We must do everything in our power to make the world recognize that our veterans are still paying a high price for fighting the war in Vietnam. Agent Orange is slowly taking the lives of these brave veterans. The government has recognized some diseases but the rules to compensation can be complex. It was in the 1960’s that we were in the process of trying to destroy vegetation and brush in Vietnam, in doing so we proceeded to contaminate one of the largest parts of the environment, Humankind. War Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and now live their lives with a disease not necessarily curable. The question remains did these Veterans know about the hazardous effects, and how are they being compensated now? Agent Orange was the code name for a herbicide developed for the military, primarily for use in tropical climates. It destroyed covering vegetation to protect the American and allied troops from ambush.
The product “Agent Orange” was named so for the orange band that was used to mark the drums it was stored in. Agent Orange “was a reddish-brown liquid containing two herbicides: 2,4,5-T was contaminated in the manufacturing process with a type of dioxin – 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, also known as TCDD.”(VA Fact Sheet) The combined product was mixed with kerosene or diesel fuel and dispersed by vehicle, hand spraying, and aircraft. The term Operation Ranch Hand was the military code name for the spraying of herbicides from United States aircraft in Southeast Asia. “Between 1962 and 1971, Ranch Hand sprayed about 19 million gallons of herbicide, 11 million of which was Agent Orange.”(Buckingham 2) Ranch Hand made attacks more difficult by clearing several hundred yards of vegetation in order to make ambushes more difficult and air attacks easier.
There was, “more than 10% of the land area of South Vietnam was sprayed at least once, and some were sprayed repeatedly.”(Boffey, 1) After several weeks the herbicides would dissolve into the soil which would contaminate the water and the vegetation. “Orange contained relatively high levels of an exceedingly poisonous contaminant known as Dioxin.”(Arison, 1) Dioxin is what remained after the herbicides would dissolve; this is not a harmful substance found in nature, but rather a man made poison. The introduction to using resources: Choices and Trade-off states that “The choices people have made in just the last hundred years are largely responsible for what we call the environmental crisis.”(Walker, 276) We made this killer and now we are forced to live with it. The destruction this chemical caused to the vegetation should have been the first clue that what destroys nature will in due time destroy us.
We are the cause for this mess; but we should have been notified much earlier about the potential risk associated with Agent Orange. According to the Executive Summary on Operations Trail Dust and Ranch Hand, “On April 17,1995 Researchers have found that during the spraying of Agent Orange in southern Vietnam, dioxin levels in human tissue were as high as 900 times greater in Vietnamese living in southern Vietnam than those living in Northern Vietnam where Agent Orange was not used.”(Arison5) It was not until 1993, when the Institute of Medicine News reported, “Evidence exists linking three cancers and two other health problems with chemicals used in herbicides used in the Vietnam War, a committee of the Institute of Medicine has concluded. Those diseases are soft tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Hodgkin’s disease as well as chloracne and prophyria cutanea tarda (PCT).”(Turner-Lowe1)
An explanation of each disease follows: Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma refers to any group of cancers of lymphoid tissues that multiply. These are found mainly in the lymph nodes and the spleen. The symptoms are related to painless swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck or groin region. There is an attempted cure for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, through chemotherapy and the hope for remission. If this disease is not controlled, it will progressively impair the immune system, which will lead to a death from infections. Soft tissue sarcomas are a rare form of cancer, which are malignant tumors that will arise in the tissues of the head, neck and extremities. They are fleshy growths that have the ability to spread to other organs in the body.
They can be removed and the cure rate is good as long as the tumors have not spread throughout the rest of the body. “These soft tissue tumors have a combined average rate of incidence of two cases per 100,000 persons in the United States.(Glaser,et.al.,1992) “Porphyria Cutanea Tarda is due to a defective enzyme in the liver involved in synthesis of the red pigment in blood cells.”(Encarta, 1998) This results in the skin being damaged by the UV rays of light. The individuals effected by PCT develop a fragile skin and often have blisters and tiny cysts on the areas of the skin that are often exposed to the sun. Hodgkin’s Disease is characterized by usually painless but progressive enlargement of lymph nodes (or glands) and other lymphoid tissue. Hodgkin’s disease most often occurs in people 15 to 35 years of age and over 50.”(Encarta1999) The cause of Hodgkin’s is unknown.
