Friday, February 4, 2011

FORUM: Agent Orange is not a problem left in past
Published: Friday, February 04, 2011
By Connie Schultz, for The Plain Dealer

AFTER a year of research and reporting about the legacy of Agent Orange, I feel certain of one thing: We don’t know the full extent of dioxin’s harm.

It appears to be a story with no end in sight.

On Sunday, The Plain Dealer ran a special report, “Unfinished Business.” It detailed how the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of the herbicide, containing dioxin, to defoliate the triple-canopy jungles, which hid Ho Chi Minh’s forces during the Vietnam War. We reported that at least 4.5 million Vietnamese and 2.5 million Americans may have been exposed, leading to more than a dozen illnesses in adults and possibly to numerous birth defects in subsequent generations.

Thirty-five years after the war ended, 28 dioxin hot spots continue to contaminate Vietnam’s food supply and imperil the health of millions of people.

The Vietnamese aren’t asking for contrition or a confession. They just want a future free of the poison we left behind. I have added my voice to the growing chorus of scientists, policymakers and experts who insist we should clean up our mess.

Even as our story about Agent Orange was going to press, dioxin’s legacy continued to leach into the lives of more U.S. veterans, this time reaching into the ranks of those who served in Korea during the Vietnam War.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced that any veteran who served between April 1, 1968, and Aug. 31, 1971, “in a unit determined ... to have operated in an area in or near the Korean DMZ in which herbicides were applied” is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.

To quote the VA news release, “This ‘presumption’ simplifies and speeds up the application process for benefits and ensures that veterans receive the benefits they deserve.”

Missing in that announcement was anything close to an apology for making those particular Vietnam era veterans wait more than 40 years for any acknowledgment that they had been exposed to Agent Orange and denied crucial medical coverage.


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