The Vietnam War is not over


When I served as an Army medic in Vietnam, I often saw a 19-year-old solider whose job was to spray an herbicide called Agent Orange on anything green inside my base. The same was true around the perimeter, to deny cover to any enemy intruders and to ensure a clear line of fire in case of enemy attack.

As I visited numerous American military bases in Vietnam during the war, they all looked like moonscapes. They were stripped of grass and foliage by the same chemical for the same reasons.

Now, more than 40 years after the war, we know that Agent Orange contained dioxin, which is among the world's most lethal toxins. American veterans of Vietnam fought a long, hard postwar struggle to get our Veterans Administration to compensate troops for a dozen diseases associated with Agent Orange/dioxin. But what about the Vietnamese who were also exposed? And what about the leftover "hot spots" of dioxin that still exist there and continue to harm people to this very day?

The U.S. military shipped, stored, and sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange/dioxin over a quarter of the former South Vietnam, both for crop destruction and to deny cover to the enemy. In this country we know from our own experiences with dioxin at Love Canal and Times Beach that these toxic hot spots can cause death and disease to those who come in contact with the chemical. The diseases range from spina bifida to Parkinson's and certain forms of cancer.

However, the political battle still rages in Washington. VA Secretary Shinseki has classified three additional diseases as associated with Agent Orange/dioxin, thereby making veterans with those conditions eligible for compensation. In addition, women who served in Vietnam can receive compensation if their children are disabled with any of 14 birth anomalies. That's because Agent Orange/dioxin can cause DNA damage for generations.

The struggle is far from over. We have reason to believe that many additional adverse medical conditions in Vietnam veterans of both sexes also are caused by these exposures, including possible genetic problems in grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Meanwhile, in Vietnam, Agent Orange/dioxin damage also lingers. While we have made some progress for Americans harmed by these exposures, our friends in Vietnam have a long way to go to match our modest gains. The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates that 3 million people, including more than 150,000 of today's children, are disabled because of the chemical. Former airbases like Da Nang contain dangerous toxic hot spots where Agent Orange was stored and handled and spilled into the ground. Dioxin is hard to break up in the soil and it lasts in human body tissue for years.

Unlike the United States government, the Vietnamese recognized that Agent Orange/dioxin might cause chromosomal damage in the second and third generations of original victims. My own experience is that families of American veterans also suffer. But the VA recognizes no health consequences from Agent Orange/dioxin in disabled daughters and sons of male veterans who served in Vietnam.

It's time to put this legacy of the war in Vietnam to rest once and for all. A blue-ribbon commission of prominent Americans and Vietnamese has called for a 10-year, $300 million cleanup of Agent Orange/dioxin in Vietnam. The resources would eliminate the hot spots, restore damaged ecosystems and provide humanitarian assistance to the Vietnamese disabled population, including those second- and third-generation children affected by the chemical.

It seems to me that $30 million a year for 10 years, from government, foundation and private sources, is a small price to pay to help remedy the damage caused.

This is a humanitarian concern we can do something about. Recent progress in methods of treating contaminated soils and helping Vietnam's disabled population shows that America is at its best when it steps up to heal past wounds.

If we make progress on nothing else regarding the ravages of Agent Orange and other toxic substances used in Vietnam, we must properly care for our future generations-on both sides of the Pacific.

Rick Weidman served as an Army Medic with the AMERICAL Division in I-Corps Vietnam in 1969. He currently serves as Executive Director for Policy & Government Affairs on the national staff of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). Source: Distributed by  American Forum. Photo: Nguyen Tuan Tu, a second generation Agent Orange victim who was born without eyes, at the Center of Nurturing Disabled Children at Ba Vi, outside Hanoi, Vietnam, May 10, 2010. (Nick Ut/AP)

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  • Great article, got some great insight into the lives of those affected

    Posted by Shrek, 10/16/2013 11:01pm (2 years ago)

  • Why are we still killing each other!?! We should be passed that!

    Posted by Communist, 04/17/2011 1:22pm (5 years ago)

  • The U.S. Judge Jackson who chaired the Nuremburg Trials, wrote into international law that the planning and doing of aggressive war is the supreme international crime on the planet earth, as it actuates all other crimes high, low, big or small. He further says that it is the supreme international crime whether Germany does it or the U.S.A. does it.

    It is now known in Vietnam that the attempt of the five million poisoned people to get relief in a charge laid in the supreme court of America, to get compensation for their acute and chronic poisoned sickness, and the Supreme Court, which is not elected by the people as Lincoln was murdered before he and his administration could tranform the constitution to allow electing of a government for, of and by the people, shows that the former slaveholders have ended government for, by and of the peoples with an elected judicary responsible to the peoples.

    The Trials and Geneva Conventions of war --1949 which is singed on to by the U.S. constitution, clearly says as international treaties signed on to by the U.S. Constitution that the war crimes of U.S. Imeprialism throughout Indo-China must be resolved as the supreme law of the land, and the war criminals that caused that war must be brought to justice of their war crimes. The world is weighing in on how to deal with the U.S. Imperialist Empire once and for the good of all. Viva socialist liberation. End pollution wars, not endless wars for more and more pollutin aggression.

    Posted by Union Jack, 04/14/2011 1:19am (5 years ago)

  • May God bring peace to the victims.

    Posted by TQ, 04/13/2011 12:52pm (5 years ago)

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