Agent Orange/dioxin has killed more Americans than al-Qaida, the Islamic State, Boko Haram, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard combined. It has managed to do this without any significant action from our government to stop the slaughter of American veterans and their families.
Currently two bills, Senate Bill 901 and House Resolution 1769, the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015, languish in Congress because those we elect choose to ignore the simple fact that Agent Orange/dioxin is injuring and killing people 40 years after the Vietnam War ended.
It is now 50 years since our “official” entry into the war in Vietnam on Nov. 14, 1965, when elements of the 1st Air Cavalry Division engaged a superior North Vietnamese force in the Ia Drang Valley. Gen. Hal Moore and journalist Joe Galloway chronicled this battle in the book “We Were Soldiers Once and Young,” subsequently made into the Mel Gibson film “We Were Soldiers.”
What are we waiting for?
In 1983, scholar Fred Wilcox penned a book titled “Waiting for an Army to Die” about the tragedy of Agent Orange/dioxin. In it, the author quotes a young Vietnam veteran, 28-year-old Paul Reutershan, who told the “Today” show in spring 1978, “I died in Vietnam, but I didn’t even know it.”
This was only three years after we left Vietnam. He died less than six months later from the cancer that had destroyed his colon, liver and abdomen.
These two bills are very simple in their effort to address the crisis of birth defects in the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of those men and women who served our nation in Vietnam.
It is interesting to note that our local congressional delegation, Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, have chosen not to join over 130 of their colleagues from both sides of the aisle and co-sponsor HR 1769.
Ironically, they are always the first in line at Memorial Day and Veterans Day events, VA hospital openings and other veteran gatherings demonstrating their commitment to veterans. Likewise, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have yet to sign on as co-sponsors of the companion SB 901.
What are they waiting for?
These bills address the legacy effects of Agent Orange/dioxin, a lethal combination of 2-4-5-T and 2-4-D, and its unintended byproduct, dioxin, the most toxic chemical known to science. Dioxin was the culprit in Times Beach and Love Canal.
This is not just a problem for Vietnam veterans. Agent Orange/dioxin was mixed, stored and used on bases in Okinawa, Guam, Fort McClelland, Fort Detrick, Puerto Rico, and dozens of other U.S. military facilities across the country and around the world. Many thousands of service members of the era and their offspring were exposed to this poison.
AL amyloidosis, chronic B-cell leukemias, chloracne, diabetes mellitus type 2, Hodgkin’s disease, ischemic heart disease, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, respiratory cancer and soft-tissue sarcomas are just a few of the diseases experienced by veterans that have a direct link to exposure to this chemical weapon.
Many Vietnam veterans have long since given up hope their health issues will be resolved any time soon. Their primary concern now is the health of the generations who follow them.
In June 2009, The Bee published an article I wrote coincidental to the release of a Ford Foundation research study on the long-term effects of Agent Orange/dioxin. “Who Drafted These Kids?” addressed the long list of diseases that affect our children and their children and grandchildren.
Offspring of Vietnam veterans suffer from a wide spectrum of conditions including achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism, and Williams syndrome, 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 for starters. Other problems include cleft lip and palate, congenital heart disease, fused digits, hip dysplasia, neural tube defects and undescended testicles. The list goes on.
It is now nearly seven years since the Ford Foundation report and not surprisingly, nothing has been done to address the health issues raised by the study.
Contact your local congressional delegation and implore them to co-sponsor and vote to adopt the provisions of HR 1769 and SB 901.
What are you waiting for?
Jim Doyle of Fresno is a freelance writer and veterans advocate.