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Battle to heal wounds of Agent Orange continues

Posted February 16, 2011
Updated February 19, 2011

— More than 30 years after the bullets stopped flying in Vietnam, a battle rages to help people still suffering from the effects of Agent Orange.

Agent Orange was an herbicide, later discovered to be contaminated with the toxic chemical dioxin, that the U.S. military sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam to hamper guerrilla operations.

Lingering health and environmental problems from Agent Orange affect an estimated 3 million Vietnamese, including 150,000 children, experts said during a panel discussion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Wednesday.

“If you use herbicides to kill the trees and shrubs, it exposes the tropical soil to tropical rains and degradation, and it’s very hard to get anything to grow again,” said Charles Bailey, director of the Ford Foundation's Special Initiative on Agent Orange/Dioxin.

Research has shown an increased number of Vietnamese children have been born with severe birth defects and Down syndrome since the war ended in 1975, panelists said, although the genetic effects of Agent Orange are still debated.

“Wars aren’t over when the last soldiers leave the battlefield,” said Bob Edgar, president of the nonprofit Common Cause, which is working on the Agent Orange issue in Vietnam.

As a congressman at the end of the Vietnam War, Edgar pushed legislation to help veterans impacted by Agent Orange. Now, his focus is on the people of that country.

Edgar said he has seen people there affected by "unbelievable birth defects, spina bifida, cleft pallets and hair lips" and other facial disfigurements.

UNC panel talks Agent Orange effects UNC panel talks Agent Orange effects

During the war, 20 million gallons of Agent Orange destroyed some 5 million acres in Vietnam. The chemical dioxin contaminated the herbicide seeped into the soil and water supply.

Researcher Thao Van Thai said she was touched by the struggle of Vietnamese families who she encountered last year while documenting the after-effects of Agent Orange.

“They’re not caring about the past, and that’s what moved me," Thai said. "They’re worried about their own lives and trying to move on."

Groups, including the Ford Foundation and Common Cause, aim to raise $30 million each year over the next decade to clean contaminated Agent Orange hot spots and provide health services for families and children.

"Rather than continue the 40-year acrimony over the science, we're simply saying: This is a humanitarian issue, and we can do something about it," Bailey said.


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  • greg14 Feb 18, 2011

    p.s. learn more about the effort at http://makeagentorangehistory.org.

  • greg14 Feb 18, 2011

    Good point @mpheels. But I'm not sure anyone is suggesting U.S. Veterans shouldn't get care. They, of course, should. Bob Edgar's effort only seeks to provide care to the Vietnam victims of this toxic herbicide - who receive incredibly little compensation, mostly from the Vietnamese government.

  • mpheels Feb 18, 2011

    Bob Edgar stopped his push for AO legislation in 1987 because left the House to run for Senate, but lost of Arlen Specter.

    I get really frustrated when people try to make issues all or nothing. There is no reason helping AO victims in Vietnam means we can't help Vietnam veterans in the US, or vice versa. Both groups are suffering through no fault of their own.

  • USAF20YR Ret Feb 17, 2011

    dlk13ster: What are you, 17?
    Here's the icing on the cake. Pay attention to last line. Politicians are liars, period.
    Through this process, the list of 'presumptive' conditions has grown since 1991 and currently the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has listed prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, type II diabetes, Hodgkin's disease, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and spina bifida in children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange as conditions associated with exposure to the herbicide. This list now includes B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia, Parkinson's disease and ischemic heart disease, these last three having been added on August 31, 2010. There is currently a concern being voiced by several highly placed individuals in government about whether some of the diseases on the list should, in fact, actually have been included. THANKS POLITICIANS. Liars.

  • USAF20YR Ret Feb 17, 2011

    The question is why did he stop? He served from 1975 until 1987.
    *In 1991, the US Congress enacted the Agent Orange Act giving the Department of Veterans Affairs the authority to declare certain conditions 'presumptive' to exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin enabling these veterans who served in Vietnam eligible to receive treatment and compensation for these conditions. The same law required the National Academy of Sciences to periodically review the science on dioxin and herbicides used in Vietnam to inform the Secretary of Veterans Affairs about the strength of the scientific evidence showing association between exposure to Agent Orange/Dioxin and certain conditions.
    1991! How many had died by then, in the USA? How many deformed children, in the USA? Stop standing up for him, he's a typical politician.

  • OMG52 Feb 17, 2011

    They still have not done the Vet. like they should have....many had to beg for years. some did not even try for help because of all the problems others had and are still having. It effected the children that they help conceived...I know one Vet. whose wife lost 4 babies and the other 2 have problems he ended up in the VA mental ward...do you think they helped his wife or the future of the children that were born with problems after he died from all the complications.....NO

  • North Wake Dad Feb 17, 2011

    lfields2: There's a great deal of focus on vets with exposure, although it did as you note take too many years for that to begin. I don't think many people have given a second thought to the late effects on the Vietnamese.

  • dlk13ster Feb 17, 2011

    For the record, I sympathize with people who suffered from Agent Orange and other defoliants.

    ALL people who suffered from it, INCLUDING US vets.

    No one (who doesn't work for Monsanto) DENIES that Agent Orange was a horrific chemical. Nor are they saying that American soldiers should be ignored for the wrongs done to them.

    Quite the opposite, the article even SAID that Edgar pushed for measures to compensate US GIs.

    Now, you could argue that the legislation didn't go far enough, or that the Dept. of VA is spectacularly mismanaged, or incompetent, all of which are VERY valid points.

    But I fail to see how helping other victims of AO who continue to suffer its effects, can be a controversial issue.

    OF COURSE, veterans should be compensated.

    But these people were not only EXPOSED, they continue to BE exposed: to AO-soaked soil, AO-contaminated groundwater, and a food chain saturated w/ bioaccumulated dioxin.

    In ADD'N to the genetic and birth defects inherited from their ancestors.

  • Glass Half Full Feb 17, 2011

    I would much rather see US Veterans cared for properly before we go back and try to fix Vietnam.

  • Gidder Dun Feb 17, 2011

    I agree with you 1000% USAF20YR Ret on your post....

    Politicans, and former politicians, could care less about Vietnam veterans.

    Well put Sir!!!!! I am proud of your service to this great nation and me. I am honored to for your sacrifice and protection of my freedoms. Thank you SIR for all you do and have done.