Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dow Chemical and dioxins

Cleanup deal's outcome could affect future initiatives: 'Areas of concern' include Waukegan Harbor, Grand Calumet River near Chicago

Oct 22, 2009 (Chicago Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) SAGINAW, Mich. -- Every spring, Dow Chemical sponsors a fishing tournament "celebrating all things walleye" on the wide, fast-moving river that flows past its sprawling world headquarters.

Signs warn anglers not to eat the fish, which are contaminated with high levels of cancer-causing dioxins the chemical giant dumped into the Tittabawassee River for most of the last century. Yet tournament organizers sell hats featuring the slogan "Dioxins My Ass."

Such conflicting messages are common in this picturesque and economically distressed region, where Dow is a major employer but also responsible for poisoning a river valley that stretches more than 50 miles into Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.

Now, after three decades of promises by federal and state officials to force Dow to clean up the mess, the Obama administration is stepping in with a new plan intended to scour away decades of contamination that turned this area into one of the nation's most polluted sites.

Late last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Dow announced a deal they contend will finally address dioxin contamination from the company's chemical complex in nearby Midland, a company town about 200 miles northeast of Chicago.

The success -- or failure -- of what happens here could affect dozens of other polluted sites along the Great Lakes. Saginaw Bay is one of 31 "areas of concern" on the U.S. side of the lakes that wash toxic chemicals into the world's largest source of fresh surface water. Sites in the Chicago area include Waukegan Harbor, the Grand Calumet River and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal.

Under provisions in the federal Superfund law, Dow will be required to evaluate and clean up dioxin-contaminated parks and yards along the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers starting this winter. Dow also agreed to work downstream from its plant to remove or cap dioxin-contaminated sediment, preventing toxic muck from repeatedly churning back into the water and from spreading farther into Saginaw Bay. The goal is to restore the entire watershed by 2018.

"We are on the right track now," said Robert Sussman, senior policy adviser to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "Once the work begins, we will have the momentum to get this done."

Given the sluggish pace of previous cleanup work, the EPA's inspector general recently concluded the sites would not be restored until 2086. The Obama administration has promised to set aside more money to speed up things and is pushing to restore a tax on polluters to help cover the tab, estimated to reach $4.5 billion.

Cleanup of the region surrounding Dow's plant has dragged through several administrations. Soon after taking office, Jackson dispatched Sussman to meet with company officials and citizen groups and renewed negotiations that had stalled during the waning months of the Bush administration.

"I agree with community members who believe that this contamination is a threat to public health in the communities in the area, to the vibrancy and diversity of the ecosystem, and to economic development in Northeastern Michigan," Jackson wrote in a May letter outlining the agency's agenda. "Addressing the contamination and protecting health and the environment is one of EPA's highest priorities."

Still, questions remain about whether the deal will falter as similar efforts have in the past. The Dow agreement will test President Barack Obama's pledge to follow the latest science in setting environmental policies. Upcoming public hearings will shed light on negotiations that until now have taken place in secret.

Some local residents fear the talks are part of a pattern. Despite years of promises, the rivers remain contaminated and questions linger about how the chemicals are affecting public health.

"It doesn't just affect people along the river like me. It affects the whole area," said Carol Chisholm, who lives a few miles downstream from Dow's plant and works as an electrician at one of the region's automotive factories. "Who would want to move to a place that's so polluted?"

Dioxins, a family of compounds that were manufacturing byproducts of the Vietnam-era herbicide Agent Orange and other chlorinated chemicals, are so toxic they are measured in trillionths of a gram. The most potent, known as 2,3,7,8-TCDD, was responsible for the evacuations of the Love Canal neighborhood in upstate New York and the town of Times Beach, Mo.

In the Saginaw area the contamination has remained a unresolved issue. Dow has fiercely resisted federal and state efforts and publicly insisted the pollution doesn't threaten people or wildlife.

"This cleanup can get done, and a company like Dow can afford it," said Tracey Easthope of the Ecology Center, a Michigan environmental group. "But we are under no illusions that this will be carried out without constant pressure from concerned citizens."

Company records show Dow has known since at least the mid-1960s that dioxins could make people sick or even kill them. Based on independent studies, the EPA says the chemicals can cause cancer and disrupt the immune and reproductive systems, even at very low levels. The agency says there is no safe level of exposure.

Since early 1980s, when the EPA first identified Dow as the major source of dioxins in the Saginaw area, the company has shifted its position several times, first denying responsibility, then claiming the contamination came from forest fires and fireplaces, and later challenging scientific studies about the health dangers.

Critics, including the EPA, have accused Dow of repeatedly delaying action and misleading the public about the dangers of dioxin. The company still insists the contamination does not pose health risks but hailed its deal with the EPA anyway.

"We are committed -- in both our words and our actions -- to moving forward ... to resolve the issue," Dow spokeswoman Mary Draves wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

One small sign of the company's commitment: Dow recently agreed to follow through on a 2004 legal agreement with Michigan officials to pay for more dioxin warnings along the contaminated rivers. The additional signs should be up by spring, in time for the annual walleye tournament on the Tittabawassee.

Dow's agreement with the EPA is a much bigger step. It comes a little over a year after Mary Gade, then the Bush administration's top environmental official in Chicago, was forced out of her job as regional EPA administrator. She told the Tribune it was because she was too tough on Dow.

Alarmed by data showing the region's dioxin problems were worse than thought, Gade had ordered emergency cleanups at three spots near the Dow plant, two public parks and a residential area farther downstream.

At one of those parks, in a low-income Saginaw neighborhood, dioxin levels were as high as 1.6 million parts per trillion, the highest amount ever found in the U.S. High levels also have been found more than four miles out in Saginaw Bay.

Gade's emergency orders prompted Dow to seek a more comprehensive deal with the EPA, but she dropped out of the negotiations shortly before she was ousted, saying the company refused to do enough to protect public health and wildlife.

Dow responded by lobbying the Bush administration behind closed doors to sidestep Gade, according to federal records obtained by the Tribune. The company also took Michigan officials to court seeking to block tests intended to find dioxin hot spots in Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron. And Dow stretched out the debate with a company-financed study downplaying the human impact of dioxin pollution.

"There are many positive signs with this new agreement," Gade said this week. "But I still have trouble seeing how resetting the clock is going to benefit citizens or the environment, as opposed to Dow."

Even as Dow pledges to follow through on its deal with the Obama administration, the company and its supporters contend the dioxin study it funded, conducted by University of Michigan researchers, shows there is nothing to worry about.

The study, which concluded dioxin levels in local residents had more to do with their age than whether or not they lived near the contaminated rivers, is frequently cited by people who are reluctant to question one of the region's biggest employers and benefactors.

"Just because you are standing on this stuff, you aren't going to glow or get sick," said Bob Van Deveter, president of the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce. "But the stigma of dioxin has created a lot of roadblocks for economic development."

EPA scientists who evaluated the Dow-financed study, however, say it is of little value because few of the study participants lived in the most contaminated areas and none were children, who are more vulnerable to toxic chemicals than adults.

For some drawn to living in the thick woods that line the rivers, the agreement between the EPA and Dow is long overdue.

Alice Buchalter and her late husband, Herbert, built a house in 1967 on a river bluff four miles downstream from the Dow plant. They raised five children here and encouraged them to explore the outdoors. Herbert Buchalter, a Saginaw physician, often cut mud-splattered firewood from the flood plains and raced dune buggies and motorcycles with his children along the riverbanks.

When he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004, at age 70, the family wondered if dioxin exposure might have played a role. Days before he died, tests found he had high levels of the chemicals in his blood. Levels on their property were as high as 17,000 parts per trillion, significantly higher than Michigan's standard of 90 parts per trillion.

