Thursday, February 27, 2014

The New Trail of Tears: The Agent Orange Story [Part 3 of 3]

Title 38 United State Code
Title 38 United States Code is the section of Federal law governing Veterans benefits, including medical coverage.  It deals most specifically with the term “service-connected disability.” 

The meaning of the term “Service-connected” is pretty much self-evident: any condition, the cause of which can be traced directly to a Veteran’s service. 

Title 38 Section 1:
(11) The term “period of war” means the Spanish-American War, the Mexican border period, World War I, World War II, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam era, the Persian Gulf War, and the period beginning on the date of any future declaration of war by the Congress and ending on the date prescribed by Presidential proclamation or concurrent resolution of the Congress.

(12) The term “veteran of any war” means any veteran who served in the active military, naval, or air service during a period of war.

(16) The term “service-connected” means, with respect to disability or death, that such disability was incurred or aggravated, or that the death resulted from a disability incurred or aggravated, in line of duty in the active military, naval, or air service.
When the Agent Orange Act of 1991 was passed, the VA wrote its policy based on Admiral Zumwalt’s second option, the catch-all that ensured all who were exposed to herbicides were covered, even though some who were not, but had herbicide-related diseases, would also be covered. 

If you received the Vietnam Service medal, and had an Agent Orange Disease, and a discharge from the military under other than dishonorable conditions, you were eligible for service connected disability benefits. 

The Congressionally enacted bill, Public Law 102-4 enacted on 6 February 1991, was vague in its definition of service in Vietnam:
For the purposes of this subsection, a veteran who, during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam era…
https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/102/hr556/text
Section 3 of the act, includes this paragraph:
(e) RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ADDITIONAL SCIENTIFIC STUDIES.—The Academy shall make any recommendations it has for additional scientific studies to resolve areas of continuing scientific uncertainty relating to herbicide exposure. In making recommendations for further study, the Academy shall consider the scientific information that is currently available, the value and relevance of the information that could result from additional studies, and the cost and feasibility of carrying out such additional studies.
https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/102/hr556/text

We are aware of such requests made by the National Academies of Science regularly in their biennial reports, and we have seen such requests have been made in their biennial reports, only to have them spurned by the VA.

In a 2012 address before the Committee to Review the Health Effects in Vietnam Veterans of Exposure to Herbicides [Ninth Biennial Update] during their June 28 inaugural session, we made just such a request of the committee.  To date there has been no response.  We asked for a comprehensive study of the health outcomes of Vietnam Veterans, Vietnam Era Veterans, and non-Veterans of the Vietnam Era, all of a same age grouping, of both sexes, and with the Vietnam and Vietnam Era Veterans broken down into areas of service [Branch and location during Vietnam Era, including multiple periods of service].  We hope this will appear in the near future and that, finally, the VA will undertake to fund the study.  Further, we can think of no better person to lead the study than Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University.

The question arises: Why is the VA afraid of new studies? 

The First Lies
As posted in part 2, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt recognized the VA for its contentious nature on the Agent Orange issue:
Such a resolution of the embarrassingly prolonged Agent Orange controversy would be on the order of decisions to compensate U.S. soldiers who contracted cancer after exposure to radiation from atomic tests and U.S. soldiers involved, without their knowledge, in LSD experiments. With the scientific basis now available for it to be stated with confidence that it is at least as likely as not that various health effects are related to wartime exposure to Agent Orange, there is the opportunity finally to right a significant national wrong committed against our Vietnam Veterans.
Zumwalt made no secret of the fact that he ran into constant interference by the VA, in particular with the Cancer Studies done by the Centers for Disease Control [CDC] in 1988-1990.  In the final report of the Association of Selected Cancers with Military Service in Vietnam, conducted by the Selected Cancers Cooperative Study Group, in September of 1990, we find this curiously worded passage:
Furthermore, the risk for Hodgkin's disease was not elevated among men with greater potential for contact with Agent Orange, including men who served in combat units, men in Ill Corps (the most heavily sprayed area (Craig, 1975; Westing, 1984)), or men stationed in Vietnam between 1966 and 1969, the period of heaviest spraying. ln addition, compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk for Hodgkin's disease did not significantly differ between those in the Navy (most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels with little potential for exposure to Agent Orange) and men in other service branches P.91

 First, we find it highly suspect that a bunch of scientists would put what is clearly an assertion “[most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels with little potential for exposure to Agent Orange]”  not based on any scientific evidence into a report. 

