I am writing in response to Mr. John Meinhold’s and Mr. Robert Wickham’s opinions which appeared in letters to the editor in The Boston Herald last week. These letters were regarding the situation in Syria. The letters discussed the similarities and differences of the chemical herbicide called Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War and the Sarin nerve agent used in Syria. My father is dead because of Agent Orange. I was born premature with multiple birth defects because of his exposure.
Mr. Meinhold stated, Agent Orange use amounted to “despicable, heinous crimes against humanity that the Pentagon carried out,” as Mr. Wickham argued, the illnesses and birth defects were “unintended consequences” of exposure to Agent Orange and certainly not the result of some deliberate attempt to injure or kill humans. Mr. Wickham is suggesting because Agent Orange did not kill everyone it touched instantly and because they did not initially deploy it to kill humans, but vegetation, it should have no bearing on the current debate in Syria.
I beg to differ, and so would thousands of children of Vietnam Veterans, who are sick and dying of cancers, auto immune disorders, and birth defects. The Pentagon may have not set out to slowly kill anyone who was exposed to the dioxin laden herbicide, but they knew around 1968 from chemical company’s reports Agent Orange was toxic (see the first class action lawsuit documents). It was further broadened in 1969, when the Congressional Record reflects the United States tabled the use of Chemical and Biological weapons. This in an effort to stop back door financing of the Chemical and Biological Weapons program. The Pentagon still did not stop its use in Vietnam until 1971. When the war ended in 1975, and veterans in droves were complaining about serious illnesses, their wives having multiple miscarriages (like my Mom), and their children were being born deformed, they were ignored.
Our Veterans became ill. They were called liars. It wasn’t until 1991 they began to compensate some Vietnam Veterans for their illnesses. A total of sixteen years after the War! My Father had five bypasses on his heart at age 38, at 40 he developed diabetes, at 48 he had a stroke and at age 50 he died of a massive heart attack. My father filed for ischemic heart disease in 1986. They added Ischemic Heart Disease to the presumptive list in 2010. Twelve years after his death and twenty four years after he filed his claim. The very claim he filed in 1986 for Ischemic heart disease is still in appeal. My mother still waits for the closure she deserves.
Unlike what Mr. Wickman suggests, this is not about comparing intentions of herbicide to nerve agent, this is about comparing hypocrisy and morality. We sprayed roughly 18 million gallons of dioxin laden chemicals on our allies land in Vietnam, not a drop of Agent Orange was sprayed on our enemy’s soil in North Vietnam. Today, Vietnam still has twenty seven hot spots for dioxin. One (the 28th spot) in Da Nang is in the middle of remediation (52 years after the beginning of spraying). The villages around these hot spot areas are full of sick and dying people, and newly born deformed children. This after at least 40 years of the United States knowing the dioxin they sprayed was hurting people and still did very little to rectify it with our veterans, and nothing to help Vietnam or Australians who were also exposed. The use of Agent Orange beginning in 1961 tipped the first domino that is continuing to fall piece by piece 52 years later.
Life after life continues to be destroyed in the biggest slow burn genocide known to the human race. It crosses continents and generations with no signs of stopping until everyone directly exposed is dead and every genetic mutation passed on, twisting and distorting innocent being’s genetics who had no say in the political climate of the 1960′s. All the while, those responsible look away. The responsible party instead looks away to a foreign land where they believe they can swoop in and be the hero. They point their finger and say Syria has crossed a red line. What happened in Syria is wrong. The deaths from chemical warfare need to continue to be investigated. The responsible party should be punished by actions agreed to by the International community.
The United States also killed children in their Agent Orange massacre, like the Sarin gas killed innocents, but not just the innocent children in Vietnam. They destroyed their own patriot’s children. They killed and maimed their own. Those that did not die at birth have lead a long lonely road where they have been forgotten. There were 2.8 million U.S. men who served in the Vietnam War and only 8 thousand women. Currently, the government only recognizes 18+ birth defects in the children of female VN Veterans and one birth defect in the children of male Vietnam Veterans, Spina Bifida (not Occulta). These measures do not go far enough.
Our organization, Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, receives letters daily from kids of Vietnam Veterans who have the same birth defects on the women’s list. There have been recommendations from the Institute of Medicine for years recommending the government study the children of Male Vietnam Veterans, but year after year, after year it is ignored. Even in 1979, when the first Agent Orange Class action lawsuit was filed it initially included thousands of children of male Vietnam Vets. I believe it is simply too expensive to attempt to right the wrong of so many victims so they don’t. Kids of Vietnam Veterans were born with and have to live our lives with devastating birth defects, rare cancers, auto immune disorders, fertility issues, and many more debilitating disorders. So far we have been ignored. If things continue as they have for so many decades we will die young just like our fathers, never seeing justice.
The money for a limited military action in Syria could just as easily be used to cover the same 18+ birth defects and illnesses in the children of Male Vietnam Veterans they already cover in the children of female Vietnam Veterans. The money used for war could fund research for my peers who are sick and dying of rare illnesses, as the IOM suggests. It could help the grandchildren of Vietnam Veterans who are also being born in alarming numbers, with birth defects and rare illnesses, like their parents before them. There would probably be money left over to end the environmental disaster in Vietnam. Please stop our own homegrown chemical genocide before involving ourselves in another nation at war. Mr. Wickman, we may not agree on this issue, but at Children of Vietnam Veterans we respect our veterans. Welcome Home and thank you for your service.