"We thought it was a wonderland. Now the only people who go back there are testing for dioxins," Alice Buchalter said. "There is an awful lot of hostility directed toward anybody who brings up this issue, but instead of fighting, why don't we fix this once and for all?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Agent Orange coverage may be expanded

When Wayne Rademaker underwent prostate cancer surgery in 2007, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied him coverage, even though he'd been exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam in 1969.

The water that the 60-year-old Oakfield, Genesee County, resident drank and showered with aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany in the Tonkin Gulf contained traces of the toxic defoliant. But to save money, the V.A. years ago stopped covering Vietnam veterans who didn't serve on the ground.

"They changed the wording, saying if you didn't have feet on the ground, you weren't part of the war," Rademaker said.

Until that policy shift, Rademaker had received a free annual V.A. physical to check for service-related illnesses.

Some New York lawmakers want to reverse the V.A. policy.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has introduced legislation in the Senate to cover Navy, Air Force and other personnel who came into contact with Agent Orange at sea or while loading aircraft used to deliver it.

Veterans who received the Vietnam Service Medal or the Vietnam Campaign Medal automatically would be covered.

An identical bill introduced in May in the House has 180 sponsors, including New York Reps. Eric Massa, D-Corning; Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport; Mike Arcuri, D-Utica; and Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo.

Gillibrand said she became aware of the issue from a veterans' advisory committee she set up while serving as a House member representing the Hudson Valley.

"These veterans are being treated very poorly," she said.

Passage of the legislation — which would increase the V.A.'s health care costs — may be difficult.

"It will be controversial, but I think we will be able to develop the support necessary for it," Gillibrand said.

Recent scientific findings, such as a study earlier this year by the Institute of Medicine, have added to the large body of evidence that exposure to Agent Orange increases the risk of health problems such as heart disease or Parkinson's.

New York's junior senator also has introduced another bill, the Agent Orange Children's Study, that would require the V.A. to examine the possibility that chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and asthma in children can be traced to their parent's exposure to Agent Orange.

"I have high hopes," said Rademaker.

His cancer was covered by private insurance and is in remission, but he still worries about developing other service-related health problems.

Navy veteran Willard Hughes of Bath, Steuben County, said in a phone interview that he's also optimistic that Congress will eliminate the V.A.'s denial of Agent Orange coverage for service members who weren't on the ground.

Hughes served aboard a destroyer, the USS Newman K. Perry, while it was stationed for six months along Vietnam's Mekong River delta. .

The 69-year-old BOCES retiree suffered from Type 2 diabetes and has breathing problems that he says were caused by Agent Orange in the ship's drinking water.

"They were using Agent Orange quite heavily during that time as a defoliant," said Hughes.

He said Australia and New Zealand have recognized the connection and cover their seamen who served in Vietnam.

Gillibrand To Help 800,000 Vietnam Vets Harmed By Agent Orange,

But Ignored By Feds Due To Technicality In The Law

Current Law Would Require VA to Provide Care for Service Members Exposed to Agent Orange On Dry Ground, But Ignores All Vets In the Water

October 23, 2009

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will introduce new legislation to ensure that more than 800,000 Vietnam veterans exposed to the powerful toxin Agent Orange would receive the health coverage they have earned. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. military sprayed approximately 20 million gallons of Agent Orange in Vietnam to remove foliage. This toxic chemical had devastating effects for millions serving in Vietnam. In 1991, Congress passed a law requiring the Veterans Administration (VA) to cover all illnesses that were directly linked to Agent Orange exposure. However, in 2002 the VA determined that it would only cover Veterans with "boots on the ground," during Vietnam. This exclusion bars as many as 800,000 sailors and airmen - including at least 13,500 New York veterans - who may have still received significant Agent Orange exposure from receiving presumptive treatment.

"Because of technicality in the law, hundreds of thousands of American veterans are being denied the health care benefits they need and deserve," Senator Gillibrand said. "Our government must fulfill its commitment to the service members who have fallen victim to Agent Orange-related disease and enact new legislation that will provide our vets with the benefits they have earned. Agent Orange is a very difficult chapter in our nation's history. It is time that we correct the errors of the past."

During Vietnam, the U.S. military sprayed 20 million gallons of Agent Orange. Blue Water Navy Vets - veterans that were on duty in the air, land and sea around Vietnam, but did not have "boots on the ground" - were often exposed to Agent Orange on a daily basis. Agent Orange contaminated water sources on ships, infected veterans onboard ships or aircraft that transported barrels of Agent Orange, and ships and aircraft deployed in close proximity or even downwind from Agent Orange drop sites. Even veterans who served on Johnston Island, where Agent Orange was stored, shipped, and incinerated, are excluded from VA coverage.

This summer, a study by the Institute of Medicine cited exposure to Agent Orange resulted in an increased change of developing serious heart problems and Parkinson's disease. A 1990 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed Vietnam veterans had a rate of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 50 percent higher than the general population. Agent Orange is behind a range of other diseases, including several blood and respiratory cancers, type II diabetes, prostate cancer and more.

In 2005, the VA's former Director of Environmental Agents Service Dr. Mark Brown publicly acknowledged that there was no scientific basis for the exclusion of Blue Water Vietnam veterans, but the VA has continued to refuse these veterans the presumptive benefits Congress initially intended. In his article in the Journal of Law and Policy, Dr. Brown wrote, "Science does not back up the VA's policy on the Navy."

This week, Senator Gillibrand introduced the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2009, which would clarify the existing law so that Blue Water veterans and every servicemember awarded the Vietnam Service medal, or who otherwise deployed to land, sea, or air in Vietnam would be fully covered by the VA. The bill would make it easier for the VA to process Vietnam War veterans' claims for service-connected conditions by extending the VA's presumptive coverage of Agent Orange benefits to all Vietnam veterans.

In addition, Senator Gillibrand also introduced legislation entitled the Agent Orange Children's Study (AOCS) that would require the VA to complete a study the effects Agent Orange has on the children of veterans exposed to Agent Orange. Vietnam veterans' children have long been thought to be vulnerable to the effects of Agent Orange, which is suspected of having an effect on human stem cells and thereby on future generations. While the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 ensured that spina bifida benefits were extended to children of Vietnam veterans, this is currently the only birth defect the VA recognizes as being associated with Agent Orange exposure. As part of the study, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs would review and evaluate the available scientific evidence regarding associations between diseases in children, including multiple sclerosis and asthma, and the exposure of their parents to dioxin and other chemical compounds associated with Agent Orange.