Second, markedly absent from this is the natural follow-on to determine why, then, there was “no significant difference” between Blue Water Navy personnel and those of other branches of the service.  Indeed, the very fact that there was not a significant difference begs to find a scientific vector of possible exposure to Agent Orange in Blue Water Navy personnel since their rates of Hodgkin’s Disease were so similar with personnel in other branches! 

We believe this to be a sign of the VA interference that the good Admiral was referring to. 

More, this time on Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma or NHL:
Results of our study do not suggest that the risk of NHL varies according to known patterns of spraying in Vietnam. The estimated risk tended to be somewhat lower among Vietnam veterans who served in combat units, in the Army, or in III Corps than among other men. Compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk of NHL tended to be higher among Navy veterans, most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels. Overall, the risk tended to be higher for men based at sea than for those based on land. Finally, no greater risk was associated with serving in Vietnam during the period of heaviest spraying, 1966 to 1969.

Ye gads!  “…Compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk of NHL tended to be higher among Navy veterans, most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels. Overall, the risk tended to be higher for men based at sea than for those based on land….


A glaring admission that the principle cancer in the original Agent Orange Act of 1991 has higher incidences in Veterans serving at sea in the Blue Water Navy than on those who served on land.

But the VA has always fallen back on the CDC Study quote noted above: “...most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels with little potential for exposure to Agent Orange...”  It is this quote that separates the Blue Water Navy from other Vietnam Veterans, and it has not one shred of science to back it up.  Indeed, the Australian Study which was commissioned by the Australian Government to find out why their Blue Water Sailors were sick and dying of Agent Orange related diseases, clearly found the culprit in the water desalinization system on Navy ships.  Ships need fresh water to run their boilers to generate steam to drive the turbines that move the ship.  From that first batch of seawater that was obviously contaminated with Agent Orange from runoff via streams and rivers, through the processing of the now fresh  water, the system ran the water through a superheated system, one product of which was fresh water for the use of the crew for drinking and bathing.  That second process did not remove the dioxin in the water, it concentrated it.

Does this not answer the missing question above?  Why “…Compared with other Vietnam veterans, the risk of NHL tended to be higher among Navy veterans, most of whom were stationed on ocean-going vessels. Overall, the risk tended to be higher for men based at sea than for those based on land….”?

Of course it does!

In his report to the Secretary of the VA quoted in the previous post, Zumwalt clearly states about the CDC studies:
I further conclude that the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Environmental Hazards has not acted with impartiality in its review and assessment of the scientific evidence related to the association of adverse health effects and exposure to Agent Orange. p.3
Zumwalt came down hard on this committee, but not as hard as he came down on the CDC. 

Egregious
It is his word.  It is how Zumwalt described the studies conducted by the CDC in the early and mid-1980s.  Not just how the studies were constructed, but also how they were conducted.  He described the interference as "political in nature." 

Let’s go back a bit.  And we warn you that we will, out of truth and facts and necessity, get a bit political here ourselves. 

1968
In 1968 the Vietnam War was in full swing, though the spraying of defoliants had begun to level off.  1968 was the year of the Tet Offensive.  During a truce for the lunar New Year, North Vietnamese forces buttressed by the irregulars of the Viet Cong guerilla forces, came out of the jungles of South Vietnam and into the cities, towns and villages.  Atrocities were committed on a regular basis, in small villages, and in the old provincial capital of Hue not far south of the DMZ.  The North Vietnamese Army [NVA] and the Viet Cong [VC] guerillas entered those villages, towns and cities with lists of names of people who did not support their cause, and were loyal to the existing government of the Republic of Vietnam.  They hunted down the people on those lists and executed them, usually burying them in mass graves. 

