In the Vietnam War, the U.S. military used a strong herbicide known as Agent Orange to clear crops and forests that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops were relying on. This plan took place between 1961 and 1971 and was called Operation Ranch Hand. As a result of it, at least 20 million gallons of different herbicides were diffused over areas in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
The herbicide that was used the most was Agent Orange, and it had dioxin in it, which is a chemical with potentially fatal effects. Dioxin was later found to cause significant health problems for the Vietnamese and U.S. military personnel, like neurological/psychological issues, congenital disabilities, and even cancer.
Unexpected Medical Problems for Veterans
Concerns about Agent Orange started coming up after more and more Vietnam soldiers and their families began noticing many types of illness, like congenital disabilities, miscarriages, skin irritations, psychological indications, and type 2 diabetes. They even started to be diagnosed with cancers such as leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, and prostate cancer.
Dr. James Clary, a researcher associated with the operation, explained that the U.S. was aware of the extreme effects that dioxin contamination could have. But, the intended use was for the enemy. The military didn’t foresee that U.S. soldiers would also be overly exposed to the chemical.
The problem is shocking and has been an issue for over four decades. To help respond to the veterans who needed medical attention, President George H.W. Bush enacted the Agent Orange Act in 1991. This would help respond to the problem and mandate that diseases caused by wartime service could be treated at the VA.
Currently, a test for Agent Orange exposure doesn’t exist. But, the VA clinic will give veterans who qualify a free medical exam to help determine if any medical issues have developed as a result of the herbicide exposure.
Legal Conflicts for Justice
Vietnam has gone through extreme environmental devastation as a result of U.S. military and Agent Orange involvement. Approximately 400,000 individuals were hurt or killed because of dangerous exposure. Further, Vietnam asserts that half a million babies were born with devastating congenital disabilities, and roughly 2 million individuals are living with severe illnesses like cancer due to Agent Orange exposure.
A lawsuit began in 2004 against the chemical companies who produced the poisonous substances. The suit demonstrated the billions worth of damage that was caused by Agent Orange and how it created a legacy of medical issues. It also asserted that the U.S. using the substance violated International Law. However, the suit was outrageously dismissed in the U.S. two separate times, first in 2005 and again in 2008.
In summary, the lasting effects of Agent Orange are not to be taken lightly. Lab research has found Dioxin to be fatal even in the smallest amounts. This deadly chemical has remained in the environment as a result of the Vietnam War, not only in the soil, river and lake sediment, but also the food chain.
While nothing can replace the lives that were lost, this should be a powerful reminder that precious resources are limited. As a planet, we need to tread lightly, even if it feels like we are on opposing teams.