The Chicago Tribune is in the middle of an ambitious five-part series in which reporters Jason Grotto and Tim Jones seek to shed light on one of the great gray areas of veterans’ medicine: the effects of Agent Orange. The first installment gave background on the use and consequences of Agent Orange.
Subsequent pieces chronicle the veterans’ battle for compensation, the suspected link between the defoliant and birth defects in Vietnam and continued pollution in that country from defoliants. The last, not-yet-published piece will reveal “documents showing that decisions by the U.S. military and chemical companies that manufactured the defoliants used in Vietnam made the spraying more dangerous than it had to be.”
The authors explain how they did it:
Vietnam. Photo by jrwooley6 via Flickr.
With assistance from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, the Tribune spent a month traveling to eight provinces throughout Vietnam, conducting nearly two dozen interviews with civilians and former soldiers who say they were exposed to the defoliants.
The newspaper used a database of every spraying mission, mapping software and a GPS device to help corroborate their stories. And in the U.S., the paper researched thousands of pages of government documents and traveled to the homes of veterans to gauge the impact and measure the cost in both dollars and human misery.
According to the reporters, 65 percent of Agent Orange and its defoliant relatives were contaminated with the super-toxin dioxin, and some even contained arsenic. The full impact of this chemical onslaught is unknown, but the Tribune reporters have tracked down a number of alarming anecdotes and numbers.
“We do not know the answer to the question: What happened to Vietnam veterans?” said Jeanne Stellman, an epidemiologist who has spent decades studying Agent Orange for the American Legion and the National Academy of Sciences. “The government doesn’t want to study this because of international liability and issues surrounding chemical warfare. And they’re going to win because they’re bigger and everybody’s getting old and there are new wars to worry about.”