Not without difficulty, the US and RVN forces rolled back the enemy and defeated them across the country, but the damage was done.  The NVA and the VC had won an apparent victory for catching us off guard…not in Vietnam, but on the nightly news in the US. 

In the US, April saw the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and two months later, another assassination, this time it was Robert F. Kennedy.  By the time of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago at the end of August, the nation was so disrupted by unrest, the war news, the assassinations, that the convention itself became secondary news to the anti-war riots and protests on the streets near the convention.  These riots even pushed the Vietnam War into the background…while the war itself had entered into a lull while the enemy waited to see who would be the next President of the United States. 

Richard Nixon got elected by about a half-million votes.  The demonstrations continued with slightly less violence.  As the war dragged on despite Nixon’s promise to end it “with honor,” the demonstrations continued.   Nevertheless, Nixon’s second term election was by one of the largest landslides in US history.   This provided some impetus to bring the North Vietnamese to the table for peace discussions.  In early 1973 the Paris Peace talks yielded an agreement and the war wound down for the US, but not for the South Vietnamese.  On the 29th of April, 1975, the US presence in Vietnam came to an end in a hasty helicopter withdrawal from the US Embassy in Saigon.  The next day, April 30, the Republic of Vietnam surrendered.   The War was finally over. 

Where did the protestors go?
One needs to ask, what happened to all those protestors?  To answer that you need to know who they were.  Most were young college students, some were disaffected veterans returned from Vietnam, some were draft dodgers, many were college professors, and some were, quite simply, anti-American anarchists.  All were, to one degree or another, idealists, politically indoctrinated in their classrooms and lecture halls, coffee houses, sit-ins, be-ins, and rallies where anti-war agitators would continue their political indoctrination.  Very few were political conservatives.  They were the extreme left of the liberal/progressive movement in the US, and they targeted their own political party’s presidential convention because the party was positioned too far to the right in conducting a war they were against. 

So where did they go?  Most went back to the classroom.  Those who taught, continued to teach the catechism of anti-government, socialist rhetoric that had been instilled in them by the leaders of the anti-war movement.  Many of those who were students became teachers and professors who were highly unwilling to keep their politics out of the classroom and lecture halls.  Generations of college graduates since then have been the recipients, willing or not, of this political indoctrination.  Many became lawyers.  Many went into government, local, state and Federal.  Some worked their way up in the bureaucracy to middle and upper level management, in some cases very rapidly.  They were the movers and shakers in the Executive branch of government, filling the upper ranks of the cabinet level departments by the 1990s in a wave that has only finally begun to diminish. 

One of those departments is the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The same people who demonstrated at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968, and elsewhere, were the same folks who spat on you in airports, train and bus stations around the country when you came home from the war.  They are the reason you were suddenly allowed, even encouraged to go ashore, or off base in your civvies – uniform no longer required.  They are the same reason the VA fought so hard to prevent the recognition of the damage done by herbicides to our soldiers, and the subsequent granting of disability benefits…it was what you deserved for participating in that “dirty, illegal war”.  To them we are all war criminals.  And what better place to dish out your “just desserts” from than the VA?  They dedicated their lives to doing just that, and from within the law, too, no matter how perverted it became. 

They are the ones who, in 1993, removed the US Air Force from coverage under the Agent Orange Act of 1991, and the Navy in 2002.  They could not remove the Army or the Marines because they were “sprayed directly,” and the scientific evidence of the link between the illnesses and dioxin in the herbicides was too strong to annul the entire law.   But they were the ones who define “service in Vietnam,” a role reinforced by the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in the Haas case, and further strengthened by the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal  In Haas, the court ruled that cabinet level departments had the inherent duty to interpret laws enacted by congress so those laws could be implemented properly.  Ergo, whatever the VA decided the definition of service in Vietnam was, they VA had the right and the duty to make that decision.  It was not the court’s duty to determine the correctness of that decision.

And now you have our thoughts on why the Blue Water Navy and the Blue Sky Air Force were removed from eligibility for Agent Orange benefits by the VA:

The very same people who spat on you and called you a “murderer,” “war criminal,” “baby-killer” in the early 1970s, have continued to do so for four decades from positions well ensconced in government, and education – positions of power and authority they did not possess when rioting in the streets.  You are still being made to “pay for your sins” of going to war illegally and illegally conducting that war. 

