Agent Orange was an atrocious and costly government mistake. In addition to supporting veterans whose boots were on the ground, the government has announced that they will continue to rectify the mistake by providing disability benefits to Vietnam Veterans who were Air Force reservists – to the tune of $47.5 million dollars over the next decade. Agent Orange was sprayed across Vietnam during the Vietnam War to kill shrubs and plant
Agent Orange was sprayed across Vietnam during the Vietnam War to kill shrubs and plants so that the enemy would have nowhere to hide. This practice, and in particular, the use of dioxin, a chemical in Agent Orange, has greatly harmed many that have come into contact with it, including the Viet Cong, the enemy at the time, as well as countless of American veterans of the Vietnam war.
For nine years, beginning in 1962 during Operation Ranch Hand, Agent Orange and other herbicides were spread throughout the jungle to not only smoke out the enemy from the bushes, but also to cut their ability to sustain themselves by destroying their food. The government, at the time, claimed that this practice would be effective and safe. Since the beginning, the communist government alerted the media that the defoliants being used were raising the incidences of miscarriages and birth defects. Although at first the United States government dismissed the claims as communist propaganda, scientific research proved that dioxin was indeed to blame for birth defects in test animals. In 1970, use of the agent was discontinued abroad and it was banned in the United States.
The atrocious government mistake of admittedly using Agent Orange as a tactic was not evident until Milton Ross’ son was born without the tips of his little fingers. Ross was the last soldier to leave Vietnam in 1975. Thousands of Vietnam vets claimed to have been affected by Agent Orange, and 1300 of them filed claims with the Veterans Administration. Bobby Muller, a Vietnam vet, became the primary spokesperson and urged the government to take responsibility for the treatment of these soldiers and for the consequences of utilizing these defoliants. The government did the two things that it does most often: first, it delayed a response, and second, the response was to say that the scientific evidence was inconclusive and did not yield consensus.
In 1984, an out-of-court settlement took place when seven manufacturing companies who had been sued decided to stand down. Despite the settlement of $180 million dollars distributed over six years to affected veterans and their families, the companies denied responsibility to the injuries of these veterans. In 1990, a report from the Department of Veteran Affairs claimed that veterans should be compensated for harm caused to them as a result of Agent Orange and other chemicals used, even if scientific evidence lacked consensus. On May 18, the government admittedly reported that Agent Orange was likely the cause of cancer – an atrocious outcome to a tactic that proved to be a mistake. Further, the government agreed to pay eight million dollars per year to affected veterans. Upon the normalization of relations with Vietnam, as announced by President Clinton, the United States was held responsible for the use of Agent Orange and the long-term effects that it caused for hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and their children.
In some regions, high levels of dioxins had seeped into the soil and run off into lakes and bodies of waters which continued to be sources used by the Vietnamese decades after the Vietnam war. Not only does dioxin affect the water, but it is also found in fish and duck that the Vietnamese eat. In 2012, the United States participated in the first joint clean-up effort of dioxins, along with the Vietnamese, at the Da Nang Airport where Agent Orange was once stored. This clean-up was part of an ongoing program that seeks to clean up many more hubs which were heavily sprayed during the years of war.
Back in the United States, the government covers 14 disabilities which are believed to be caused by Agent Orange and which affect one in six Vietnam veterans with disabilities. An expansion of individuals covered for the effects of this defoliant will become effective this Friday. Many of the men and women who served in Vietnam are now in their 70s and 80s, and for them this protection is long overdue.
Opinion By Olivia Uribe-Mutal
Edited by Chanel van der Woodsen
AOL: US agrees to pay millions for Agent Orange claims
Christian Science Monitor: Agent Orange: US makes more veterans eligible for disability benefits
U.S. News and World Report: After years of wait, Air Force C-123 personnel to get VA benefits for Agent Orange exposure
Image Courtesy of Wayne Eusanio’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License