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Before The House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment Regarding Our Forgotten Responsibility: What Can We Do To Help Victims of Agent Orange?

May 15, 2008

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) took our first mission back to Vietnam after the war in December of 1981. That mission was led by our then President, and founder, Robert O. “Bobby” Muller. The substance was two fold: first, to start the process of securing cooperation of the Vietnamese government in achieving the fullest possible accounting of our POW/MIA from the Vietnam ware (or “the American war” as the Vietnamese called it); and, second, to move toward research in Vietnam as the natural laboratory for research into the epidemiological impact of Agent Orange and the other toxins used or inadvertently deposited in Vietnam during our presence there.

VVA has returned to Vietnam many times since, always focusing on these two core missions. Since the early 1990s, VVA has had the “Veterans’ Initiative” (VI) of collecting information about graves of North Vietnamese Army casualties after battles with our forces that are contributed by American veterans who fought in Vietnam, including information, artifacts, etc. that VVA has transmitted to the Veterans Association of Vietnam. This veteran to veteran project has, according to the Vietnamese, contributed to the continued high level of cooperation that the Vietnamese have accorded the J-PAC forces searching for American remains in an effort to locate remains of missing American service members, repatriate them, and help bring closure to the families that have waited so long for final word on the fate of their loved one. Additionally, the Vietnamese have used the information imparted to continue their process of locating the remains of their MIA, and bringing closure to the Vietnamese families in a similar fashion. Our most recent VI mission to Vietnam was just last October.

As to Agent Orange, VVA continues to be the leader among American veterans groups in pressing for more research and action regarding the deleterious and adverse health effects of Agent Orange and other herbicides and toxins to which we, and Vietnamese forces and population were exposed to during the war Much of the residue of these toxins remains in Vietnam, and continues to expose the population to these dangerous chemicals. The common perception is that it is an “Agent Orange” problem, but that is only one of the herbicides used in Vietnam, and only accounts for about 48% or 49% of the aerial spraying.

There is still debate from a few individuals about whether Agent Orange was and is harmful human beings. Dr. Alvin Young continues to say, as he put it in testimony to the panel of scientists convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) last year: “The bad news is that Agent Orange was so widely dispersed by aerial spraying, ground vehicles, and by hand that virtually all who served there would have come in contact with it, but the good new is that most of it is not harmful.” Dr. Young’s contention is that only the Agent Orange that contains 2, 4, 5T was harmful, and that only very limited amounts were used during the early years of the spraying. VVA has reason to doubt that dioxin is good for you, and has told that to Dr. Young repeatedly. It appears that actually the highest concentration of 2, 4 D and 2, 4, 5 T was actually contained in Agent Pink, which was used extensively and primarily along roads and perimeters.

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