Even recently in the White House a few have served as advisors to President Obama.  One or two still do. 

And people like “Hanoi” Jane Fonda, who actively, and very publicly, aided and abetted the enemy, and made tons of money from the notoriety she gathered from those actions, went unpunished.

It is people like these who have needlessly caused pain and suffering, and often early death to an untold number of thousands of Vietnam Veterans.  It is a crime against humanity.  It is inhumane.  It is criminal.  And it is purely, totally and utterly political. It must stop!

In spite of all this, we now say to you, persevere, as we will; keep fighting for what you should have, and to keep what you do have, as we will; do not ever give in or give up, as we will not give in or give up; and from the bottom of our heart, thank you one and all for your service. 

It was a distinct honor to serve with you then, and a humbling one to do what little we can now. 

Welcome back Brothers and Sisters!  Hang in!

For further reading:

The Basis for Blue Water Navy Ban: VAOPGCPREC 27-97


The CDC The DVA NHL and Hodgkins Disease


The Case Against Mary LouKeener [By Chuck Graham]

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The New Trail of Tears: The Agent Orange Story [Part 2 of 3]

Enter Elmo Zumwalt – Twice!
Rear Admiral Elmo Russell Zumwalt, Jr., aka “Bud”, and “Zum”, received orders to assume command of Naval Forces, Vietnam in September of 1968, and as such, was also Chief of the Naval Advisory Group, U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV).  In October of that year he was promoted to Vice Admiral [three stars], and became the Navy Advisor to General Creighton Abrams, the Commander of MACV. 

Zum actually was in command of the “Brown Water Navy”, a collection of small craft and patrol boats, and the Swift Boats mentioned above, and assorted auxiliary craft in support of the aforementioned combat craft that patrolled the inland waterways particularly in the southern half of South Vietnam – III and IV Corps.  He commanded three Task forces:

TF 115 – The Coastal Surveillance Force
TF 116 – The River Patrol Force
TF 117 – The Arm-Navy Mobile Riverine Force

These made up the Brown Water Navy. 

One of his duties was to request and eventually order spray missions in the III and IV Corps areas. 

In 1970, Zumwalt was promoted to full Admiral and rose to the top job in the navy – Chief of Naval Operations.  His time in that office was marked by relaxed regulations for the enlisted men, measures to ease inter-racial tensions, and sexism.  He also reshaped the post-Vietnam navy with modernization and replacement of older ships. 

Zum Retired from the Navy in 1974.

Zum and Agent Orange
In the early 1980s, Admiral Zumwalt’s son, Elmo Zumwalt III, was diagnosed with cancer.  By the time of his death in 1988 he had multiple types of cancer.   During the course of his son’s illness, Zum made it his life’s work to find a treatment, a cure.  Instead he found Agent Orange.  He discovered many of his son’s shipmates and squadron mates were also sick.  He read up on Agent Orange.  This kept widening his search. 

Elmo Zumwalt III served as a junior officer in Swift Boats in the Mekong Delta in 1969-70.  His son was born with congenital dysfunctions.  [Read ElmoZumwalt III’s New York Time Obituary.]

The Admiral then set about compiling a report for the Veterans Administration which was finally backing down from its fight against Agent Orange benefits.  In May of 1990, Zum presented his 37 page paper to the VA.  It essentially became the basis for the Agent Orange Act of 1991. 

At the end of his report, Zumwalt offered two paths for determining eligibility for Veterans Benefits:

COMPENSATION FOR SERVICE RELATED ILLNESSES

Alternative 1:

Any Vietnam Veteran, or Vietnam Veteran’s child who has a birth defect, should be presumed to have a service—connected health effect if that person suffers from the type of health effects consistent with dioxin exposure and the Veteran’ s health or service record establishes 1) abnormally high TCDD in blood tests; or 2) the veteran’s presence within 20 kilometers and 30 days of a known sprayed area (as shown by HERBs tapes and corresponding company records); or 3) the Veteran’ s presence at fire b se perimeters or brown water operations where there is reason believe Agent Orange have- occurred.

