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:


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. 

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.


”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

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