Birth Defect News

Worldwide, at least 7.9 million people are born each year with a birth defect. Of the children affected by birth defects, at least 3.3 million die each year before age 5, and about 3.2 million of surviving children could be mentally or physically disabled for life. Currently the causes of only about 30% of birth defects are even somewhat well understood.
—Global Report on Birth Defects: The Hidden Toll of Dying and Disabled Children

Birth Defect Research for Children's Executive Director, Betty Mekdeci, was interviewed for an article on Environmental Factors in Birth Defects published in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. According to the article, "Mekdeci and her colleagues have developed an alternative method of tracking birth defect incidence based on parent responses to a lengthy questionnaire. About 6,000 completed questionnaires have been collected since 1990. Mekdeci and her staff analyze the questionnaire responses for patterns, and she reports they have identified about half a dozen clusters so far. Although the group readily acknowledges these are self-reports from a self-selected population, some of the clusters have later been confirmed by various government agencies. For instance, in Dickson, Tennessee, they detected a cleft palate cluster that was confirmed by the CDC. The group sees its role as identifying birth defect cases and then encouraging health agencies to investigate."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October is Agent Orange Awareness Month in Minnesota

An event to raise awareness about Agent Orange in memory of Steve Emery who served his country in Vietnam and lost his battle with Agent Orange related cancer on July 23, 2009.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 23, 2009 – At noon near the Vietnam Veteran Memorial, in front of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Veterans, their families, the public and the media are invited to attend Steve Emery Agent Orange Day. Those affected by Agent Orange will be encouraged to share their stories. Orange balloons will be given out to the first 60 people in attendance, along with orange ribbon pins. The balloons are to be released and will include a message about Agent Orange. Those who attend are encouraged to come in uniform or wear orange.
To inform Vietnam Veterans who served our country about the related disease and health risks to Vietnam Veterans, their post-war children and families. To encourage all Veterans to obtain a health examination for Agent Orange related diseases and health risks. To promote public awareness and recognize the victims of Agent Orange and their families..
Jen Bakken, of Delano, lost her father, and best friend, to Agent Orange related cancer on July 23 at the young age of 60 years old. The experience of hospice care, and the traumatic painful death of her father lead her into a deep depression and a nearly successful suicide attempt on September 9, 2009. The battle with Agent Orange doesn't end with the Vietnam Veterans- it affects families, and friends.... there are many victims. She hopes this event will promote awareness about Agent Orange, offer support to others affected by it, in memory of her father. She hopes to share with others how Agent Orange broke her heart.
Agent Orange information:
Agent Orange was one of the weed-killing chemicals used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. It was sprayed to remove leaves from trees that enemy troops hid behind. Agent Orange and similar chemicals were known as “herbicides.” Agent Orange was applied by airplanes, helicopters, trucks and backpack sprayers. There is a large list of diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.
For more information regarding Agent Orange visit

Contact Information:
Jen Bakken
1466 St. Peter Ave. #103 Delano, Mn. 55328

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Free Caregiving for Veterans

Week of October 19, 2009

Homewatch CareGivers, the largest international franchise provider of home care, is offering up to 20 hours of free in-home care to disabled or injured U.S. military veterans of any conflict -- from World War II and Korea to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- through its"We Care for Veterans" program. Service members or a family member can sign up for the "We Care for Veterans" program on the Homewatch CareGivers website or by calling toll free 1-800-777-9770. The program is available to one veteran per location and is issued on a first come, first serve basis. Applicants must sign up for the program by Nov. 30, 2009. For more information, visit the Homewatch CareGivers website at

Please Join Us For The 2nd Annual Veterans Day Agent Orange Balloon Release!
Click Here For Info

Agent Orange Victims & Widows Support Network
Home Of The Agent Orange Quilt Of Tears

Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance

Monday, October 19, 2009

VA Secretary Shinseki Testifies On Update On State of VA

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee issued the following testimony from a committee hearing:

Statement of The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki


U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Chairman Filner, Ranking Member Buyer, Distinguished Members of the Committee:

Thank you for this opportunity to report on the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). We appreciate the long-standing support of this committee and its unwavering commitment to veterans-demonstrated, yet again, through your support of advanced appropriations legislation for VA. Let me also express my thanks to the Committee and the President for a remarkable 2010 Budget that provides an extraordinary opportunity to begin transforming the Department. We deeply appreciate your confidence and the confidence of the President in building on the 2008 and 2009 Congressional enhancements to VA's budgets in those years. We are determined to provide a return on those investments.

I would also like to acknowledge the presence of representatives from a number of our Veterans' Service Organizations. They are our partners in assuring that we have met our obligation to the men and women who have safeguarded our way of life. We always welcome their advice on how we might do things better.

Mr. Chairman, this past February, you held a similar hearing on the state of the Department, which allowed me to benefit from the insights and advice of Members of this Committee early in my tenure as Secretary. In turn, I was also able to offer early assessments of VA's mission and some principles that I felt might help me quickly communicate my intent and direction for the Department. I have learned a lot in the last 8 and half months from some truly impressive people at VA; from veterans, individually and collectively; from the VSOs; from Members of this and other Committees, and from a host of other key stakeholders, who share both the Department's interests and my personal passion for making VA the provider of choice in the years ahead. My current vectors for this Department remain guided by those principles that I mentioned in testimony in February. As I continue working to craft a shared Vision for the Department, one that will be enduring, we remain guided by our determination to be People-Centric-veterans and the workforce count in this Department, Results-driven-we will not be graded on our promises, but by our accomplishments, and Forward-looking-we strive to be the model for governance in the 21st Century.
This testimony comprises a nine-month progress report on the state of our Department.

We have been busy putting into place the foundation for our pursuit of the President's two goals for this Department: transform VA into a 21st Century organization, and ensure that we provide timely access to benefits and high quality care to our veterans over their lifetimes, from the day they first take their oaths of allegiance until the day they are laid to rest.

Every day 298,000 people come to work to serve veterans. Some do it through direct contact with veteran clients; others do so indirectly. But, we all share one mission-to care for our Nation's veterans, wherever they live, by providing them the highest quality benefits and services possible. We work each and every day to do this faster, better, and more equitably for as many of our Nation's 23.4 million veterans who choose us as their provider of services and benefits. Today, that number is roughly 7.8 million veterans.

Veterans put themselves at risk to assure our safety as a people and the preservation of our way of life. Not all of them are combat veterans, but all of them were prepared to be. VA's mission is to care for those who need us because of the physical and mental hardships they endured on our behalf, the cruel misfortunes that often accompany difficult operational missions, and the reality of what risk taking really means to people in the operational environment.

The health care, services, and benefits we provide are in great demand-a demand which grows each year. More than four million new veterans have been added to our health care rolls since 2001. Some of our youngest veterans are dealing with the effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and other polytrauma injuries. We will provide them the care they deserve, even as we continue to improve the quality of care we deliver to veterans of all previous generations-World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Desert Storm, and a host of smaller operational deployments. The President's decision to relax income thresholds established in 2003, which froze Priority Group 8 enrollments, has enabled many more veterans to access the excellent health care available through our Veterans Health Administration (VHA). It has increased VA's workload, but we are prepared to accommodate up to 500,000 enrollees, who are being phased in over the next four years. While the Post 9-11 GI Bill offers serving military and our newest veterans expanded educational opportunities, it has challenged the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA's) paper-bound processes. We are moving aggressively to transform VBA from paper to electrons, even as the entire organization picks up the pace of producing more, better, and faster decisions both in disability claims and educational benefits. Finally, the honor of providing final resting places for our veterans remains a source of immense professional pride for the National Cemeteries Administration (NCA), and indeed the rest of VA. NCA consistently meets the demographic standards associated with veteran burials and exceeds expectations with regard to care and compassion for heroes' families. NCA interred approximately 107,000 veterans in the past year in our 130 national cemeteries. Five new national cemeteries have been opened, and sixteen cemetery projects have been funded for expansion in the past year to address our requirements in this area.

Our veterans have earned and deserve our respect and appreciation for their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families. We at VA are privileged to have the mission of demonstrating the thanks of a grateful Nation. We are obliged to fulfill these responsibilities quickly, fully, and fairly-especially given the current economic climate. All of us, at VA, accept these increases to an already demanding workload, and we will meet our responsibilities at a high standard. Doing so will offer VA as a genuine provider of choice for those veterans who, today, choose to go elsewhere for insurance, health care, education loans, home loans, and counseling. To achieve this kind of standing with veterans, we must make entitlements much easier to understand and then far more simple to access.

Each day, dedicated, compassionate professionals at VA do the extraordinary to meet the needs of veterans across a broad spectrum of programs and services.

Among them:

* VA is second only to the Department of Education in providing educational benefits of $9 billion annually.