Under this alternative compensation would not be provided for those veterans whose exposure came from TCDD by way of the food chain; silt runoff from sprayed areas into unsprayed waterways; some unrecorded U.S. or allied Agent Orange sprayings; inaccurately recorded sprayings; or sprayings whose wind drift was greater than 20 kilometers. Predictably, problems generated by the foregoing oversights, the mass of data to be analyzed as claims were filed, and the known loss of many service records would invalidate many veterans’ legitimate claims.

Alternative 2:

Any Vietnam Veteran or child of a Vietnam Veteran who experiences a TCDD—like health effect shall be presumed to have a service—connected disability. This alternative is admittedly broader than the first, and would provide benefits for some veterans who were not exposed to Agent Orange and whose disabilities are not presumably truly service—connected. Nevertheless, it is the only alternative that will not unfairly preclude receipt of benefits by a TCDD exposed Vietnam Veteran.

Furthermore, this alternative is consistent with the Secretary’s decision regarding the Service—connection of non— Hodgkin’s lymphoma, as well as legal precedent with respect to other diseases presumed by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be connected to one or more factors related to military service (i.e. veterans exposed to atomic radiation and POW’s with spastic colon).

In other words, it is better to allow a few who were not exposed, but do have the same required diseases to receive covered benefits, so all who were exposed will be able to receive coverage.  Also, the administrative savings would outweigh the cost of the few cases where Veterans not exposed were receiving benefits. 

In summations, Zumwalt had this to say to the VA:

Such a resolution of the embarrassingly prolonged Agent Orange controversy would be on the order of decisions to compensate U.S. soldiers who contracted cancer after exposure to radiation from atomic tests and U.S. soldiers involved, without their knowledge, in LSD experiments. With the scientific basis now available for it to be stated with confidence that it is at least as likely as not that various health effects are related to wartime exposure to Agent Orange, there is the opportunity finally to right a significant national wrong committed against our Vietnam Veterans.


And so, in 1991, some 16 years after the end of the Vietnam War, and almost 20 years after the spraying stopped, the Congress passed the Agent Orange Act, and the VA began paying benefits to, and providing medical treatment for those exposed to tactical herbicides. 

Churchill
On 9 November, 1942, in a speech given at the Lord Mayor of London’s Luncheon, Prime Minister Winston Churchill remarked on the recent first victory of British forces over those of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel in the Battle of Egypt: “Now, this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

And so we stand at this part of the story, not at the end, and not really at the beginning of the end, but perhaps at the end of the beginning.  

And here is where the deceit of the VA kicks in.  Oh, to be sure, they fought against Agent Orange benefits right up until 1991, and did so openly, and obtusely stubbornly.  Now, they had to go underground, since now it was a matter of law. 

Click here to read part 3.

VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln

"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

Copyright © 2005-2014: VNVets Blog -- Now in our Tenth Year of Service to Veterans; All Rights Reserved. Reprinting or copying of the contents of this blog without the express permission of the author is unlawful.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The New Trail of Tears: The Agent Orange Story [Part 1 of 3]


For the Sake of Comparison
One of the worst acts of inhumanity the government of the United States has committed is referred to as “The Trail of Tears.”  In 1830, the US Congress passed the Indian Removal Act which was the basis for the forced relocation of Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Seminole and Chickasaw Nations from the southeastern US to the eastern part of Oklahoma, known as “Indian Territory."   Thousands died of disease, and/or starvation on the long walk to “Indian Territory."   Some refer to this as a ‘death march.’

Set in the framework of anti-indigenous sentiment and white supremacy pervasive in the US, which though greatly diminished is still with us today, this action was one of the worst among many mistreatments of the Native Americans. 

While of a different sort, we will chronicle here a new “Trail of Tears,” one that rivals the heinous nature of the 19th Century Bureau of Indian Affairs, but was a modern creation by two of the most dastardly parts of the United States government, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, and the United States Department of Defense. 

