From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. conducted Operation Ranch Hand, which sprayed about 19 million gallons of harmful herbicides like Agent Orange in various locations in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The U.S. was not aware of how massive an impact this would have on both American and Vietnamese people. Agent Orange has been a major contributor to health and environmental issues that are still being combated today.
The spraying of the herbicide, Agent Orange, during the Vietnam War led to conflict with health and environmental issues and compromise with monetary compensation between the U.S. government, Vietnam War veterans, and Vietnamese people.What is Agent Orange? Agent Orange is an herbicide made up of a toxic dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD). This dioxin is considered to be dangerous because it has the ability to stay in animals and humans for a long time since it is fat-soluble. It was first used in 1962 during the Vietnam War as a military tactic to destroy the forest cover the Viet Cong could use to hide in for guerilla warfare. It was also meant to deplete the Vietnamese of their food supply, especially the rice paddies that produced their staple crop, rice.
The U.S. aimed for targets in Laos and Cambodia also, but mainly hit the Ho Chi Mirth Trail that was used by the Vietnamese to transport supplies and other reinforcements. Other herbicides like Agents Purple, Pink, Green, Blue, and White were used though Agent Orange was mostly used. Agent Orange and the other herbicides got their name from the color of the band on their storage drum. Twenty-five C-123 planes were used to spray the herbicide, and this air force became the most decorated in the war.
Operation Ranch Hand was later discontinued by President Johnson in 1971 due to a study that showed a correlation between the dioxin and birth defects in mice.Debate Over Evidence for and Against Agent Orange CompensationDuring the latter half of the 20th century, there was much controversy and debate on how or even if the U.S. should compensate Vietnam War veterans affected by Agent Orange. The U.
S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had problems coming to conclusions due to insufficient military data records and the inability to conduct an epidemiological study. When the CDC conducted a study in 1987 comparing dioxin levels veterans who served in Vietnam and veterans who served elsewhere, it found that the dioxin levels of both were about the same. This evidence did not help because the study was done about two decades after the war, and the dioxin could have already broken down by then even though it has a seven year tissue half-life. This made it difficult for Congress to decide how to compensate people. So, Congress decided to look at the evidence in legislative, scientific, and administrative views to determine who might be eligible for compensation.
The study done by the CDC showed no association between Agent Orange and high dioxin levels, which caused many believe that the decision to compensate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft tissue sarcomas was “flawed science and political manipulation.” So, science showed that Agent Orange did not affect dioxin levels in humans by much though public opinion believed it did. Even without the scientific proof, the first diseases that the Department of Veteran Affairs gave compensation for were Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft tissue sarcomas. The Secretary of Veteran Affairs said that this “was a policy decision and not based on science.
” Many times, science does not conform to public opinion, which can lead to decisions like this where politicians disregard scientific evidence because it is not the outcome they wished for. They also could do this just to satisfy the public.Some people do not believe that Agent Orange caused all these veterans’ medical problems although the majority of the U.S. did.
They claimed that the 2,4,5-T in Agent Orange was considered to be less toxic than caffeine because of its low concentration of dioxin; so, considerable exposure would be needed before developing any health issues. Military records that were kept showed that the spraying sites were checked to make sure no U.S. troops were in the area. Also, the dioxin would have dried after being sprayed and any leftover residue would have broken down from the sun’s ultraviolet light within a few days making exposure to humans unlikely.
Michael Newton and Alvin Young argued that the media made the Agent Orange-linked disease claims to be bigger than they actually were. When news of Agent Orange causing disease were put in newspapers and aired on television, the public uproar was so big that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to stop the use of 2,4,5-T in the U.S. except for weed control on farms and cattle ranches. Newton and Young believed that a lesson to take from this was that “political furors can mask truth and produce false judgements.
” They thought that spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam actually saved more American lives than it harmed and that Agent Orange should not be blamed for harm it allegedly did rather than overlook the positive it actually did.Legal Issues Dealing with Agent OrangeYears after the Vietnam War, U.S. veterans and other Vietnamese people started filing lawsuits against the U.S. and companies that manufactured Agent Orange for causing their various medical ailments. Vietnamese people sued the U.
S and chemical manufacturers of Agent Orange to obtain compensation for their illnesses that they thought was because of Agent Orange. They claimed that the U.S.’s actions “constituted torts under the law of nations,” which included war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity and torture. These lawsuits were later dismissed because the courts said the U.S. and chemical manufacturers did nothing to violate international laws against herbicide use in war. The plaintiffs also could not make a good case with clear evidence of any wrongdoing.
The courts were probably biased towards the U.S. and did not want to admit that the U.S. did anything wrong.In 1978, a veterans class-action suit was filed against seven companies that created Agent Orange. These companies were Dow Chemical, Diamond Shamrock, Monsanto, Hercules, Uniroyal, T.H.
Agriculture and Nutrition, and Thompson Chemical. The companies settled right before the trial was supposed to happen and created a $180 million fund for compensation that veterans could use. The veterans had the option of refusing the money and filing their own lawsuit, but most accepted the offer. About 15,000 to 20,000 people with medical issues were eligible to get money from the fund.
