It is the 57th anniversary of the 1961 first use of Agent Orange herbicides on the environment and people of Vietnam. For 10 years following, the US waged chemical warfare (along with its several other forms of war) on Vietnam, eventually destroying 10,500 square miles of jungle and mangrove forests and poisoning 1,200 square miles of precious rice land. Ironically, stupidly, horrifically this was the land of our supposed allies, the South Vietnamese.
The dioxin and arsenic that was in most of the herbicides continues to pollute the land today, causing illness and birth defects throughout southern and central Vietnam. As many as 4.8 million people were exposed and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese have serious health effects from their exposures. Approximately 10% of those are children and young adults born many years after the war.
After many years of fighting for recognition of our health effects from Agent Orange exposure, US veterans of the Vietnam War now receive tens of billions of dollars in compensation and medical care annually from the VA for illnesses due to their exposures. In addition, in Vietnam, the US has nearly finished the remediation of one of twenty six known hotspots where dioxin is concentrated. While these were important and still incomplete steps in paying for the cost of that war, it is not nearly enough.
There are several outstanding legacies of the herbicide program for which the US government has not stepped up. A bill in Congress, House Resolution (H.R. 334 Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act), introduced and championed by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA13), addresses five of those problems:
- Provide funding the Vietnamese public health system for programs aimed at Agent Orange victims;
- Clean up the lands contaminated by Agent Orange dioxin in Vietnam;
- Provide assistance to the children of US veterans who are affected by their parent’s exposure to Agent Orange dioxin;
- Address the health needs of affected Vietnamese Americans; and
- Instruct the VA to conduct additional research on the effects of AO as recommended by the Institute of Medicine.
Veterans For Peace has long had a program, the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign that has worked to get this legislation passed. We need your help in your congressional district getting sponsors for the bill!
For more information there will be a workshop at the VFP conference in St Paul titled Making Peace Possible: Lasting Legacy of War: Reconciliation between Nations and People. It will also discuss other efforts in Vietnam to remediate the dangers of unexploded ordnance. The workshop will be Friday, August 24, at 3:30 pm. Please attend.