The VA
On balance, the “VA” does a lot of good work.  But considering the numbers involved, their record when dealing with the issue of exposure to “Tactical Herbicides” [Agent Orange, Agent White, Agent, Blue, and so on, also known as the “Rainbow Herbicides based on their code names and the corresponding colored bands painted around the barrels in which they were shipped] used via spraying to defoliate the jungles and swamps of the Republic of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War rivals the “Trail of Tears”, described above, in its effects. 

Not a forced relocation, but a flat denial that the herbicide spraying in South Vietnam [about 20 million gallons it] had any effects on the health of those who handled it, sprayed it or were exposed to it.   From before the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Veterans were coming home with all manner of strange and often deadly diseases.  Back in the day, such physical manifestations were often ascribed to “unknown tropical parasites”.  Indeed, one of the main problems in finding the cause of these mysterious illnesses in men and women so young and in such good health only months earlier, was the shotgun effect on their bodies – no one physical ailment stood out among the many we now know are caused by exposure to dioxin, the toxic agent in the herbicides that does the damage.  It did not cause just one disease, but well over a dozen.  And they were not all cancers.  Some were skin diseases, others heart disease, and diabetes.  And Veterans were shoing up with multiple diseases.

There was more than one common factor in the background of all those suffering these issues.  First was their presence in a tropical country, often in the field under harsh or primitive conditions for long periods of time, easily long enough for some tropical disease to take hold, and indeed, many tropical diseases did manifest in our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors serving in South Vietnam, and Thailand.  But dengue fever, malaria, and the like did not cause cancer, diabetes, and long term skin issues. 

The only other commonality, which began to be noticed by the troops themselves was their exposure to herbicides, either through direct spray or by walking through sprayed areas.  Still, everyone had been assured there was no danger from the herbicides, they were deadly only to plant life.  The troops indeed were amazed that in a matter of days after spraying, whole sections of forest or jungle were devoid of anything green…no leaves, no vegetation at all.  They welcomed the lack of cover for their enemy. 
What was once a thick jungle canopy now allowed clear and abundant sunshine to reach the ground.  And there was no danger to our troops, or so said the United States Department of Defense [DoD]!

DoD
Records show that herbicide testing had been going on for decades.  In a report of DoD herbicide testing outside of Vietnam, the earliest listed dates and locations are in 1944 in Texas and Florida.  The Beaumont, Texas test in June of 1844 was done on rice crops.  Subsequent testing was conducted on just about every Air Force Base and proving ground in the Country, and of course Fort Ritchie. 

Most of the tests were done without public knowledge, and over public and private property, in Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Montana, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, North Dakota, Kansas, Washington, and California. 

Testing was conducted also in Korea, and in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam war and in 1945-46 in Southern India.

The test in Brawley, California in 1951-52 was “…to determine means of accomplishing defoliation of tropical forest vegetation by application of a chemical agent.  Here, irrigation water studies were done with the agent.” 

The Agent was 2, 4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, which when added to an equal amount of 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid which had been contaminated with 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, formed Agent Orange. 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, also known as TCDD is a dioxin compound, and is extremely toxic.


In a 1998 court case, Winters v Diamond Shamrock, et al, [149 F.3d 387, US Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, 97-40113] a nurse named Winters who served in Vietnam was suing the chemical manufacturers of the “rainbow herbicides.”  Testimony in court by one of the representatives of one of the defendant companies, Hercules, was summed us thusly:

“The district court determined that the Defense Department had contracted with the chemical companies for a specific mixture of herbicides, which eventually became known as Agent Orange… The court further found that the defendants were compelled to deliver Agent Orange to the government under threat of criminal sanctions. Id. at 1199.”

The actual testimony was a bit more specific, stating that Hercules tried to warn the Pentagon that the formula they contracted for was far too strong, too dangerous, too toxic, and required warnings to be printed on the barrels that were used for shipping.  The Pentagon countered that Hercules would provide the chemicals in the formulaic strength stipulated, and without any markings on the barrels other than the corresponding colored band.  The Pentagon also warned Hercules that failure to adhere to those contractual stipulations would result in “criminal sanctions” against Hercules!

Essentially this testimony almost takes the chemical companies off the hook for liability except that they could have done more to alert the world to the pending danger of this highly toxic substance. 

