Friday, April 8, 2011

Veterans Seek Justice to Agent Orange

By Deanna Dunsmuir

More than 19 million barrels of the herbicidal chemical Agent Orange was sprayed throughout the four military points during the Vietnam War under operation Ranch Hand. The spraying of the herbicide was used as a military tactic to level the land, in order to eliminate guerilla warfare by the Vietnamese.

U.S. Military Planes spraying Agent Orange during operation Ranch Hand

Although the tactic may have worked in the U.S.’s favor, the effects have proven to produce cancers, birth defects, and types of lymphoma, among other diseases. As a result, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to compensate qualifying veterans for their illnesses.

In order to qualify a veteran must have, “visited Vietnam even briefly anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975.”

This includes, “Brown Water Veterans: Navy and Coast Guard Veterans who served aboard smaller river patrol and swift boats that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975,” according to the VA’s website.

Although the dangerous herbicide was used into the 70’s, Peter Schuck, author of Agent Orange on Trial: Mass Toxic Disasters in Courts, wrote, “ Internal memoranda revealed Monsanto Corporation (a manufacturer of 2,4,5-T) had informed the U.S. government as early as 1952 that 2,4,5-T was contaminated with a toxic chemical.”

Even though it has been almost 40 years since the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam, new side effects continue to surface.

On February 20, Sheree Evans, a widow of a Vietnam veteran, finally succeeded on her promise to her husband to link brain cancer, Glioblastoma Multiforme (GM), to the dangerous war chemical. Her husband passed away from GM just shy of the ruling. Although not officially added to the list of diseases, the court ruled in the favor of Evans due to enough evidence to offer benefit of the doubt to the jurors.

As veterans strive for connections and answers to the once widely used spray, blogs are exploding with stories of sicknesses; such blogs include “Cold War Veterans Blog” and "Voices for Agent Orange Victims". Still, U.S. war veterans who had come in contact with the chemical are searching for answers to not just their own illnesses, but their grand children’s as well.

Agent Orange effects passed on to children of U.S. Vietnam War veterans

In 2010 it was ruled by Secretary Eric Shinseki that “Parkinson’s Disease, Hairy Cell and other Chronic B-Cell Leukemia, and Ischemic Heart Disease[‘s]” have enough evidence to be linked to agent orange as well, according to

Shinseki also added that, “As many as 150,000 Veterans may submit Agent Orange claims in the next 12 to 18 months. Additionally, VA will review approximately 90,000 previously denied claims from Vietnam Veterans for service connection for these three new diseases.”

Adding that, “This rule is long overdue. It delivers justice to those who have suffered from Agent Orange’s toxic effects for 40 years.”

Decades later the VA is taking steps to compensate the victims. The VA currently offers health care benefits, an Agent Orange health examination, and disability compensation, along with home loans, rehabilitation and even education scholarships for those that qualify. Children of survivors with diseases such as spina bifida or other birth defects linked to the chemical are eligible for benefits as well.

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