This helped many veterans, but it could create more problems when the fund runs out because more than 20,000 people are going to need compensation.The Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed as the first step towards helping those affected by Agent Orange. It set up regulations for presumption of service connection to Agent Orange based on the medical evidence available. This meant that one did not have to produce evidence of Agent Orange causing disease to receive benefits, but this was only for certain medical issues. The act created presumption of service for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma, and chloracne for veterans who served in the military, navy, or airforce during the Vietnam War. It called for further research to be done so that the U.S.
could give the right people compensation. This act was used as a basis and regulation for later court cases.Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) was formed to help Vietnamese people receive reparation for diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. In 2005, the VAVA filed another lawsuit against chemical companies responsible for the production of Agent Orange. The Brooklyn Federal Court dismissed the lawsuits saying “the use of these chemicals during the war, although they were toxic, did not violate international law.
“The Nehmer vs. U.S. Veterans’ Administration case forced the VA to create new regulations that had more lenient standards for qualifying for compensation.
The VA had to reevaluate all the complaints made that were dismissed under the old regulations. In another court case, Haas vs. Nicholson, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) denied Jonathan Haas presumptive service connection because serving on the coast of Vietnam did not mean he actually set foot on land. The earlier rule under the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was that the veteran had to have set foot on Vietnamese land during the Vietnam War to be considered for compensation. This decision was overturned in 2006 by the U.S.
Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) who found “the regulation to be ambiguous and determined that the current interpretation conflicted with the agency’s earlier interpretation.” So, the BVA was told to keep investigating cases for Blue Water veterans, veterans who served in the coast of Vietnam. Later under Haas vs. Peake, the CAVC overturned the decision again and said Blue Water veterans were not under presumption of exposure though they could still get compensation by showing proof of exposure. The “foot-on-land” policy was enforced, and this was the first time a court ruling favored the VA rather than the veteran.
The courts probably did not rule in favor of the VA because they were scared of public backlash since the majority of the country strongly believed veterans were unfairly afflicted by Agent Orange.Efforts to Help Those Affected by Agent OrangeThe majority of Vietnamese people live in poverty because families cannot afford to receive help since the dioxin has permanently damaged many people’s DNA. The Vietnamese government and people set up a Friendship Village in Hanoi where people and children with disease from Agent Orange could go to receive medical attention and training in a skill. The U.S.
started admitting Agent Orange as the cause of disease in American war veterans, but it has not done anything to help the Vietnamese people. The Vietnamese Association for Victims of Agent Orange wants the U.S. to help people that continue to suffer from the diseases currently. Recently, the U.S. has worked with Vietnam to decontaminate the Da Nang Airport of Agent Orange. The contaminated soil is to be transported to a place of containment where it will be heated to destroy any leftover dioxin.
Once the soil is rid of the toxins, it will be put back in the Da Nang area. The U.S. and Vietnam plan on cleaning about 73,000 cubic meters of soil. This restoration project is also an effort to help the Vietnamese government clean land in other places and get better health services and equipment.Many people are currently concerned about compensation for veterans’ kids with birth defects. Studies show that the children of male veterans typically develop the birth defect, spina bifida. The children of female veterans usually develop a broader range of birth defects.
Many also worry about Agent Orange’s effect skipping generations. Veterans’ children may not be affected, but the disease could show up again in their grandchildren. There is “insufficient research to make a scientific connection” that this will happen. Scientists are still focused on the generation today that have the effects now. So, it might take a while before evidence for this can be found.The Agent Orange Act made obtaining reparations much easier for veterans, but many are still not able to receive compensation forty years after Vietnam War. About 650,000 veterans have been given benefits costing more than $21 billion, but there were about 2.5 million people that had the possibility of being exposed.
The $21 billion for Agent Orange victims accounted for almost half of the total veteran compensation fund. Today, there are more diseases covered for Vietnam War veterans like cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, brain and heart disease, and many others. Although much has improved since the late 20th century, many people believe that even more could and should be done so that no one is left to suffer without help.Today, it is much easier to receive compensation than it was in the late 1900s. Veterans are able to receive benefits from service in Korea since Agent Orange was sprayed there too, but not on as big of a scale as Vietnam.
The evidence needed for compensation are a medical diagnosis, proof of service in Vietnam or the Korean demilitarized zone, and evidence that the disease began within the deadline. Once approved, veterans receive monthly payments base on how severe their condition is and if they have any children.The Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2017 is the most recent act dealing with Agent Orange and was created to “provide assistance for individuals affected by exposure to Agent Orange.
” There are more efforts to help Vietnam by cleaning the land, helping them provide health care, giving them medical equipment, giving them grants, and doing more research on how Agent Orange affects humans. It also addressed the children of veterans being able to receive benefits as a “covered individual.” Congress still plans on further research by receiving yearly reports from the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. The spraying of Agent Orange caused much conflict with disease and compromise with compensation since the end of the Vietnam War.
The U.S. has managed to compensate both American and Vietnamese people after much debate and many judicial battles.
The relationship between America and Vietnam will continue to grow through efforts to restore the environment and help people with disease. The U.S. will continue to do more when more research has been done and more is known about the effect of Agent Orange on humans.