There are some general symptoms that are associated with Hodgkin’s and they are fever, night sweats, weight loss, and loss of appetite. The outcome is impairment of the immune system. The determinant of this disease is done through a biopsy, which is the removal of the enlarged lymph node and sent for a pathological study. “If the disease is diagnosed at an early stage and has not metastasized, radiation therapy is commonly used.”(Encarta1999) Besides the health risks to the Veterans, news from the Institute of Medicine states, “The results of three epidemiological (disease) studies suggest that a father’s exposure to herbicides may put his children at a greater risk of being born with spina bifida, which is characterized by a deformity of the spine and spinal cord and can cause neurological problems.” (Institute of Medicine, 1) With the release of information that evidence existed which linked the spraying of herbicides in Vietnam to the veterans and their children now suffering from these diseases, there was still nothing done about it.
The government flowered the facts to their satisfaction. In 1998, 37 years after the Vietnam War, the San Diego-Union Tribune uncovered an unpublished study, which was conducted about the health effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, that was flawed. “A report expressing concerns about cancer and birth defects was altered, with the result that the risks appeared less serious. High ranking Air Force officers interfered with the study’s data analysis, undermining its scientific integrity.”(Brooks1) The public’s concern about Agent Orange was overshadowed by the false reports that Agent Orange was not a probable link to cancer or birth defects. So why were so many veterans being diagnosed with cancer, and what about their children? The “concerns about the herbicide’s health effects had been raised since the early ’70s, and the public wanted proof. So congress funded the Ranch Hand study.
Dettinger (an Air Force Deputy Surgeon General) helped make sure it was done by Air Force scientists.”(Brooks2) Finally, a study that would help clarify, what was going on with these veterans and their families. However, it was the Air Force that ended up being the recipient to review the Ranch Hand Study. “The Ranch Hand study – looks at a group of veterans who were directly involved in spraying the bulk of the nearly 19 million gallons of chemical defoliant in Vietnam during the war.” (Institute of Medicine, 1) For years it was cover up after cover up and the Veterans were getting no answers and no justice. In 1984 the Air Force drafted two major Ranch Hand reports. One of them was withheld. The other was published, but its findings were altered. “The report that was withheld dealt specifically with reproductive health issues, and stressed birth defects and infant deaths. It showed high rates of both among children of Ranch Hand veterans.”(Brooks3)
It was also found that the Ranch Hand veterans were being diagnosed with almost twice as many cancers as those who did not participate in Ranch Hand. This group had over 135% more skin cancers, yet the governmental scientists contributed this to sun exposure. In 1992 the Air Force finally acknowledged that Ranch hand was a contributor to these birth defects. In the two years since the IOM report, the Ranch Hand results have been reanalyzed by the U.S. Air Force, and this new analysis bolstered the evidence from other studies, leading to the committee’s conclusion that there is limited or suggestive evidence of an association.” (Institute of Medicine, 1) It took the Air Force 8 years to come out with this report. It is clear that the tactic of the Air Force is delay.
The Air Force had withheld information about cancer and birth defects longer than they should have. These Veterans should have been notified immediately of the harm they were subject to and the harm possibly still to come. Misinformation has left behind a generation of men and women, who served in Vietnam, to start families without knowing the potential risks and now they are paying the price. Since these reports have been released the Veterans Association has been aiding in the awareness of the exposure to Agent Orange by conducting an Agent Orange screening or a dioxin analysis. The Agent Orange screening is just like a routine physical, which is useful in the early detection of disease or health problems. The Dioxin analysis is a test, which measures the dioxin levels in both the blood and the fatty tissues. However, this test is done as research and is quite expensive, which makes it less accessible to many veterans.
As more information was released about the possible illnesses attributed to Agent Orange, justice was starting to be served. On October 1,1997, the Atlantic Monthly reported, “The Agent Orange Benefits Act takes effect today, entitling Vietnam veteran’s children born with the congenital birth defect spina bifida to receive up to $1,200 a month from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress passed the act after the National Academy of Sciences issued a report citing new evidence that veterans’ exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange.” (Atlantic Monthly, 1) It was not until after 1990 that illnesses, other than chloracne (reddening of the face), were recognized by the government to be connected to Agent Orange. Compensation for those exposed to Agent Orange was few and far between. It is through The Department of Veterans Affairs that the Agent Orange compensation list can be obtained.
After 1990 this list was expanded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, to 10 diseases. Most of the diseases are cancers and the only birth defect is Spina Bifida. The veterans who are eligible are those who have a medical condition and are fit to be chosen to receive medical care at the Department of Veterans Affairs Hospitals. The veterans now receive government compensation whether they are service connected or non-service connected. It has taken 30 years for the government to finally disclose that Agent Orange has actually been a contributing factor to many of these cancers and birth defects. Men and women have been fighting, for a long time, to have some acknowledgment as to the causes from Agent Orange. To some, recognition of Agent Orange’s destruction to the human body is not enough.
