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Congressional Legislation: Agent Orange... Nothing New


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In mid-June the U.S. house and Senate passed separate bills with comprehensive packages for Vietnam vets. Both bill addressed extensions for Vets Outreach Centers (scheduled to be axed in October) and, importantly, the problems of the herbicide Agent Orange.

The bills have not yet been resolved nor have they gotten through the White House; more importantly, they haven't made it by the ax of Management and Budget czar David Stockman. Still, the bills need close examination for their actual merits.

Both bills would authorize VA hospitals to give priority medical treatment to Vietnam vets whose conditions is determined by VA physicians to be associated with Agent Orange. Additionally, current VA studies would be expanded to include veterans affected by other herbicides—Agent blue, White and Pink; and the controversial experiments performed on Vietnam vets with the anti-malarial drug, dapson.

Despite the nice-sounding words of the bills, the reality of this legislation has to be seen in perspective, especially for vets and their families suffering from the effects of herbicides.

Since the VA has yet to determine exactly what test procedures are to be used to find the presence of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T ( the major ingredients of Agent Orange) in vets, the question of broadening the studies will add little to the VA's already pathetic Agent Orange program.

The question of priority medical treatment, however well-intentioned, is a cruel hoax. With no standardized test program, the VA may give the vet priority in the VA waiting room but what treatment he or she receives will be directed toward a particular symptom rather than an herbicide-related illness. Bluntly speaking, if this legislation makes it into law, nothing changes on the Agent Orange front. There is little doubt that already prevalent horror stories of medical screw-ups, bad diagnosis, and intimidation of vets reporting Agent Orange symptoms will probably increase.


Once Congress passes the bills into law (barring resistance from Stockman or the White House) veterans will still have to contend with the VA whose history around Agent Orange has already been dismal at best.

Dated May 17, 1981 the internal VA document entitled "Agent Orange—Change in Direction" was sent by the VA's Office of informational Services to directors. The document, an official VA memo, launches an incredible attack on the media, which has commented favorably on vets' positions, specific members of the media, Maude DeVictor ( the VA employee who broke the Agent Orange story to the press), Vietnam vets and even wives of Vietnam vets who are activists.

The memo begins, "The "other side" in the current Agent Orange controversy is making a strong appearance and may provide the counterpoint necessary to keep this important issue in objective perspective."

The scientific evidence comes from the American Council on Science and Health which states, "the herbicide 2,4,5-T is not hazardous to people." It further states, "No scientific reports presented to date have shown any convincing relationship between the traditional use of 2,4,5-T and adverse health effects in people." The VA has just over-ruled the Environmental Protection Agency, several governments of other countries and the majority of the world's scientific community.

The sources for the VA memo, The American Council on Science and Health, and Accuracy in the Media (AIM) Inc. are questionable themselves.

The American Council on Science and Health has a long history of siding with major corporations on questions of safety to the American public when corporations, in this case the chemical companies, are being put to the wall by Vietnam veterans.

Accuracy in the Media, Inc, another conservative bastion to champion the privileged spends its time in the report slamming the New York Times for a series of articles favorable to Vietnam vets and their families.

Singling out Bill Kurtis of CBS and ABC's Geraldo Rivera, the VA's Office of Information has pointed the finger of blame for manufacturing a "scare" in the press without which the Vietnam vet would have never known there was a problem—that is, with the exception of Paul Reutersham and other brothers who have died, the high incidence of birth defects in our children, the simultaneous growth of Agent Orange vets groups in Australia, New Zealand and Korea (without the benefits of American media) and the Vietnamese victims that VVAW knew about as early as 1971.

The VA Memo goes further to refute findings by the Italian Government on a large-scale industrial accident in Seveso, Italy in 1976; a Monsanto plant accident in Nitro, W VA in 1949 (where a bitter fight, like that of Vietnam vets is being waged by the Atomic, Petroleum and Chemical Workers Union) and vet's children with defects on the basis of a three-part series by two reporters from the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

The conclusions and opinions put forth in this memo show an entirely different attitude than that of spokespersons for the VA. The memo flies in the face of any so-called "supportive" legislation given to Vietnam veterans.

Vietnam vets and their families must remember that as we are given assurance, petty legislation and glad hands by public official, there is a strong undercurrent of opposition to what we are fighting for from many VA big wigs. Our fight remains the same: testing, treatment and compensation for all Agent Orange victims.

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