This month marks 50 years since the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. Its effects linger on for the Vietnamese, but the US is still dragging its heels on compensation – despite the fact that US army veterans who claim they were affected by the herbicide have received payouts totalling billions of dollars. By REBECCA DAVIS.
It’s estimated that the use of Agent Orange to destroy the Vietnamese countryside resulted in the deaths of more than 400,000 Vietnamese, and caused another 500,000 children to be born with birth defects.
The US government has to date paid out around $2, 2 billion in compensation to about 89,000 veterans of the US military who filed Agent Orange-related claims. Vets who suffer health problems like prostate cancer and diabetes believe their health problems are linked to the fact that they were stationed at bases in Vietnam close to where Agent Orange was sprayed.
Yet this is in stark contrast to that government’s approach towards the Vietnamese affected by the defoliant and herbicide. In 2004 a group called the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange filed a lawsuit against several chemical companies which produced the defoliant for the military. The US government itself could not be sued, due to sovereign immunity. The case was dismissed. In 2007 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal, and upheld the original judge’s ruling. They said that although Agent Orange contained a known poison, a variant of tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, it was not intended to be used as a poison on humans, and could not therefore be considered a chemical weapon. As a result, its use did not constitute a violation of international law.
Last year the US-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin released a report calling for the US government to provide $300 million to expand services to people with Agent Orange-related disabilities. In the current economic climate, it’s highly unlikely they’ll get their way. DM
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine