Thursday, April 1, 2010

Agent Orange: Veterans Fight for Their Rights

By Stephanie Noda

Vietnam veterans have had many problems to struggle through, such as the injuries they sustained during their time in service and the mental trauma of being in a war. However, these worries are not the only problems that the veterans must face; they have become subject to medical problems due to exposure to the chemical “Agent Orange.” Agent Orange is not the real name for the chemical; it received this nickname due to the orange band that was placed around the barrels it was stored, according to the Lewis Publishing House. Agent Orange is an herbicide that was used primarily throughout the Vietnam War. Although there were other herbicides used that were given similar color code names (“Agent Purple,” “Agent Pink,” etc.), Agent Orange is the most well known of these chemicals due to the health effects they cause that were later brought to light. These health effects were caused by an element called dioxin. Dioxin has been known to cause cancer, as well as skin disorders: “there were skin and liver diseases and what seemed to be an abnormal number of cancers to soft tissue organs such as the lungs and stomach,” according to the article “The Story of Agent Orange” by the U.S. Veteran Dispatch.

Agent Orange was used primarily throughout 1962 to 1971, in a period known as “Operation Ranch Hand”; during this operation, the “US military forces sprayed nearly 19 million gallons of herbicide on about 3.6 million acres of land in Vietnam and Laos to remove forest cover, destroy crops, and clear vegetation from the perimeters of US bases,” according to author Howard Frumkin in his article “Agent Orange and Cancer: An Overview for Clinicians” from the Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The reasoning behind this operation was to “deny an enemy cover and concealment in dense terrain by defoliating trees and shrubbery where the enemy could hide,” noted Lewis Publishing House. However, this chemical did more than just cause plants to die; it affected the health of the men spraying Agent Orange as well. The number of people that could have been exposed to Agent Orange is hard to predict, since people that weren’t actually spraying the chemical could have come into contact with it. Although people sprayed Agent Orange from boats, trucks, and backpack sprayers, airplanes and helicopters were also used to spread the chemical; since the chemical was coming from the air above them, any soldier that was in that area could possibly be affected, even if they had never worked with spraying Agent Orange themselves, noted the U.S. Veteran Dispatch.

Many veterans have felt ignored in their attempts to get compensation for the health issues they have received from serving in Vietnam and getting exposed to Agent Orange. One example of this is a case from August 2, 1990: “two veteran's groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., charging that federal scientists canceled an Agent Orange study mandated by Congress in 1979 because of pressure from the White House,” reported the U.S. Veteran Dispatch. Another case involved a $43 million study in Atlanta that was canceled since the researchers claimed there was no way of knowing which veterans were exposed to Agent Orange, added the U.S. Veteran Dispatch.

Even as recently as March 2, 2010, veteran groups were still fighting for compensation for Agent Orange related issues. According to Kelly Kennedy’s article “VA delay may stall benefits for Vietnam vets” in the NavyTimes, three veterans groups have “threatened the Veterans Affairs Department with a lawsuit if VA does not publish regulations by March 12 about three Agent Orange-related diseases that the Institute of Medicine has deemed should be presumed connected to military service.” The Institute of Medicine, otherwise known as IoM, has found in its latest review that “ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and B-cell leukemias all could be linked to Agent Orange exposure.” However, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs has not given veterans the benefits associated with these findings; even though the Agent Orange Act of 1991 is required to publish a regulation regarding the benefits within 210 days of the research findings, this deadline has passed on Feb 19. These veterans now have to fight for what should have been legally theirs.

Vietnam veterans had to deal with many problems after returning home from war. Having health concerns that are not being addressed by the government should not be one of these worries. The government needs to realize that there are many Americans suffering due to the flagrant misuse of unsafe chemicals and should take steps to make sure that these Americans are compensated for these unfortunate diseases.

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