Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Vietnam vets worry about lasting impact of Agent Orange

By Nancy Remsen, Free Press Staff Writer • Sunday, June 20, 2010

MONTPELIER — William J. Whitney of Northfield did two tours of duty in Vietnam four decades ago, but until recently he didn’t think that Agent Orange, a defoliant used by the U.S. military, might affect not only his health, but that of his children and grandchildren.

“I’m scared and I have a right to be,” Whitney testified Saturday before a small audience of other Vietnam veterans, their families, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and representatives of Vermont’s other members of Congress. “I went and served my country not knowing what my government was doing to us guys. They poisoned us.”

Other Vietnam veterans also came to the microphone, their voices full of emotion as they told of mysterious illnesses that have plagued their children and grandchildren.

Agent Orange Town Hall Meeting in Centralia, Illinois
War doesn’t end when the peace treaty is signed
Effects of Agent Orange on vets may linger long after war in Vietnam
By Judith Joy
Sentinel Feature Editor
CENTRALIA — “We have got to tell people that we will not be quiet any more,” Sandie Wilson told a group of veterans gathered at the American Legion on Wednesday to hear about the effects of Agent Orange on veterans of the Vietnam War.
“We want grant money to look into the effects of Agent Orange, not just on veterans, but on their families,” added Wilson, who served in Vietnam as a nurse in 1968 and ‘69. “We have been talking about Agent Orange for 30 years now,” Wilson added, “but very little has been done by the government for the children and grandchildren of veterans.”
Of the 3.5 million men and women who served in Vietnam , Wilson said that only 850,000 were still alive. “Seventy-five percent are dead before their time — that’s something I cannot tolerate. It’s time to take action.”
Agent Orange is a powerful herbicide, which is a combination of 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T, that was sprayed by the military to defoliate trees concealing enemy forces. For humans, however, the greatest danger was from dioxin, a contaminant that occurred during the herbicide’s manufacture. Levels of dioxin in Agent Orange ranged from less than .05 parts per million to almost 50 ppm, according to a publication issued by the Vietnam Veterans of America or VVA.
“We talk about Agent Orange, but it’s actually all the chemicals that soldiers were exposed to,” explained Mokie Porter , who represents the VVA in Washington . Five companies, including DOW Chemical, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock and DuPont, were involved in making Agent Orange. However, Porter explained, DOW has often been singled out because it used an accelerated technique that employed higher temperatures that allegedly produced greater quantities of the contaminant dioxin.
Exposure to dioxin may result in a variety of illnesses including: the onset of Type II diabetes, neuropathy or tingling in the extremities, Hodgkins Disease, Chloracne, non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease, and many different types of cancers. All of the above are illnesses recognized by the Veteran’s Administration (VA) as related to exposure to Agent Orange.
In addition, exposure to Agent Orange may also affect the genetic makeup of the person exposed and cause Spina bifida in his or her offspring. Whether Agent Orange is directly responsible for other genetic diseases is a matter of some dispute. The NIH [National Institute of Health] says there’s no evidence that dioxin causes mutations on the parental side,” admitted Wilson .
“We believe it was a combination of chemicals that were sprayed on us,” she added, “the NIH is only looking at dioxin in Agent Orange.” During her time in Vietnam , Wilson said she saw no mosquitoes because the military sprayed the insecticide Malathion every 9 to 11 days at a rate 40 times the recommended dose.
Wilson, who has no children of her own, said that exposure to Agent Orange, as well as other chemicals, is believed to be related to cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and other problems in the children of veterans. Wilson, who was a pediatric nurse at Fort Campbell , Ky. , said that one-third of all deliveries were by C-section and a number of children born there had abnormalities so serious they were sent to Vanderbilt Hospital .
Edith Rose, who lives in Saline, Mich. , related the story of the premature birth of her first child, when she was 39 years old, and married to a Vietnam vet. At birth, her son weighed only 1 1/2 pounds and, had he lived, would have been deaf, blind and profoundly retarded.
“My husband did not want me to see my child,” Rose told the audience. Rose, who is a Catholic and has raised 28 foster children, said that taking the baby off life support was the hardest decision she ever made in her life. “Agent Orange is killing our children and our grandchildren,” she remarked, “the longer we let this go on, the more generations will be affected.”
Mokie Porter said that she had attended a meeting sponsored by the Ford Foundation in which she learned that the foundation was providing funds to take care of Vietnamese victims of the war, but not Americans. “We should take care of our own,” Porter asserted, “there are a lot of sick kids out there and time is getting short.”
Presently, however, Spina bifida is the only birth defect recognized by the VA. “We have said for years that kids have cardiac problems, club feet and other disabilities,” said Wilson , “not just Spina bifida.” Dioxin, she explained, “mimics the hormones and the body doesn’t know the difference.”
Wilson is hopeful that the government will establish a center for the study of birth defects and other problems related to exposure of Agent Orange. Also needed is a place where children with such problems could come for evaluation and possible genetic testing.
“I’m asking them to pay for the problems they caused,” said Wilson . “War doesn’t end when the peace treaty’s signed. If they can pay for all these wars, they can pay for what we need.”
Following the formal presentation, a number of veterans in the audience described their physical problems and those of their children and grandchildren. Anyone requiring assistance regarding possible VA claims, can call Wayne Sensel, service representative for the Vietnam Veterans of America, at 618-367-2753.

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