* VA is the Nation's eighth largest life insurance enterprise with $1.1 trillion in coverage, 7.2 million clients, and a 96 percent customer satisfaction rating.

* VA guarantees nearly 1.3 million individual home loans with an unpaid balance of $175 billion. Our VA foreclosure rate is the lowest among all categories of mortgage loans.

* VA is the largest, integrated health care provider in the country, with 7.9 million veterans enrolled in our medical services system.

* VA developed and distributed enterprise-wide, VistA, the most comprehensive electronic health record (EHR) in the country, linking our 153 medical centers to their 774 Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), 232 veterans Centers, as well as outreach and mobile clinics.

* VA received an "Among the Best" ranking for its mail order pharmaceutical program, ranking with Kaiser Permanente Pharmacy and Prescriptions Solutions, in a J.D. Power and Associates survey of 12,000 pharmacy customers.

* A VA employee, Dr. Janet Kemp, received the "2009 Federal Employee of the Year" award from the Partnership for Public Service three weeks ago. Under Dr. Kemp's leadership, VA created the veterans National Suicide Prevention Hotline to help veterans in crisis. The Hotline has received over 185,000 calls-an average of 375 per day-and interrupted over 5,200 potential suicides.

* VA has staffed a Survivors' Assistance Office to advocate for veteran and service member families. As the "Voice of Survivors," its purpose is to create and modify programs and services to better serve survivors.

* VA's OIT (Office of Information Technology) office and VBA collaborated with the White House to create a program soliciting original ideas from VA employees and participating VSOs, ranging from improving process cycle times for benefits to increasing veteran-satisfaction with the claims process. Close to 4,000 process-improvement ideas have been received.

* VA operates the country's largest national cemetery system with 130 cemeteries.

* VA senior executives are accountable and responsible when these systems succeed and when they fall short. As of September 2009, VA maintained one of the lowest executive to employee ratios (approximately 312 career executives to approximately 298,400 employees). I have seen their dedication to serving veterans.

I am proud of our people and our accomplishments, but there have been challenges, missed opportunities, and gaps in providing the quality of care and services veterans expect and deserve. We will continue to look for and find our failures and disappointments; we will be open and candid with veterans, the Congress, and other stakeholders when we fall short; and we will correct those problems, take the right lessons from them, and improve the process to achieve the best outcomes. In recent months, we have discussed with the Committee lapses in quality control and safety regarding endoscopes and other reusable equipment, erroneous notifications of ALS diagnoses, and expensive IT initiatives that were not meeting program thresholds.

Near term challenges have been riveting. Since enactment, the new Post 9/11 GI Bill has been our top priority for successful implementation by August 3, 2009. These completely new benefits, requiring tools different from the ones available to us, resulted in massive Information Technology (IT) planning efforts on short timelines. Delays and setbacks required VA to exercise emergency procedures two weeks ago to issue checks to veterans to cover their expenses early in program execution. Uncertainty and great stress caused by these delays were addressed through these emergency procedures, which remain in effect. We will mature our information technology tools to assure timely delivery of checks in the future.

We must work short-term and long-term strategies to reduce the backlog of disability claims, even as they increase in number and complexity. In July, we closed out a VA-record 92,000 claims in a single month-and received another 91,200 new ones. We are consolidating and investing in those IT solutions integral to our ability to perform our mission while looking hard at those that have not met program expectations-behind schedule or over budget. In July, we paused 45 IT projects, which failed to meet these parameters. These projects are under review to determine whether they will be resumed or terminated. We know this is of intense concern and interest to Members of this Committee, and we appreciate your continued support and insights.

In working these near-term demands, we are simultaneously addressing, in 2010 and the years beyond, improvements to programs and new initiatives critical to veterans-reducing homelessness, enhancing rural health care, better serving our growing population of women veterans, and refreshing tired, and in a number of cases unsafe, infrastructure.

To embrace these priorities, we have put in place a strategic management process to focus our stated goals and sharpen accountability. We are close to releasing a Department of Veterans Affairs Strategic Plan, in which I look forward to outlining for you the strategic goals that will drive our decisions over the next five years, and potentially longer.

I've now engaged in eight months of study, collaboration, and review of as many aspects of VA's operations with as many of our clients, employees, and stakeholders, as the Deputy Secretary and I could manage. I've visited VA facilities-large and small, urban and rural, complex and simple-all across the country. I've spoken with leaders, staffs, and veterans. I also invited each of our 21 Veterans Integrated System Network (VISNs) directors to share with me, in dedicated 4-hour briefings, their requirements; their priorities; their measurements for performance, quality, and safety; and their need for resources-people, money, and time. I've also received multiple briefings from VBA leadership on the extent and complexity of the benefits we provide to veterans. This has been time well-invested-invaluable.

The veterans I've met in my travels have been uplifting. Many struggle with conditions inevitable with old age; others live with uncertain consequences from exposures to environmental threats and chemicals; still others have recently returned from Afghanistan and Iraq bearing the fresh wounds of war-visible and invisible.

Out of my discussions with veterans, three concerns keep coming through-access, the backlog, and homeless veterans.

Access: Of the 23.4 million veterans in this country, roughly eight million are enrolled in VA for health care. 5.5 million unique beneficiaries have used our medical facilities. We want to ensure that any veteran who can benefit from VA services knows the range of services available to them. VA will continue reaching out to all veterans to explain our benefits, services, and the quality of our health care system. A major initiative which will expand access is the President's decision to relax the income thresholds established in 2003, which prohibited new Priority Group 8 enrollments. We expect up to half-million new Priority Group 8 enrollees in the next four years.

Another initiative to expand and improve access is the evolution of our health care delivery system. About a decade ago, VA decided to move toward the system of care being provided in the private sector by turning its focus to outpatient care and prevention. As a result, VA's 153 medical centers are the flagships of our Nation-wide integrated health care enterprise, and the Department also provides care through a system of 774 Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), 232 Vet Centers, outreach and mobile clinics, and when necessary, contracted specialized health care locally. This fundamental change in delivery of care, means organizing our services to meet the needs of the veteran rather than the needs of the staff-veteran-centric care.

Our next major leap in health care delivery will be to connect flagship medical centers to distant community-based outpatient clinics and their even more distant mobile counterparts via an information technology backbone that places specialized health care professionals in direct contact with patients via telehealth and telemedicine connections. Today, we are even connecting medical centers to the homes of the chronically ill to provide better monitoring and the prevention of avoidable, acute, episodes. This means that veterans drive less to receive routine health care and actually have better day-to-day access. It also means higher quality and more convenient care, especially for veterans challenged by long distances; and, prevention will mean healthier lives.

While this new, evolving VA model of health care is less about facilities and more about the patient, it is also more economically efficient and a better use of available resources. Health Care Centers that provide outpatient care, including surgery and advanced diagnostic testing, have lower construction costs compared to traditional hospitals. They better serve communities, and are more cost effective, than small, traditional hospitals with low numbers of veterans receiving inpatient care. To provide emergency and inpatient care when needed, VA forms alliances and relationships with local civilian facilities for that care. Outreach clinics also allow us to provide health care services in communities with smaller numbers of veterans. These part time clinics are situated in leased space, and provide in-person care closer to the veterans' homes.

Critical to improving veterans' access to health care is our campaign to inform and educate them about how VA delivers care. Using social media web sites, including MyHealtheVet and Second Life, we are making contact with veterans, including our OEF/OIF veterans, who did not respond to traditional outreach-lectures, pamphlets, and telephone calls.

