Although the nation’s Vietnam veterans have received some belated apologies for the shameful treatment many of them received when they came home from war, there’s still some unfinished business — including the scourge of Agent Orange.
The U.S. military used the dioxin-laced herbicide as a defoliant in Southeast Asia, dumping it by the millions of gallons. It’s estimated that 2.5 million U.S. veterans may have been exposed to the chemical, which has now been linked to various cancers, Type 2 diabetes and other physical problems.
Although the conflict ended decades ago, veterans continue trying to get answers to how that exposure may have affected their health — and get help coping with the consequences. Now, veterans also have concerns that the harmful affects of Agent Orange may be showing up in birth defects and other health problems affecting their children and grandchildren.
To help raise awareness about Agent Orange and share information about available resources, veterans have been holding town-hall meetings around the nation, with sponsorship from local VA groups as well as the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Associates of Vietnam Veterans, which supports veterans’ family members. A meeting last week in Mooresville at Richard’s Coffee Shop and Military Museum drew about 150 participants, many traveling from around the state or farther to listen to speakers and share their experiences with other vets. (You can find more information about upcoming meetings at http://www.vva.org/Committees/AgentOrange/TownHall.htm.)
It has been anguishing enough for Vietnam vets to deal with their own chronic health problems related to Agent Orange. Now, many of them are worried that the toxic effects of their decades-old exposure to Agent Orange may extend even to their offspring’s offspring. Legislation was introduced in Congress last year to fund research into such “legacy problems,” but the issue has not yet gained the groundswell of support needed to push through passage.
Millions of service members were exposed to Agent Orange, and a growing body of research points to its link with many health problems. Veterans deserve stronger support and more assurance their government won’t shirk its responsibilities to support veterans and their families still dealing with this toxic legacy of war. These veterans have suffered enough in body as well as spirit. They shouldn’t have to refight the Agent Orange battle on behalf of their children or their children’s children.