Sunday, March 21, 2010

Painting the World Orange

By Jennifer De Shields

Veterans' organizations are threatening to sue the Department of Veteran Affairs if they fail to acknowledge certain diseases that could be tied to Agent Orange exposure. The veterans are upset because the VA didn't meet a legal deadline for adding three more diseases to a list of illnesses it provides compensation or medical treatment for.

According to The Air Force Times: “In its latest review, IoM [Institute of Medicine] found that ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and B-cell leukemias all could be linked to Agent Orange exposure. VA is required by the Agent Orange Act of 1991 to publish a regulation, making veterans eligible for benefits, within 210 days of such findings. In this case, that would have been Feb. 19. VA doesn’t have to pay out benefits until after the regulation is actually published.”

Vietnam is the nasty inkblot on America’s lengthy but mostly clean military record. To some it’s seen as the first war the country lost; to many others the war is seen as shameful war fought for the wrong reasons. The vile things we’ve done in other wars don’t compare to the entire Vietnam conflict. We were ruthless in our tactics, but perhaps the worst was our use of the defoliant Agent Orange. Agent Orange is part of the family of “rainbow herbicides” used by the United States military during the Vietnam conflict. Although many other herbicides were used, Agent Orange is easily the most famous. At the time we thought we were just compromising the Vietnamese food supply and making the jungles easier to navigate, but it’s turned out to be much more than that. We’ve not only contaminated land in Vietnam, we’ve contaminated our land as well and ruined thousands, if not millions, of lives.

Agent Orange can cause a myriad of health problems, from birth defects to disabilities to cancer. To this day there are children being born in Vietnam with problems attributed to Agent Orange exposure. The environmental effects are equally devastating; it poisons whatever land it touches. So many innocent people have had their lives affected by Agent Orange and the numbers will only continue to grow. I’m not sure what’s sadder: that people will be affected by this for generations to come or that the government is trying its best to hide how deadly it is and its refusal to help all veterans who have been exposed to it.

The government treatment of Vietnam veterans is despicable, they are refusing to help soldiers who fought for their country and were only poisoned and shunned in return. I don’t understand why its taken the government so long to give benefits to solders who have been hurt by Agent Orange. The number of soldiers affected is well into the thousands; perhaps the government simply doesn’t want to have to pay for that many people. It could also be that like the rest of the country, the government just wants to forget about the war and the pain and suffering they’ve caused because of that one colorful chemical compound. If that is the case, it’s become very obvious that Agent Orange will not be ignored. Almost half a century later it’s making itself known, whether it’s from aged veterans demanding health benefits or washing up on the banks in Newark. It’s time to stop looking the other way and start working to rid the world of one of our country’s many “toxic legacies.” Whether we like it or not Agent Orange will never disappear, and if we don’t do something now many people’s lives will be tarnished with the dingy orange herbicide.

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