Something should have been done a lot sooner, these men and women should have been told about the herbicide and many cancers could have been prevented. Knowledge is the key. Agent Orange has ruined many lives. Mike Castle, a man I met on the Agent Orange website, e-mailed me a letter that demonstrates from a veteran’s perspective just what effect Agent Orange has had on man. “Dear, I became friends with the Agent Orange web site, because a friend of mine who is an Attorney is in the process of going after the chemical companies to help so many that suffer the most undignified deaths because of Agent Orange. I would be ashamed of myself to try to get payment for the small amount of cancer I have had removed compaired to those who are suffering so much. I fight for them, I cry for them, I pray for them! I have had cancer removed from my face and I have some to be removed from my chest.
I cannot prove that it is a cause from the Agent Orange. I am more worried about those that are dying daily from Agent Orange. My claim would not be recognized by the VA. I do worry about as time goes by what may happen because of this and I am more worried my wife could get sick along with my daughter. I am a combat veteran I received head wounds from shrapnel and extreme explosions causing me brain damage and a seizure disorder. I am 100% totally disabled and have a huge fight with the VA over the brain damage and seizure disorder. Imagine sitting in a fox hole for 13 months of your life fighting not only your foe, but all elements of war. We were sprayed with this Agent Orange a deadly killer. Everything you touched, handled, drank or ate was contaminated. Hygiene was not present, no showers, no place safe to bath, your tooth brush was used to clean your weapon.
If you were wounded chances are the Agent Orange got into your blood stream, because your close were covered with the dioxin and most time your brothers dried blood. There was no change of clothes, only more ammo and sometimes your mail. Food and water were the last things combat veterans seen. It is a life of unimaginable horror. We came home to pass this on to our families and our loved ones. As you know it stays in your fat tissue and is transmitted though your skin and through intercourse. Now we have the picture, first the veteran, then the family on and on. My friend, I want you to know that our country has turned there back on the Vietnam Veterans. We never lost a battle our leaders were and are the cowards of this country. The Vietnam Veterans are good, intelligent, caring men and women.
We carry the silent killer in us and people watch us die every day. My heart is broken my body full of shrapnel and I will carry the flag, you would be surprised at those that won’t. There is a fire down below! Keep on Rocking in the Free World!” (Neil Young) Mike Castle The Environment has been effected in every way by Operation Ranch Hand. As the herbicide was sprayed it killed the plants and eventually the animals, and now it is killing those who fought for us, where is the justice? We are a large part of the environment. We are there to help shape, preserve, and even create it. Man created the dioxin in Agent Orange, and in doing so created another killer. Nature did not give us this killer, we gave it to ourselves.
Mother Nature has given us her wrath, but she has never given us her poison, we seem to create it. If nature would not create something so awful that would kill off it’s species, then why did we? We are our own worst enemy; no war, mudslide, or natural disaster could ever destroy the environment the way humankind does. We kill the weeds, we kill the bugs, we cut down the trees and we keep building as the pollution keeps getting worse. Everybody has a role in nature and preservation is the key. So as you spray the ant spray all over your house just remember that you are doing to these plants and animals, just what Operation Ranch Hand has done to our families. Something that can be undone and there will never be enough justice to make up for the effects of Agent Orange.
“Agent Orange and Related Issues.” VA Fact Sheet 1 (October 1997). 3 Mar.1999 <http://va.gov/pressrel/ao1297.htm>
“Agent Orange Update Supports Association Between Herbicides and Veterans’ Diseases.” Institute of Medicine News [Washington] 14 March 1996
Arison, Lindsey. “The Herbicidal Warfare Program in Vietnam.” Executive Summary 1 (June 1997). 3 Mar. 1999 <http://www.gslink.com/arison/orange.html>.
Boffey, Philip. “Agent Orange in Vietnam 30 Years Later” New York Times 8 September 1998
Brooks. Clark. “Fatal flaws; How the military misled Vietnam Veterans and their families about the health risks of Agent Orange” San Diego Union-Tribune [Vietnam] 1 November 1998:
“Hodgkin’s Disease.” Encyclopedia Encarta. 1999 ed.
Lane, Earl. “Study Links Agent Orange to Birth Defects in Children of War Veterans” Newsday [Washington] 15 March 1996: P3.
“The October Almanac.” The Atlantic Monthly October 1997: 20.
Walker, Melissa. “Introduction: Using Resources, Choices and Trade-offs.” Reading the Enviornment. 1st Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994. 276-279.