The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

January/February 2004
AGENT ORANGE/DIOXIN COMMITTEE REPORT
   
 

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 diseases.

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 analysis.

We found some striking data hidden within the studies conducted by the Air Forcedata 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 membershipand 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 canat lastexpose 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 scorewhich is rarely zeroin 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 the report.

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 informal claims.

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 ssgtusmc6169@hotmail.com

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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