All of these initiatives to improve access are conducted with assessments of patient privacy issues. Privacy is important for all veterans, but we especially want women veterans to know that the VA will provide their care in a safe, secure and private environment that is designed to meet their needs. While approximately 8 percent of veterans are women, only about 5.5 percent of VA patients are women. My intent is to create an environment of care that will attract more of them to the VA as their first choice for care.

The disability claims backlog: Reduction of the time it takes for a veteran to have a claim fairly adjudicated is a central goal for VA. The total number of claims in our inventory today is around 400,000, and backlogged claims that have been in the system for longer than 125 days total roughly 149,000 cases. Regardless of how we parse the numbers, there is a backlog; it is too big, and veterans are waiting too long for decisions.

In April, President Obama charged Defense Secretary Gates and me with building a fully interoperable electronic records system that will provide each member of our armed forces a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) that will track them from the day they put on the uniform, through their time as veterans, until the day they are laid to rest.

VA is a recognized leader in the development and use of electronic health records. So is the Department of Defense. Our work with DoD is already having an impact on the way we are able to provide quality health care to our veterans. To date, VA has received from DoD two and one-half million deployment-related health assessments on more than one million individuals, and we are able to share between Departments critical health information on more than three million patients. Although our work is far from finished, our achievements here will go beyond veterans and our Service Members to help the Nation as a whole, as have many of VA's historic medical innovations.

We are working with the President's Chief Performance Officer, Chief Technology Officer, and Chief Information Officer, to harness the powers of innovation and technology. In collaboration with our own IT leadership, we intend to revolutionize our claims process-faster processing, higher quality decisions, no lost records, fewer errors. I am personally committed to reducing the processing times of disability claims. We have work to do here. But we understand what must be done, and we are putting the right people to work on it.

Homelessness: Veterans lead the Nation in homelessness, depression, substance abuse, and suicides. We now estimate that 131,000 veterans live on the streets of this wealthiest and most powerful Nation in the world, down from 195,000 six years ago. Some of those homeless are here in Washington, D.C.-men and women, young and old, fully functioning and disabled, from every war generation, even the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan . We will invest $3.2 billion next year to prevent and reduce homelessness among veterans-$2.7 billion on medical services and $500 million on specific homeless housing programs. With 85 percent of homelessness funding going to health care, it means that homelessness is a significant health care issue, heavily burdened with depression and substance abuse. We think we have the right partners, the right plans, and the right programs in place on safe housing. We'll monitor and adjust the balance as required to continue increasing our gains in eliminating veteran homelessness. We are moving in the right direction to remove this blot on our consciences, but we have more work to do.

Effectively addressing homelessness requires breaking the downward spiral that leads veterans into homelessness. We must continue to improve treatment for substance abuse, depression, TBI and PTSD; better educational and vocational options, much better employment opportunities; and more opportunities for safe and hospitable housing. Early intervention and prevention of homelessness among veterans is critical. We have to do it all; we can't afford any missed opportunities.

The psychological consequences of combat affect every generation of veterans. VA now employs 18,000 mental health professionals to address their mental health needs. We know if we diagnose and treat, people usually get better. If we don't, they won't-and sometimes their problems become debilitating. We understand the stigma issue, but we are not going to be dissuaded. We are not giving up on any of our veterans with mental health challenges, and definitely not the homeless.

We have approximately 500 partners in nearly every major town and city across the country helping us get homeless veterans off the streets. With 20,000 HUD-VASH vouchers from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and our $500 million to invest in 2010 to cover safe housing and rehabilitation for veterans we have been able to coax off the streets, we are going to continue reducing the number of homeless veterans next year, and each year thereafter, for the next five years.

I know that this committee and the President are committed to helping VA end homelessness among veterans. We are going to do everything we can to end homelessness among veterans over the next five years. No one, who has served this Nation, as we have, should ever find themselves living without care-and without hope. I know that there are never any absolutes in life, but unless we set an ambitious target, we would not be giving this our very best efforts in education, jobs, mental health, substance abuse, and housing.

Education: The President kicked off our post 9/11 new GI Bill program on 3 August, 2009. Two hundred sixty-seven thousand veterans have applied and been found eligible to participate in this benefits program this year, and we project that as many as 150,000 more may apply next year. The first time we did this, in 1944 during World War II, our country ended up being richer by 450,000 trained engineers, 240,000 accountants, 238,000 teachers, 91,000 scientists, 67,000 doctors, 22,000 dentists, and a million other college-educated veterans. They went on to provide the leadership that catapulted our economy to worlds largest and our Nation to leader of the free world and victor in the cold war.

Slow processing of enrollment certificates by VA and slower than anticipated submission of enrollment documents by some educational institutions delayed issuance of checks to schools and veterans. On 2 October, VA began an emergency disbursement of monies nationally, working with the Treasury Department to provide almost $70 million in advance payments to more than 25,000 Veterans in the first two days of the program. These payments continue as a way to bridge the gap until the veterans' routine, monthly payments begin. We will do whatever it takes to get checks into the hands of veterans for their education, and we will improve the delivery system to eliminate the barriers to effective distribution of benefits in future years.

Jobs: This summer, I addressed over 1,700 veteran small business owners at the 5th Annual Small Business Symposium on 21 July. I reminded them that Veterans hire Veterans because they know what they're getting. Customers and partners value their skills, knowledge, and attributes and are eager to work with them. Just last fall, in a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, over 90 percent of employers said they valued veterans' skills, in particular, their strong sense of responsibility and teamwork.

VA puts veterans first in our contracting awards because we recognize the on-time, on-budget, quality solutions they bring to our contracting needs. In fiscal year 2008, our unique "Veterans First"" buying program resulted in VA's spending more than $2 billion on veteran-owned small businesses. That represented 15 percent of our procurement dollars, up five percent from the previous year. $1.6 billion of that amount was invested in service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses.

At VA, our experience is that veteran-owned small businesses have a high likelihood for creating new jobs, developing new products and services, and building prosperity. Increasing opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses is an effective way to help address many needs during this economic downturn.

So, education, jobs, health care, and housing: We have work to do here; but we have momentum, and we know where we are headed. We are positively engaged with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and the Small Business Administration to work our collaborative issues.

A transformed VA will be a high-performing 21st century department, a different organization from the one that exists today. Beyond the next five years, we're looking for new ways of thinking and acting. We are asking why, 40 years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam , this Secretary had to adjudicate claims for service-connected disabilities that have now been determined presumptive. And why, 20 years after Desert Storm, we are still debating the debilitating effects of whatever causes Gulf War Illness. If we do not stay attuned to the health needs of our returning veterans, 20 or 40 years from now, some future Secretary could be adjudicating presumptive disabilities from our ongoing conflicts. We must do better, and we will.

VA's mission is inextricably linked to the missions of the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Health and Human Services (HHS)-and closely linked to the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor, and the Small Business Administration. We are not an independent operator. We administer the Servicemen's Group Life Insurance program and are prepared to deliver benefits for any of the 2.25 million men and women of all Services and Components, who are insured through it. And, together with DoD, we operate two of the Nation's largest health care systems-one for health care to meet operational commitments and one to deal with the long term health care effects of those operations. As a result, we are a participant with HHS in discussions of how to best deliver health care. VA's budget requirements are largely determined by the operational missions performed by the courageous men and women in the DoD and the entitlements and benefits which accrue to them for taking those risks. Additionally, VA is uniquely positioned to help with ideas and a model for providing more Americans with better, more cost-effective health care, something VA has long pursued on behalf of Veterans.

Largely hidden from public view is an enormous VA effort to improve management infrastructure and implement a Departmental model of management that insures significant improvement in human resources, IT, acquisition, financial and facilities management. This effort is critical to strengthening both our performance and accountability mechanisms across VA.

