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In Vietnam and U.S., Millions Still Haunted by Agent Orange

Today, April 30, marks the 40-year anniversary of the fall of Saigon, bringing an end to the Vietnam War. Four decades later, the U.S. spraying of Agent Orange for 10 years there still affects the health of as many as 3 million Vietnamese. Health problems range from cancer to birth defects.

Many of the U.S. military’s 2.8 million Vietnam War veterans and their offspring also remain affected, with the federal Veterans Affairs department, as recently as March 10, 2015, placing on its website an article headlined “10 Things Every Veteran Should Know About Agent Orange”.


agentorangeAgent Orange, also called Herbicide Orange (HO), is produced by mixing two herbicides: 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. Manufactured for the U.S. Defense Department primarily by Monsanto Corporation and Dow Chemical, Agent Orange’s 2,4,5-T reportedly “was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), an extremely toxic dioxin compound. In some areas, TCDD concentrations in soil and water were hundreds of times greater than the levels considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” according to the BBC.

The U.S. military used Agent Orange for a major defoliation program (Operation Ranch Hand) in Vietnam from 1961-1972. According to history.com:

U.S. aircraft were deployed to spray powerful mixtures of herbicides around roads, rivers, canals and military bases, as well as on crops that might be used to supply enemy troops. During this process, crops and water sources used by the non-combatant peasant population of South Vietnam could also be hit. In all, Operation Ranch Hand deployed more than 19 million gallons of herbicides over 4.5 million acres of land.

By 1979, four years after Saigon’s fall and the war’s close, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of U.S. veterans who served in Vietnam for health issues resulting from Agent Orange. By 1984, seven major chemical companies reached an out-of-court settlement in the suit, agreeing to pay $180 million to veterans or their next of kin. That amount was raised later to $240 million including interest.

A group of Vietnamese citizens filed a class-action lawsuit against more than 30 chemical companies in 2004, but it was thrown out of two courts.

Current Results

As far as detrimental effects on the Vietnamese, history.com notes:

In addition to the massive environmental impact of the U.S. defoliation program in Vietnam, that nation has reported that some 400,000 people were killed or maimed as a result of exposure to herbicides like Agent Orange. In addition, Vietnam claims half a million children have been born with serious birth defects, while as many 2 million people are suffering from cancer or other illness caused by Agent Orange.

A report today on Germany’s Deutsche Welle Television stated that as many as 3 million Vietnamese are still suffering from results of Agent Orange. The report specifically showed a couple with two children suffering from birth defects. The father had been exposed to Agent Orange as a boy.


Toddlers with Agent Orange birth defects.

Also today, in an interview on Chinese America TV (CCTV), New York University professor Marilyn B. Young, author of The Vietnam Wars, 1945-1990, said that Agent Orange is the major problem Vietnam still faces from America’s presence there.

The news reports noted that in 2012, the U.S. and Vietnam began a toxic cleanup effort to reduce soil contamination levels.

In its March 2015 article, the VA cites the following 10 points veterans should be aware of regarding Agent Orange, following each point with paragraphs of more specific information:

  1. Agent Orange was a herbicide and defoliant used in Vietnam.
  2. Any Veteran who served anywhere in Vietnam during the war is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  3. VA has linked several diseases and health conditions to Agent Orange exposure.
  4. Veterans who want to be considered for disability compensation must file a claim.
  5. VA offers health care benefits for Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides during military service.
  6. Participating in an Agent Orange Registry health exam helps you, other Veterans and VA.
  7. VA recognizes and offers support for the children of Veterans affected by Agent Orange who have birth defects.
  8. Vietnam Veterans are not the only Veterans who may have been exposed to Agent Orange.
  9. VA continues to conduct research on the long-term health effects of Agent Orange in order to better care for all Veterans.
  10. VA contracts with an independent, non-governmental organization to review the scientific and medical information on the health effects of Agent Orange.

Roger Armbrust

Roger Armbrust's articles and columns have covered labor and management, Congressional legislation, and federal court cases, including appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. He formerly served as national news editor of Back Stage in New York City, where he also taught a professional writing course at New York University. His recent book of sonnets -- oh, touch me there: Love Sonnets -- is available from Amazon and other book sites. He is an associate curator of The Clyde Fitch Report. He is also co-founder and co-curator of reality: a world of views.

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1 Response

  1. June 15, 2016

    […] range from spraying millions of Vietnam acres with Agent Orange (which we wrote about in our column “In Vietnam and U.S., Millions Still Haunted by Agent Orange”) to the over 280,000 active and veteran military suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and […]

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