Saturday, July 27, 2013
Agent Orange still causing problems more than 43 years after the spraying was discontinued

Butch Meriwether

Butch's Brew
A C-123 aircraft sprays Agent Orange onto the jungles of South Vietnam.

You might ask yourself what this virtual "who's who" of diseases, such as AL Amyloidosis, Chronic B-cell Leukemia, Chloracne, Diabetes Mellitus Type 2, Hodgkin's Disease, Ischemic Heart Disease, Multiple Myeloma, Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Parkinson's Disease, Peripheral Neuropathy, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda, Prostate Cancer, Respiratory Cancers and Soft Tissue Sarcomas, have in common.

The answer is simple; they are the many illnesses the U.S. government has admitted are associated with the exposure to Agent Orange. Hopefully with time, our government will admit there are other diseases caused by their spraying of herbicides and defoliants than they originally admitted to.

Some may ask what Agent Orange is and, believe it or not, more and younger people have never heard of that term even though it has caused illnesses and deaths of thousands of people.

I was at a doctor's office not too long ago and a medical assistant asked me what Agent Orange was when I mentioned that it had caused most of my medical conditions.

The term Agent Orange is derived from the combination of code names for Herbicide Orange (HO) and Agent LNX. Agent Orange was one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the U.S. military as part of its chemical warfare program, Operation Ranch Hand, during the Vietnam Conflict from 1961 through 1971. And besides that, the 55-gallon drums the deadly toxins were shipped in had a big orange strip around it.

During the Vietnam War, the United States military sprayed millions of gallons of deadly material containing chemical herbicides and defoliants in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia, as part of Operation Ranch Hand. According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the program's goal was, " defoliate forested and rural land, depriving guerrillas of cover and to induce forced draft urbanization, destroying the ability of peasants to support themselves in the countryside, and forcing them to flee to the U.S. dominated cities, thus depriving the guerrillas of their rural support and food supply..."

Many are unaware the U.S. government also sprayed Agent Orange in Korea.

Many of these people exposed to Agent Orange, and I'll call them poor souls, didn't find out the true reason for their debilitating illnesses until later in life. And some never found out what caused their illnesses before they died. Another interesting fact: Some Vietnam veterans who have had or now have diseases brought on by exposure to Agent Orange Dioxin are not alone –many of their children are also infected by Agent Orange. These children are the second generation of people suffering from Agent Orange exposure and many wonder if there will there be a third or fourth generation.

The U.S. Government has continued an attempt to downplay the effects of exposure to Agent Orange. The Red Cross of Vietnam estimates that up to one million Vietnamese people are disabled or have health problems due to Agent Orange, but the U.S. government has dismissed these figures as unreliable and unrealistically high.

Many Americans are currently suffering or have died from the consequences of Agent Orange exposure without ever receiving medical care of monetary compensation. Conservative estimates are that more than 2.4 million Americans (in addition to allied forces and the Vietnamese people) were exposed to the deadly brew of pesticides and defoliants.

I guess I'm one of the more lucky ones who now receive medical care and monetary compensation from my illnesses due to my exposure to Agent Orange (for information purposes, I had two tours of duty in Vietnam, spanning the years 1967 through 1970). Just think, I left Vietnam in 1970, but the government didn't admit my illnesses were associated to Agent Orange until about 42 years later.

The money is great, but the debilitating effects I suffer from my exposure to Agent Orange continues and each day, I learn more, some of past illnesses and some from ones that are now surfacing. Here is my what's what of illnesses I have either suffered or currently now suffer:

• Heart attack and quadruple bypass operation (yep I was cracked open like a walnut) in 2003;

• Congestive Heart Failure;

• Ischemic Heart Disease;

• Diabetes;

• High blood pressure;

• I'm now told I may be now showing signs of having Neuropathy; and

• I may be in line to have a pacemaker implanted in me.

I am also suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD, but the U.S. government hasn't yet admitted it is caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an Agent Orange Settlement Fund was created by the resolution of the Agent Orange Product Liability Litigation - a class action lawsuit brought by Vietnam Veterans and their families regarding injuries allegedly incurred as a result of the exposure of Vietnam veterans to chemical herbicides used during the Vietnam Conflict (remember they never designated it as a war). The suit was brought against the major manufacturers of these herbicides. The class action case was settled out-of-court in 1984 for $180 million dollars, reportedly the largest settlement of its kind at that time.

The Settlement Fund was distributed to class members in accordance with a distribution plan established by United States District Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein, who presided over the litigation and the settlement. Because the plaintiff class was so large (an estimated 10 million people), the Fund was distributed to class members in the United States through two separate programs designed to provide maximum benefits to Vietnam Veterans and their families most in need of assistance:

• A Payment Program, which provided cash compensation to totally disabled Veterans and survivors of deceased Veterans; and

• A Class Assistance Program, which provided funds for social services organizations and networks for the purpose of establishing and maintaining programs for the benefit of the class as a whole.

Applications for the payment program had to be submitted prior to Dec. 31, 1994 and a total of $197 million in cash payments was distributed to members of the class action in the United States. Of the 105,000 claims received by the Payment Program, approximately 52,000 Vietnam Veterans or their survivors received cash payments which averaged about $3,800 each (not much for their suffering and/or death). On Sept. 27, 1997, the District Court ordered the Fund closed, its assets having been fully distributed.

The Supreme Court put the proverbial skids on thousands of Americans who faithfully served their county during the Vietnam War and Korea, and who were exposed to the Agent Orange, with a ruling in 2009. The Supreme Court let stand a lower court rulings that the companies were not responsible for the implications of military use of Agent Orange because the war materials were supplied at the direction of the U.S. government. That decision basically made it impossible for individuals exposed to Agent Orange to be able to sue Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

South Korea's highest court upheld a ruling during July 2013, ordering two U.S. Agent Orange makers to compensate 39 Vietnam War veterans in one of the country's most prominent lawsuits.

The Supreme Court recognized the epidemiological correlation between the toxic defoliant Agent Orange and skin diseases for the first time, saying the 39 victims should receive a total of 466 million won (HK$3.21 million) from Dow Chemical and Monsanto.

It isn't too late for those U.S. military veterans and their families to receive care assistance and financial aid.

The Veterans Administration continues to attempt to help those military personnel and their families suffering from various illnesses brought on by their exposure to deadly toxin, but they can only do so much.

Spouses and dependent children of living veterans also may be eligible for health care and other VA benefits and surviving spouses, dependent children and dependent parents of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service and died as the result of diseases related to the exposure may be eligible for survivors' benefits.

If a military veteran, dependent of a veteran or a parent of a veteran believes their illnesses were caused by exposure to Agent Orange, they should contact their nearest veteran's service officer, fraternal veteran's service organization or Department of Veterans Affairs in order to learn more about applying for disability through the VA.

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