Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Report on IOM Open Meeting of September 20, 2010

The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans and Agent Orange Exposure will hold a public meeting on Monday, September 20, 2010, at the Keck Center of the National Academies, Washington, DC.

Three members from VASVW attended. Senior Legislative Advocates Mike Teaney, Janet Davis and Jeff Davis.

The following is a précis of this event.

The invited speaker at this session was Dr. Jeanne Stellman, Columbia University. She discussed her Exposure Opportunity Model.

Dr. Stellman's presentation was extremely impressive in its scope, the depth of research and body of data gathered. Dr. Stellman exhibited an impressive knowledge of the history of the Vietnam War as it pertained to US involvement, on the ground inside Vietnam. Dr. Stellman said she never did any work relative to the blue water Navy and Agent Orange.

Some of the more salient points in her presentation were:

1. The southernmost area of South Vietnam was the most heavily sprayed area in the country. The coastal areas of this province were where the US Coast Guard operated.

2. The barrels of herbicide that were delivered to the Republic of South Vietnam were delivered by ships of the merchant marine. NO HERBICIDES WERE CARRIED ABOARD US NAVY OR COAST GUARD VESSELS.

3. When delivered to Vietnam, all herbicides were signed over the to Republic of Vietnam's government. They stored it until it was to be used. RVN control of the herbicides while in their possession was haphazard at best. Spills occurred as did thefts, and loss of herbicides through faulty inventory control procedures.

4. All US spray missions were planned weeks to months in advance, sometimes more than a year elapsed between a request to spray an area, and permission from the US and RVN governments was given.

5. Approved spray missions then had to be cleared by local commanders to ensure friendly troops would be away from the danger zones, and that a need existed.

6. Air Force Ranch Hand personnel would then requisition the required herbicide [Blue, White, Orange, etc.] and retrieve it from the RVN storage depots.

7. Spray missions were tracked and recorded with coordinates and incidents that may have occurred. Date and time were also recorded.

8. Empty barrels of herbicides were sometimes used for makeshift bbq grills and for disposal of human waste by burning.

9. Exposure to herbicides was referred to by degrees, heavy, to light, and the statement made that the study could not say that there was anyone in the Republic of Vietnam during the years when spraying occurred who was NOT exposed. While there undoubtedly were some, the vast majority were located close enough to the spray areas to be affected, even in the cities and rear areas.

10. The study did not include Blue Water Navy exposures, nor did it consider runoff contaminated by dioxin, or the Australian study. However, fresh water purification in the Republic of Vietnam was not done using an evaporative process but nonetheless, the water was more than likely tainted with dioxin.

11. A suggestion was made by several members of the committee that the committee request data from Dr. Stellman regarding spray missions along the entire coast of the Republic of Vietnam.

12. Rivers and streams were primary targets of spraying, as were roads and trails.

13. 4.7 million gallons of AO were sprayed "in a relatively small area" of the RVN - approximately 18% of the RVN. But Dr. Stellman said that the vast majority of troops were located in close enough proximity to the spray areas to be affected. She also said that support troops were exposed because spraying was done outside of heavy combat zones and because troops moved in after the spraying took place.

Finally, Dr. Stellman's presentation is not yet released to the public, and she indicated no release date. Yet based on her presentation we can now put to bed some myths about Blue Water Navy and direct contamination.

A. Sailors on Navy ships were not involved with spraying, nor were herbicides carried on US Navy ships.

B. Helicopters were rarely used for spraying.

C. The vast majority of spray missions were carried out by USAF C-123 aircraft. No spraying out at sea was recorded. While Dr. Stellman's research plotted every spray mission in Ranch Hand Operations, there were a few, about a half dozen or so, that showed coordinates out at sea. Those were corrected as a common error was found in all the coordinates showing spray missions at sea.

D. Navy aircraft flying over the Republic of Vietnam were seldom low enough to be contaminated by Ranch Hand mission spraying and rarely would they even be in the vicinity of a spray mission. The odds are astronomically against the exposure to Naval personnel from returning aircraft.

E. There were only some 60 dump missions where aircraft were forced to terminate the mission and dump their load of herbicide. The missions seldom defoliated any areas as the concentrations were too high to allow the vegetation to absorb the chemicals. This is out of nearly 10,000 spray missions in Operation Ranch Hand.

W. G. Jeff Davis
Senior Legislative Advocate, Founder and CEO

For: Michael Teaney, Senior Legislative Advocate
      Janet B. Davis, Senior Legislative Advocate

The Veterans Association of Sailors of the Vietnam War, Inc.
Service to the Nation decades ago, now back in action!
"Fortitudine vincimus!" - By endurance we conquer!


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  1. Anonymous11:45

    and how will this report affect BWN?

  2. Anonymous11:09

    This A/O Spraying caused contamaination to all troops, soil, heavy equipment and all aircraft that landed at airports in Vietnam, Then returning back to carriers plus any land basesfields.

    Including rivers and streams moving
    storm soil run off waters into the Gulf Of Tonkin with these herbicides comtamainations, getting into Navy ship board drinking water systems.

    Greg US Navy 1965
    USS Independence CVA-62

  3. Greg,

    You are correct. But the incidence of contaminated returning aircraft is so small as to be negligable.

    As for the runoff, first Tonkin Gulf really is off shore of what was then North Vietnam. We sprayed somewhat in and just north of the DMZ, but the majority of the ships, and the run off was into the South China Sea, and into the Gulf of Thailand.

    This IOM study is to compare how exposure occurred between those who were on land and those who were on and under the Blue Water.

    Based on everything I have heard of late, I recommend two things to you. Get the Decklogs from the Indy. You should probably go through a researcher like Tim Franks at Military Research.com [email him at Historian1975@gmail.com] He is very reasonable.
    Have him look for times when the Indy went close to the shore of South Vietnam...within 10 miles. If you can zero him in to specific dates, that's great, but likely you can't, so it will cost him time to look. If you have buddies from your deployment who need the same proof, maybe you can share the cost.

    Second recommendation: join VASVW. Lots happening there these days.


  4. Anonymous15:32

    In my last(7/14/10) hearing with the Department of Veteran Affairs traveling judge.
    All this evidence was presented with our planes landing in DaNang airfield for repairs.Plus the USS Independence positions in the DaNang harbor waters with other Task Force Seven ships.
    I'am still waiting for a copy of my hearing minutes.

    Charleston SC
    USS Independece CVA-62
    Combat 1965, Three Tours on line.

  5. Greg,

    Contact me using the email me link up near the top of the left sidebar.


  6. Anonymous20:52

    I made the 1965 WestPac cruise in INDEPENDENCE....we were the first east coast CVA to do to Vietnam....
    have to admit, I don't recall the ship putting in to DaNang. This isn't to be taken as critical of Greg....it just means I don't recall it, it's not in my cruise book either.

  7. Anonymous20:48

    Regardless, my father has passed at the ripe old age of 58 with health problems longer than my arm including those on the AO approved list. He was exposed to something!

  8. If you father had a claim you may be able to complete it. Without knowing the particulars of your father's service dates and locations, I can't advice you any more than that. Please feel free to contact me using the "email me" link near the top of the right hand column.

    And please understand, it does not matter how strong a case is made to or by the IoM committees, the can only recommend that the VA make a change, they cannot order it to do so.