchdog groups. We choose articles we think will be informative and of interest to our readers. Chosen articles sometimes contain a mixture of opinion and news, any such opinions are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Citizen Truth.

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  1. Mike Yates April 22, 2018

    I would like to ask everyone reading this to do me and other Veterans a BIG favor. We need you to contact the Whitehouse at https:\\www.whitehouse.gov/contact/ OR Phone 855-948-2311 in support of Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans.

    Here is some history. In 1993, a bill passed in Congress call the Agent Orange Act of 1993 giving VA Benefits to Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans that were suffering from certain diseases , this list has been updated since then. In 2002 the General Consul of the VA ruled that Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans didn’t qualify for these benefits Since that time Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans have been fighting to get these benefits back.

    You may ask why this is important. Veterans like myself who served on Ships while serving in Vietnam were actually exposed to a high level of the Dioxin that is in Agent Orange than their fellow Veterans who served “Boots on the Ground”. This is due to the fact that the distillations system used on the ships actually enhanced the Dioxins instead of removing them. This has lead to many of these Veterans suffering from diseases related to Agent Orange exposure like myself who now suffers from Prostate Cancer, Thyroid Cancer, Heart Problems, COPD, Emphysema, and Skin Cancer.

    Right now there is a Bill in Congress called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R.299 & S.422) that would covers use. We have 75% of Congress Supporting the Bill, yet we can’t get the Bill brought to the floor for a VOTE because they do not have a way to Fund the Bill. The cost of the Bill is around $1 Billion over 10 years. Now to add insult to injury, our own Government has spent over $1.1 Billion Cleaning up Vietnam of Agent Orange.

    I am asking everyone reading this to PLEASE, First contact the White House and ask them to find the Funds to Fund Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act (H.R.299 & S.422) and please share this letter.

    We are also looking into taking our Case to the Supreme Court, we will be making the final decision after May 5, 2018. Due to this we are looking for donations to help with our cost. If you are willing to donate (tax deductible) please go to https://www.bwnvva.org/membership.html and donate (tax deductible) online or you can send a check to:

    Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association

    8651 John J Kingman Rd

    Suite #206

    FT Belvoir, VA 22060

    If you are a Veteran or a family Member of a Veterans, please feel free to join us on our Blue Water Navy Association Facebook Page.

    Mike Yates

    National Commander

    [email protected]

    Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association

    Mike Yates
    National Commander/Chairman of the Board
    Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Association
    [email protected]
    (702) 850-0701

    Mike Yates
    We Were There Too
    Blue Water Navy Association
    (702) 850-0701


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