ProPublica’s Charles Ornstein and Terry Parris Jr., with The Virginian-Pilot’s Mike Hixenbaugh, have been covering the impact of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans and their efforts to get health coverage for conditions they believe are linked to their exposure to the herbicides. “Reliving Agent Orange” finds that many are still fighting to get coverage for themselves and their children. Continue reading
We’ve mentioned reports on the health effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam and upon returning American soldiers. But there is another key group of victims, as K. Oanh Ha reports in The California Report. Vietnamese who fought alongside Americans during the war, then emigrated to the United States, were exposed to the same toxins as the Americans and North Vietnamese, yet have no available benefit system.
Vets who have one of 15 diseases can qualify for disability compensation and medical care from the Veterans Administration. That’s not the case for South Vietnamese soldiers, said Ed Martini, a history professor at Western Michigan University, who’s writing a book about the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam.
“If you’re a South Vietnamese soldier, you’re a man without a country,” Martini said. “There’s no benefits system available to you. You can’t get the Vietnamese benefits, and you can’t get the American benefits.”
Ha ends his piece with a small ray of hope for these forgotten allies. At least one politician is taking notice.
Now, the plight of former South Vietnamese soldiers is attracting attention in Congress. Congressman Mike Honda, whose district includes San Jose, says he’s willing to meet with former South Vietnamese soldiers and their families to consider legislation that would extend them benefits.
“Nothing’s too good for our veterans,” Honda said. “That same attitude should be provided to the all the veterans we’ve created and those who have fought with us.”
Hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans are being compensated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for illnesses the agency says are related to Agent Orange, as Associated Press reporter Mike Baker found. On the face of it, that might not be particularly surprising. Agent Orange has been convincingly linked to cancer and a number of other ailments. But, and here’s the interesting bit, the illnesses most Agent Orange-exposed veterans are being compensated for – things like diabetes and erectile dysfunction – have never been authoritatively linked to the defoliant.
Because of worries about Agent Orange, about 270,000 Vietnam veterans — more than one-quarter of the 1 million receiving disability checks — are getting compensation for diabetes, according to Department of Veterans Affairs records obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.
More Vietnam veterans are being compensated for diabetes than for any other malady, including post-traumatic stress disorder, hearing loss or general wounds.
Tens of thousands of other claims for common ailments of age — erectile dysfunction among them — are getting paid as well because of a possible link, direct or indirect, to Agent Orange.
Not only that, but the list is growing. The VA has announced it will add chronic B cell leukemias, Parkinson’s and ischemic heart disease to the list of conditions that it will “presume to be related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposures.” This means even more common, aging-related illnesses will be covered by the VA, an expensive proposition.
The agency estimates that the new rules, which will go into effect in two months unless Congress intervenes, will cost $42 billion over the next 10 years.
Vietnam. Photo by jrwooley6 via Flickr.
The 15 fellows will be expected to “investigate the toxic legacy left in Vietnam by the use of the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.”
Prominent names include AP photographer Nick Ut, Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz and Victor Merina, a former investigative reporter at the Los Angeles Times. The full list of winners can be found here.
The center hopes the journalists will put a human face on the health and environmental issues that might not otherwise be covered by cash-strapped publications.
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.”