The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
A Toxic Chemical Cocktail
BY PAUL SUTTON, CHAIR
Over the past year, this committee
has been active in several areas. First, we asked the
membership to participate in a renal cancer data-gathering
exercise. If you are, or know, a Vietnam veteran with renal
(kidney) cancer, please contact Lewis Totten, P.O. Box 831,
Belle, WV 25015. He is compiling information on veterans
diagnosed with renal cancer in an effort to seek legislation
that would add renal cancer to the list of presumptive
The Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee's 15 Resolutions, proposed
at the 11th National
Convention, were unanimously approved without debate. This was
gratifying to the committee, which spent countless hours
devising policies that would represent VVA's positions on the
myriad of healthcare issues facing us and our children.
The committee continues VVA's affiliation with the National
Alliance of Vietnamese-American Service Agencies. There is a
great interest on their part in maintaining communications
between VVA and NAVASA to continue to provide assistance to
the people they represent with information about Agent Orange
and the other chemicals used during the war. In November 2003,
I was invited to become a non-voting member of the NAVASA
national board of directors.
In its November report, the committee proposed a motion, which
the Board approved
unanimously, that requested VVA go on record as opposed to a
continuation of funding for the Air Force Ranch Hand Study's
flawed research. The 2004 Legislative Agenda notes this
organizational opposition, and we hope that every VVA member
understands and supports the reasons for the opposition.
The committee submitted its final report to VVAF concerning
its $10,000 grant for an analysis of the birth defect data,
the "USAF Ranch Hand Study Birth Defects Data Retrospective
Review." The study reviewed birth defects data in the Ranch
Hand Study. None of this data had been released by the Air
Force, and references to the data often obscured and
misrepresented the outcomes. In October 2001, the committee
contracted Yale University School of Nursing to perform the
We found some striking data hidden within the studies
conducted by the Air Forcedata that should have been
available to Vietnam veterans at the time of the class-action
suit. Even though we may be precluded from additional
litigation against the chemical companies and the U.S.
government, we will be able to tell our membershipand all
Vietnam veterans"we were right; what we suspected was there
is there, and this is what we now know."
While this will not resolve the issues confronting those of us
who have spent years and many thousands of dollars studying
the childhood illnesses and disabilities that we and our
children face, we can take comfort in the fact that we canat
lastexpose the truth. Our study validates many of our beliefs
about birth defects and Agent Orange exposure 20 years ago.
Linda Schwartz and George Knafl, the primary investigators,
deserve our deepest gratitude for their work.
The committee's work with the American Friends Service
Committee on the identification of dioxin hot spots in Vietnam
continues. The VVA Veteran continues publishing the
Agent Orange Initiative notice, which seeks information from
our members and others willing to share what they know about
herbicides left in Vietnam. As of August 31, 76 responses had
been received and shared with the committee and the Vietnamese
scientific community. Copies are available to any member who
requests them. The research in Vietnam, agreed to by the two
governments in March 2002, has not progressed because of new
demands and obstacles raised by the government of Vietnam.
The committee also has been deeply involved in following a
process called the Exposure Reconstruction Contractor
Committee on the Assessment of Wartime Exposure to Herbicides
in Vietnam. Jeanne and Steven Stellman of Columbia University
oversaw this five-year effort that was recently concluded. The
Stellmans developed an exposure model that will help
researchers design an epidemiological study to look at the
diseases and disabilities suffered by Vietnam veterans as a
result of their exposure to a variety of chemicals during
their service in Vietnam.
They developed software that enables researchers to enter and
assess data more rapidly and can compare a defoliated
(sprayed) area with U.S. troop movements through and around
that area. One of the interesting pieces of information
involves the discovery of a previously unaccounted-for 2.4
million gallons of various herbicides, which raises the total
chemicals used in Vietnam to approximately 19.4 million
gallons. It also has come to light that far more Agent Purple
was used than previously thought. Agent Purple contains 50
times more TCDD than Agent Orange.
The Stellman model has two parts. One is the proximity to
spray or "hit," which calculates how close a location (or
person) was to spraying. Another part of the same calculation
takes into account all spraying that had ever taken place in
an area and calculates a scorewhich is rarely zeroin any
area that was sprayed.
The third and essential part of the model is the series of
questions that we have developed and tested in which veterans
are asked questions about other ways in which they may have
been exposed to spray.
Every study we have carried out has included these questions.
They are part of the final report and the model we have
developed. No epidemiological study can be done without an
accepted and acceptable model for exposure. Every model can be
distorted by people who want to misrepresent and misuse it.
"It is my belief," Jeanne Stellman said last July, "that
epidemiology studies are going to find that some truly
horrific things have happened to Vietnam vets. Veterans groups
will have to see to it that those who wish to cut benefits
don't misuse the models and also that they put up the
resources and set the priorities so that scientists across the
country can at last begin to work on this subject."
The U.S. Supreme Court handed down a split decision in early
June in Agent Orange Case No. 02-271. The ruling permits
Vietnam veterans to move ahead with individual or class-action
suits against the chemical companies. We don't expect any new
developments until this spring.
One of the more worrisome subjects the committee has been
dealing with for the past ten years is the matter of dioxin
reassessment. Proposed rules, defining dioxin as a carcinogen,
have been languishing at EPA since the early days of the
Clinton administration. When we thought the rule was about to
be made final, yet another hurdle was placed in our path. We
continue to lobby the EPA and the White House for release of
We want to share the effective dates of benefits resulting
from the Nehmer v. United States decision handed down
in August 2003. The Nehmer decision applies to Agent
Orange Presumptive Diseases only and only to service in
Vietnam after August 4, 1964.
COMPENSATION: If VA denied or had pending a presumptive
claim between September 25, 1985, and May 3, 1989, the
effective date will be the date of that claim or onset of
disability, whichever is later. For claims received after May
3, 1989, but before legislation establishing presumptive
condition, the effective date will be the date of the claim or
the onset of disability, whichever is later. This includes
ACCRUED BENEFITS: No two-year limitation. The entire
amount will be paid. Pending claims do not die with the death
of the veteran.
The National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine
released its latest biennial report on the health effects of
herbicide exposure, Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2002,
on January 23, 2003. Based on this report, VA secretary
Principi determined that a positive association exists between
exposure to herbicides and the subsequent development of
chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). A regulation has been
prepared by VA adding CLL as a presumptive disease associated
with exposure to herbicides. Service officers are advised to
file appropriate claims. Claims for service connection for
leukemias other than CLL may be adjudicated under existing
regulations. An updated listing of all service-connected
diseases associated with exposure to herbicides can be
obtained by e-mailing me at
Vietnam veterans and their
families must realize that Agent Orange by itself did not
cause all of our health problems. Instead, what we've learned
is that a toxic cocktail of chemicals was used in Vietnam.
Some, used by themselves, posed little or no health risk to
humans. However, when a herbicide used in combination with
other chemicals is as widespread as we now know it was, human
health risks are astronomical and of great concern. Over the
year just ended, the committee has developed a strategy and
helped in negotiations with the agencies that have the
power to proceed with getting answers for all of us and our
families, 33 years after the last Air Force Ranch Hand mission
was flown over Vietnam.
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