“Well this could be the last time.
This could be the last time.
May be the last time
I don’t know, oh no, oh no.”
– Mick Jagger and Keith Richards
While “The Vietnam War” is back in the public eye for a brief second with the 10-part Ken Burns documentary on PBS, let’s talk about Agent Orange again.
On two previous occasions in this space (June 2009, November 2015) I have pleaded for recognition of the damage Agent Orange, and its Rainbow cousins have done to at least three generations of our fellow human beings.
The evidence is clear, the records are available, and except for those whose responsibility it is, “To care for him who has borne the battle, and his widow and children” everyone accepts the studies and research that unambiguously conclude that Agent Orange is responsible for at least two dozen ailments in the children and grandchildren of Vietnam veterans.
Cleft lip and palate, congenital heart disease, fused digits, hip dysplasia, neural tube defects and undescended testicles, a type of dwarfism, and a rare disorder caused by “erasure” of about 26 genes from a specific chromosome that can cause mental retardation, a distinctive facial appearance and cardiovascular problems are just a few of the medical challenges the children and grandchildren of Vietnam veterans face.
Their parents don’t fare much better facing increased rates of cancer, and nerve, digestive, skin, and respiratory disorders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that in particular, there are higher rates of acute/chronic leukemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, throat cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, ischemic heart disease, soft-tissue sarcoma and liver cancer. There has also been increased reporting of male breast cancer.
In a prescient 1983 book about Agent Orange, “Waiting for an Army to Die,” Fred A. Wilcox quoted a young Vietnam veteran, 28-year- old Paul Reutershan, who was the original sole litigant in the Agent Orange class-action lawsuit. In an interview on the “Today” show in spring 1978, Reutershan said, “I died in Vietnam, but I didn’t even know it.”
He died on Dec. 14, 1978 from Agent Orange-related cancer that had destroyed his stomach, liver, and colon.
Time is running out.
Most Vietnam Veterans are in their early 60s and older. They have a lot on their plates, not the least of which is what will their Agent Orange affected children or grandchildren do when he or she is handed the folded flag off their coffin?
Who will care for them? Where will they live? Is anyone responsible?
The sad fact is hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens were poisoned by a wide range of toxic chemicals while they served their nation honorably.
Nearly 50 years later, after decades of begging, pleading, and rolling legislative rocks up Capitol Hill, we’re still a long way from resolution.
House Resolution 299, the Blue Water Navy Veterans Act, and companion its bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 422, would partially restore compensation benefits to Blue Water Navy vets who suffer from the same presumptive Agent Orange-related diseases their land-based comrades receive. Valley Congressman David Valadao is the author of HR 299.
HR 809, Fighting for Orange Stricken Territories in the Eastern Region (the FOSTER Act) which addresses the same inequities as the Blue Water vets for those who served in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa, where Agent Orange was used extensively for weed control around military installations.
There are less than 40 legislative days remaining in the current session of the 115th Congress. Time is running out.
There is no argument that hundreds of thousands of Vietnam veterans struggle daily with diseases and conditions that are directly related to their exposure to Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals used in Vietnam, and elsewhere. There is little, if any, serious dispute of that fact. Millions of Vietnamese and their children also suffer the same illnesses and die the same agonizing death.
Vietnam veterans are not asking for a handout, they are just asking for some common human decency. Is that too much to ask?
Time is running out.
Jim Doyle of Fresno is a freelance writer and a veterans advocate.