In all our missions, VA seeks to become more transparent by providing veterans and stakeholders more information about our performance than ever before. We want veterans to have the information they need to make informed decisions. We will be sharing more data about the quality of VA health care than ever before. Using our own web sites, we are displaying information on quality including Health Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) scores, wait times, and Joint Commission results.

Another element of transparency is disclosure when mistakes are made. We have aggressively disclosed problems with the reprocessing of endoscopes and with brachytherapy at several sites. These issues were found by our own staff and then publicly disclosed. In each of these cases, we notified Congress, the media, VSOs, and the patients. While this process is at times painful, it is the right thing to do for veterans and the Nation and will ultimately result in greater trust and better quality.


Our mission is to serve veterans by increasing their access to VA benefits and services, to provide them the highest quality of health care available, and to control costs to the best of our ability. Our efforts will remain focused on transforming VA into a 21st Century organization-People-centric, Results-driven, and Forward-looking, and further refinement of our strategic plan to achieve our commitments and provide metrics for holding ourselves accountable. We are applying business principles that make us more efficient and effective at every opportunity.

However, transforming VA and the current pace of military operations have required new levels of resources. The care of veterans, like the sacrifices they make on behalf of the Nation, endure for many years after conflicts are resolved. This investment in our veterans will, over time, provide increasing returns for them, for the Nation, and for VA. Providing veterans the care and benefits they have earned is a test of our character.

For more information please contact: Sarabjit Jagirdar, Email:-

Filner Issues Statement On Agent Orange Decision

US Fed News; October 15, 2009

The House Veterans' Affairs Committee issued the following statement:

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) released the following statement in response to Secretary Shinseki's decision to establish a service-connection for Vietnam veterans with three specific illnesses (B cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease, and ischemic heart disease) based on evidence of an association with the herbicides referred to as Agent Orange:

"I am happy that Secretary Shinseki has reviewed the overwhelming evidence of an association between exposure to Agent Orange and certain illnesses - and decided to make it easier for thousands of veterans to receive the benefits and health care treatment they earned while serving this country in uniform. Strong evidence has existed for decades to make the association link between exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange and veterans who suffer from health problems. I am pleased that VA now recognizes B cell leukemias, Parkinson's disease, and ischemic heart disease as 'presumed service-connected illnesses. As a result, veterans no longer will have to prove an association between these illnesses and their military service.

"I understand that this decision comes too late for too many. I know that other illnesses continue to affect Vietnam veterans that VA does not recognize as being caused by exposure to Agent Orange. Time is of the essence for many Vietnam veterans currently suffering from illness as a result of their service.

"Today's announcement, however, is an important first step towards addressing the immediate needs of our veterans. This is a start into fixing the claims backlog and ensuring veterans have access to the care they earned. We must do more to keep the promises made to our Nation's heroes of the past, present, and future."

For more information please contact:
Sarabjit Jagirdar, Email:-

EDITORIAL: A Long Ordeal; Vietnam Veterans Had to Wait Too Long for Effects of Agent Orange to be Recognized

The Las Vegas Sun; October 15, 2009

For nine years during the Vietnam War the United States sprayed millions of gallons of a toxic chemical over vast areas of jungle — areas traversed by American military forces.

The chemical was shipped to South Vietnam in 50-gallon drums that were identified by their orange stripes. It quickly took on a name that now conjures images of birth defects and horrible diseases: Agent Orange.

The Pentagon authorized the spraying of Agent Orange for two reasons — to defoliate trees so Viet Cong insurgents and North Vietnamese military forces would have less cover, and to poison crop fields to prevent those enemies from having access to plentiful food.

Vietnam veterans began complaining of serious health problems after use of the chemical began in 1962. By 1971, when its use was ended, the evidence that Agent Orange had caused health problems was overwhelming.

Nevertheless, the federal government did not make this issue a priority, even when it became clear that thousands of Vietnam veterans were citing Agent Orange as a cause for their ill health.

It took Congress until 1991 to pass the Agent Orange Act. This law authorized the Department of Veterans Affairs to compile a list of certain diseases prevalent among Vietnam veterans, including cancer, that are presumed to have been caused by Agent Orange. It also allowed Vietnam veterans with those diseases to be covered for their treatments.

Congress also required the Institute of Medicine to report on Agent Orange’s health effects every two years. The latest report, released in July, said another three serious diseases, including Parkinson’s, are now presumed to have an association with Agent Orange.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, former Army chief of staff and a Vietnam veteran, has proposed adding the diseases to the list. “I’ve often asked why, 40 years after Agent Orange was last used in Vietnam , we’re still trying to determine the health consequences to our veterans,” Shinseki said.

It’s a good question, one that should not have to be asked ever again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

October is Agent Orange Awareness Month in Minnesota

An event to raise awareness about Agent Orange in memory of Steve Emery who served his country in Vietnam and lost his battle with Agent Orange related cancer on July 23, 2009.
Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 23, 2009 – At noon near the Vietnam Veteran Memorial, in front of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, Veterans, their families, the public and the media are invited to attend Steve Emery Agent Orange Day. Those affected by Agent Orange will be encouraged to share their stories. Orange balloons will be given out to the first 60 people in attendance, along with orange ribbon pins. The balloons are to be released and will include a message about Agent Orange. Those who attend are encouraged to come in uniform or wear orange.
To inform Vietnam Veterans who served our country about the related disease and health risks to Vietnam Veterans, their post-war children and families. To encourage all Veterans to obtain a health examination for Agent Orange related diseases and health risks. To promote public awareness and recognize the victims of Agent Orange and their families..
Jen Bakken, of Delano, lost her father, and best friend, to Agent Orange related cancer on July 23 at the young age of 60 years old. The experience of hospice care, and the traumatic painful death of her father lead her into a deep depression and a nearly successful suicide attempt on September 9, 2009. The battle with Agent Orange doesn't end with the Vietnam Veterans- it affects families, and friends.... there are many victims. She hopes this event will promote awareness about Agent Orange, offer support to others affected by it, in memory of her father. She hopes to share with others how Agent Orange broke her heart.
Agent Orange information:
Agent Orange was one of the weed-killing chemicals used by the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. It was sprayed to remove leaves from trees that enemy troops hid behind. Agent Orange and similar chemicals were known as “herbicides.” Agent Orange was applied by airplanes, helicopters, trucks and backpack sprayers. There is a large list of diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure.
For more information regarding Agent Orange visit

Contact Information:
Jen Bakken
1466 St. Peter Ave. #103 Delano, Mn. 55328


Friday, October 16, 2009

Artist produces "documentary sculpture" around Agent Orange exposure

Steve Zind
Hanover, NH

(Host) When Dartmouth student Keisha Luce went to Vietnam earlier this year, she was warned her chances of success were not great.

Luce wanted to find victims of Agent Orange - the defoliant used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War.

Her plan was to document their stories and create sculptures capturing the deformities believed to be caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

As VPR's Steve Zind reports, Luce's work tells a story about her subjects and about herself.

(Zind) A casual passerby might not notice anything unusual about the stark white human forms on display at the entrance to Dartmouth's Hopkins Center. But a moment's study reveals the forms are casts of human bodies, each with abnormalities. There's a deformed upper torso of a man who is 28 inches tall. Another figure has misshapen feet and hands.

(Luce) "He has what he describes as dinosaur hands and feet. They are severely deformed."

(Zind) Keisha Luce says these six pieces on display at Dartmouth are not works of her imagination; they're casts of real people - Vietnamese people whose defects are the result of exposure one or two generations earlier to Agent Orange. The exhibit is called ‘Sum and Parts'. Luce calls her work documentary sculpture.

