Tuesday, April 12, 2016

U.S. steps up efforts to heal Agent Orange wounds in Vietnam

CAM LO, Vietnam — When Le Thi Mit is awakened at night by the moans of her 34-year-old son, she thinks back half a century, grappling with the vivid memories of American planes flying overhead to coat her village with toxic chemicals.
Three of her four children were born severely disabled. One died young. Truong, 28, who crawls because his sticklike legs cannot support him, cannot speak, bathe himself or eat on his own. Lanh, the 34-year-old, is confined to a bed of wooden slats by his gnarled back.
Mit’s wish is that her children die first. There is no one else to care for them.
As President Obama is scheduled to visit in May amid warming relations between the former foes, the United States has increased its commitment to heal lingering wounds from Agent Orange and other jungle-clearing defoliants it deployed during the Vietnam War.
For decades, American officials minimized or dismissed Vietnam’s health problems. Vietnamese officials also skirted the issue at times out of concern for the image of the country’s agricultural exports.
But the United States is gradually increasing its victim funding, and both governments now willingly speak about Agent Orange. Congress allocated $7 million this year to health and disability programs in Vietnam, much of it targeting presumed Agent Orange victims.
“We are not aware of any widely accepted scientific study that conclusively establishes a connection between dioxin and these types of physical or psychological disabilities,” said Tim Rieser, a longtime foreign policy aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who has led the charge to appropriate money for Agent Orange. But “the United States is essentially acknowledging by our actions that there is likely a causal effect, and Senator Leahy believes we have a responsibility to help address it.”

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