The testimony also places the greater burden of negligence, actually criminal negligence on the Department of Defense.   And a later autobiography of sorts by Vietnam Era Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admitted to lies told by him that distorted and extended the Vietnam War, and resulted in the deaths of many US soldiers.   [See Time Magazine “Apology”.]

The reality was that our troops were getting slaughtered by ambushes from the heavy cover provided by the jungle vegetation in South Vietnam.  The Pentagon decided on defoliation as a means to reduce the cover, and thus reduce the casualties among our forces. 

The problem with that decision is that DoD knew that it was kicking the can down the road, and a greater number of casualties would eventually get sick and die from Dioxin exposure than the number we were likely to lose in Vietnam through enemy action without defoliation.   Reliable estimates of both were attainable.  So were tactical changes to take away the advantage of cover from the enemy.   That makes the decision, ultimately, purely political.  [See remark on Robert McNamara above.]

Spray Missions
The principal use of herbicides was to defoliate large areas of land, usually around bases and fire bases, to clear approaches and lines of fire, along trails [including the Ho Chi Minh Trail as it weaved in and out of western Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and back into North Vietnam] and roads, and a great deal of it along the rivers, creeks and estuaries of the Republic of South Vietnam, where the US Navy’s Riverine forces operated on the Swift Boats, and PBR Patrol Boats.  Army forces were often housed in barracks barges parked along river banks, or anchored in mid-stream between operations. 

The Republic of Vietnam’s Army divided the country into four tactical zones, I Corp from the DMZ south in 5 provinces ending in Quang Ngai province. II Corps from Kontum Province south almost a third of the length of the country.  III Corps and IV Corps split the Mekong/Saigon River Delta area with III Corps comprising the Saigon area, the IV Corps the bulk of the Mekong River Delta south and around to the Cambodian Border.   [See the Map at Wikipedia.]

20 million gallons of tactical herbicides were sprayed in the Republic of Vietnam during the war.  The highest concentration was, naturally  around the capital of Saigon, and III Corps.  The second highest concentration was in I Corps, a natural location due to the presence of the DMZ between North and South Vietnam, which the North Vietnamese used with near impunity to make incursions into South Vietnam. 

Over half of the spraying was done by the Air Force under Operation Ranch Hand, which utilized Fairchild C-123 Provider aircraft to spray the jungle canopy.  Strict records of the location of the Ranch Hand spray missions was kept.   After meticulously charting all those missions for a recent study, Dr. Jeanne Stellman of Columbia University came to the conclusion that if, at any time while spraying was going on in South Vietnam, that is from 1962 to 1971, if you were anywhere in the Republic of Vietnam, it could not be said that you were not exposed.  [Here is a link to a rough map of the spray missions, as created by the US Army.  It is not exact, and appears to be incomplete, but it does give a good indication of where the spraying took place and where the heaviest concentrations were.] 

Herbicides were shipped in barrels from the United States, and from other countries whose chemical companies were contracted by the Pentagon to manufacture the herbicides.  Shipment was made by ship, mostly on cargo ships of the merchant marine, and never on US Naval commissioned vessels. 

Shipments were delivered to the Republic of Vietnam [RVN – the government of South Vietnam] almost exclusively.  [Small amounts were side tracked to Army and Marine Corps bases and some  MACV [Military Assistance Command - Vietnam]  naval operating areas for spraying by helicopter, or truck or by hand.]

Operation Ranch Hand spray missions were requested by local commanders, and went up the chain of command all the way to the Pentagon, across town to the Department of State, then to the Republic of Vietnam Embassy in Washington.  Approval came back the same route.  Once it was received in MACV, orders went out to the Ranch Hand Aircraft who would request sufficient quantities form the RVN stockpile.  The RVN Government would release the requested amounts and the Ranch Hand missions would be scheduled, supplied, flown and sprayed, often with a fighter-bomber escort.  The requests laid out the specific path to be sprayed, width and length based on capabilities of the C-123 spray aircraft. 

It was a cumbersome, time consuming process.  It would take, at the least, days, and sometimes weeks or even months to get the requisite approvals. 



VNVets

”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets

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