(Luce orange) "They are difficult bodies to look at. Part of what I was trying to do is to bring this type of body - the war body - into the public sphere."

(Zind) In the 1960s, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of herbicides on Vietnam to defoliate the forest and jungle and expose the enemy. Agent Orange, which was the most widely used, has been linked to cancer, birth defects and other health problems experienced by American soldiers.

The Vietnamese government, too, says the descendants of those exposed to Agent Orange are similarly afflicted. It is these people, whose parents and grandparents lived in the 1960s, whose lives Luce sought to document in the three months she spent in Vietnam.

Luce says finding and speaking with Agent Orange victims wasn't easy at first, because of institutional red tape. But then she met someone who took her to a place outside Ho Chi Minh City where people suffering from the genetic effects of the herbicide are cared for.

(Luce) "When we arrived, there was a group of people that they called, all victims of Agent Orange and they sat down and I told them my story, what I was doing and I said ‘if anyone wants to participate let me know' and everyone raised their hands."

(Zind) Luce used a skin-safe silicon to make molds of the bodies of volunteers. The painstaking process took up to five hours. Back in the United States she created casts from the molds.

Luce says the idea for the project came to her one day last year. But her awareness of Agent Orange and its effects goes back much further.

(Luce) "My father was a disabled Vietnam veteran. He stepped on a land mine. He was 21 and he lost his right leg and several fingers and his left leg was severely damaged. He returned to the states and in 1987 he got an Agent Orange related cancer and within the year he died."

(Zind) Keisha Luce was ten years old when her father, Scott, died. The family is from Franconia, New Hampshire. Luce says her father's experience gave her an understanding of the effects of Agent Orange - but she didn't really conceive of the project with her father in mind.

(Luce) "I don't think my father would have been someone to go back to Vietnam. I think he could never have moved past his own horrific experience there. I don't know how he would have felt about this project. As this project took life, I realized he became increasingly important. Being in a country where he experienced really traumatic injuries that shaped the rest of his life, it was difficult to know how I would be accepted and how I would feel about being there, but I have to say I would go back.."

(Zind) Luce says none of the victims of Agent Orange she met in Vietnam were alive during the Vietnam War - and none showed bitterness toward the U.S. She says they simply want Americans to know the toll the war continues to take. For VPR news, I'm Steve Zind.

Note: Keisha Luce's work is on display until October 20th at the entrance to Dartmouth's Hopkin's Center in Hanover.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Agent Orange in Vietnam: Ignoring the Crimes Before Our Eyes

By Dave Lindorff
The Public Record
Oct 15th, 2009

On Oct. 13, the New York Times ran a news story headlined, “Door Opens to Health Claims Tied to Agent Orange,” which was sure to be good news to many American veterans of the Indochina War. It reported that 38 years after the Pentagon ceased spreading the deadly dioxin-laced herbicide/defoliant over much of South Vietnam, it was acknowledging what veterans have long claimed: in addition to 13 ailments already traced to exposure to the chemical, it was also responsible for three more dread diseases—Parkinson’s, ischemic hedart disease and hairy-cell leukemia.

Under a new policy adopted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the VA will now start providing free care to any of the 2.1 million Vietnam-era veterans who can show that they might have been hurt by exposure to Agent Orange.

This is another belated step forward in the decades-long struggle by Vietnam War veterans to get the Defense Department and the VA to acknowledge the American government’s responsibility for poisoning them and causing permanent damage to them and often to their children and grandchildren. Dioxin, one of the most poisonous substances known to man, is known to cause many serious systemic diseases, autoimmune illnesses, cancers and birth defects. (It is also a warning about the general Pentagon and government approach to other hazards caused by its battlefield use of toxins—most significantly the increasingly common use of depleted uranium projectiles in bombs, shells and bullets—an approach which features lack of concern about health effects on troops and civilians, denial of information to troops, and denial of care to eventual victims.)

Missing from the Times article, written by military affairs reporter James Dao, which did include mention of the obstructionist role the government has played through this whole sorry saga, was a single mention of the far larger number of victims of Agent Orange in Vietnam—the people on whose heads and lands the toxic chemical was actually dropped, or of the adamant refusal by the US government to accept any responsibility for what it did to them.

According to the article, the VA estimates that there may be as many as 200,000 US veterans who are suffering from Agent Orange-related illnesses. But according to a court case brought on behalf of Vietnamese victims, which was dismissed by a US Federal District Judge who ruled that there was “no basis for the claims,” there are at least three million Vietnamese, and possibly as many as 4.8 million, who are suffering the same Agent Orange-related illnesses as American veterans and their children.

It is estimated that as many as 800,000 Vietnamese in the country’s south currently suffer from chronic health problems due to Agent Orange exposure, either to themselves, or to a parent or grandparent. Most of these victims, some of whom are retarded, and others of whom cannot walk or have no use of their arms, need constant care.

Veterans for Peace, an organization whose membership includes a large number of Vietnam War veterans, has issued a call for the US to provide funds for health care, education, vocational education, chronic care, home care and equipment to clean up hotspots of dioxin in Vietnam—a call which Congress and the White House have consistently ignored. Tests have found dioxin levels around the sites of the three main former US bases in what was South Vietnam to be 300-400 times recognized safe levels. The US dumped huge amounts of Agent Orange for miles around those bases to kill off jungle cover that Vietnamese fighters could use to approach the bases, but it was never cleaned up when the US pulled out.

One organization that includes a number of American veterans of the way, including former military doctors or soldiers who later became physicians, is the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA Inc., which raises funds to help establish communities in Vietnam to care for the victims of Agent Orange.

It may seem a pathetic stab at principle given America’s use of two nuclear weapons against civilian targets in Japan a few years later, but back in World War II, in the midst of the most brutal island-to-island fighting during the Pacific War, a US Judge Advocate General in the Pentagon ruled that a military request for permission to use herbicides against the Japanese on Pacific islands would be illegal under the Hague Convention (forerunner of what are now called the Geneva Conventions).

He ruled that trying to destroy the crops of civilians on those islands to deny food to the Japanese troops would be a war crime. The US went ahead and used the herbicides anyway, arguing that even though it was illegal, the US was free to go ahead, since the Japanese had already broken the laws of war by using strychnine to kill military guard dogs in Siberia. Under the rules of war, if one side breaks a rule, the other side is no longer bound by it.

But the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese never used toxic materials against US forces or against South Vietnamese forces. And the Pentagon in the Vietnam War never even considered whether spraying a highly toxic herbicide over 1.4 million acres—12 percent of the total land area of Vietnam and almost 25 percent of the southern half of the country—might be a war crime.

Moreover, the Pentagon knew, before it began its massive defoliation campaign, about studies showing that Agent Orange was heavily laced with deadly dioxin, but covered up those studies, some by the chemical’s makers, Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and never even warned the troops who handled the material daily, or who were sent out to fight in areas that had been heavily sprayed.

The ongoing medical disaster in Vietnam caused by America’s criminal use of Agent Orange to defoliate a nation would be a good place for President Obama to start earning his just-awarded Nobel Peace Prize. He could kick off his peace campaign by finally honoring President Richard Nixon’s immediately broken promise to provide several billion dollars in reconstruction aid to Vietnam at the conclusion of peace talks at the end of the war. Not a dollar of such aid was ever given.

Meanwhile, perhaps the New York Times could salvage a bit of its journalistic reputation by having Dao or some other reporter write a piece about the impact of America’s Agent Orange use on the people of Vietnam.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist. He is author of Killing Time: An Investigation into the Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage Press, 2003) and The Case for Impeachment (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Agent Orange & You -


Service-connection for Vietnam Veterans with three specific illnesses

WASHINGTON (Oct. 13, 2009) - Relying on an independent study by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki decided to establish a service-connection for Vietnam Veterans with three specific illnesses based on the latest evidence of an association with the herbicides referred to Agent Orange.

