The War that May Never End
By Jennifer Bailey
Agent Orange was an herbicide developed in the 1940s. The chemical was a combination of two herbicides: dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. It was contaminated by dioxin, one of the deadliest substances known.
The Vietnam War began in 1959. In 1961, Agent Orange began to be shipped in 55-gallon drums painted with an orange stripe, from which the name is derived. The military used it to destroy vegetation in thick jungles, where the enemy might hide to ambush U.S. soldiers. It also was used to destroy cropland, forcing farmers into U.S.-controlled cities.
Before being shipped to Vietnam, Agent Orange was tested in Thailand and the United States at Fort Detrick in Maryland; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; and Camp Drum, New York. Herbicides were also used in the United States; however, they were heavily diluted with water or oil. The Agent Orange used in Vietnam was 6 to 25 times stronger than the manufacturer’s recommended amount. From 1962 to 1971, roughly 13 million gallons were sprayed over 5.6 million acres, including waterways.
Agent Orange was one of what are known as the rainbow herbicides: Agents Blue, White, Purple, Pink and Green. More than 7 million gallons of these chemicals were used. Agent Orange II, called “Super Orange,” was sprayed 1968-1969.
Warren is a soft-hearted, energetic, family man who has been fighting leiomyosarcoma since 2001. He joined the U.S Army on Sept. 19, 1963, to experience something new and to serve his country. He deployed to Vietnam on Aug. 19, 1965. His mission was to store and protect ammunition and deliveries. He was also responsible for guard duty in the jungles, and he sprayed Agent Orange along the roadside on defoliation missions.
When it was dropped from C-123 aircraft, the mist would drift beyond the target sites. Ground troops lived in this mist. They breathed it, drank it in their water and ate it in their food. Some troops, including Warren, made the empty drums into barbecue pits, storage containers for food, showers and latrines.
The Army told Warren that the chemicals had been tested and there was nothing to worry about. The Army was wrong.
The first public concern arose in 1964. In February 1965, just as the spraying was increasing, Dow Chemical Corp. held a meeting with other manufacturers to discuss the potential long-term hazards of exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides. Three months later, a Dow executive sent a memo to a manager at the Dow factory in Canada informing him of the high toxins and the concern for skin disorders.
The chemical companies and the military kept these concerns quiet. They continued to claim the herbicides would not hurt people economically or physically.
Warren left Vietnam in 1966, the year that the American Association for the Advancement of Science called for studies. A year later, 5,000 scientists signed a petition urging President Johnson to end the use of herbicides in Vietnam.
Also in 1967, the U.S. ambassador to Saigon addressed “mist drift”: how far the wind would take the chemical and what damage it would do to rubber trees. (Vietnam is a major producer of natural rubber.) In 1968, Gen. A.R. Brownfield ordered “helicopter spray operations will not be conducted when ground temperatures are greater than 85 (degrees) Fahrenheit and wind speed in excess of 10 mph.”
In 1969, the White House ordered a reduction in the use of Agent Orange, based on an FDA report. On June 30, 1971, all U.S. defoliation operations in Vietnam ended. U.S troops remained in Vietnam until the war ended on April 30, 1975.
Studies and Compensation After the War
In 1979, Congress commissioned a large-scale epidemiological study of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange and other herbicides. Over the next four years, the VA examined about 200,000 Vietnam veterans for medical problems they claimed stemmed from Agent Orange and other herbicides.
Also in 1979, veterans filed a class-action lawsuit against the companies that had manufactured Agent Orange.
Many were not satisfied with their exams and medical care, and they felt the VA was ignoring their claims. In 1981, Congress expanded health-care coverage to Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange. The next year, 1983, the Department of Health and Human Services released its first report showing a link between Agent Orange exposure and soft-tissue sarcoma.
In 1984, the class-action lawsuit was settled. Although the companies did not have to accept blame, they were ordered to pay $180 million to the veterans.
Under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine entered into an agreement with the Veterans Administration to review and summarize scientific and medical evidence on herbicide exposure during the war. A book on its findings was issued in 1994. Updates come out every two years.
The 1991 law authorized compensation and medical treatment for veterans exposed to the herbicide in Vietnam and had a disability of 10% or more from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, soft-tissue sarcoma or chloracne. Over time, more diseases have been added. Click here to read the current list.
In addition to the type of disease, the VA provides benefits based on the veteran’s location of service. Veterans exposed to the herbicide are encouraged to get a free Agent Orange Health Registry Exam from the VA. In addition to a physical exam and a medical history, veterans may get lab tests and chest X-rays.
In addition to U.S. veterans, an estimated 3 million Vietnamese people suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. It remains in the land and water, and has contributed to generations of birth defects.
In the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, President Nixon promised to provide $3 billion to help Vietnamese people heal and repair their country. This promise was not kept. The Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/dioxin sued the manufacturers of the herbicide in 2004, but lost in court.
The Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign works to get U.S government compensation for Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.
Many organizations inform and educate people about the effects of Agent Orange. They document the pain and suffering of millions. They provide links to help people file VA claims and contact and petition U.S. representatives to compensate victims and their families. These websites remind current and future generations of the effects of an irresponsible use of a toxic chemical.
Since his cancer diagnosis in 2001 until 2012, when I wrote this paper, Warren Bailey has endured 11 major and seven minor surgeries.Warren has had three major infections that required extended hospital stays, which included about three months of antibiotics given to him via portable bag infusions twice a day. He is thankful for his life and has accomplished exceptional feats even after his cancer diagnosis.
Warren is 67 years old and currently ranks 5th in the world for his age in racquetball. Racquetball is his therapy and a way for Warren to educate others about his cancer through speeches, newspapers and television. He holds a racquetball tournament fundraiser, called “Slaying the Beast,” to help with research and funding for his cancer every year. Warren travels the country to play in national and international racquetball tournaments.
Warren continues to fight this war through his battle with incurable cancer. So do thousands of other Vietnam veterans. I hope that one day the government will acknowledge Agent Orange as a mistake and apologize to veterans. Meanwhile, more studies will be done and more diseases will be added to the list. Every day more veterans will become disabled and have to rejoin the battle.
Agent Orange/Cancer Linked. (1985). Environment.
American Cancer Society. (2013). Agent Orange and Cancer.
Butler, D. (2005). US abandons health study on Agent Orange. Nature, 434(7034), 687. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from Research Library database.
Department of Veterans Affairs. Agent Orange.
Department of Veterans Affairs. Soft Tissue Sarcoma and Agent Orange.
Global Pesticide Campaigner, Agent Orange and Dioxin in Vietnam: New Findings. (1998). 8(4), 10.
Ngo, A.D.; Taylor, R.; Roberts, C. L.; Nguyen, T. V. (2006). Association between Agent Orange and birth defects: systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology, 35(5), 1220-30.
Ratner, M. (2007). Bringing the War Home: Justice for Vietnam’s Agent Orange Victims. Peacework, 34(379), 10-11.
Rovner, J. (1996). More US Agent Orange victims compensated. The Lancet. 347(9015), 1617.
The U.S. Veteran Dispatch (2009). The Story of Agent Orange. Pictures of Agent Orange and Aerial spraying. Retrieved December 15th, 2008, from http://www.lewispublishing.com/orange.htm