The illnesses affected by the recent decision are B cell leukemias, such as hairy cell leukemia; Parkinson's disease; and ischemic heart disease.

Used in Vietnam to defoliate trees and remove concealment for the enemy, Agent Orange left a legacy of suffering and disability that continues to the present. Between January 1965 and April 1970, an estimated 2.6 million military personnel who served in Vietnam were potentially exposed to sprayed Agent Orange.

In practical terms, Veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have a "presumed" illness don't have to prove an association between their illnesses and their military service. This "presumption"

simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits.
The Secretary's decision brings to 15 the number of presumed illnesses recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"We must do better reviews of illnesses that may be connected to service, and we will," Shinseki added. "Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence."

Other illnesses previously recognized under VA's "presumption" rule as being caused by exposure to herbicides during the Vietnam War are:

* Acute and Subacute Transient Peripheral Neuropathy
* AL Amyloidosis
* Chloracne
* Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia
* Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2)
* Hodgkin's Disease
* Multiple Myeloma
* Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
* Porphyria Cutanea Tarda
* Prostate Cancer
* Respiratory Cancers
* Soft Tissue Sarcoma (other than Osteosarcoma, Chondrosarcoma, Kaposi's sarcoma, or Mesothelioma)
Additional information about Agent Orange and VA's services and programs for Veterans exposed to the chemical are available at .

Quilt of Tears Video

As I gaze upon these Quilts today,
the image of death is altered.
I see instead the symbol of life,
for heroes that never faltered.
Fear not my great soldier!
For your story shall be passed through the years
Because the fabric of your life is sewn into the Quilt Of Tears

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Int’l friends support Vietnamese Agent Orange victims

The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) on October 6 received US$292,000 donated by the Greek Embassy in Vietnam, the Overseas Vietnamese Association in Russia and Viettel Corporation.

Of the sum, the Greek Embassy donated US$8,810, the Overseas Vietnamese Association (US$3,000) and Viettel Corporation (US$280,190).

Greek Ambassador to Vietnam Platon Alexis Hadjimichalis said that after finishing his term in Vietnam he will persuade the Greek Government to continue support for Vietnamese Agent Orange victims. He added that in recent years the embassy has taken part in a wide range of activities to support Vietnamese AO victims. In the near future, the embassy will present 6,000 euro and 50 wheelchairs to the Ministry of Defence and 30 propaganda pictures taken during the war to the Vietnam Military History Museum to raise funds for AO victims.

Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Rinh, president of VAVA, said that two months after launching the campaign to support AO victims, VAVA has received VND29 billion from domestic and foreign donors.

The campaign aims to build 500 houses of gratitude and 55 care centres for AO victims, grant 1,100 scholarships and generate 1,100 jobs for children of AO victims. This year, VAVA will build three AO care centers.

An television programme demanding justice for the victims will be broadcast live in Vietnam, the US and France in early 2010.

Tran Xuan Thu, General Secretary and Vice President of VAVA said on October 6 that the broadcast will attract the attention of the world public. He said that the rejection by a US court of a suit against US chemical companies does not put an end to the lawsuit. In other words, the AO victims will continue to demand justice in the US or in a third country. Some international news online websites will also carry articles on this campaign.

In April next year, a delegation will come to the US to re-launch their campaign. VAVA will then go to Russia and Latin American countries like Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina to continue the campaign.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Birth Defect Research for Children

October 5, 2009
Our National Birth Defect Registry was just cited in an article (page 443) on Environmental Factors in Birth Defects in the October issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

I hope that this will give the registry even more credibility on the work we have been doing for veterans.

With best regards,
Betty Mekdeci
Executive Director
Birth Defect Research for Children
800 Celebration Ave., Suite 225
Celebration FL 34747
407-566-8304 Fax 407-566-8341

2009 Veterans Day Agent Orange Balloon Release

Hello Friends & Loved Ones,

It's that time again where we are thinking about Veterans Day approaching soon. My thoughts immediately bring me to the grand participation that we had last year with the first Veterans Day Agent Orange Balloon Release & I am really humbled as I looked through the pictures from last years event. I honestly cannot think of a more touching experience & look forward to doing it again this year! Thanks so much to everyone that participated last year & I hope that you can encourage others to join us this year.

Please check out our event page for all the details of this years event at:

In preparing for this years event I took most of the pictures from last year & combined them all in a video. You can find it on the page by going directly to this link: 2008 Agent Orange Balloon Release I left some of last years photos on the Event Page along with some beautiful videos that others made to share. I've also attached a flyer that you can forward or print out to share.

I've also attached the 2009 Patches Walk poster which is a very worthy cause & I encourage everyone to spread the word on this also. To find out more about it you can refer to an article done on War In Terror News last year at This link:

This is a very brief history about Stephen's father who died from A/O related illnesses:

In his ten months his Ranch Hand Aircraft were hit 500 times by ground fire. Eleven Airman and nineteen officers being supervised by Major. Hay-Chapamn were awarded 10 Purple Hearts, 12 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 12 Commendation Medals. While flying Patches he took the most hits and always came back unharmed.

He also initiated action in conjunction with the Vietnamese to airlift tons of foodstuffs and clothing for the orphanages located in remote areas of Vietnam .

He turned over the Command to Major. Russell Mahoney. He was instrumental in many ways on how the eventually conducted the sorties by reducing the hit ratios.

He retired after 27 years in Oct 1970,while the going was good and fought to the last day trying to get a 100% disability due to Agent Orange. He did get it just before he passed away from diabetes in what was a lengthy process of amputations starting with a toe and eventually loosing both legs."""

Hugz & Prayers to all,

Shelia & Henry Snyder

Please Join Us For The 2nd Annual Veterans Day Agent Orange Balloon Release!

Agent Orange Victims & Widows Support Network
Home Of The Agent Orange Quilt Of Tears
Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance

We now have T-shirts & decals for any that may be interested Check it out! Click Here">

Friday, October 2, 2009

Step forward for Agent Orange clean-up effort in Vietnam


Thu Oct 1, 12:08 pm ET

HANOI (AFP) – Efforts to clean up contamination from the wartime herbicide Agent Orange in Vietnam took a step forward Thursday when the United States awarded a contract to prepare for dioxin containment.

The US said the 1.69-million-dollar project will involve building a secure landfill site to hold contaminated soil and sediment at Danang airport.

Working with the government of Vietnam, the US expects the project to be finished within a year, a US embassy press release said.

During the Vietnam War, US forces stored Agent Orange at Danang and other bases where it was loaded onto airplanes for defoliation missions.

Jungle areas that were sprayed do not have high levels of dioxin today, Thomas Boivin, president of Canadian environmental specialists Hatfield Consultants, has said.

But US and Vietnamese officials have identified the old US bases in Danang, Bien Hoa -- near the former Saigon -- and Phu Cat as significant "hotspots" where spillage, washing of aircraft and loading of the herbicides contributed to contamination.

At Danang airport now, dioxin levels are still 300-400 times higher than internationally accepted levels, Boivin said.

Other donors are also assisting but the US is focusing its help on the Danang site, at Vietnam's request.

"With this award, the US government has committed more than two-thirds of the six million dollars of Congressional funding it has received for Agent Orange/dioxin environmental remediation and health activities," the US statement said.

Full-scale decontamination could take years.

The affected area is under Vietnamese military control and is separate from the passenger terminal in Vietnam's fourth-largest city, which authorities want to promote as a tourist destination.